Harborview Hospital has been developing a master plan over the past decade to guide the development of its campus on First Hill. Much of the plan has come to fruition with grand new buildings, parking garages, skybridges, and renovation of the original main structure built in the early 1930s, with its distinctive peaked top that is visible from Interstate 5. New buildings, though clearly contemporary and designed to current standards for the delivery of medical services, deferred architecturally to the gorgeous art deco architecture of the central structure.
The master plan — ultimately approved through the City’s Master Institutions Master Plan Process, inelegantly abbreviated as MIMP — included a central plaza. Maps in the master plan show a huge black dot indicating the importance of this plaza, and several renderings depict a grassy park-like setting with trees and water. This space is one of the last pieces of the master plan to fall into place.
Given the distinct lack of public green space on First Hill, this verdant plaza has been eagerly anticipated by residents in buildings surrounding the hospital many of whom work there. Nursing staff has seen the space as a much needed “healing garden” for recovering patients, a concept that has been incorporated into medical centers around the world. The currently available green space on the west side of the hospital has little to commend it but the views, and noise of the freeway just alongside hardly makes it a place of respite and
The proposed plaza was also seen as the symbolic center of the complex, a sort of town square for the campus that has been expanding upward rather than outward. Last year, until King County asked for a delay, Harborview was poised to give the go-ahead to a contractor to remove the building that currently sits on the site of the plaza.
Therein lies the rub.
That building, Harborview Hall, was built at the same time as the hospital and designed by the same Seattle architect, Harlan Thomas, who was also the designer of the Sorrento Hotel on First Hill, the Corner Market Building in Pike Place Market, and other notable buildings around the city. Harborview Hall was a sort of junior version of the main building, with an echo of the same elegant Art Deco proportioning and detailing on the exterior as well as the main floor lobby. So well-appointed was the building when it opened that an article published in The Seattle Times mocked it for spending so many public dollars to build such an opulent structure.
Harborview Hall was built as a residence for nurses who were being schooled at the University of Washington and receiving their training at Harborview . The building was part of an entire era of exemplary service in a public hospital, an institution that has successfully endeavored over decades to become one of the most respected Level 1 trauma centers in the country. Harborview is the only such trauma center serving Washington, Montana, Idaho, and Alaska. People involved in horrific accidents are often helicoptered to Harborview barley clinging to their lives but saved by the excellent staff and facilities.
When the master plan was being developed, there was some interest in seeing if Harborview Hall could be re-purposed. At least one development company evaluated its potential for market rate housing and determined that renovation was feasible, with some caveats. For example, the cost of renovating of older buildings is significantly offset if they are designated historic, making tax credits available.
Not surprisingly, the structure was nominated for designation as local landmark by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Board in the early part of the last decade. Initially seeming to be in favor of such a designation, the board, when it came to make a final decision, was persuaded by arguments from Harborview that restoration and renovation would not be feasible. Specifically, the high cost of retrofitting it to meet current seismic standards was cited. The vote was 4-3 against landmark designation.
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