Has Uptown Forgotten About Schools?

New schools in or around Seattle Center are nothing new. The former Warren Avenue School sat on the current site of the Washington State Coliseum, now KeyArena. When the site was purchased in 1902 the Seattle school enrollment is said to have increased annually by 2,000 children. The school opened in 1903 to relieve overcrowding in the nearby Mercer and Denny Schools (these schools are also gone). Enrollment peaked in 1929 at 734 students. In 1957, Seattle voters approved a proposal for the development of a Civic Center and the World’s Fair. At the time of its closure enrollment had dropped to 250 students as families moved to make way for the fairgrounds. The school district sold the site after the State Supreme Court ruled the state could condemn the property.

Since this time, the Uptown community has been heavily dependent on the rest of Queen Anne for many of its city services. In recent history, Uptown has tried to create its own identity separate from Queen Anne. The Uptown Alliance worked hard to build a voice for their community and I praise them for their tireless advocacy.

This month the Uptown Preliminary Rezone Recommendation Director’s Report was published. In this document, Uptown is called a neighborhood, a regional center, and a district. What is new to hear is that the report calls Queen Anne an “interested neighbor”. I argue that, at this time, Uptown is not an independent entity and Queen Anne is more than a neighbor to Uptown.

The report thoughtfully addresses development standards, the increase of housing supply, transportation and traffic, sensitivity to pedestrians, its connection to Seattle Center, and makes mention of preservation. The report never studies the impact on the school district. The only place the school district is mentioned in the city’s planning efforts is in the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan. Deep in the comp plan, the city calls out potential future discretionary projects. Specific to Queen Anne, the plan highlights Seattle Center; it bullet points the Memorial Stadium relocation, Memorial Stadium site redevelopment, Key Arena enhancement, and the North Parking Lots redevelopment. These are capital projects that the City might undertake or fund in the future. It’s important to stress that Memorial Stadium is owned by the Seattle School District and the funds used for redevelopment would come from the Seattle citizens.

If the comp plan and the Uptown report won’t address the impact on the schools, then the Seattle School District must… but it doesn’t. The projected growth boundary changes are not slated to account for rezones. The Uptown community cannot rely on the Seattle School District to figure this out for them. When Uptown sits at the table with the city to create a vision for their community they need to advocate for the return of their own schools – for their benefit and the benefit of their interested neighbors.

Historical Photos of Uptown’s former Warren Avenue School

Seattle’s Sacred Wall

In a levy vote conducted in early February 2022, Seattle Public Schools secured $65,500,000 to upgrade Seattle High School Memorial Stadium at Seattle Center.   In anticipation of the vote, the City of Seattle (Seattle Center) and Seattle Public Schools signed a letter of intent (LOI) in October 2021, according to which the schools would relinquish control of the parking lot and the stadium while continuing to use the rebuilt stadium for games and graduation ceremonies.  According to the LOI, the city would take control of the site, add funds to the levy, and build a new stadium integrated into the Seattle Center landscape.  The city also agreed to pay the school district for the revenue lost from the 5th Avenue North parking lot and to give it land for a new high school at the former entrance to the Battery Street tunnel.  Now that the levy passed, the city and school district will iron out a final agreement.

Civic Field ca. 1928. Looking towards Lake Union

The new stadium will be the third one at this location.  The first, Civic Field (aka Civic Stadium), occupied the site from 1928 to 1947, when it was demolished.  Civic Field replaced an open pasture located between Republican St. and Harrison St. and 5th Ave. N. and 3rd Ave. N.   Home plate was in the southwestern corner.  The field had an extremely hard dirt surface (no grass) and wooden stands on its western and southern sides. Civic Stadium is reputed to have been the most hated place to play baseball in the Pacific Coast League.

Memorial Stadium ca. 1947. Courtesy MOHAI

The Queen Anne Historical Society recently toured the site in order to take an informed position about whether or not the stadium merits landmark preservation and to assess the potential infringement of a new building on other landmarks at Seattle Center:  the Space Needle, the Armory, the Monorail Station, two Monorail cars, and the recently renovated Coliseum (now called Climate Pledge Arena).

Actually, the self-guided tour was limited to the exterior of the huge field and included only one person, me.  My stadium experience includes innumerable high school soccer games in the early 1990s during which I was frequently chastised for not attending all of my son’s games.  My visits also involved the odd Bumbershoot concert over Labor Day weekends since 1971.  Unlike real Queen Anne old-timers, my tour included no memories of the 1962 World’s Fair such as the water-skiing show held four times a day in a special 100,000-gallon tank or the Fair’s opening and closing ceremonies in April and October.  I was definitely not one of the 20,000 people who attended Billy Graham’s Revival there on July 8.

Built in 1947 to be the centrally located ‘home field’ for the city’s high school football teams, the site now reads as two primary zones which are in fact separately owned by the school district. The large parking lot on 5th Ave. N. between Harrison and Republican streets is one lot while the stadium with its facing stands and cantilevered roofs and enhanced grassy area on the west end is the other.  

The stadium is the work of architect George W. Stoddard (1896-1967), a prolific Seattle designer remembered for his 1950 work on the south stands of Husky Stadium.  Its dramatic cantilevered roof may have been inspired by the ones at Memorial Stadium.  The western segment is enclosed by a wall dating from the Fair and is probably Paul Thiry’s design.

North Stand looking east –2022

The east, west, and southern sides of the field are significantly lower than most of Seattle Center.  In the early 2000s.  This change in elevation inspired community activists led by David Brewster to suggest a large subterranean garage here.  It would have replaced all the public parking structures surrounding Seattle Center and created vast opportunities for new open spaces!  I still like this idea and welcome a new stadium as long as it isn’t fenced like the old one is today.

There is little chance Brewster’s fantasy will be realized, but it does suggest that protecting the landmarks surrounding Memorial Stadium requires locating any new building on the parking lot along 5th Avenue.  Harmonizing with the Gates Foundation buildings and Frank Gehry’s MoPOP (the old EMP) will be a trick, but Seattle architects are surely up to that challenge.

The most important design element at the stadium is the memorial wall along the western edge of the parking lot.  It lists the names Seattle public school graduates who died in World War II and is the 1949 design of Marianne Hanson (1932-2015), then a student in her senior year at Garfield High School.

The Seattle Daily Times reported on October 7, 1949 that the school board had accepted Hanson’s design.  The paper noted that she competed against 59 other entrants and that construction would begin immediately.  The newspaper article begins with a call for the 57 names of Broadway High School students or alumni. Their names had apparently been lost when the high school closed and the building served another purpose. In 1949, only the names of the 700 known dead were to be inscribed. The school board planned to pay for the memorial with funds raised at upcoming 1949 Seattle All-State football championship game on Thanksgiving Day and those raised at the game in 1947 and 1948.

The names on the wall include graduates of Ballard (85), Cleveland (28), Franklin (102), Garfield (63), Lincoln (108), Queen Anne (98), Roosevelt (99) and West Seattle (60) high schools.  It is unclear if the names of the 57 Broadway High School graduates who died in the war were included on the wall.  According to a (renamed) Seattle Times article describing the dedication of the wall by Hanson on May 29, 1951, it was now inscribed with the names of 762 men.  Above the list of names, the wall is inscribed with “Youth Hold High Your Torch of Truth and Tolerance Lest their Sacrifice Be Forgotten.”

Wall Dedication noted in Seattle Times, May 30, 1951. 

Standing in the gruesome parking lot as you look west, Hanson’s name appears on the wall’s lower right-hand corner.  At 17, Hanson understood that a simple design is the best way to honor the men who had died defending our nation. 

By the time the wall was dedicated by Marianne Hanson on May 29, 1951 the list of names later became an important owner of art galleries, first in Seattle, then in San Francisco.

Marianne Hanson in 1952

The wall at Memorial Stadium is simply a sacred place.  As someone whose father served in WWII and who has close friends whose fathers died in that war, I am adamant that the wall be protected.  The new stadium must preserve the wall.  A new design would eliminate the rows of automobiles that conceal it, restore the fountains and fluted concave walls that frame them, and eliminate the hedge in front of it that makes in nearly impossible to read all the names.

Landmarking is the best way to honor the memory of the Seattle high school graduates who sacrificed their lives during WWII and to protect Hanson’s work.  It creates a rare opportunity to protect a work that documents the female influence in design which in Hanson’s instance lasted until her death in 2015.

Little Boxes on the Hillside

The 1972 Malvina Reynolds song, “Little Boxes on the Hillside” criticized the homogenization of a culture obsessed with materialism and upward mobility that was displacing any sense of character, place or individuality, set to a self-referentially folksy tune. As much as the song is a critique of post-war American values, in my view it is perfectly well suited as a critique of post-recession residential construction on Queen Anne.

There are few blocks remaining in our historic neighborhood that are not host to a “contemporary modern” box of a house, the sole purpose of which it seems is to provide the requisite rooftop deck. Neighborhoods are living, evolving things. Not every house on Queen Anne needs to be an early 20th century bungalow, or one of the stately beauties that popped up on its south slope after the introduction of streetcar service in 1902. But every house should be a good and respectful neighbor.

One of the more architecturally eclectic parts of the hill is Queen Anne Park. The area was developed over a period that straddled the Great Depression and post-war prosperity. The majority of its homes enjoy a mutual respect based on scale, construction quality and site consumption despite the decades that separate them. This characteristic allows for a certain quality of life, the value of which is difficult to quantify. But key to that quality of life are two elements: air and sunlight. In residential neighborhoods, these elements are preserved by rooflines that angle or step back to allow light and breezes to move past, around and over them to surrounding properties; and by limiting the footprint of a home to no greater than half of its lot to preserve livable outdoor space.

A Dryvit-clad house with a rooftop-deck looms over a neighboring home in Queen Anne.

Over the past decade it has become sadly predictable that when a Queen Anne home is torn down, a characterless, three-story, box-plus-rooftop-deck will spring up in short order. And this home will be built to eat up as much of the lot as possible to maximize the size of the dwelling below deck; resulting in rooms so large that there is no need for clever, efficient design. The effect on surrounding neighbors is immediate and negative. Less natural light will shine into their homes, and fewer cool breezes will travel through their backyards during our cherished summer months. And if one is fortunate enough to enjoy a peek-a-boo view, it will likely be obstructed by 4,000 square feet of Dryvit-clad belligerence. Many are embellished with a dizzying array of surface materials; some corrugated sheet metal here and there, a few token rectangles of board siding arranged in competing directions in a feeble attempt to convey the illusion that there is something architectural going on.

But these homes are not only discourteous neighbors; they do a disservice to those who live in them as well. Sacrificing easily accessible outdoor space to accommodate a rooftop deck is problematic at best. Unless the designer of the home had the foresight to give up deck square footage for a top-floor room with a half-bath and storage for cold drinks, (or at the very least a dumbwaiter) the deck will rarely see use. Several homes with rooftop decks can be seen from my house and I have never, not once, seen anyone use them. It’s a pain to haul stuff up and down from there. It’s a pleasure to step out into a well-designed and landscaped backyard and wave to your neighbor, whose name you know, enjoying theirs. The sense of community and quality of life imparted by thoughtful design cannot be overstated.

This modern Queen Anne home features distinct façade articulation, high-quality materials and construction. The protruding steel-and-glass window arrangement wrapping the corner balances the weightiness of the brick. The absence of vertical boards at the corner of the horizontal siding shows the care in construction taken to miter the wood for perfect alignment.

 

That is not to say that all contemporary modern homes being built on Queen Anne are discourteous neighbors, even some of the boxy ones. It’s a delighted to see a modern home designed with sensitivity to scale by an architect and client who understand that modernism cannot be successfully executed with inexpensive materials, stock windows and spec-house quality construction. Lack of decorative detail in modern design is deceptive; it requires high-quality materials applied with jewel-box-precise construction to be pulled off. And with any style of architecture, a well thought out and harmonious relationship to site and surroundings allows a home to be a standout rather than a sore thumb.

This modern Queen Anne home features a curvilinear roofline, extensive glazing and Corten steel cladding. High-quality materials and construction methods like these are important factors in successful modern design.

With no enforceable design ordinances in place to discourage construction of the less courteous boxes on the hill one can only hope that this trend will subside before our streets become dark canyons and our historic sense of place is lost. Until then it appears that, for the most part, they will all be made of ticky-tacky and all look just the same

Time for the 3rd Annual “HeartBomb”!

Update: 2/16/17

Some photos from our Valentine’s Day “HeartBomb”:

 

 

Key Arena 2008 (from Wikipedia CC License)

THIS POST “BORROWED” FROM HISTORIC SEATTLE…!

Speaking of the cause, it’s time to show your love with our 3rd Annual “HeartBomb!”

Show Your Love “HeartBomb”
1 PM, Tuesday, February 14,2017
KeyArena | Coliseum
BYOV (Bring your own Valentine)
Join us on Valentine’s Day to celebrate a unique, local Modernist masterpiece – KeyArena in the heart of Seattle Center!
Historic Seattle, Queen Anne Historical Society, Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, Docomomo WEWA, and friends will be showing our love for KeyArena (aka Washington State Coliseum) at 1 pm on Tuesday, February 14. We’ll gather for a group photo at 1:15 pm to show off our homemade valentines to this cool historic building. (The group photo will happen rain or shine!)

HeartBombs are a fun and creative way to bring people together and raise awareness about what’s cherished in a community — a sort of city-wide love letter about places that matter.

Why are we bringing the love?
The City of Seattle issued a Request for Proposals for the rehab and re-use of KeyArena, a world-class sports and entertainment venue. But there’s also a tear-down option. The landmark-eligible historic structure from the Seattle World’s Fair should be preserved. Read Knute Berger’s article for more of the backstory.
 

Participating in a HeartBomb event is one way to advocate for the building’s preservation and potential re-use. As Berger says, “it could be a win for history, sports fans and taxpayers.” Who doesn’t like a win-win?

Here’s how it works
Get creative by crafting your homemade valentine to the building. Add your message about why this place matters.
Bring your heart creation and join others for a group photo at KeyArena declaring your love. We’ll meet on the west side of the arena off 1st Avenue N and Harrison Street near the giant, concrete abutment (or “leg”).
Can’t join us for the group photo? Don’t worry. Take pictures of you and your handmade creation in front of KeyArena, and share them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with the hashtag #heartbombSEA#heartbombKeyArena, and #IHeartSavingPlaces. Feel free to add why you “heart” this place and why others should fall in love with it, too!
Have questions?
Contact Brooke Best, Historic Seattle Preservation Advocacy Coordinator, at

GETTING THERE
KeyArena is located at 305 Harrison Street Seattle, WA 98109, near 1st Avenue N in Queen Anne’s Uptown neighborhood. Here’s a map of Seattle Center showing KeyArena.
For public transportation, go to King County Metro Trip Planner for routes and schedules.