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Heritage Turkeys of the Year

Envelope, please: Politicians played heavy hands in the destruction of history across the Northwest, particularly in Seattle and Washington state, during 2012.
The Packard House in Anacortes is no more.

The Packard House in Anacortes is no more. Washington Trust for Historic Preservation

The office of architect Paul Thiry fell victim to demolition in 2012.

The office of architect Paul Thiry fell victim to demolition in 2012. Eugenia Woo

Thiry's St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle

Thiry's St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle Lawrence W. Cheek

It's a grim task, but  someone has to do it, right? For the fourth straight year, I am presenting the Heritage Turkey Awards, examples of the worst in Northwest heritage and historic preservation during the last year. Some are for just plain dumb decisions, others raise flags on worse disasters yet to come, still others are the result of economic hard times or policy trends (and loopholes) that make preservation more difficult. In any case, we can do better, and each year the Turkeys offer proof of that.

The Thiry of Devolution
Winner: Paul Thiry office demolition and KeyArena doomsayers, Seattle, WA

Another year, another demolition of a Paul Thiry structure. Perhaps it's because he was so prolific for so long, or maybe it's because the Northwest's fabled "father of Northwest modernism" is cursed by familiarity which we're told breeds contempt, but whatever the reason the architect's work always seems to be facing the wrecking ball, whether it' a church in Shelton or a modernist long house in Normandy Park, or in this year's case, an office building on First Hill. And not just any office, Paul Thiry's own office.

The building at 800 Columbia was built by Thiry in the late 1940s. From there, the architect worked on many of his well-known projects, including St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, the Museum of History and Industry, and the Frye Art Museum. The property was sold this year by the Thiry family to Alecta, a Swedish pension fund with plans to build a high-rise. Seattle preservationists were upset, in part because the building was likely eligible for city landmark status, however, according to Eugenia Woo of Historic Seattle, a loophole in the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) allowed the Thiry family to obtain a demolition permit for the building before it was sold. Perfectly legal, it simply meant that the new high-rise development could move ahead without any public review of the building's historic significance. The old Thiry office's square footage was too small to trigger an automatic review. Thus, Thiry's office was doomed before anyone knew it was endangered. Woo points out this was the same loophole that resulted in the much lamented demolition of the Twin T-Ps Restaurant (later called the Twin Teepees diner) near Green Lake. So, the office has been torn down. A high-rise will go up on adjacent property, and the Thiry site will be turned into open space under an easement granted to the Seattle Parks Department. The city is looking for ways to get much-needed open space on an already dense First Hill, so that's some consolation. But the loophole in the law remains to be closed.

This won't be the last Thiry project to face demolition. The Thiry-designed MOHAI at Montlake will be razed for the 520 highway expansion project. And red flags are being raised about the long-term future of the Thiry-designed Coliseum (KeyArena) at Seattle Center, which Thiry also planned. The architect once said the Coliseum, initially used as the Washington State Pavilion during Century 21, was a "workhorse" structure and it has been just that in the last half-century. It has hosted conventions, sports teams, political rallies and major concerts. But with a new basketball arena in the works, the Coliseum/KeyArena is edging toward white elephant status. City council member and mayoral candidate Tim Burgess, who played a key role in finalizing the new SoDo arena deal, has pronounced that "KeyArena is essentially doomed" and state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, whose district includes the Center, has said, "KeyArena is dead and done the day the new arena opens."

The Coliseum/KeyArena is a literal landmark if not yet an official one, and its success and survival is vital to the future of the Center. In terms of its architectural legacy. The pyramidal structure —some say it looks like a Northwest Indian hat — remains a functional and visual anchor. Preservationists are getting motivated to save the building, and city council member Jean Godden, chair of the city's Libraries, Utilities and Center committee, says reports of the Key's death are premature. She's exploring adaptive re-use alternatives. It's a good time for collective thinking on the topic of whither the Coliseum. Let's hope the same kind of brilliance Thiry showed in designing the incredibly adaptable structure can be employed to create a new chapter for this essential Seattle landmark. Ignore the doomsayers; it's too early to write it off.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Jan 8, 6:57 a.m. Inappropriate

It seems there's some irony in the Thiry family demolishing the office building and selling away a piece of the family's history.

This area really is in need of open space, so I don't think it's a bad decision. Unfortunately, I have little faith the Key will be adapted for future use.

jeffro

Posted Tue, Jan 8, 9:23 a.m. Inappropriate


On September 5, 2012, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board voted unanimously to designate the Cedar Park Elementary School building, designed by Paul Thiry, as a Seattle Landmark. This building is an example of a less-known Thiry work that has, perhaps surprisingly, been protected.

The Seattle School District wanted to destroy the building so it could use the site for a new school. The Cedar Park Elementary School building has not been used as a school for over 30 years; since 1981 it has housed the Artwood Studios, live-work spaces artists. Some current residents have lived in the building for more than 30 years.

Although Landmark designation protects the Thiry-designed Cedar Park School building, its current use as artist live-work housing is not protected. The latest School District proposal is to use the Cedar Park school building as temporary school space while another school (likely Olympic Hills) is demolished and rebuilt. This will mean evicting the artist tenants of the last 30 years and may require destroying a Seattle city park located on the former school parking lot and playground--the only city park in this northeast Seattle neighborhood.

The School District has so far announced no plan for the building and site after the need for temporary space comes to an end.

Posted Tue, Jan 8, 9:40 a.m. Inappropriate

The Parkers demolition was shameful, but not surprising as the City of Shoreline has not supported any efforts to save historic structures.

However, the most egregious example of failed historic preservation in Shoreline is the Ronald School. This building was long-protected by the Shoreline Historical Museum. The original school board who deeded the building to the Museum 25 years or so ago, intending its use as a museum to be perpetual, but was outfoxed by the current Shoreline School Board who underhandedly obtained the building after expressing its dismay that the structure had been landmarked. Now the once-stately Ronald School has been gutted, left open to the elements, had its carefully preserved original woodwork left to deteriorate and is over-powered by a modern structure to the rear. This is a case where the powerful Shoreline School District simply exercised its might against the City of Shoreline and its inhabitants for their own perceived benefit. Although the Ronald School was "protected" I do not consider this to be historic preservation in any sense of the word.

lacquer

Posted Tue, Jan 8, 11:44 a.m. Inappropriate

The loss of the Coliseum would truly be tragic. I can't help but think that if the permanent seating was removed, and the floor restored to grade (enabling the re-burying of one of the roof support pillars) it could have a long future as an exhibit and convention facility.

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Jan 8, 12:36 p.m. Inappropriate

A failure on the part of the legislature to fund Washington’s State Parks system would be shameful. Not only would it put at risk a treasure trove of our state’s natural and cultural history, zeroing out the parks budget would potentially result in denying access to recreational opportunities across the state. And this at a time when the national conversation is all about exploring and enjoying the outdoors for our physical and mental health. Tough to do that without parks.

To their credit, staff at State Parks, along with the Parks and Recreation Commission, has proven creative and open to trying new things. While the Discovery Pass has not generated the amount of revenue as hoped, a fee system was overdue and will be part of the long-term solution. New fees are understandably unpopular, but consider this: Washington was the last state in the nation to adopt a fee system for its parks – a pretty commendable track record of providing recreational access.

And state parks are actively engaging in innovative partnerships. Just last month, the Parks and Recreation Commission voted to begin negotiations with the Port Townsend Public Development Authority (PDA) to co-manage Fort Worden State Park – a National Historic Landmark site with over 100 buildings and structures. The willingness of State Parks to partner with private, nonprofit entities demonstrates their understanding that the solution to the challenges facing our state parks is not going to be solely legislative in nature.

Posted Wed, Jan 9, 12:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Comment from Junius Rochester:

Thanks for the update on squandering our heritage.

I identified and described Thiry-designed homes in my book, "The Last Electric Trolley." And your comments about Kennewick Man were helpful. With guests who join me in visiting Palouse Falls from our small cruise ship anchored on the Snake River, I tell about K-Man and point out that his remains should probably be returned to the local Natives, especially Yakamas, for re-burial (at least that's what the 1970s Antiquities Act seems to endorse?).

Junius

Posted Wed, Jan 9, 11:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Including Douglas Owsley's presentation on the latest findings on Kennewick Man in your "examples of the worst in Northwest heritage and historic preservation during the last year" is either an uninformed cheap shot or a clever parody on the vapid reportage of the event, beginning with Linda Mapes' incoherent piece in the Seattle Times, and continued by John Stang writing in assassin-mode in Crosscut. You have identified perhaps the one characteristic of scientific reporting that changes from one report to the other with little explanation -- K-man's reconstructed appearance.

But wait! The most recent "revisionist" portrait shares a visage remarkably similar to ... Knute Berger. Shave off all the hair and whaddya got? A face like Patrick Stewart.

dmark

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