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    The 'American Idol' version of heritage

    One million dollars will be doled out to Puget Sound area historic preservation projects, and online votes will help determine which project wins. Is this crowd-sourcing of history a good idea? You bet.
    Detail of the Horiuchi mural at Seattle Center, candidate for preservation votes

    Detail of the Horiuchi mural at Seattle Center, candidate for preservation votes

    Washington Hall in Seattle's Central District. (Chuck Taylor)

    Washington Hall in Seattle's Central District. (Chuck Taylor)

    American Express calls it "crowd-sourcing philanthropy," but you might call it the American Idol of preservation. The financial company has teamed with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to dole out $1 million in capitol grants to historic projects in Seattle and Puget Sound. And the public gets a say in sending at least one recipient home happy.

    The kick-off of Partners in Preservation took place Thursday, April 15 in what has become a temple of Seattle preservation, the wonderfully preserved First United Methodist Church downtown, now dubbed Daniels Hall. The saving of the church from the wrecking ball a few years ago was a rare win in a city surging during the post-dot-com-bust boom (a description that makes sense if you've been tracking the city's boom-and-bust-cycles).

    In the '00s, construction cranes became the city's new church steeples, but developer Kevin Daniels and then King County councilman Dow Constantine (now boss of the whole county) stepped in to help save the church sanctuary while the congregation moved to new digs. On this spring morning, the organ blared muddily and light came through the delicate stained glass windows which have the softness of mother of pearl. For a few minutes, the sun shone on historic preservation.

    Here's the deal: 25 worthy preservation projects from around Puget Sound have been selected to compete for a share of the $1 million. Citizens can vote online, up to once per day if you like, and the top vote-getter will be assured of a grant. You have until May 12 to cast your ballots. A committee of local heritage experts will pick another group of projects for funding, so about half of the 25 will walk away very happy. The other half will get $5,000 each for their efforts.

    The projects run the gamut from known and unknown, big to small, from ships to public buildings. Examples: King Street Station wants help with their restoration; the wonderful Washington Hall (much covered here) needs help rehabbing; Town Hall has a terra cotta tiles and art-glass windows that need renovation; Seattle artist Paul Horiuchi's Seattle Center mural needs cleaning, fixing, and some new tiles; the schooner Adventuress which introduces kids to maritime history, needs repairs to stay shipshape; the endangered landmark Port Townsend Customs House and Post Office needs to be made accessible to the handicapped if it is to remain in use as it has been since 1893. (It's endangered because the Postal Service is considering selling it off!).

    I name these few projects not out of personal bias. There are many worthies. Indeed, one of the advantages of getting the public to vote online is to encourage people to check out the list of candidates. Even historic preservationists will find fascinating projects they'd likely never heard of.

    For example, I've never heard of the Anderson Island Historical Society's Johnson Farm, a preserved and functioning 19th century farmstead. That reminds me that I've never been to Anderson Island, so time to add it to the destination list. Others might be intrigued by Tacoma's Spanish Steps or the Bowman Bay Kitchen Shelter, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in deception Pass State Park, or a nifty >VFW Hall on Mercer Island, or the incredible modernist Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks in Kent, which has been described as a "public park, a stormwater detention dam and a modernist masterpiece." People might be shocked that something built in 1982 would qualify for the list, but it certainly does. All the finalists will be open to the public the weekend of May 1-2.

    At the Daniels Hall kick-off, fans of each finalist showed up in force to root for their project, and some will run full-blown campaigns to get votes (people wore buttons, waved signs, and gave out stickers, just like at your local caucus). Everyone has a shot to get the most votes, which is the one way to guarantee your grant. The upside is that it helps raise funds for groups and gives them a reason to mobilize their base and reach out to new people. Everyone will get some publicity and a small check. Some will get significant grants of $100,000 or more. The downside is that 25 worthy groups are competing against each other, and hopefully the resulting scrum won't descend to Darwinian dog-eat-dogism. As Kathleen Brooker of Historic Seattle joked, "We don't want to become the last episode of Lost."

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    Posted Fri, Apr 16, 3:02 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'm partial to the Skansie net shed. Not only is it in a poor state of repair, it is one of a dwindling number of structures built over the water, a type of construction that is almost impossible today due to regulation. In my life I've seen many stores, ferry terminals and other over-the-water structures on the Peninsula crumble into Puget Sound because the owners were unable, for monetary or legal reasons, to maintain or restore them. There is another classic net shed in Gig Harbor as well. I don't know who the owner is, but it is whitewashed, and located in the Milltown area. I hope that that one will be protected as well.


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