Mama’s Easily Wins Preservation “Playoff” — Next Stop: Superbowl


The City of Seattle Landmark Preservation Board last night unanimously voted to accept the nomination to designate Belltown’s iconic Mama’s Mexican Kitchen as a City Landmark (for background, see Seattle Times story here). The Board will next be scheduling a second public meeting to decide whether to formally designate the building as a Landmark or to deny it protected status.  That meeting will likely be held in January or February.

The nomination was actually what we call an “anti-nomination,” which is one that has been prepared by developers that wish to tear the subject building down.

The meeting began with a presentation led by the developer’s attorney, Jack McCullough, whom the Seattle Times called “one of the top land-use lawyers in the region.”  Mr. McCullough argued that the building was an unremarkable building in poor condition and that it didn’t meet the Landmark standards.

The developer’s architectural consultant spoke next, stating that the building is in poor shape and has been altered too much to qualify as a City Landmark. He also showed slides of similar buildings in Belltown — such as the building that houses the 5-Point — stating that these types of commercial structures are common not ony in Belltown, but throughout the country.

Tiffany Jorgensen (left) and Beck Prigot of Friends of Historic Belltown

During the public comment period that followed, Friends of Historic Belltown rigorously defended the building, noting that Belltown doesn’t have many fancy buildings, but rather that the community’s history is with working buildings for “the common man,” and that the Mama’s building embodied that history.

Brooke Best, Preservation Advocacy Coordinator of Historic Seattle, also argued in favor of the nomination, noting among other things that the building is adjacent to the Wayne Apartments, a City Landmark that was built in 1890.  That building was Landmarked after  the community rallied to protect it in response to a plan by developers to tear it down to build a 124-unit building on multiple parcels that contain the Wayne Apts and a string of Belltown’s favorite bars and restaurants, including the Lava Lounge, Rocco’s Pizza, Shortys, The Rabbit Hole, Clever Bottle, and Tula’s Jazz Club.

David Levinson — a member of the Belltown Community Council and longtime Belltown resident — stated that the restaurant portion of the building has been a gathering place for the community for decades, describing how members of Belltown’s once large labor union community likely met there regularly.

Chris Cody — owner of Herban Legends, Belltown’s first recreational marijuana store — also spoke in favor of the nomination, noting that the restaurant remains a well-loved, central feature of the Belltown community.

Evan Clifthorne — executive director for Project Belltown — urged the Board to move the nomination forward to a full vote.

No one spoke against the nomination other than the applicant’s representatives.

After public comments, the Board began deliberations, and it soon became apparent that the Board was much more in agreement with the community than with the developers.  One after another, Board members noted that the building is definitely more than the run-of-the-mill throwaway depicted by the developer’s legal and consulting team. While some noted the building’s alterations, all felt that much of the building remains remarkably intact.

Mama’s Mexican Kitchen is poised to be Belltown’s next historic Landmark

We are so happy and thankful that we have a Landmark Board that listens to the community and to the facts and the law, rather than bowing to pressure from developers.

And we’re also happy and proud to be part of a community that cares about its historic buildings.  THANK YOU TO ALL that attended the meeting and/or submitted comments via email!!!!!

And while we feel a bit bad for the developers, who had been working with the community to design a proposed development that fit in with the neighborhood, they really should have looked into the historic value of the building before they paid $4.5 million for the property.   It’s like buying property with a wetland and eagle’s nest on it — you can’t simply bulldoze it just because you didn’t know those features have public values that are protected by law.

We’re elated that the Board saw things the same way we do, and we’re looking forward to the next round — the Mama’s Superbowl – to establish our second Landmarked building on “the block.”

Stay tuned!!!


Mama’s “Playoff Game” Dec 7th


City Hall

WEDNESDAY, December 7

Room L 280 – Boards & Commissions

600 4th Avenue, Floor L2.


The Landmarks Hearing Board will be deciding the fate of Belltown’s beloved Mama’s building on Wednesday, December 7th (see Seattle Times). This will be the first of possibly two hearings the City will hold on whether the building meets the historic landmarking criteria.

We need your support because even though we feel the building easily meets the Landmark designation criteria,  we KNOW that the owners of the building have hired consultants and attorneys to argue that the building is “nothing special,” as they have called other historic buildings in Belltown.

So we need to show that the community loves this building and supports this nomination.

So if you can, PLEASE ATTEND THE MEETING on December 7th. You don’t have to speak at all. Just being there will help. But people who wish to speak will have one minute to comment.


The board does not like off-topic comments (e.g., the city is changing!  I don’t like new buildings!)….so PLEASE FOCUS ON THE BUILDING AND CRITERIA.

What Happens Next????

This first meeting is like a playoff game. The Board will decide to either “approve” the nomination to move forward to a second designation meeting. Or it may decide right then and there to not move forward, in which case, the building’s 90+ year season would be over — and it would very likely be torn down within a year.

If the nomination is approved, the Board will set another meeting in about a month to hold a formal vote on whether to approve or deny the designation. This will be the Superbowl.

But to get to the Superbowl, we need to win this first playoff game, and that is why we are asking for your help to show that the community supports this nomination.

Note that even if the building is landmarked, the property will still likely be developed.

But if it is designated, the brick facade would likely stay — OR, if the facade cannot be retained due to condition and/or costs — the landmark designation may require that the developer mitigate for the loss (e.g. help the community in its efforts to retain 2nd Ave history, character and culture).

The Domino Factor

dominoesWhat’s more important — if the Mama’s buidling is not designated a landmark, then we fear that the owners of the Landmark Wayne Apartments (Roco’s and Lava, next door to the Mama’s building) will have an easier time getting a pass to tear down that building — and with that goes block.

So in some ways, our beautiful line of buildings on 2nd Ave are like dominoes. When one goes, the rest may follow soon after.

the-blockThat is why we fight, using our strongest and most valuable assets — the facts, the law and — our strongest and most valuable asset of all the awesome community that is 2nd Avenue!!!





How to Make an Effective Landmark Comment

EMAIL comments to by Tuesday, January 17th at 3:00 pm


The key to an effective comment – either via email or in person at the meeting — is to focus on the six designation standards (also called criteria) listed in 25.12.350 – Standards for designation.

Specifically, describe why you feel the building meets the standards.

Here’s a template/example:

Dear Ms. Sodt

I support the nomination of the Mama’s Mexican Kitchen building.  I am (DESCRIBE YOUR CONNECTION TO BELLTOWN, SUCH AS RESIDENT, BUSINESS PATRON, WORKER, VISITOR, ETC).

I believe the building meets criteria C, D and F.

I believe it meets criteria C because…

I believe it meets criteria D because…

I believe it meets criteria F because…

Closing statement (e.g., thanks for protecting this key historic building in the heart of Belltown).

Note that you don’t have to hit every one of the standards/criteria.  Perhaps just note the ones that resonate most with you (see criteria details below).

You can also just say something as simple as:

I love this building. It is distinctive and is important to me as part of the neighborhood character. It is the signature building on the block of 2nd Ave.


The key is to focus on the building.

For in-person comments at the meeting, you will only have one minute — so you must be very brief!!!

Of course — feel free say anything you want — but the board tends to get turned off by “off-topic” comments (e.g., “Amazon is ruining Belltown” or “I loved Mama’s burritos and cheap tequila shots“).

Therefore, please focus on the building and the criteria! Thanks!!!

For details about the building, please look directly at a PDF of the nomination here  or a summary description here.



We believe the building meets Standard C (association with local culture), D (distinctive architectual style of a 20’s-era auto garage) and F (importance of place — in the HEART of Belltown).

Below are the definitions of standars (also called criteria) C, D and F and details about why we feel the building meets criteria C, D and F.

Remember that each comment doesn’t need to contain all of this info (and probably shouldn’t)!!! Focus in on what is most important to you about this building….based on Criteria C, D or F.  


mama2Is the building associated in a significant way with a significant aspect of the cultural, political, or economic heritage of the community?

KEY to CRITERIA C: Explain why you feel the building reflects Belltown’s cultural and economic heritage

The Mama’s building is significantly associated with auto-oriented businesses, a significant aspect of the social/economic heritage of early Belltown and Downtown Seattle.

As stated in the“Belltown Historic Context Statement and Survey Report” by Sheridan (2007), Belltown has two types of buildings built during the 1920’s were “particularly notable:” the film industry and automobile garages. We have several film industry buildings landmarked, but no auto garages. We need this!!!

According to the 2006 Historic Resources Survey, “the storefront on Bell Street is one of downtown’s most intact examples of an auto repair garage.”

While the owners may argue that the building is “nothing special,” it is this exact simple and utilitarian nature of this building that makes it qualify for landmark status under Criteria C. This IS Belltown’s history!

Criteria D. architectural style

alleyDoes the Mama’s building embody the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, or period, or of a method of construction?

KEY to CRITERIA D: Explain why you feel the building embodies the distinctive visible characteristic of a 1920’s-era auto garage

The Mama’s building’s intact wood sash windows along the alleyway and Bell Street present the distinctive visible characteristics of a classic 1920’s automobile garage. It is the best remaining example of an auto garage remaining in Belltown and perhaps the best remaining example in all of downtown Seattle.



Is the Mama’s building an easily identifiable visual feature of its neighborhood or the City and does it contribute to the distinctive quality or identity of the Belltown neighborhood or the City due to prominence of spatial location, contrasts of siting, age, or scale?


KEY to Criteria F: Explain why you feel the building’s visibility and location make it worthy of designation under Criteria F

posterThe building’s prominent corner location makes it an easily identifiable future that contributes to the distinctive architectural character of this portion of 2nd Avenue.

The building’s bright and decorative brick facade is distinct and very visible.

The building is known and loved due to its long-time association with Mama’s

The building is located next to an existing historic landmark: the Wayne Apartments!wayne

The building’s location is prominent, with three sides exposed to the public — TWO OF WHICH ARE ADJACENT TO PUBLIC PARKS.


centralThe Mama’s Mexican Kitchen builidng is a significant building in a significant location