Many people reading this post will have already heard something about the Wayne Apartments, Belltown’s funky but beloved 3-gabled building that houses Neon Boots, Lava Lounge and Rocco’s Pizza and that is next-door to Shorty’s.
But what is up with the Wayne? Is it going to be torn down? Didn’t we already go through this?
We know everyone has a lot of questions. Even WE have a lot of questions!
But we’ve been working hard trying to get some answers. So — in an attempt to sort things out for our fellow Belltowners, below is our best attempt at answering expected questions! Please let us know on our Facebook page if you have any other questions or comments!!
What are the Wayne Apartments?
Constructed sometime between 1889 and 1891, Belltown’s Wayne Apartments building is one of City’s oldest buildings. It is currently very run-down, but nevertheless provides amazingly affordable housing (albeit due to its horrible conditions that likely violate Seattle Landlord-Tenant Laws.)
The Wayne has become a significant component of the Belltown neighborhood because of its striking visual presence and its critical role as the KEYSTONE building within the Heart of Belltown. With the thriving local venues of the Lava, Rocco’s and Neon Boots downstairs,
the Wayne is the nucleus of a significant district that is
CENTRAL TO THE HEART AND SOUL OF THE BELLTOWN COMMUNITY
The 2015 Landmarking
The Wayne gained notoriety and another place in Belltown history when in the fall of 2015, the community became aware that the building was planned to be demolished, along with adjacent buildings up to Tula’s.
The owner just needed to past through Landmarks review, where they said the building’s condition was too poor to qualify for landmark status.
However — with the support of more than 100 Belltowner’s the Board decided that the Wayne DID meet Landmark standards in a historic vote (see article here).
After the vote, Belltown had great collective celebration, and many thought the story ended there.
But it didn’t.
So then isn’t the Building Already Protected?
Yes and no. The building is a designated Landmark and the owners cannot do anything major to it without approval from the Landmarks Board.
25.12.580 – “In no event shall the (Landmark protections) deprive any owner of a site, improvement or object of a reasonable economic use of such site, improvement or object.”
What this means is that the owner can get the City’s permission to tear down the building if the owner can prove that keeping the building would provide “no reasonable economic use.”
The City makes this determination through a review of several factors described in the Landmarks Code at 25.12.590
So What’s Going on Now?
Over the past two years, the City has been working with the landowners, who has claimed since 2016 that it can find “no reasonable economic use” of the building. This is based on their finding that the costs it would take to rehabilitate the building would be more than the revenue it could generate after the rehabilitation.
And on January 9th, the City’s Historic Preservation Officer formally agreed by issuing a two-page memo to the Landmarks Preservation board finding that “it was unlikely a reasonable rate of return could be achieved” under any rehabilitation scenario, and — therefore, as required by law, she recommended that “no controls be imposed on the Wayne Apartments.”
The City’s Historic Preservation Officer has signed a “Controls and Incentives Agreement” with the owners — Rain City Properties — that will remove all protections on the building, clearing the way for a developer to propose a nine-story apartment building on the site.
The Landmarks Board is set to vote on the agreement at a public meeting to be held Wednesday, January 17, 2018. According to the City, the Board may take one of two possible actions at the meeting:
Approve the Controls and Incentives Agreement as recommended by the Historic Preservation Officer; or
Not approve the Controls and Incentives Agreement and forward its own recommendation on Controls and Incentives to the Hearing Examiner as provided for in SMC 15.12.520.
What are Friends of Historic Belltown Doing?
Our priority now is to determine if the Historic Preservation Officer’s recommendations are supported by applicable law and substantial evidence in the record. While we have only had a few days to review the record, it is clear to us that the information provided DOES NOT PASS THE TRANSPARENCY TEST that we feel it needs to. We received the two-page recommendation letter, a two page “proforma” with no explaining text, and a pile of documents provided by the owners back in 2016.
So for starters, we have REQUESTED A SIX-WEEK EXTENSION to allow adequate time for public review of and comment on the record and associated recommendation to allow the building to be torn down.
If given the time, we will work with our establish partners, including Historic Seattle, to identify options that we believe would allow the owners to receive their required “reasonable return” without the unreasonable loss of one of Belltown’s most important blocks in terms of community identity, community and sense of place.
If not given the time, we will have to decide if we wish to challenge the Agreement with the City Hearing Examiner. To win a challenge, we would have to show that City was “clearly erroneous” in determining that it could not protect the building under the Landmarks Preservation ordinance.
What Should the Belltown Faithful Do???
This is a difficult question, because what we need now are good lawyers, rather than crowds of angry Belltowners. BUT WE WILL NEED COMMUNITY SUPPORT. We just don’t know how to best channel and focus all of that wonderful Belltown energy and love that we are trying to protect and enhance. So PLEASE STAY TUNED! And you will hear the CALL TO ACTION.
For now, you can email the City Preservation Officer, Sarah Sodt, and let her know that you WANT MORE TIME TO ALLOW THE COMMUNITY TO CONDUCT AN INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF THE RECORD AND THE CITY’S FINDINGS regarding the “reasonable return” calculations.
If you do email Sarah, PLEASE BE POLITE AND COURTEOUS. She is a very nice person and has been very helpful to Friends of Historic Belltown over the past two years. Being angry won’t help. But ASKING FOR AN EXTENSION will help!!!
Dear Ms. Sodt. Please provide an extension to the public meeting for the Wayne Apartments Controls and Incentives Agreement to allow local businesses, community groups, residents, and the general public time to review, understand and make informed comments regarding the agreement.
City Historic Preservation Officer
What Happens if we lose protections on the Wayne?
If the City approval to remove all protections stands, then we are still not done. Friends of Historic Belltown, together with other neighborhood groups including Project Bellown, are working to establish a BELLTOWN ARTS AND CULTURE DISTRICT centered on the block that the Wayne now stands. It is our hope that the City of Seattle — in collaboration with landowners, local businesses, and the entire Belltown community — will work together to create a proactive, comprehensive plan for the Belltown ARTS AND CULTURE DISTRICT.
So we know that’s a lot to take in! But please let us know on our FaceBook Page if you have any questions!
Friends of Historic Belltown was invited to speak at a Native-themed event put on by Sacred Hoop and sponsored by Seattle Parks and Recreation Department at the historic Tilikum Place — in front of Belltown’s Chief Seattle Statue.
Friends of Historic Belltown’s Steve Hall used this opportunity to introduce an ambitious plan we are developing to create a new Native Arts, Culture and Business district in Belltown. The location would be where the Viaduct cuts through Belltown — and the timing would take place after the Viaduct is removed. The location is also the site of an ancient and historically important Duwamish Village site.
The following is a transcript of the presentation. Note: the talk was written to be heard live, and a lot is missed by reading — so we added some photos and headings to make it a bit more suitable for reading.
My name is Steve Hall. I am with Friends of Historic Belltown – And I have something wonderful to share with you today.
But I’d like to start with some important questions for you to think about. Just take a moment.
Who are you?
Where are you?
Where do you belong?
These questions probe at three things central to being a human being
our sense of identity
our sense of place
and our sense of belonging – of community
These are the things that what make us who we are. And these are the things that I will be talking about today.
WE HAVE A DESPERATE NEED FOR IDENTITY
I believe that our society today – even before the current unrest that has both shocked and divided us — makes it difficult for us to feel secure with these three essential human qualities – our sense of identity, our sense of place and our sense of community
These basic human attributes – who we are, where we are, where we belong — have been destabilized. The have been unsettled.
We are seeing today at the national level – people searching for identity – place – and community. They are finding it – at best – by cheering for the local sports teams. And at worst, they are finding it by targeting other groups of people to rally against.
THE SEATTLE BOOM AND IDENTITY
And we are seeing a crisis in identity here in Seattle, as we undergo one of the fastest and largest surges of development we have seen.
More cranes than ever before in our history. More canes that in any other City in the US.
Our identities are being lost. Our places are being lost. And our communities, are being lost.
And some have said – when we tear down our history – we tear down our souls
From Ballard, to the Central District, to here in Belltown, and Uptown, and South Lake Union. Across the City – these areas are being transformed.
And this urban transformation is transforming us.
And it is displacing many of us.
And it threatens our very selves
Who are we?
Where are we?
Where do we belong?
FRIENDS OF HISTORIC BELLTOWN
Neighborhood identity, sense of place and sense of belonging are the core values of Friends of Historic Belltown. We fight to designate historic buildings as City Landmarks. We do this because we feel that these buildings are important to our community’s identity and sense of place and sense of community.
So far, we are 5 and 0 (win/loss) in arguing against expensive land use attorneys at the City of Seattle Landmarks Hearing Board. Buildings we have successfully fought for include:
Mama’s Mexican Kitchen
Griffin Business School
Of course – it helps when we have the facts and law on our side. These buildings all clearly met the standards for landmark designation established in city code. However – we have also seen many other buildings be torn down because no one went to the hearing to make a case for preservation. We have a saying:
In Seattle, historic buildings that no one stands up for don’t stand long.
So a community voice is essential to preservation.
The Importance of Stories
Another essential aspect of preservation is to find the stories beneath the buildings. Buildings need a story to survive – and, in fact, it is the stories behind the buildings – more than just the bricks or facades — that make them so valuable to our neighborhood’s identity, sense of place and sense of community.
For example – for the 1918 Franklin Apartments – we found that this building was one of the first places (and perhaps the first place) in the city of Seattle where is was acceptable and allowable for single women to live. Before that time, women had to live under the household of a man – either her husband or father. The Franklin changed that, and it is an essential part of the story of Belltown becoming the home to the downtown workforce – to the many women office and retail workers that helped shape Seattle’s downtown retail and business core.
Stories are important. Our personal stories as well as the stories of our neighborhoods and communities. Stories work together to tell us who we are, where we are, and where we belong.
THE STORY THAT CHANGED OUR LIVES
So, in conducting some of our first research about the history of Belltown, we came upon a story that shocked us. A story that humbled us. And in many ways – it was a story that made us feel ashamed.
We learned that the west edge of Belltown — at the foot of present day Bell Street — was the site of a Native village called Baqbaq bab…or “Little Prairies.” That is probably a loose translation – but it is believe to have been called that because it was near salal berry fields – an important food crop that was cultivated by the people of this area for thousands of years. These fields are believed to have been located near what is now the Seattle Center.
And we learned about the vast Native civilizations that were present here – and throughout the Salish Sea.
And we learned about the central role of longhouses in native life. And how families and clans lived communally in longhouses. And how communities gathered in large, communal longhouses to celebrate and share and be together.
And we learned about the deep sense of identity, and sense of place, and sense of community that the native people of this area had. And still have.
The Three Villages of Elliott Bay
And we learned the Little Prairies site was one of three major villages that were present along the shores of what is now called Elliott Bay.
These villages all had multiple longhouses. And federal agents burned the last one down some time in the late 1800’s.
One of these three village sites was over in West Seattle – Herring’s House – a site near where a few years ago the Duwamish worked together with many others to build the first Duwamish Longhouse to stand above the shores of Elliott Bay for more than 100 years.
The second village was perhaps the largest of the three – “the Little Crossing Over Place.” It was located approximately at the site of the present-day King Street Station. Not much remains of that site that I know of. It is lost to history.
And the third Native village was right here in Belltown. At the foot of what is now Bell Street.
The Little Prairies Story
We learned that the village of Baqbaq bab –Little Prairies -had a second life when in 1865 the City evicted Native people from living in the main part of town, what we now call Pioneer Square.
We learned that Belltown became the home of many Native exiles from the Downtown area. Duwamish and Native people from many other tribes and places.
They worked in Belltown.
Belltown may have even been founded because of the available workforce at Baqbaq bab. Most people don’t know this – but Seattle was built in the early days by Native people. It attracted Native people from throughout the Puget Sound region – and from the east, and from Alaska. It was a place for opportunities in very difficult times for Native people.
We don’t know when or how the camp in this area was lost, but it was there for decades – at least until the 1890’s
Stories of Disturbance and Desecration
And we learned that 1912 – developers encountered burial remains in this area.
And we learned that burial remains were again disturbed. But not way back in the past when people didn’t know any better. But in 1998 by a Port of Seattle construction project. Not even 20 years ago our City was digging up remains of Native people in Belltown — in order to make way for buildings.
We don’t know how that sad chapter ended…we’re still learning about that. But we were shocked to learn that such a thing happened recently right in our Belltown community.
And we learned some other rather sad aspects about the Little Prairies Site.
In the late 1950’s, the city of Seattle and Washington Department of Transportation built the Alaskan Way Viaduct – a four-lane highway mega-structure — right through and over the Little Prairies Site.
And today, millions of gallons of crude oil roll over the little prairies site every day.
So, our group – Friends of Historic Belltown — here we were thinking we are “protecting” our culture – which could be described as a row of dive bars, and affordable housing for artists, musicians, restaurant workers, and low-income people of varied backgrounds. Yes, this is important – but the scale of the loss of the Duwamish and of Native people in general – faced with that – we felt humbled.
And in some ways, we felt ashamed, our problems seemed quaint.
SO WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US – AND LEAD US?
There are several things aligning that have lead us to the wonderful vision we wish to share to you today.
And perhaps it’s appropriate that I am talking about our vision in public for the first time – on the day before the solar eclipse. Because an eclipse is thought of by many Native people as a time of renewal. Of healing. Of creation.
And I think that is really what our vision is all about. Renewal. Healing. Rebirth.
So, what is aligning?
We have a culture-wide crisis of identity – and in place-based community.
And at the same time, we are questioning the false narratives of our history – and we are searching desperately for new, authentic narratives.
And at the same time, we are experiencing a period of rapid urban development, as well as rapid loss of our community fabric. Here in Belltown, we are losing our grunge. Our urban blue-collar, workforce identity.
We have not given up on that… but we know we can’t stop change.
We need to work with change. Perhaps we even need to embrace it. To create a new identity
People are flocking to Belltown. When they arrive: where are they?
What community do they belong to?
What makes this place a place?
What makes the Belltown community a community?
They need something.
We need something.
The entire cityneeds something to tell us
who we are,
where we are, and
where we belong!
And at the same time, we are tearing down of the viaduct. A four-lane highway that goes right through the little prairies. It will be removed.
And at the same time, the city is prospering. It is rich with money both public and private funding – they are spending billions to repave and rebuild things — $175 million alone on a First Avenue street car! Many millions more for residential developments. Many millions more for a renovated sports arena at Seattle Center. Many millions more for an expanded Convention Center. Millions for office space. Billions of dollars of investment.
And they know they need to start investing in the communities that are being impacted.
And at the same time, there is a strong need for native people to have a place at the table. With this great abundance. With this economic growth and renewal.
Where are the native people?
How are they benefiting for the current prosperity in a city named after a Native leader?
NOW IS THE TIME. HERE IS THE PLACE.
What is our vision?
The Waterfront Seattle project has already “included native people.” The project includes:
Large wood seats
And some interpretive signs
This is great – it’s the way Seattle has always addressed native people.
In fact – our very first public art piece was a totem pole.
But we also must realize that the pole was stolen from an Alaska tribe by Seattle businessmen wishing to brand Seattle as a gateway to Alaska.
And that the local native people of this area didn’t even build totem poles.
I fear city planners — while sincere and well intentioned — don’t really understand what it means to include native people – they think they can put up a totem pole or some Native art and slap themselves on the back and proclaim “look at how much we love native people!”
We at Friends of Historic Belltown think something is missing with that type of thinking – this type of “honoring” of native people.
It is the native people that are missing!
Native people are not totem poles.
They aren’t statues.
Native people are here and now!
And we want to bring them back to Belltown. To the little prairies site!
We have several concepts that I’d like to introduce to you today
THE NATIVE BELLTOWN VISION
Here is our vision:
First – the little prairies Landmark
Working with local and regional tribes, select and nominate a site near the Little Prairies site for designation as a city of Seattle landmark and for placement on the National Register of Historic Places to recognize and tell the rich and complex story of the Little Prairies site.
Next – Belltown landing
Design and install a native “landing” or “gateway” at or near the Bell Street pedestrian bridge to indicate that people are entering a place of ancestral, historic and present-day Native people. The gateway would be created by local native artists in collaboration with local and regional tribes and the Belltown and downtown communities.
The Bell Street pedestrian bridge is the primary link between the waterfront and Belltown and is located directly on the location of the little prairies site, a site that has welcomed seafaring travelers and returning residents for millennia. Here, multiple contexts combine to make this location well-suited to place a gateway to establish Belltown as a neighborhood that honors, respects and lives its native heritage — of the Duwamish and the many other native people that have contributed so much to our city since its beginning.
Third – The Salal Trail
Create an urban pedestrian trail overlay as a linear destination for residents and visitors to learn about and engage with native people through a string of native places, installations, and businesses in the market, waterfront, Belltown, Uptown and South Lake Union areas.
Fourth – The Belltown community longhouse and multi-cultural center
Plan, fund and build a traditional cedar post and beam longhouse in the Puget Salish longhouse style to serve as a joint Belltown community center and Multi-cultural center. The cultural center will build from Native Salish culture and community values to create a place where people from all cultures and places are welcome.
Because Longhouses have stood in this location as a community gathering place for thousands of years.
Because Belltown needs a new community center.
Because Belltown wishes to recognize its native heritage and people as part of the community’s shared story.
Because a community longhouse would be both a symbolic and functional object of community identity and connection.
Fifth – Little prairies community park
Develop the proposed Battery Street Tunnel Portal Park site (a future project to be led by Seattle Parks and Recreation, the redevelopment of the area in front of the Battery Street tunnel of the Viaduct is planned to be a “park to serve the Belltown neighborhood)” into a community park that honors and celebrates native people as central to our community’s past, present and future.
Why: a park honoring our area’s native heritage would provide an excellent opportunity for the community to work together toward a meaningful goal based on people, place and history. The result would provide both needed public open space as well as a physical setting and conceptual story that promotes community connections through shared sense of place, history and identity.
Finally: Establish a Belltown native arts, culture and economic development district
Due to the significant native history of the little prairies area, native businesses could contribute to an authentic urban identity for the Belltown community. The current time of transformation provides an opportunity to create a vibrant new native arts, culture and business district and associated native presence in the Belltown community.
We want to work with the City of Seattle and others to establish a district (formally or informally) that supports collaborative planning to build a network or cluster of native-owned businesses in the Belltown/waterfront area. Possible businesses include education, vocational training, regional and international trade, arts, entertainment, natural resource consulting, tourism/hospitality, merchandise, and native foods.
So, in closing…. this is our dream
Belltown – and the entire city – is in desperate need to find our identity and sense of place and community.
We believe that the solution to our future is already here – and has been here for thousands of years.
It lies within the Duwamish and other native people – and their deep sense of identity, community and place.
We want a native-based community hub. In the face of faceless change – we need a new community. A multi-cultural community that will sprout from our shared native roots that still exist deep within this place we now call Belltown.
We don’t want just totem poles or statues or plaques – we want a new identity – and new sense of place – and a new community
We believe –with the help of the Duwamish and all native people of the Puget sound region – we can build a new community.
We want a community that sustains and support all Belltowners —
Native and non-native
Black and brown and white
Recent and long-time residents… and future residents;
First time visitors – and returning friends and family
our neighbors in Uptown and downtown and South Lake Union
Laborers and business owners;
Young and old;
Rich and poor;
Housed and homeless;
Intoxicated and sober;
healthy and ill;
And everyone in between!
We want a native district that becomes a cultural anchor of the Belltown community!
It is our vision that – when we are done — we of the Belltown community — all of us — will have a much better idea about these three things:
Who we are
Where we are
And where we belong!
(For more information on the Native Belltown concept, please contact Steve Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206.441.1882. And click HERE for a preliminary copy of our concept report)
The landmark designation comes as Seattle in general — and Belltown in particular — face stupifying change, as Amazon and other tech businesses continue their meteoric transformation of the South Lake Union area– and as their thousands of employees flock to the city.
The Developer’s Argument
An interesting aspect of historic preservation in Belltown is that most buildings that are nominated for landmark designation are actually nominated by developers who which to tear the buildings down. This is because, under city code, buildings older than 25 years old have to go through nomination review before they can be removed. Historic preservation groups sometimes refer to such nominations prepared by developers as “anti-nominations,” because they are written by people with an inherent interest in the nomination being denied.
And so the Mama’ nomination meeting — held in the basement of City Hall — began with the landowner representatives arguing against landmark designation.
The landowner’s attorney, Jack McCullough, started out by proclaiming that “Mama’s is closed,” noting that the “old Mama’s” has been replaced with a new owner. He told the Board that it has no authority to protect a business, recalling how the Board denied the Blue Moon Tavern landmark status for this very reason.
Then the landowner’s architectural expert, David Peterson, of Nicholson Kovalchick Architects, who prepared the nomination on behalf of the landowners, began working through a PowerPoint presentation detailing how he felt the building was “typical” or below the quality of many other historic buildings in Belltown and, therefore, the building was not worthy of landmark status.
Mr. Peterson also went to great lengths to convince the Board that the back of the building was not a historic auto repair garage – countering a 2006 historic resource survey prepared by the city that determined the back of the building to be “one of downtown’s most intact examples of an auto repair garage.”
He told the board that the shop in the back (which was an auto garage for decades) wasn’t always a auto garage and housed a plumbing business at one point. He encouraged the Board to imagine the building as “Runstad Heating & Plumbing Company” and not as a historic auto garage.
He also described several alterations that had been made to windows and storefronts, telling the board that the building was far too altered to meet the city’s standards for designation.
He also said that — counter to claims made by the community — the building isn’t a highly visible landmark, but rather is hidden by street trees.
Mr. McCullough closed the argument against the designation by stating that for plain-looking buildings — such as Mama’s — the “integrity” standards for the building must be much higher. He said the building’s common status and poor integrity (due to condition) means the board should deny landmark status.
The Public Weighs In
Then it was the public’s turn to speak, and several members of the public spoke in support of the nomination.
Tiffany Jorgensen of Friends of Historic Belltown argued that the building is remarkably intact, particularly the intricate windows of the auto garage portion of the building. She also noted that the building is highly visible – and is exposed to the public on three sides, two of which are public parks (Regrade Park and Bell Street Park) and the third side (the front) is along Second Avenue, which she said many consider to be the cultural center of Belltown.
Beck Prigot, also of Friends of Historic Belltown, presented an eloquent speech describing how the Belltown neighborhood has always been a working class, blue-collar neighborhood, and that this building has the integrity and ability to tell that story.
Eugenia Woo, Director of Preservation Services for Historic Seattle, refuted the landowners’ representives claims that the building has been changed too much. She pointed out that the landmark ordinance doesn’t require that a building be perfectly preserved in order to designate it as a landmark and that we should expect that a building such as this — that has been in continuous use for almost 100 years — will have some modifications.
Other people speaking in favor of the nomination included Brooke Best, Preservation Advocacy Coordinator of Historic Seattle; Belltown Community Council members Keith Kentop, David Levinson and Terique Scott; and community member Merlee Sherman.
No one spoke against the designation.
A Careful Deliberation Focused on Integrity
The board then began deliberations which lasted more than 30 minutes. And while most board members acknowledged that it is more difficult to designate a commercial working space — compared to an ornate building one usually imagines when thinking of landmark buildings — they all felt that this building makes the cut.
Many board members stated that the building was a good representation of the historic character of the Belltown neighborhood, and they clearly disagreed with the landowner’s representatives that the building lacks “integrity.”
They said that the overall look and feel of the building remains strong. One board member corrected the fact that “integrity” — as defined by National Park Service historic preservation standards — does not mean condition, as believed by the landowner’s representatives, but rather means things such as location, design, and setting, and that using this meaning, the building has remarkable integrity.
The building needed six affirmative votes from the ten-member board to be approved. And because three of the board members were out sick, the building would have been denied landmark status if even two board members present voted against the designation.
However — the vote to approve the designation was unanimous, and the Mama’s Mexican Kitchen has become Seattle’s latest city landmark.
There are many possibilities for what will happen next. The landowers could appeal the designation, or they could work with the city to negotiate a “controls and incentives agreement,” according to city code. If an agreement can be reached, it will then be sent to the Landmarks Preservation Board for approval at a public meeting.
Friends of Historic Belltown is hoping that it can work with the developer and the city to develop a win-win solution to this tricky challenge of landmark preservation of private property. And while the owners are probably upset by the designation and feel it to be a financial loss — we’re hoping we can turn them around to see that the landmark status of the building is an asset, not a liability.
We believe that besides having historic value, this building has economic value. People LOVE historic buildings, and studies have found that historic buildings and districts can have great economic benefits to landowners, businesses and communities alike.
So we believe that this portion of Belltown can become an economic hot-spot of high public interest and value — for both residents and visitors.
Freinds of Historic Belltown will be working with the Belltown Community Council, Project Belltown, Downtown Seattle Association, the Department of Neighborhoods, and others to designate this area of Belltown as an Arts and Culture district. If successful, the Mama’s building will stand with other historic buildings and new buildings to create refreshing, authentic, and historic neighborhood to be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike for decades to come.
The Landmark Preservation Board will be deciding the fate of Belltown’s beloved Mama’s building on Wednesday, January 18th (scheduled for 5:30 PM, but come a little early just in case).
If they decide to not designate the building as a landmark, we believe it will be torn down this summer. If they do designate it, the building will still be developed, but the facade will likely remain to be reused in the new building (including the front and the classic auto-garage along Bell St and the alley).
Community support IS CRITICAL to saving 2nd Avenue’s architectural style and associated neighborhood identity, culture and community! Please join your fellow Belltowners in supporting this nomination. The most important way you can help is to attend the meeting and submit comments (either in person at the meeting or via email).
EVEN A SHORT EMAIL WILL HELP
EVEN JUST ATTENDING THE MEETING WITHOUT COMMENTING WILL HELP
SEND EMAILS BY MONDAY, JAN 16, TO
Sarah Sodt, City Historic Preservation Officer
To make a comment, just state your name and your connection to Belltown and why you think the building is significant. To be really effective, please tie your comment to the specific standards for designation in city code. We believe the building meets Standard C, D and F, but for now, we are focusing on Standard F.
Specifically, we feel the building meets Standard F because:
The Mama’s building is an easily identifiable visual feature of the Belltown neighborhood and the city of Seattle. It contributes to the distinctive quality and identity of the Belltown neighborhood due to the prominence of spatial location – AT 2ND and Bell: THE HEART OF BELLTOWN
For more info on the criteria and how to write an effective comment see HERE
For background information, see our previous post HERE.
A complete copy of the nomination is available HERE
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.
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.
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.”
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.
IF YOU DO PLAN TO COMMENT — PLEASE FOCUS the LANDMARK CRITERIA (see the letter guide here)!!!
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
What’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.
That 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!!!
EMAIL comments to email@example.com 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 whyyou 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.
Criteria C — COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION
Is 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
Does 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.
CriteriaF. VISIBILITY AND LOCATION
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
The 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!
The building’s location is prominent, with three sides exposed to the public — TWO OF WHICH ARE ADJACENT TO PUBLIC PARKS.
The building is LOCATED ON A CORNER IN THE HEART OF BELLTOWN. THIS IS THE CULTURAL CENTER OF BELLTOWN.
The Mama’s Mexican Kitchen builidng is a significant building in a significant location
Friends of Historic Belltown met with the Mama’s Building owners’ rep and architects on Tuesday, and while they definitely want to take down the existing building, they also want to work with the community to make a cool project worthy of this location. They want to do something that has something in it for the locals (i.e., the 2nd Ave crowd). They want to meet with the locals to develop specific designs.
And while nothing is specific yet, they are very open to several other suggestions we had, such as:
providing workforce housing units for artist/restaurant industry folks
including a floor with artists’ workshops (for residents and maybe even available for rent by the community)
a downstairs music venue instead of parking (the Belltown Underground)
a woonerf in the alley (which could include alley seating areas for 2nd Ave bars)
other ideas the 2nd Ave community may have
In short, they said they wanted to do this project right – to be an example of how to build in Belltown in a way that builds on and improves the character of the block we love — not that tears it down.
But now – after having such a promising meeting with them — we’re in the conflicting and awkward position of having to be adversarial at the landmark nomination hearing on September 7.
It’s a tough spot to be in.
We’re trying to figure out a way to not burn an opportunity, while at the same time not turning our backs on this iconic building in the center of the Belltown universe.
We’re thinking the City process may force us to play both hands: fight for the nomination, while working with the owners’ group and design team.
NO MATTER WHAT — WE WOULD STILL LIKE PEOPLE TO ATTEND THE MEETING ON WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 7TH.
We’d love to hear any suggestions or comments — so please let us know on the Saving Second Avenue Facebook Page. And as always….STAY TUNED!
As far as we know, the owners of the Mama’s building are still planning to demolish the existing brick building — built in 1924 — and construct an 8-story apartment building on the site.
As we have been expecting, the developers have submitted a nomination to designate the existing building (at 2234 Second Ave) as a historic Landmark (not yet available online, but FHB has obtained a copy).
However, we’re pretty sure the developers don’t actually want to have the building designated. If all goes as expected, the developer’s attorney and architect (the same one that prepared the nomination) will argue against the nomination in front of the Landmarks Board.
That is why it’s so important for the community to come together and support this nomination, just as it did for the Wayne Apartments.
The nomination hearing is not yet scheduled but will probably be sometime in August.
We are expecting that the public hearing for this much-loved building will be a major activator of the Belltown community, so stay tuned!
We were sad (but not surprised) to hear that the owner of the Wayne Apartments has requested that the Landmarks Preservation Board grant an economic hardship exemption so that he can tear the building down (or sell it to someone who will).
We have a few leads and other strategies we are pursuing, so all hope is not lost and the story is not yet over. Stay tuned for updates!
The owners of the Franklin Apartments (4th and Bell) are working with the Landmarks Preservation Board to try to tear down the Franklin Building (except for the two street-facing facades). They propose to build a 24-story apartment building on the properties between the Franklin and Belltown’s historic Fire Station 2, the oldest working fire station in Seattle.
We see this entire block as a critical part of Belltown’s character, look and feel, and we hope to be able to work with the City and the developer to create a project that will ADD to Belltown’s character and values, not take away from it.
We are participating in the applicant’s discussions with the Landmark Board and are also working on a letter to request the City begin early review of the proposed action under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).
2nd Ave Community Block Party
Friends of Historic Belltown has been contacted by the great folks at Under the Needle to support their annual 2nd Ave Community Party and Art Show proposed for Saturday, August 20th between Blanchard and Lenora.The event will include artists, performances, and wrestling (yep!). Under the Needle is a keystone Belltown business that we think contributes greatly to our Belltown culture, look and feel, so we’re all in on helping them with this project. Check out this artsy video they made from the 2015 event here.
As always, if you have any questions, comments, gripes or suggestions: please contact us at: