The Seattle Landmarks Board is slated Wednesday to decide if the 119-year-old gabled parapets and semicircular bay windows of Broadway’s Wilshire Building are worthy of consideration for protections that could complicate a seven-story affordable apartment project planned to replace it.
The board will take up the nomination of the 200 block Broadway E commercial and apartment structure in an afternoon session to decide if the two-story commercial building home to the shuttered Jai Thai restaurant, a collection of businesses including a Mud Bay pet supply store location, and 14 upper floor apartment units should move forward in the landmarks process. The property’s owners were required to pursue the review as part of the city’s development process.
UPDATE: With many of its features significantly altered over the years and lacking an architectural and cultural history compelling enough to sway the vote, the building was rejected in the nomination process by the board Wednesday and will not move forward in the process, clearing the way for an easier path to demolition.
Old timers will remember it as the Broadway Rexall. CHS reported here in January on the historical significance of the old building and the affordable Broadway Urbaine project planned to rise on the block with its fast track through the city’s design review process thanks to its hoped-for addition of much-needed affordable housing.
Cannon Commercial is joined in the development by TAP Collaborative and $3 million in affordable housing funding from the city announced in 2021’s round of Office of Housing grants. A company registered to Joe Cannon and TAP’s Rebecca Ralston purchased the property for $6.25 million in 2018, according to King County records.
While the city’s land use approval process is still underway, the landmarks review could determine what if any protections should be afforded the 1903-built mixed-use building. Even then, the city’s landmarks protections are sometimes no match for market forces and waves of development. The Broadway Urbaine project is being planned with a full demolition and removal of the Wilshire.
The structure’s case for landmark status could be solid from a historical sense as “one of the earliest extant buildings in the Broadway business district,” according to a city review of the property.
There is also the building’s complicated place in the city’s history as a center for women’s health:
By 1915, the upper floor was occupied by the Rex Sanitarium.40 As advertised under Physicians & Surgeons in the Seattle Times classified section, the “Rex Sanitarium for Women” treated “Chronic, nervous, convalescent and surgical cases.”
“The Rex Sanitarium broadened the scope of care for women beyond maternity care,” the report on the building abruptly concludes, noting that in the early 1950s, a business operating in the “sanitarium” space placed regular advertising in the Seattle Times for a “haven for girls in trouble,” promising “confidential, No Charge” service.
“The advertisement ran in the ‘personals’ section of the classified rather than ‘physicians,'” the report notes.
After years as a “sanitarium,” from around 1952 to 1955, the research shows Planned Parenthood Center of Seattle was running a maternal health clinic on the building’s second floor. When Planned Parenthood moved out, the building’s place in decades of women’s health in Seattle ended.
The report’s conclusions on the “scandalous” life of original designer of the building Henry Dozier are also worth a read.
Whether the board will see value in preserving the architecture of the old commercial building that has spent its later life hosting restaurants and shops remains to be seen.
In Wednesday’s session, the board will vote on whether to advance the nomination for a full review likely next year.
You can review the full nomination packet on the Wilshire Building below.
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