Defacing History

A Loophole in the Landmark Process Lets Developers Strip Old Buildings of Everything Great About Them—So They Can Tear Them Down to Build Something Bland and New


Evan McMullen, the agent of the building on Eighth Avenue, which is owned by Cascadia Holdings, says the tiles were removed because some were loose and the owners wanted to see if they could be "recycled" (even though according to a witness they were smashed to fragments on the sidewalk). When asked if the building was being defaced to avoid future historic designation, he said, "Not to my knowledge."

Uh, Evan McMullen was (until recently) the tenant in that building, the shady proprietor of Cosmopolitan Motors. He also lived on the top floor for a while.

Not exactly a reliable source, to say the very least.
Thank you. It's sad when the stranger has to come up with ideas on how to preserve our history.
What did you expect?

If you want real green growth, you'll have to elect an active city council and mayor who don't work for the developers.

Like Mike and Mike and Dorsal.

Oh, hey, Dorsal has free pizza at Piacora's tonight, plus stamps, if you haven't mailed in your ballot yet. I might get you some beer if you can legally drink.
Thanks for the article. This has been going on for way too long and it's high time it starts getting some attention. The loss of these facades is a serious attack on Seattle's architectural history.
It's kind of ridiculous that absenteeism basically blocks landmark status (re the 5-2 decision). The decisions should be based solely on those present to vote. That said, not every building that's tried for landmark status is worth saving. I'm no architect, but I don't really see how the 8th and Lenora building is really that special. That Denny's in Ballard had more going for it and I still didn't think it was worth saving.
This building is super f-ing rad and I can't believe this happened. I look straight onto that part of the building every day and there was nothing wrong with that facade.
whoever did this deserves a massive karmic kick in the nutz
There has to be some sense of balance. Other than terra cotta tiles that look cool, what historical significance does this former antique car dealership have? You can't save em all, and given the probable increases in value of square footage downtown over the next 50 years, does it really make sense to preserve low density buildings like this because of a building facade?

It makes more sense to use the historic preservation laws in cases where there really is history attached to the buidling--otherwise, what is the true purpose of these laws? Preventing development? Your other option is sprawl, which appears to be unpopular with Stranger writers and readers.

The terra-cotta tiles don't just "look cool." Terra-cotta facades in Seattle have historical architectural value because they were designed to function as rain shield cladding. The polished terra-cotta was a really efficient, functional, and beautiful way to keep downtown buildings dry and clean. Whereas brick facade buildings accumulate grime over time, these terra-cotta facades stay clean by letting the rain wash the dirt off.

I don't think there's any lack of development opportunities in Seattle right now. Take a look at all the parking lots and empty plots. Historic preservation regulations do not, as you suggest, aim at "preventing development." They are, rather, guidelines for ensuring that development or renovations happen with respect to buildings of historical importance for the city.
@9, so I guess I just misunderstand the historic preservation regulations. I didn't know they were intended to protect structures that use historic building materials.

I think there's a real disconnect between what people think these laws are for--retaining buildings of historic value--and how they have been recently used--trying to protect a Denny's restaurant. People even tried to invoke the law to save the Sunset Bowl, at tilt slab structure about as historic as a Target store.

I get the desire to not see cool old buildings torn down and replaced with boring, lowest cost designs, but in a lot of cases it seem these laws are really being stretched to protect buildings of marginal historic value.
@10 The more we tear down buildings with character and replace with unremarkable architecture the more we lose the sense of who we are and where we came from.

If developers had their way, Pioneer Square would be a parking lot these days and I think people forget about these battles we have faced and won. We can only lament the losses over the years (like the Pande Cameron building on 8th at Pine)and attempt to protect the buildings that reflect the character that makes Seattle unique.

Areas that have managed to retain some of their original charm bring the soul to the city that is missing in many metropolitan areas that are constantly looking toward the bottom line building up. I am an advocate for responsible urban density but it can not be at the cost of losing our soul. We have too many examples in the past few years of denisty leading to unremarkability.
This is a major problem with the landmark process, as is a requirement that the majority of the board agree on the same criterion (of the 7 possible). With Waldo Hospital, we had a majority agreeing the building was a landmark, but they did not agree on the same criterion so it failed.

Those from the community who choose to participate in the landmark process are often villified, sometimes in these pages. I'm glad Dominic notes buildings over 25 years old have to go to the Landmark Board regardless of whether anyone from the community is willing to play the role of building "defense counsel".

Defacing the building is a very common tactic by those who wish to create landfill instead of reuse perfectly good structures. It's not always as obvious as jackhammering architectural detail. More often it is allowing weeds and tagging to sprout.

That said, the Landmark Board is charged with judging whether the building ** in the original condition ** is worthy of landmarking. This point is not well understood by too many of the Board members. So, the 8th and Lenora building should be adjudicated based upon photos with the undamaged detail.

The City's Landmark STAFF is then charged with determining through their process whether they will condition development on the site to include restoration of the damage or if the building can be called historic and still torn down. The Staff's opinion is backstopped by Seattle City Council.

Frankly, the Board and Staff should revisit this building at the first opportunity if only to make a point to others who deface buildings to avoid landmark status.

Thanks, Dominic, for shining some light on this issue. Not all of us will agree on whether a building is worthy of designation, but we should be able to agree the process has some holes that need to be fixed.
"You can't save them all" is exactly what every developer wants us to think in this city. And their hope is that they can tear each and every one down fast enough so that 20 years from now, when we are walking through our suburb in the city, those pesky things like cornices, tile work, history, and aesthetic won't even matter because we will be too busy staring into our iphones on a light rail that probably still won't go to the airport. I'm all for density and a more dynamic city, but what city is Seattle really trying to build? Is another building that looks like the Olivian(that fucking building SUCKS) more important than trying to incorporate historical buildings with character into the landscape? You can't save them all but, could we please try to save a few before they are all gone?
If you can't be bothered to actually honour your duties, then get off the board and find someone who would care.

@8: "Other than terra cotta tiles that look cool, what historical significance does this former antique car dealership have?" Previous use is not the only factor in determining a building's historical value. There is serious significance in the style and construction of a building because it's often determined by historical trends, so its physical appearance is in fact itself a bit of history.

"It makes more sense to use the historic preservation laws in cases where there really is history attached to the buidling." That depends on your definition of "history." Are buildings only "historical" if they've been occupied by lofty and prestigious institutions?

@10: Historical preservation laws often stipulate that in the repairs of a historical structure, identical or similar materials must be used. Materials are highly relevant.

Increasing density while also preserving a city's historical character is completely possible. Toronto isn't the best example because it has done atrocious things to itself over history, but look up Osgoode Hall. It's a fantastic 19th century building smack downtown, and it's surrounded by green lawn, trees, and wrought-iron fences. They could fit a skyscraper on the same land. And the fact it was preserved didn't stop development; it's in a neighbourhood of tall skyscrapers. It's steps away from all the major hospitals and the city's financial district.
Communal heritage expressed through individual property is an extremely complicated issue. An owner, a libertarian might say, has every right to do unto their private property as they wish. Those such as myself who believe in preservation, point to the responsibilities an individual has to a larger society that shares "ownership" of the heritage a structure represents.

The real problem though is not that every building rejected by the landmarks board makes it harder to protect other buildings. The real problem is that when asshole property owners disrespect our community's culture and history, it drives others to overreact and soon you get shit nominations like a run down Denny's in Ballard. Then the landmarks board becomes a national joke and people don't take Seattle heritage seriously. Some buildings (especially a Denny's) have to sacrificed on the alter of authenticity in order that higher priority artifacts have a better chance of being saved and respected.
@14 "Increasing density while also preserving a city's historical character is completely possible." I never implied that density does not add character to a neighborhood. There are great examples other than Toronto, (the Old Arlington Church next to modern skyskraper in Boston, The London Norman Foster Skyskraper)in fact too many to mention.

If you have visited the South Lake Union developments lately, you will see that almost nothing looks the same. There are some creative reuse of old edifaces(Alley 24) some nice new walking cooridors, beautiful new condo projects(Rollins Street)but it is also mixed with mostly bland new architecture. Almost nothing remains of the days when this Cascadia area was the blue collar printing and publishing district of the Northwest. The only reason some of the old buildings remain is the recession.

The issue at hand is not this one building(although an immediate review by a full board would settle that matter). The issue is underhandedness by money grubbing building owners that think they are above regulations. I am sure the owners of the 8th/Lenora building have used the same preservation laws they are now evading to receive tax breaks in the past for maintaining a historically significant building(I would love to see this investigated!). Now that these owners see more significant dollar signs behind redevelopment they want to play the loopholes in the system.

As an architect and citizen of this crazy town, I am completely outraged this is still happening. We should all be outraged!
Our history will be gone and we will be no different from Bellevue.
Mr. Nickels has proven over and over again he places developers at the forefront of his agenda. Crappy schools, roads, and city government are clearly too much to hassle with.
This town continues to really SUCK in so many ways.
hmm, i wonder how that slipped in there...
great reporting. here's hoping the city council acts quickly to fix the landmarks process.
I cringe every time I drive by the 8th and Lenora building!! I keep fearing the day I drive by and it's a pile of rubble. It is one of my favorite buildings in Seattle. Take a look as you drive by... beautiful arched doorways, high ceilings, hardwood floors, ornate moldings, huge windows... that's beauty!
The tiles are cool. The building is a pit. Despite the "not to my knowledge" claim, it's very likely McMullen hired the contractor to remove the "loose tiles" to deface the building so it couldn't be listed as a landmark. If you query Cascadia Holdings in the WA business license registry McMullen is the only person who is listed under "governing people," so not only is he the agent, he likely stands to profit a great deal from any sale to developers. Used car dealers earned their reputations for a reason
If you want to preserve these buildings, then here is a suggestion: open your wallet and purchase them. Please stop whining. I am amazed that so many feel that the building owner must sacrifice their economic return so you can drive by. How many of you purchased cars from cosmopolitan or some of the other building owners?

Why should a building owner be prevented from maximizing their return and selling it? They don't owe you anything.
Sadly losing another one...