Arts & Entertainment

Behind The Facade: Landmark Status Could Save Auto Row-Era Buildings From Developers

There seems to be no week that goes by without a loved building being demolished on Hill, and replaced with a more modern one. While some people defend the development as an innovative solution for the rising population in Seattle’s most dense neighborhood, others see it as another form of gentrification.

Kelly-Springfield Motor Truck Company is the latest example. It houses Value Village at 11th Avenue.

Preservation starts with the people

This building, which was built in 1917 as part of Auto-row’s era was constructed. Capitol HillHowever, if developers have their way, it will become home to an office building that is 75 feet tall, although the façade will remain intact. Concerned citizens want to stop this development and seek landmark preservation status for Kelly-Springfield’s building.

Andrew Haas, one such citizen is. Haas is a Hill resident for over 20 years and has witnessed the Hill change many times. Previously having experience in natural resource conservation, Haas decided to use those skills to build a coalition to preserve the Kelly-Springfield building, and the neighboring White Motor Company building — home to the Stranger and the Rhino Room — which would also be part of the 75-foot office building design.

Value Village: Original Windows Andrew Haas.

“There are many parallels between natural resource conservation and historic preservation,” Haas said. “Healthy salmon runs require forests, wetlands, free-flowing streams, and estuaries to thrive. Urban ecosystems can also be sustained by public transit, parks, affordable housing, historic buildings, and other forms of public transport. The City’s roots are connected to historic buildings, which give it a feeling of being at home. They are the old growth trees of the urban landscape.”

Really the only way to save the “old growth trees of the urban landscape” like the auto row buildings is to have them awarded landmark status by the Landmarks Preservation Board division of the City government. To be given landmark status, a building must fulfill one of the following requirements:

  • You can be the site of or closely associated with a historic event that has had an impact on your community, country, state or nation.
  • Associate yourself to a person who made a difference in the lives of the people or nations around you
  • You can be associated with significant parts of the cultural, economic, or political heritage of the city, town, state or country
  • Embodiments are a unique architectural style or period, or an exemplary method of construction
  • Associate yourself with an acclaimed architect/builder
  • This is tied to the unique visual identity of each neighborhood

Haas said that both the Kelly-Springfield and White Motor Company buildings meet several of the criteria for landmark status: the buildings were once home to the first REI store; the first employee at REI was Jim Whittaker (who later became CEO), the first American to climb Mt. Everest, the buildings were also designed by Julian Everett (a prominent Seattle architect), and are prime examples of auto-row architecture.

Chris Moore, the executive director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, said the two buildings meet the criteria for landmark status. It is an advocacy group for preservation that exists in every state.

This is the subject building, 1937. Photo of the Tax Assessor

“The bar is high to get landmark status,” Moore said. “And rightfully so. The process was put into place. [to get the status]It is proven to be reliable. It’s important to note that a building only has to meet one of six criteria points to be granted the status, and in this instance there’s a good case for it.”

The reason that the landmarks have been renamed has not been attempted before. Legacy Commercial in Bellevue, who proposed the development of office buildings, stated they don’t want them to be given landmark status as it would impede the entire development process.

The City’s Efforts and Learning from the Past

In order to curb the community’s concerns over gentrification, the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District was created by the City Council in 2009. This district provides incentives for developers to preserve existing structures. The former Bauhaus home is an example. While the façade is intact, the remainder of the building was demolished in order to build a mixed-use seven-story development. The Bauhaus building was nominated in 2013 for landmark status. However, the community was outraged and it was refused.

Despite the demise of the Bauhaus building, Moore said that the community plays a large role in determining whether landmark status is granted or not: “There needs to be a strong local effort to raise awareness, and in this case there is,” he said. “It’s important that the local community lets the City and the developers know that they care how their neighborhood looks.”

Bauhaus was saved by Moore and Haas, who believe the right time is available to save White Motor Company and Kelly-Springfield buildings. Haas stated that he hopes these landmark buildings will be a model for the Pike/Pine corridor, and help to end gentrification on the Hill.

“I fear much of the neighborhood will become a movie set of false storefronts in a few short years, unless the community demands better,” Haas said. “We need [to keep]We want to keep the core of our neighborhood, not the facades. It is possible to have both density and history, but right now Seattle is on the wrong track.”

The Landmarks Preservation Board will consider this nomination at its meeting on Wednesday, December 17, 2014, at 3:30 pm in the Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 5th Avenue, 40th Floor, Room 4060. Comment letters will be accepted until 5 pm Tuesday. Send to