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Googie or not, it's a landmark

Against the odds, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board has voted to save a Ballard diner. Despite all the arguments pro and con, the final decision was really pretty simple.
An idea for redevelopment with the landmark building preserved. (Grace Architects)

An idea for redevelopment with the landmark building preserved. (Grace Architects) None

Googie architecture? Maybe. (Chuck Taylor)

Googie architecture? Maybe. (Chuck Taylor) None

The new landmark in Ballard, in June 2007, when it was still Denny's. (Chuck Taylor)

The new landmark in Ballard, in June 2007, when it was still Denny's. (Chuck Taylor) None

The Ballard Manning's/Denny's diner that has been a controversial candidate for historic protection was officially designated a city landmark by the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board on Wednesday, Feb. 20, on a 6-3 vote. Oddly, it won out because the building, with a distinctive swoopy roof, is actually, well, a landmark in the old-fashioned sense.

Much has been made about whether or not the building should be saved from the wrecking ball. The owners, Benaroya, and the developer, Rhapsody Partners, have been hoping to use the corner site at 15th Avenue Northwest and Northwest Market Street for a mixed-use development with condos. Preservationists have argued that the diner was built by an important Bay Area modern architect, Clarence W. Mayhew (first reported here on Crosscut), and that it is an excellent example of 1960s Googie-style roadside architecture.

However, both claims took a beating at the designation hearing. Like a political candidate attacking an opponent's strengths, Benaroya and Rhapsody brought in consultants to dismantle the diner's claims to fame. A consultant from California, Judith Sobol, said, in essence, that she knew Googie, she grew up with Googie, her family went to Googie eateries, and the Ballard Denny's was not Googie. She said that the style generally emphasized space age and futuristic shapes (like the Space Needle) and that the Ballard structure was a mish-mash of historic styles. Architect and preservation consultant Larry Johnson, also working for the developers, got the laugh of the evening when he cited it various ethnic influences and described the diner as "Scandigooginesian." The message: It's an architectural outlier.

Another consultant, Tim Rood, an architect and guest lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley, took aim at the building's designer. His argument, in short, was that proponents of the diner were making a mountain out of a Mayhew. He said that none of Mayhew's other works have been landmarked, that he'd won only one major award, and that the Manning's was atypical of his noted works. He even claimed that Mayhew's proudest work, his own home, was designed by another architect.

The various claims by the hired guns were rebutted. Alan Michelson, a champion of the diner and head of the Architecture and Planning Library at the University of Washington, was seething at the claims. He had the support of a number of authors and scholars who are expert of both Googie and Mayhew, including architecture critic Alan Hess, who has literally written the books on Googie. Hess' categorical judgment: "definitely Googie." Hess has written several letters supporting the building's landmark designation.

As it turned out, the landmarks board, while influenced somewhat by the negative presentations, decided that it really didn't matter in the end. They were more concerned with two other issues. One was the physical condition of the structure and whether or not it still had its architectural integrity. The interior of the diner was essentially gutted by Denny's in the early 1980s and the exterior has been altered and damaged by weather over the years. Based on physical condition, the staff of the city's preservation office submitted a recommendation that it not be designated a landmark.

But there was one criteria for being a landmark the board could not so easily dismiss or overlook. It is the sixth on a list of six, and it's called category "F." To be a landmark, a structure need only meet one of the six criteria. "F" reads as follows:

Because of its prominence of spatial location, contrasts of sitting, age, or scale, it is an easily identifiable visual feature of its neighborhood or the city and contributes to the distinctive quality or identity of such neighborhood or the City.

What the board found undeniable is that almost everyone in Seattle has an opinion about the building – they said they'd received scores of letters and a letter asking them to save the building signed by 600 Ballardites. The controversy has also received extensive media coverage – the designation meeting was packed (standing room only) with many reporters and TV cameras in attendance. There are few people who don't know the building by its look and location. Indeed, for decades, people have used it to navigate the city, as in "if you're coming to Ballard, take a left at the funny old Denny's." Whether it's Googie or an agglomeration, whether it was built by a Mayhew or a nobody, it has become an indelible part of the cityscape with its most quirky attributes – especially that funny roof – intact. It's visually identifiable, distinctive, prominent in location, and very Ballard.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Feb 21, 8:39 a.m. Inappropriate

Hooray!!!: Score one for the People!

Let's hope the trend continues--and at an accelerated rate. By the time Mr. Nickels is gone, this googie may be the only parcel of true Seattle remaining in the canyons of tacky insta-condos, and true, it may not be much in and of itself compared to, say, the architectural magificence of the old Methodist church downtown, or the old Dairygold building, but at least it's something. And more than the building itself the victory gives us hope at what may be the end of the long dark.

Congratulations and thanks to everyone who fought this good fight!
MaryW

Posted Thu, Feb 21, 9:32 a.m. Inappropriate

Must be something in the water: Only in Seattle is the important trivialized while the trivial is given importance.

In the overall scheme of things, the Ballard Denny's doesn't register, yet now it's the object of a feel-good-without-commitment "solution" so typical of this town and aptly described by Benaroya attorney John McCullough in this morning's Times as, "a victory of sentimentality over the laws under which the (Landmarks Preservation Board) is supposed to operate."

Lunacy on the order of the Christmas display brouhaha at Sea-Tac, and soon to be an equally embarrassing national laughing stock at a water cooler near you. It's either something in the water we drink or Rick Steves' new marijuana tolerance initiative is already producing fruits.

How easy it is to disrupt a property owner's plans, cause significant financial hardship, and have the municipal chest swell with pride all at no cost to the busybodies who now have their way.

And all for an old Denny's? I could perhaps understand it if something significant, if not actually historic, happened there, but to give it such elevated status simply because locals gave directions based upon its proximity to eventual destinations? On that basis, everything is sacred ("Take the first left after the transfer station - don't mind the stink - and I'm the second house on the right.").

Query: when the transfer station is accorded landmark status, will that include the stink? Esthetic appeal, or lack thereof, ought to extend to all five senses.

Of course, there's a great deal to be said about eye-appeal in design, hence the justifiable ridicule accorded the glass monstrosities described in David Brewster's article of a few days ago. But to contend that landmark status should extend to the seethingly ugly Denny's just because it's old and allegedly funky ranks right down there with equating the old lady with dementia who hoards tin foil, string, and unwashed tuna cans the same historic status as the Denny (the Seattle founding father Arthur Denny, not the restaurant chain Denny's) party.

But if you want to play it this way, I hereby nominate the Alaskan Way Viaduct for historic preservation status! Damn thing is more recognizable than some ptomaine tavern, serves a genuinely historic purpose in being about the last link connecting industrial Seattle with its workforce, and shouldn't be willy-nilly ripped down with nothing to replace it but surface street gridlock. Put that in your Peter Steinbrueck and smoke it!

Since precedent can be an awful and unforeseen thing, why not the Viaduct? Or the transfer station? Or Rick's in Lake City (everybody knows where that is, especially several former members of the Seattle City Council). Don't they equally qualify?

Who needs the funny papers when we have this stuff!

The Piper

Posted Thu, Feb 21, 9:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Surprise, surprise.....: I'm surprised and I can live with the landmark status of the Ballard Manning's building. Like it or not, it was far out design when built around the time of Seattle's World Fair.
This weekend I spent a lot of time around 15th and Market Streets. There are four cranes in the sky and we are loosing the view of the Olympic mountains as the new highrises go up. That will be a concern regarding Sunset Bowl as well. I'm all for change, but not changes that distroy views all citizens have a right too. 6-3 vote in favor landmark status..... that says something. It was a gutsy vote by the preservation board.
Tahoma

Posted Thu, Feb 21, 9:56 a.m. Inappropriate

To improve the visuals ....: To improve the visuals of the Ballard Manning's building remove those ugly Denny's signs from the roof and parking area ASAP! Yes it's a bit run down, but that's because it's been neglected for 25 years. Finer minds than mine can detail the exterior and certainly tidy the building up. That could be fun, and it could change the feelings of non developer type citizens, who in a few years from now may say, "the Preservation Board made the correct decision."

Tahoma

Posted Thu, Feb 21, 10:41 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Must be something in the water: "How easy it is to disrupt a property owner's plans...."

You've got to be kidding, Piper. It takes a full on movement with heaps of media coverage and pro bono lawyering for a community to have any meaningful impact on a builder's plans in Seattle. And even then, they're lucky to get a few token design concessions. This is a city that just barely saved the Pike Place Market from being replaced by a parking lot. It's a city that bulldozes a different neighborhood institution every other month to make way for soulless condos. It's a city with laws that prohibits property use limits that negatively affect the owner's financial stake, and that will utltimately ensure that Denny's is demolished, despite its newly attained landmark status.

Easy? It's nearly impossible.

P.S. Do you happen to know any real estate developers in Seattle? I do, and if any of them are hurting financially due to oppressive city regulations, they hide it really really well.
Sean

Posted Thu, Feb 21, 11:25 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: To improve the visuals ....: Correct me if I am wrong here, but didn't Denny's admit that the Manning's building was a landmark? My memory says that the building still stands, because Denny's was convinced that the building was a landmark. They gave up their own institutional recognizable structure and kept the Manning's in order to respect the landmark status of the building. Thus the Ballard Denny's didn't look like any other Denny's around.

If that is true, then there really is no debate here; the building has been seen as a landmark not only by the entire population of Seattle but by the corporate world, too.
Spike

Posted Thu, Feb 21, 11:30 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: To improve the visuals ....: And by the way, anyone who knows anything of Lutheran culture would recognize that the Manning's building is just another variation of Lutheran Church architecture. Those swooping roof lines could be in any village in Minnesota. Thus it is particularly comforting in Ballard. Sanctity and coffee. The perfect Lutheran combination

Spike

Posted Thu, Feb 21, 11:58 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Must be something in the water: Query: when the transfer station is accorded landmark status, will that include the stink? Esthetic appeal, or lack thereof, ought to extend to all five senses.

Get thee to Renton and be comfortably surrounded by all the sterility needed for the utopia you seem to envision.

The above commenter is correct; Ballard successfully appealed to the Denny's chain back in the 1980s to leave the building intact for many of the same reasons under scrutiny here. This is an old arguement being brought up today by developers who weren't here to remember it, or hope no one else does.

When I see ANY sign of soul in the densification developments that we see going up daily, I'll think differently. Until then, you cannot replace hardwood with particle board and expect anyone to compliment you.

Posted Thu, Feb 21, 2:29 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: To improve the visuals ....: Spike:

There has been a bit of a dispute over the 1980s controversy about the Denny's plan to tear down the Manning's restaurant when they took over in the early 1980s. Relatives of the previous owners of the property, Allen and Victoria Symington, told the Landmarks Board that there was no community protest over tearing down the diner and that Denny's only decided to "save" it after they couldn't get a permit to demolish it and build a new diner. No reason has been given for why a permit wasn't issued. They indicated Denny's was merely being expedient in remodeling the existing restaurant.

That may be true, but their memory about community reaction is at odds with the newspaper record which refers to the "landmark" quality of the building and upset in Ballard over its proposed demolition. Mildred Andrews, the historian originally hired by developer Rhapsody Partners to help prepare the landmark nomination, dug up many clippings about the diner. (Andrews was later let go by Rhapsody, she believes, because she turned up too much information helpful to the preservation cause; Rhapsody has denied this. Andrews has since spoken out on behalf of saving the diner.)

Here's is a quote Andrews provided from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (10/02/84, B-5, photo with caption): "Manning's building is reborn as a Denny's." "Denny's opened its doors last night in the old Manning's in Ballard at 15th Avenue Northwest and Market Street. Denny's originally planned to tear the building down, but the community who fondly remembered the Manning's cafeteria staged a protest. Denny's remodeled the building instead. 'It's a landmark." said Susan Miller of Denny's staff."

And from the Ballard News-Tribune (Oct. 3, 1984, p. 4): "The remodel of the former Mannings was a unique undertaking for the Denny's corporation, [Susan] Miller said 'Usually they go in and build from scratch.' But when the building was purchased more than a year ago, there was an 'outcry of community support' for keeping the building, Miller said."

I lived in Ballard in the early '80s and this jibes with my recollection.

Posted Thu, Feb 21, 3:32 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: To improve the visuals ....: Yes, this is as I remembered. My strongest memory is that Denny's made some mileage out of saving the landmark. They wanted people to know that corporate policy was the same usual symbolic Denny's building that we see everywhere, that the Manning's building was a unique situation. So for me there is really no issue here. Its validity as a landmark has been affirmed more than once over the years.

Spike

Posted Thu, Feb 21, 5:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Riddle me this...: Where was this backbone when we lost the Music Hall? Warshalls? The Rainier Brewhouse? The Twin Teepees? Most of old Bellevue, old Kirkland, and for that matter, old Ft. Lawton?

I find it interesting that we loose when the property is downtown, or really valuable... or we have so many examples of a style that its' ok to demolish...
In 1962, the Kalakala was ranked second only to the Space Needle as key Seattle Attractions. It sits in Tacoma... But we saved DENNYS!!!!

The Kalakala can sink, the Winonna can rot, the old Steam Plant in Georgetown can languish, but we saved MANNINGS...

We are not even sure if we are getting the Benson Trolley Back before the 100th Anniversary of the AYP... I used to chuckle with Bellevue gave historic status to the old 7-11 on Main Street. Now Seattle has topped that with Mannings. Maybe I should order hash browns at Hatties Hat... or did they tear that down?

Posted Fri, Feb 22, 5:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Got it Right: Hackenflack nails it. The Hat 'n Boots was saved...somehow..
but I don't think it was through the efforts of the Landmarks Board. Maybe no developer to thwart, ergo no motivation.
kieth

Posted Sat, Feb 23, 7:49 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Got it Right: I don't think there is any predicting the process that saves or fails to save any particular landmark. It does seem that the amount of protective passion (and how close it is) is the key element. Manning's raises the local passions of Ballard. No, it is not the Music Hall (which I watched in dismay as the wrecking ball did its job), but landmarks do not have to be monumental. Manning's is a significant symbol of Ballard, and Ballard is a well-defined community. Landmarks get saved when community defense rises, and most of the lost treasures listed above did not create the kind of passion that we see here, no matter how much the writer misses Warshall's. The Twin Teepees burned down, or it may have been saved by local emotions, too. It seems to me it takes a Pike Place Market to get the WHOLE community up for the fight. Without that energy, developers will take it all down - the Taj Mahal, the Louvre, Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower. You name it. The Needle will go, too, when money wants it down more than people want it up.

Spike

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