It may be the unlikeliest of the remaining major auto row-era structures on Capitol Hill to be considered, but the boarded-up, 1924-built Olive Way Improvement Company building lined up for a likely future of mixed-use redevelopment will get its day in front of the Seattle Landmarks Board.
A required nomination hearing for the nearly 100-year-old complex at the curving corner of E Olive Way and Denny will take place next Wednesday. The meeting will likely be prelude to a demolition, or, at least, a gutting.
CHS broke the news in January that Guntower Capital, a holding company formed by executives at two Seattle-area real estate and development firms, was in agreement to purchase the half acre or so property once home to a mix of businesses including the former In the Bowl, the departed Bus Stop bar and Coffee Messiah cafe and a sprawling dog lounge charred in a 2017 fire.
Its history, of course, goes back much further but the commercial building constructed by an Olive Way focused developer as a retail and automotive garage structure has seen better days.
Still, it has its auto row charms including massive heavy timber trusses, old brick walls, and some remaining decorative flourishes along the E Olive Way facing retail segment “clad in buff-colored field face brick with terra cotta ornamentation.”
Landmark Nomination for the Following Property: 1550-1560 E Olive Way / 410-422 E Denny Way
The Landmarks Preservation Board will consider this nomination at its meeting on Wednesday, April 5, 2023, at 3:30 p.m.
You may access the meeting by the WebEx Event link or the telephone call-in line provided on the agenda. You may also attend the meeting in person in Room L2-80 of City Hall. Please be aware at this time that many of the Board members and presenters may be participating remotely rather than in person.
Written public comments should be submitted no later than 3:30pm on April 4, 2023; the day before the meeting. However, we encourage everyone to submit written comment well in advance of the meeting to give the Board sufficient time to review them.
Via email: [email protected]
Via US Mail: Dept. of Neighborhoods, Landmarks Preservation Board, P.O. Box 94649, Seattle WA 98124-4649.
Members of the public may sign up to address the Landmarks Preservation Board for up to 2 minutes on matters on this agenda.
“The subject building has undergone some alterations over time, and is poor condition due to deferred maintenance and recent vandalism,” the report prepared on behalf of Guntower Capital reads. “However, the commercial storefronts retain some degree of integrity.”
Formed in 2017, Guntower Capital includes Jonathan Slavin of Newmark Realty Capital, and Chris Langer and Joseph Razore of the Broderick Group, according to state filings. It is has recently been pursuing a 102-unit mixed-use development in downtown Bellevue and developing a 24-story, 237-unit apartment building in the University District. Other executives include Charlie Bauman, a
principal former partner at barrientos RYAN, “a unique urban real estate development firm focused on making places” that has been active in Capitol Hill development.
E Olive Way, meanwhile, is lined up for a new wave of redevelopment. CHS reported here on the plans on the south side of E Olive Way replacing the former Coldwell Banker building and three others with a seven-story mixed-use project from Canada-based real estate investment and management company Low Tide Properties. CHS reported here on the plans for a new eight-story mixed use project being readied for the All Season Cleaners property just below Broadway. And a new eight-story, mass timber City Market building is also in the works. Meanwhile, the stretch is one of the few in the city where local, state, and federal restrictions allow retail marijuana permits and investment from the industry including The Reef building across the street has followed. The boarded up and fenced Starbucks property is also due for a restart.
The corner of E Olive Way and Denny will also see change but first there is some history to work through. The nomination process will clarify how developers can move forward.
In addition its rough case for architectural preservation, the history of the building’s tenants, its developer, nor connections to the architects that designed it will likely be persuasive arguments for landmarks protections for the Guntower property. The Olive Way Improvement Company managed to build only two other remaining projects — the Olive Crest Apartments and the Burlingame Hotel — while the architectural firm of Lawton & Moldenhour left behind several more impressive examples of its work including Capitol Hill’s Egyptian Theatre.
The building’s true legacy has been its utility — typically not a feature considered in the landmarks process. After it was constructed along E Olive Way as the street grew as an alternative connection between downtown and Capitol Hill, retail tenants in the 1930s through 1950s included a clothes cleaner, a salon, shoe repair shop, a florist, and a realtor’s office, according to the nomination report.
The storefronts represented a kind of continuity through the decades. “Over the years, the type of business in the storefront often remained the same, even after a change in name or ownership,” the report notes. “Some of these types of services remained tenants though the 1970s, even as the tenant mix began to change. Other shorter-term businesses included a tailor/reweaver, a beverage store, and an appliance repair service. As early as the 1940s, some businesses were occupying the small commercial spaces at the basement level under the garage along E Denny Way.”
The mix shifted in the 1960s and 1970s when “small professional firms began to occupy the E Olive Way storefronts as office space” including a public relations firm, a mechanical engineer, an industrial designer, and a graphic design and printing shop.” The 1980s and 1990s, brought more change with “larger, national chains offering neighborhood services, rather than small local shops” including a Supercuts hair salon, Subway sandwich shop, and H & R Block tax service. Meanwhile, a Moroccan restaurant and a bakery/catering company also moved in. Meanwhile, the lower garage space truly was dedicated to auto repair or auto body firms until the 1980s, when it was used as catering or restaurant-related space, and then in the 2000s when it became a dog day care facility.
The building, meanwhile, has also become a magnet for graffiti, murals, and tagging. It has also been the subject of complaints to the city over squatters since its last commercial tenants moved out during the pandemic.
An interesting stroll down E Olive Way’s commercial memory lane? For sure. But a new Capitol Hill landmark? Probably not.
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