The steps leading up to the main stage of the Showbox are nothing to write home about. But they become something almost religious as each one leads you higher and higher until the expansive, curved ceiling opens up above you.
There’s a feeling the Showbox invokes that is hard to pinpoint but will be impossible to imitate.
Part of its charm is that such a grungy and unassuming exterior can house this kind of space. It’s the romantic glow that illuminates the concave ceiling, the stuck-in-time décor, and the soft echoes of a room built for sound that makes the Showbox worth saving.
That, coupled with persistent nostalgia, is one of the main drivers for Historic Seattle, who, along with Vanishing Seattle and Friends of Historic Belltown, filed a nomination for a landmark designation of the Showbox on Wednesday afternoon. It's the most recent development in the on-going fight to save the 79-year-old music venue from destruction.
“This nomination is like coming to the end of the first mile,” Eugenia Woo, the director of preservation services for Historic Seattle began after a "this is a marathon not a sprint" comment. “We still have a long way to go.”
A landmark proposal, while a good step, only protects the outside of the building. The developer can still dictate how the building is used under a landmark status. Historic Seattle’s nomination lobbies to protect both the interior and the exterior.
“This building is not about the facade. It’s really about this cultural space here,” Woo said, standing on the Showbox stage. “We believe the interior here has a lot of physical integrity.”
Still, Onni, the developer, is not going down without a fight. They have filed their own nomination. As Curbed Seattle pointed out, this could be a tactic to earn preservation incentives from the city for utilizing historical structures in new developments. Essentially, if Onni is successful, the Showbox could win landmark status and then find itself incorporated into a new 44-story apartment building. Meanwhile, Onni will still get brownie points for “saving” a landmark.
That kind of partial preservation worries Historic Seattle, Woo said.
“The site isn’t that large,” Woo said. “And the zoning—the height allowed is very high.”
Onni’s proposed apartment building will reach up to 440 feet.
As Lester Black said in his coverage yesterday, this is going to be an uphill fight. The building planned is a $100 million property. The land it sits on is currently appraised for over $12 million.
“Ideally,” Woo said, “the developer finds another site somewhere else downtown.”
Historic Seattle’s nomination is the first. Once it’s reviewed and deemed complete by the Landmarks Preservation Board—and it’s very thorough so they’re not expecting revisions, Woo said—then the staff will issue a public notice and then it’ll go to a public meeting.
That's when, if it comes down to it, Onni and Historic Seattle will duke it out at the Landmarks Preservation Board meeting.
It’s a two-step process: If the Showbox gets nominated, then there will be a designation hearing.
Woo hopes that during that time the Landmarks Preservation Board will come and tour the building and venture inside.
“The significance of the interior is quite stunning,” Woo said.
King County Executive Dow Constantine, a self-professed music lover, also described the Showbox as a “sacred place.”
He grew up going to the Showbox, and once his then-girlfriend and now-wife got hit in the head with a microphone at a The Specials show.
Constantine went to the Pearl Jam concert last night. He mentioned that not just to gloat about seeing Pearl Jam but because everyone there wanted to talk to him about the Showbox.
“They all talked about how important it is to the cultural life of this city and what a tragedy it would be to lose it,” Constantine said.
That’s what it was for Jay Middleton, the creator of the Change.org petition to make the Showbox a historical landmark which has garnered over 91,000 signatures.
From 2006 to 2007, Middleton played seven times at the Showbox.
“I would sit backstage and feel the ghosts of musicians past,” Middleton described. “Just feeling the energy of this place... This place means so much to me and Seattle in general. The last thing I want to see is history, music, culture, art, comedy, anything performed here, ripped out of this city.”
The ghosts of the Showbox are definitely still present. Its interior, aside from that original 1939 decor, is coated in history. Especially backstage.
There’s a loft where musicians used to go back when smoking weed wasn’t kosher and they needed to “self-medicate,” as Randy Foster, director of production for AEG, said. While they were up there, they’d write on the walls or pin up their set-lists.
All of it—the Cheap Trick setlist, the Dead Kennedys' scrawled-in-crayon (or blood?) signature, the Sharpie drawing of Malfunkshun—is still there.
The Seattle City Council is meeting on Monday to vote on extending the Pike Place Historic District to include the Showbox. This coalition trying to save the Showbox is encouraging everyone who feels similarly to show up on Monday.
“The Showbox is a place where people build community and create culture every single night,” said Cynthia Brothers, founder of Vanishing Seattle. “That cannot be replicated. What happens to the Showbox reflects what we value and who we are as a city.”