The city’s Landmarks Preservation Board (LPB) voted unanimously Wednesday evening to designate the Showbox as a landmark, citing the historic nightclub’s dance floor, stage, and exterior as worthy of protection. The vote is a step forward in the city officially recognizing the 79-year-old venue’s Streamline Moderne architecture as a distinctive feature of the Seattle's cultural legacy.
The LPB’s staff will now work with the building’s owner to create what is called the “controls and incentives” agreement, which dictates specific rules and ways for the owner to preserve the building. Those controls are likely to make it harder to bulldoze the building but they are not a guarantee of preservation, especially because the building’s owner, Roger Forbes, has made it clear that he is not interested in preservation unless someone pays him a lot of cash for it.
Forbes is currently suing the city over a council ordinance that attempted to protect the venue (which is legally separate from the landmark designation) and won a major court victory in June. Forbes is pursuing more than $40 million in damages and attorney’s fees against the city. And while the landmark status gives protections to the building, it does not protect its use as a venue. So while supporters of saving the Showbox welcomed Wednesday evening’s decision, the mood is still gloomy in the #SaveTheShowbox world.
Nevertheless, they persist. Supporters of the Showbox filled City Hall Wednesday evening with dozens of people sitting on the room's floor after the available seats were filled. Eugenia Woo, the director of preservation services at Historic Seattle, the non-profit that nominated the building for landmark status, said they are now working towards raising enough money to buy the building.
“Today was a huge victory, but we’ve always said the best way to save the Showbox is to find a preservation friendly buyer and we’ve stepped up to do that,” Woo said. “This is a big victory but the Showbox is not saved yet.”
The Showbox was originally built as the Central Public Market building in 1917, which was an extension of the expanding Pike Place Market across the street. In 1939, it was converted to a music venue called the Show Box, and it hosted thousands of acts from Muddy Waters to the Mars Volta over the next eight decades.
Forbes’s attorneys argued Wednesday night that the LPB should vote against landmark status because of alterations to the building and periods of vacancy throughout its history.
“We respect the work of the Landmark Preservation Board to designate the property as a landmark but disagree with both the reasoning and the decision itself. We will further evaluate their designation as we consider next steps,” said an e-mailed statement from Aaron Pickus, a spokesperson for Forbes.
Jack McCullough, one of Forbes attorneys, made it clear to the LPB Wednesday night that landmark or not, he thinks the venue’s 80-year history is nearly over.
“What we know about this building is when this lease ends… it’s not going to be used again. It will be over,” McCullough said.