The ‘P’ in Preservation Advocacy

Many decades ago, I told my friends that the letter ’P’ in my PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures stood for ‘perseverance.’  Getting that doctorate did require some basic smarts, but really it took focus, a passion for the subject matter, consistent efforts and time, lots of time.  Just as becoming a PhD takes Perseverance, so does being a successful Preservation advocate.

Preservation advocacy can involve directly preparing landmark nominations, raising the money to hire someone to prepare one, writing articles and books, policing rogue alterations to landmark buildings, or testifying before the city’s Landmarks Preservation Board (LPB) for the nomination of a building or against unsympathetic irreparable alterations.

I document here three examples of preservation advocacy by the Queen Anne Historical Society (QAHS).  Now celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding, the Society has advocated for well over 50 different landmarks.  They range from churches to industrial buildings, to SRO hotels for working-class men, to homes for the rich along the boulevard and, yes, to the boulevard itself.

I am inordinately proud of this work.  With over fifteen historical societies scattered across the city, the QAHS is the only one regularly engaged in preservation advocacy.  While others have made significant contributions, ours is the only one to do it all.  In fact, the only comparable preservation advocates in the city are Historic Seattle and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, where unlike our all-volunteer group, paid employees do the work.

Seattle City Light Power Control Center at 157 Roy Street

This unusual building caught the eye of one of the youngest members of the QAHS board because of her passion for mid-20th c. architecture.  In 2014, she proposed that we hire someone to write the landmark nomination of the building or just do it ourselves.  Although I’d done several nominations to the National Register of Historic Places, I’d never written one for Seattle’s Landmarks Preservation Board (LPB).  In 2014, I began researching the history of this two-part octagonal/hexagonal structure on Roy Street across Warren Ave. from Metropolitan Market.  I was delighted to learn about the building’s architects Harmon, Pray and Dietrich and their place in our city’s architectural history at the time of building’s 1963 construction.  The history of Seattle City Light had been a fascination of mine ever since I learned about the ‘power war’ between it, the country’s earliest municipally owned utility, and Puget Power, an ‘off-spring’ of Stone and Webster, one of the largest power monopolies of the early 20th c.  It cheered me that Seattle voters had exiled Puget Power and acquired its Seattle systems in 1951.  I was intrigued that the construction of I-5 and the demolition of an early power control center had triggered building this one.  I also liked very much that the unusual structure lay in the shadow of the Space Needle and that its design reflected the influence of the Century 21 World’s Fair held at Seattle Center.  After numerous editorial reviews by the QAHS Preservation Committee, friendly architectural historians and the LPB staff in the Department of Neighborhoods, the society submitted the 82-page nomination in February 2016.  It helped that City Light, the building owner, endorsed the nomination.  It had smooth sailing with hearings before the LPB on May 4 and June 16.  The Power Control Center became a designated city landmark when Mayor Edward Murray signed Ordinance 125321 on June 1, 2017, three years after we had started the research for it. Talk about perseverance!

Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist at 2555 8th Ave. W.

Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist, 1941

The efforts by the QAHS to save this beautiful neighborhood church were unbelievably complicated and extended over many years.  Built in a Neo-Byzantine Early Christian Revival style and designed by Harlan Thomas (Thomas & Grainger) in 1926, the church reflected the historic boom of the Church of Christ, Scientist following its founding by Mary Baker Eddy in Boston in 1870, and its decline after WWII.  In the churches’ heyday, Seattle had 12 Churches of Christ, Scientist.  Only three remain active today (2021).

When the City of Seattle issued a demolition permit for the church in 2006, the QAHS and its Preservation Committee led by Char Eggleston and Leanne Olson sprang into action.  The committee engaged the Queen Anne Community Council; it enlisted the pro-bono efforts of preservation architects and structural engineers; it appealed and testified before the Hearing Examiner against the city for issuing the demolition permit; it supported other appellants in succeeding to have the city’s decision remanded; and it assisted Larry Johnson, the architect who had been attempting to save the church since 1992, with the preparation of the landmark nomination.  The Preservation Committee engaged the assistance of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation whose staff facilitated the purchase of this neighborhood treasure by the Church of Christ following an agreement with the site’s owner to sell if a new buyer could be found. Concurrently Char convinced the Church of Christ to support designation of the building and site.  Mayor Mike McGinn signed the ordinance designating the church a city landmark four years after the battle began on July 16, 2010. It never would have happened without the advocacy efforts of the Queen Anne Historical Society.

The Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Garfield Exchange at 1529 4th Ave. W.

Garfield Exchange, 1936

Built to house heavy telephone equipment and the young women who operated it, this landmark was completed in 1922.  A second story was added in 1929, and the structure was later donated to the Seattle Public Library by the telephone company.  When the Library got ready to sell the building, it hired BOLA Architecture and Planning to prepare a landmark nomination for the LPB’s consideration.  When BOLA presented the nomination, the QAHS swung into action writing letters and testifying in favor of the nomination and subsequent designation.  Once designated as a city landmark, the controls and incentives negotiated with the LPB by the Seattle Public Library protected the building as it changed ownership.  Soon after the 2016 designation and its purchase, the new owner, the Faul Company and their architect, BuildingWork, began presenting design options to the Architectural Review Committee (ARC) of the LPB.  The QAHS attended numerous meetings of the ARC related to the Garfield Exchange commenting on the transformation of the industrial spaces to 25 residential apartment homes featuring 15-foot ceiling heights and restoration of the building’s exterior façade, its seismic retrofit and new building systems.  The proposed changes included a redesign of the primary entrance leading to the street, the replacement of windows, the introduction of a new elevator in the hidden courtyard on the south side and the addition of a penthouse.  The Queen Anne Historical Society did not oppose the hidden changes in the courtyard and embraced the penthouse addition since it was set back from the historic façade and could not be seen from the street directly in front of the building.  Significantly the penthouse addition met the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation by not mimicking in the new work historic qualities of the original fabric.  The society demanded the retention of the terra cotta capped stairway with its unique hammerhead shape and encouraged retention of a historic hoisting device on the alley side of the building.

Queen Anne Exchange, July 2021, looking west. Restored Entrance

After some initial resistance, we agreed to the sympathetic replacement of all the windows.  We continued to support the project following resistance by neighborhood groups which had concerns with street parking impacts.

As of this writing (July 14, 2021), this fantastic preservation project now renamed the Queen Anne Exchange is one apartment short of being fully leased.  Housing has been created for more than 25 people and an important feature of Queen Anne’s historic built environment has been preserved. The energy, risk taking, and talent of Chris and Angela Faul backed by the talent of Matt Aalfs, the primary architect and principal of BuildingWork, are largely responsible for the superb outcome.  It also helped that, like the Power Control Center, a city agency owned the Garfield Exchange at the time of nomination and designation, for building owners are often major obstacles when it comes to preserving historic buildings.

Queen Anne Exchange – July ’21 – Waiting for cornice – looking west

There is also no doubt that the preservation advocacy skills of the Queen Anne Historical Society eased the public and private efforts to save all three of these historic buildings and assured their conformity to our national standards.  It is also clear that without the society’s assertive preservation advocacy, the Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist would have been lost, and both the Power Control Center and the Garfield Exchange would have been subject to demolition due to the valuable development potential of their sites.