Heritage Turkeys of the Year
by Knute Berger
Thiry's St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle Credit: 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.
Last Dance at Parker's
Winner: Parker's Ballroom Demolition, Shoreline, WA
Ask heritage advocates for a Turkey nomination and the one that set off a collective groan was the demolition of Parker's Ballroom on Aurora Way in Shoreline. Music historian Peter Blecha says it was the area's last standing 1930s roadhouse. Opened in 1930, Parker's was a venue that served local needs from the Jazz Age through Punk Rock and beyond. Located in the 'burbs away from stricter city Blue Laws, Parker's was a major nightlife attraction from Prohibition era to the classic days of Northwest rock. Who played there? According to Historylink, the roster includes Guy Lombardo, Tommy Dorsey, Stevie Wonder, Jerry Lee Lewis, Paul Revere and the Raiders, B.B. King, Heart, Joan Jett, Warren Zevon, Ray Charles, Tina Turner, The Byrds, The Ventures, The Sonics, The Wailers, The Dynamics … the list goes on. Concert venue, dance hall, roller rink, casino, supper club, Parker's survived decades in many incarnations and was a coming-of-age place for many of Puget Sound's youth as well as an incubator of Northwest music. After more than 80 years of service, it was flattened in November to make room for —what else? — a car lot. Citing other demolitions like the Music Hall, the Spanish Castle, and the Jolly Roger, Blecha says, "A young city like Seattle really ought to know better by now than to let yet another historic entertainment edifice fall to wrecking balls and bulldozers — but apparently not."
Sorrow in Sourdough Country
Winner: Disappearing frontier roadhouses, Alaska
Parker's isn't the only roadhouse to bite the dust. Historic roadhouses of another sort in Alaska are rapidly vanishing. These aren't dance halls, but old supply depots, trading posts, saloons, and shelters that could be reached in a day by dog sled in winter or by wagon in summer in Alaska's pre-statehood era. In Alaska's early days roadhouses formed a lifeline for trappers, prospectors and travelers along remote trails, roads and, later, highways. Many of these have gone to ruin with time, some have been saved and turned into lodges or restaurants. This year saw the destruction of two important historic roadhouses, both by fire. In April, the Forks Roadhouse near Peterville burned. Established during the Gold Rush and rebuilt, this 1930s roadhouse was said to be the oldest in Alaska still used for its original purpose as a supply depot. And in May, fire destroyed the Copper Center Lodge outside of Anchorage. The National Historic Register structure was originally built for goldminers in the Copper River Valley in 1896, and was rebuilt in the late 1920s. In more recent times, it has housed pipeline workers, tourists, National Park Service employees and served as a community gathering place. One victim of the fire: the lodge's famous 150-year-old sourdough pancake starter. Concern over the vulnerability of the frontier roadhouses is enough that the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation put them on its most-endangered list for 2012.
Winner: Jantzen Beach Carousel closure, Portland, OR
Since the late 1920s, the historic Jantzen Beach carousel had been turning, delighting generations of Portlanders first in an amusement park, later in the center of a mall that replaced the park. The restored 72-horse merry-go-round was, until 2008, on the National Register of Historic Places, but was de-listed in anticipation of a move. This year, facing a $50 million mall makeover in an area that will also be greatly impacted by the Columbia River Crossing project, the carousel has been dismantled, put in storage, and is now listed only on the Historic Preservation League of Oregon's "most endangered list" for the year. The concern: its future is unclear. The building that housed it has been demolished and plans to re-incorporate the carousel into the new mall are vague. Local heritage advocates are worried that it will be lost in the re-development shuffle and want assurances that it will be kept in Jantzen Beach.
Maybe they should call it the "Dismember Pass"
Winner: The bozos in Olympia who are dismantling the state parks system
The Washington state parks system turns 100 in 2013, and is said to be at a crossroads. If it is, it's a crossroads where it's in the middle of a devastating slow-motion wreck. State funding has been slashed — down from $94.3 million in 2007-09 to $17.2 million for 2011-13. Worse is yet to come.
Budgeters in Olympia in 2011 came up with an idea to help balance the state budget: Slash the state parks system and hope to zero it out of the general fund completely in 2013. How to do that? Go to a user-fee system charging $10 for admission to parks or a $30 annual Discover Pass. Never mind that we're still recovering from the Great Recession, that gas prices have been sky high, that the fee system was instituted overnight with little warning. Residents were hit with sticker shock. And never mind that no state park system in the country operates without at least some taxpayer support. The parks budget counted on selling $53.7 million in park passes, but that wasn't rooted in any kind of reality. In it's first year, the Discover Pass brought in less than half of what was expected and even with more marketing, Parks anticipates about the same for this year, meaning a projected shortfall of around $27 million.
The damage is scary: fewer rangers, less maintenance, eroding infrastructure, less security, inadequate funds to deal with long-term stewardship issues, and an uncertain future. Not only does parks help protect the natural environment, but according to a Parks commission's 2012 report, the 117 Washington State Parks have "the largest collection of historic buildings, artifacts and other resources among state agencies." They oversee some 700 historic structures. They're responsible for more than buildings: Parks protects vulnerable Native American cultural resources too, like ancient petroglyphs.
Parks has made some changes to the Discover Pass program that improve it (a pass can now cover two vehicles, for example). In these budget times, a user-fee system has to be part of the mix. Parks will have to work harder to raise funds from other sources, including donations, grants and other fees. But the Discover Pass system was instituted too quickly with the unrealistic idea that Parks could become self-funding virtually overnight. As a result, Parks will now have to fight its way back into the general fund at a time when the new governor and state senate have committed to no new taxes and with other agencies competing for a piece of the pie. Parks plans to request $27.2 million for support for the next biennium (2013-15). Zeroing them out is not a viable option. To celebrate their centennial, we owe the system — and ourselves — a sustainable model.
Winner: Packard House demolition, Anacortes, WA
Identified by the Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation as one of Anacortes' "most significant properties" and listed by the Washington Trust as a "most endangered" structure in 2005, the Packard House built in the late 1920s was razed in December. The historic, Federal Revival-style home on Fidalgo Bay in the Cap Sante neighborhood fell victim to plans to subdivide the property for development because of its prime views. The home was considered one of the "finest and most faithful" example of its style in the region and was modeled on George Washington's Mount Vernon. The original owner of the house was Charles Q. Adams who apparently died on the day he and his wife moved into it in 1930. It was named after the long-term subsequent owners. Some neighbors rallied to save the structure, but efforts to move it failed. Over the years, the vacant house deteriorated while legal battles over the property turned into what has been called a "legal quagmire."
Winner: The many faces of Kennewick Man
Last October, Douglas Owsley, head of the Smithsonian's Department of Physical Anthropology and a scientist allowed to study the controversial bones of Kennewick Man, gave a sneak preview of his much-awaited findings to leaders of the Mid-Columbia tribes and to members of the public in Eastern Washington. While many people were excited to learn more about the 9,200-year-old bones, some academics were not happy. University of Washington associate professor Peter Lape, Curator of Archaeology at the Burke Museum, which has custody of the bones, objected to the lack of a peer-reviewed publication of the findings so that other researchers would be able to assess the validity of Owsley's conclusions. As Lape told Crosscut writer John Stang, "He's never published any scientific results of his studies. There's no place for anyone to look at the actual data. …You have to have a higher amount of scrutiny in the scientific process." Owsley says he is editing a book written by various specialists who have studied the bones that should be out in about a year.
Still, everything related to Kennewick Man seems to fuel fanciful speculation. For example, numerous portraits of K-Man allegedly based on facial reconstructions from his skull look nothing like one another. In the '90s, Jim Chatters and Thomas McClelland sculpted a bust of K-Man look made him look uncannily like actor Patrick Stewart, who played the fictional Starship captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek the Next Generation. Then there was the cover of Time Magazine in the mid-00's that showed a smooth-faced youth who looked like the lead singer in a multi-culti boy band. And now the latest reconstruction accompanying Owsley's findings shows a bearded, long-haired middle-aged man who looks like a character from Game of Thrones. With so much "science" we don't know what to believe.
Turning a Craftsman into a Parking Lot
Winner: Linger House demolition, Idaho Falls, ID
Each year, the Idaho Historic Preservation Council gives out its "Orchids and Onions" awards to the best and worst of historic preservation for the year. They are one of the few preservation groups I know that give recognition to bad behavior. So, I approvingly present their 2012 Onion winner: the demolition of the H. K. Linger House in Idaho Falls. The Craftsman-style house was built around 1910 and for many years was the residence for the First Presbyterian Church. Preservation Idaho says is could have been "retained, maintained, or re-purposed," but instead it was bulldozed for a parking lot. Now the church can add a Turkey to their Onion for their poor decision, which not only hurts Idaho heritage, but is an example of a terrible environmental trade-off. There's nothing greener than an existing building, and turning one into landfill for a paved parking is some kind of a sin.
Curtains for the Paramount
Winner: Paramount Theater demolition, Chilliwack, BC
Small movie theaters throughout the region are under huge pressures. It's tough to run them in good times, harder in bad. Plus, the digitizing of film is putting pressure on small theater operators to invest in new equipment at great expense. It also raises worries about the loss of film heritage during a major technological transfer. In the meantime, they're under pressure from development. Heritage Vancouver (BC) has triggered alarm bells over a rash of closures and demolitions of that city's neighborhood cinemas, such as the Varsity and Imperial theaters, and advocates worry that a number of others that have closed or look like they may be razed (the Hollywood and Ridge theaters). Heritage Vancouver has listed the city's historic theaters on its most endangered list for the year. Also getting attention is Heritage Canada's listing of the Paramount Theater in Chilliwack, BC. Not one of the old movie palaces, it is instead a mid-century modern International Style-inspired cinema from the late 1940s made of tons of concrete and steel. The theater was closed by Landmark Cinemas in 2010 and donated to the city, which has been considering proposals to re-purpose or demolish the building. Citizens have been trying to develop a plan for reopening it, but in August, the city council voted to tear it down.
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