Testimony in Olympia opposing SB 5805 bad school district preservation idea!

Here is our Olympia testimony opposing Senate Bill 5805 which if passed would authorize the board of the Seattle Public School District, the only school district in the state with over 50,000 students, to decide on its own whether or not to adhere to the provisions of the city of Seattle’s landmark preservation ordinance.

January 11, 2018

The Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee

SB 5805 – 2017-18: Position of the Queen Anne Historical Society

SB 5805 – 2017-18 (Sponsored by Senators Reuven Carlyle and David Frockt): Concerning the application of landmark or historic preservation regulations with regard to school district property in school districts with more than fifty thousand students.

The Queen Anne Historical Society vehemently opposes SB 5805. It is a broadside attack on the quality of life in our neighborhood and a serious threat to the protection of our historic built environment. Although we could tick off many reasons for our opposition to the bill, an example says it best.

Queen Anne Elementary School, the original John Hay Elementary School, is a city landmark. It consists of two buildings, a wooden one designed by James Stephen in 1905 and a brick one designed by Floyd Naramore in 1921. At various times, the school district has neglected, abandoned and finally restored the buildings in respect, it appears, to their landmark status. The buildings occupy two square blocks bound by Newton St., Boston St., 4th Ave. N., and Bigelow Ave. N.  The full width of Bigelow Ave. is designated a city landmark as part of the historic ‘Olmsted’ Boulevard that crowns the top of Queen Anne hill. These historic buildings tell the story of Seattle’s early 20th growth, a story preserved only in the preservation of witnesses such as the John Hay Elementary School. Both the wooden and the brick buildings reflect Seattle’s early 20th c. population boom and school district experimentation with revolutionary building designs that respond to that growth. At the turn of 20th C., James Stephen designed the earlier wooden building and many others in the city so that they could expand in size as the city grew. The school’s prominent site in amongst single-family houses physically enhances its relationship to the neighborhood both historically and in terms of property values. Consequently, the quality of life in the neighborhood would be seriously jeopardized by the passage of SB 5805.

Historic photo of John Hay Elementary School (1905 wooden building, western and southern facades)

We encourage you to vote against SB 5805 and to bear in mind as you make that decisions the huge role buildings such as these play in the life of our community:

  • The oldest John Hay building is sited on the eastern edge of the property to capture in its large windows the sunniest hours of the day – a big deal in Seattle’s dark winters.
  • The details on the wooden building echo the early 20th century houses nearby and reinforce their value as defining elements of the neighborhood.
  • The 1921 building echoes the city’s recognition of the fire dangers in wooden school buildings, the easy availability of fireproof materials in the 1920s and a spurt in brick single-family residences.
  • Exempted from constraints of Seattle’s Landmark Preservation Ordinance, these buildings would have been long ago demolished.
  • Now that the buildings have been restored and modernized, we don’t risk losing them soon; however, SB 5805 might release the school district from its legal obligation to respect the buildings’ historic character when, as now, they are being altered.
  • Based on the work at the school now, we do not believe that landmark designation or respecting the historic character of the buildings have added significantly to the cost of altering or adding to the building. No public hearings have been held; the Landmarks Preservation Board has required no additional work on the part of the Seattle School District.
  • If anything, the landmark designation may have required the school district to consider the opinions of Queen Anne residents, especially those living near the buildings.


John Hay School, 1922

John Hay Elementary School (1922 brick building, main entrance facing north on Boston Street)

The Queen Anne Historical Society is dedicated to the preservation of our neighborhood’s historic fabric and cares about the quality of the built environment everywhere in Seattle. We are Senator Carlyle’s constituents. Please vote against SB 5805. The bill does no service to our community.

Michael Herschensohn, PhD
President, Queen Anne Historical Society.