A strip of beloved businesses and one of the oldest buildings in Belltown might be demolished and replaced by an eight story apartment building, according to the Daily Journal of Commerce. A development company has a plan to demolish Neon Boots, Rocco's, Lava Lounge, and Tula's, along with the historic Wayne Apartments at 2224 Second Ave., the journal reported on Wednesday.
This comes four years after a different developer tried to demolish the Wayne Apartments until the city moved to give that building landmark status in 2015. The Wayne Apartments were built in 1890 before the now extinct Denny Hill was regraded. It is now one of the only buildings still standing from that era.
Unfortunately, that landmark status doesn't appear to be a guarantee against future demolition of the building. According to Friends of Historic Belltown, a landmarked building can still be demolished if the owner can prove that "keeping the building would provide 'no reasonable economic use.'" Multiple groups have tried to take that route with the Wayne Building since it was landmarked four years ago—probably because of its location in the heart of Belltown, Seattle's most central neighborhood—and now it appears a new developer is taking a stab at demolishing a piece of Seattle's history.
I reached out to HB Management, this new developer that filed the plans with the city, but I didn't get much information. A person named Jake answered their phone, but he hung up shortly after I identified myself as a writer for The Stranger and asked if there was anyone available that could speak with me. "Uhhhh I don’t think so. Sorry," was all I could get out of him.
I've reached out to the city's Department of Neighborhoods to see if they have any more information about the landmark protections on this building and I'll update this post if I hear back. This is what the Daily Journal of Commerce had to say about the development prospects.
The path to demolishing a landmarked structure is unclear, with few precedents. Early last year, the city's Landmarks Preservation Board voted not to place any controls on the Wayne Apartments. Its owner, a local investment group that purchased the property for $1.1 million in 1998, had appealed the prior landmarking, pleading financial hardship. Last year's board decision could have been appealed to the city Hearing Examiner, but its website doesn't show any such case on the docket.
Rise Up Belltown, a neighborhood group, thinks there may still be a route toward preserving the buildings. In a letter they sent to downtown's Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, they said that Tula's Jazz Club needs to be reviewed by the Landmarks Board, and they asked Bagshaw for help during that process. The group said they have over 150 people and over two dozen business signed onto their call for protections.
"We believe that growth and density are essential to the longterm health of Seattle, but we also know that Belltown can grow and densify without economically evicting the cultural and commercial heart," they said in their letter.
I've reached out to Bagshaw for comment, I'll update this post if I hear anything back.
This stretch of Belltown presents a rather interesting set of facts for those of us that want to see the few remaining pieces of Seattle's history preserved. On one hand, blocking this development would essentially preserve the last stretch of dive bars in the city's downtown. Convincing people that cheap hot dogs and insanely alcoholic slushies are worth more than glassy towers can be a difficult sell. But the Wayne Apartments are an important part of a pivotal moment in Seattle's history. This building was created when Belltown was still dominated by Denny Hill. During the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, construction crews (often using mining tools) regraded much of the city and essentially erased Denny Hill off the map. Few buildings still exist from that era, but the Wayne Apartments is one of them.
Local historian Paul Dorpat shows us how the Wayne Apartments fit into this history in his timely Now & Then column in the Seattle Times published yesterday. Go read Dorpat's whole column, wherein he extols the deliciousness of the building's neighbor, Mama's Mexican Kitchen, and the fact that the "three gables of the Wayne Apartments" are "wonderfully still standing."