Following the decision by the Landmarks Preservation Board (LPB) on November 1st denying landmark status and assuring demolition of the delightful Art Deco Williams & Company Potato Chip Factory at 1405 Elliott Ave. W. in Interbay, a friend snidely remarked that Seattle always seems to botch its efforts at urban planning. Agreeing that we’ve got nothing like London Docklands, les Halles in Paris or la Convergence in Lyon, I took exception to my friend’s comment noting that he couldn’t condemn Seattle planning efforts since the city hadn’t really attempted urban planning since the doomed 1911 Bogue Plan.
Now, I think I may have that wrong. Seattle has some good examples of successful urban planning. Sadly, it all appears to have been done privately. The cluster of Amazon skyscrapers in the old Denny Regrade/Clise tract with its green globes, Mary’s Place, bevy of lunchtime dining spots, cool Amazon Go! store and super safe protected bike lanes on 7th and 8th is not botched urban planning. That’s also true for South Lake Union. Hey, how about those new Google buildings at Mercer and Fairview?
The age of the Williams & Company Factory required getting the LPB’s opinion in anticipation of its demolition. The factory lies in largely human-made stretch of land (yup, it’s nearly all fill from Harrison Street north to the Ballard Bridge) that includes at its southern edge Smith Cove’s large piers fishing and cruise ship activities and that wobbly bridge connecting Magnolia to the rest of the world. This tract is undergoing massive development without anyone paying attention. From what I can see, no one is doing any urban planning there. Worse yet, the number of government agencies dealing with the zone is not coordinated. It feels kind of scary. I call it silo planning. The LPB’s participation underscores a lack of planning. Its decision was made in the absence the factory’s place in the context of the larger neighborhood and its future.
Expedia, for example, is just moving into its massive offices west of the railroad tracks and taken over the old Blackstock site at Prospect Street for a transportation hub it operates independent of Metro. Follow the blue Expedia Explorers zipping (ha!) along Mercer to find this intrusion. Expedia surely had SDOT cooperation in creating this bus turn around. My complaint is that this happened in the absence of an urban plan for the corridor.
Sound Transit (car tab stories notwithstanding) is studying a light rail route through Interbay. It may follow the route of Elliott Ave. and Interbay, or it could run along the edge of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railway tracks. It will build a large station where the tracks meet Dravus. The route will cross into Ballard on a new bridge across Salmon Bay or an unlikely tunnel. This planning is also happening absence a plan for the larger neighborhood.
If you need more examples, remember (1) the huge shopping mall where Whole Foods and smaller tenants flank a large parking lot; (2) the quasi suburban big box stores along W. Armory Way, (3) the tract of land along W. Armory Way the Army wants to sell; (4) the large self-storage facility coming to completion on the northern edge of the Magnolia Bridge; (5) the multiple new and cheap apartment houses just added to the spaces where Dravus crosses Interbay and that the Seattle Monorail (remember it?) destined for a train yard; and finally, (6) the rumbles from the Port of Seattle about redeveloping its property upland of Smith Cove.
The Port of Seattle’s Fisherman’s Terminal south of the Ballard Bridge and the BNSF tracks, train yard and shops (the elephant in the room I almost failed to mention) are reminders of this corridor’s industrial past. Both agencies build and tear down net sheds, piers, gas tanks, locomotive storage sites and much, much more with little public input or apparent city oversight. Ugly as their various components might be, they could be preserved and cherished in a well-planned redevelopment zone.
With apparently little or no consideration of what else is happening in the zone, SDOT also has another, albeit wonderful, uncoordinated project nearby. Within the last year or so, city traffic engineers have constructed a protected bike lane along the east edge of Government Way from the heronry at Kiwanis Memorial Preserve Park all the way to the BNSF railyard. Just where the trail exits the yard and scoots along the edge of Smith Cove Waterway, it hooks up to Expedia’s new bike and pedestrian trails. Then where the trail turns to the east at the southern end of the waterway, Expedia has built a fantastic amphitheater with glorious views of the city skyline and Mt. Rainier. The new bike lanes and this clever redesign of the shore are wonderful additions to the city and provide a great place to watch Mt. Rainier at sunrise and sunset (or the implosion of the Kingdome if it were still standing). My gripe is that much as the new trails prove Seattle has traffic engineers, landscape architects and urban planners capable of fantastic designs, none of the redevelopment happened as part of a marvelous well-coordinated plan.
Imagine if the city had prepared an urban plan as well done as Expedia’s new campus for the entire swath from Harrison Street to the Ballard Bridge. It would have surely enhanced Martin Selig’s beautiful black boxes and sculpture garden at W. Roy St. west of Mercer Place, and it would have found ways to protect (among several great Art Deco industrial buildings) the Williams & Company Factory, the 1922 Wilson’s Machine Works, both dating from the early filling of Smith Cove, Champion Party Supply building or the neat drive-through market (now Builder’s Hardware).
This list goes on. The essential message confirms my friend’s nasty thought that without urban planning and well executed designs, everything is random, everything is poorly planned and executed. Alas, without even trying, Seattle has botched it in Interbay!
(Editor’s note: The Queen Anne Historical Society welcomes work by guest authors interested in the history of the people and places of Queen Anne. Hugo Cruz-Moro is the first in what we hope is a long line of guest contributors. We look forward to city landmark status for this apartment building.)
By Hugo Cruz-Moro
The View Crest Coop Apartments are set back from Blaine Place adjacent to Kinnear Park in Queen Anne on a lot formerly occupied by the Butterworth family mansion. We have lived in the building since October 2014.
When we moved in our one-bedroom apartment wowed us with its million-dollar views and access to a large park-like backyard and gardens. The building’s common areas reveal unconventional traffic patterns which serve all units equally while eliminating the entrance lobby ubiquitous in apartment buildings of this era. Although the humble brick-clad facade is at first easily dismissed due to its lack of mid-century space-age inspired adornments, the four-apartment module strategy used to hug the site’s topography reveals a more elegant, but less common modernist approach to architecture.
Unfortunately, the building suffered from years of deferred maintenance. In order to eliminate the need for painting, the original twelve-inch old-growth red cedar lap-siding that sheathed the rear elevations had been covered over with marble crete soon after the building was converted to coops in 1961. The replacement of the single pane casement Fenton windows with inappropriately installed double panes in 1987 led to leaks and other water intrusion symptoms that ultimately required a mobilization of the board to develop a capital improvement plan.
The idea to access the original plans led me to the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections where on a set of micro fiche plans I spotted the name B. Marcus Priteca on the architect’s seal. After I Googled the name and did some perfunctory research in the Seattle Public Library’s Special Collections, I learned that Marcus Priteca, FAIA (December 23, 1889 – October 1, 1971) had been born in Glasgow, Scotland of Jewish heritage. (Twenty-year old Priteca came here in 1909 to check out the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition and stayed). Priteca was a theater architect best known for his work for Alexander Pantages. In all, Priteca designed 22 theaters for Pantages and another 128 for other theater owners. A formidable character, “Benny” Priteca was a true Seattle bon vivant whose creations have great regional as well as international importance
I thought that perhaps a structure of View Crest’s use and scale might be important enough to be officially acknowledged and included in Seattle’s inventory of Priteca works.
As a studio and public installation artist I was familiar with 4Culture, and the resources they provide to the community. (4Culture is largely funded by the state’s Hotel-Motel Tax). Heritage Projects grants are an important component of their program. They are aimed at documenting, sharing and interpreting King County heritage. View Crest applied for and was granted $10,000 to engage The Johnson Partnership to provide a historic structure report meeting the National Park Services Standards with the goal of nominating the building to the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board for its consideration of the View Crest as a city landmark.
We look forward to a successful outcome. It will not only benefit the coop members directly with tax benefits related to the capital improvement project and eligibility for additional restoration and preservation grants, but Seattle, Queen Anne in particular, will have an additional destinated landmark of historic and educational importance.
A future project for me outside of the studio is renaming Blaine Place after a long-time resident of the View Crest, the indomitable Ruth Ittner (1918-2010). Go ahead Google her.