Landmarks: Protecting Seattle’s unique past

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Arboretum Aquaduct

Thanks to all of you who answered my Question of the Week this week on Facebook!  (“What aspects/landmarks of the City would you preserve as we move toward density? And what’s your favorite Seattle landmark?”)

The Conservatory at Volunteer Park

Several people suggested a structure that’s dear to so many of us, the Volunteer Park Conservatory. The Conservatory has been in the news recently, understandably, because it is celebrating its Centennial!

Saving Seattle’s glass house from stones

Volunteer Park Conservatory looks for funding after 100 years

Funds for exotic Volunteer Park Conservatory may dry up

Another noted that the old P-I building would have been a great one to save: I’m happy to report that City Council is taking steps to landmark the beloved P-I Globe.

The recently landmarked P-I Globe.

Another writer pointed out that the city is full of wonderful Art Deco era structures it would be a shame to lose. (I’m thinking of the Seattle Tower, the Exchange Building, the Great Northern Building, or the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park, but I’m sure there are other, lesser-known examples. I’d love to hear about them!).

The Asian Art Museum.

One person suggested setting aside a portion of the Alaskan Way Viaduct as a view park, after the model of New York City’s Highline (which I just visited, and I have to say I loved.) I heard the same thought expressed by a number of people at the Corner design presentations for our waterfront.   

Historic Landmarks

Some curious readers asked how we decide which buildings to landmark?  Landmarking in the City of Seattle is handled by the Historic Preservation Program in the Department of Neighborhoods. 

Anyone can submit a nomination to the Landmark Preservation Board for a building, object, or structure that is at least 25 years old. Here’s a link to the process, but be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart: The review process is exacting.

Georgetown City Hall

The Historic Preservation Program is responsible for the designation and protection of more than 450 historic structures, sites, objects, and vessels to date, as well as eight historic districts throughout Seattle.

Historic Preservation Districts

Seattle historic preservation districts and how they come about work a little differently. The Seattle City Council designates a historic neighborhood as a preservation district at the request of the people who live and own businesses there or, in the case of the Pike Place Market, voters across the city. Each of these districts has a board of its own (example: Ballard Avenue Landmark District Board) that looks after the district.

In December 2011, we created a Downtown Historic Theatre District to promote performing arts venues built before 1930. The theaters that qualify for historic district designation include The Moore Theatre (1907), Town Hall (1922), A Contemporary Theatre/Eagles Auditorium (1924), 5th Avenue Theatre (1926), and Paramount Theatre (1928).

By creating the district we ensured we won’t have a repeat of the demolition of the 1929 Music Hall’s demolition 19 years ago.

The Virginia V

Seattle has seven additional preservation districts. They rely on committed neighbors working together to protect the things that make their community unique.

These districts include the Ballard Avenue Landmark District, Columbia City Landmark District, Fort Lawton Landmark District, Harvard-Belmont Landmark District, International Special Review District, Pike Place Market Historical District, and Pioneer Square Preservation District.

Fire Station #33

Find out about your own building or neighborhood

If you want to learn more about an old building that you know and love, a good place to start is the Puget Sound Regional Repository of the Washington State Archives, (206) 439-3785. The archives contain King County Property Tax Records from the late 1930s to early 1940s, most with photographs the archivists will send to you for a small fee.

The King County Cultural Resources Division has a useful guide to “Researching Historic Houses” which also applies to commercial buildings. Call (206) 296-7580 and ask for Technical Paper No. 5.

The Historic Seattle Preservation and Development Authority offers a lecture series, “Preserving Your Old House,” that includes tips on researching a house’s history. The office will also mail printed information on the topic. Call (206) 622-6952 for details.

If the property is listed as a Seattle landmark or is within a Seattle preservation district, contact the Historic Preservation Program at (206) 684-0228 for a copy of the landmark nomination form which includes much historical information.

If the property is listed on the State or National Register of Historic Places, contact the State of Washington’s Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation at (360) 586-3065 to order a copy of the nomination form.

Thanks for your interest in our historic buildings.  You are helping make our historically rich city even richer!