The University of Washington's More Hall Annex, aka the Nuclear Reactor Building, has become a cause celeb for fans of mid-century modern architecture and atomic history. The UW is planning to demolish the building, but a graduate student, Abby Martin, has mounted an effort to get the structure listed on the National Historic Register of Historic Places. Time seemed to be running out, but it ain't over yet.
The state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation has announced that the Nuclear Reactor Building — which once housed an operating reactor used for training nuclear engineers on campus — will be officially reviewed for nomination to the National Register and the state's Washington Heritage Register by the Governor's Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The review meeting will take place in Dayton, Wash., on July 26.
While a listing on either or both of the state and national registers wouldn't guarantee the building would be saved, it would provide strong evidence of the structure's historic significance and could result in additional documentation of its history and requirements for mitigation if it is eventually torn down. According to state historic preservation officer Allyson Brooks, the UW can file an objection to a register listing if it chooses.
The UW has delayed demolition of the building, which was scheduled for this summer. It has not said exactly what it plans to do with the site, which sits off Stevens Way and overlooks Hec Edmundson Pavilion and Union Bay. The building was created by a one-of-a-kind group of brilliant Northwest designers associated with the UW. They attempted to make visible the secretive process of nuclear science. At least one group has proposed the building be kept and converted into an atomic age museum.
According to UW spokesman Bob Roseth, the university might comment on the historic review of the structure, but no statement has yet been drafted, and no new demolition schedule has been set. Roseth wrote in an email:
As a campus with many buildings over 50 years old, we're constantly in the position of weighing the historic value of existing structures against the physical needs of new educational programs and fields of study, both for additional space and space that meets certain demands for electricity, plumbing and other environmental characteristics. Building space on campus is very limited, so these decisions always involve weighing a number of factors.
Sources say the the university is very irritated at the effort to save the building. It has worked for years to de-commission the reactor with the idea of eventually replacing the structure. The UW handles such decisions internally, and its buildings are not subject to city landmark laws.
Supporters believe the Nuclear Reactor Building could be adapted to new uses. The preservation effort has gained statewide recognition. The Nuclear Reactor Building is listed on "most endangered" lists by both the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation and modernist advocates Docomomo-wewa. Martin says she plans to be in Dayton to continue to make the case for the building's historical and cultural significance.
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