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Seattle Center: Is historic district designation ahead?

Balancing the needs of history and redevelopment is both a challenge and opportunity for Seattle Center.
Architect Paul Thiry, a proponent of modernism, designed the original Seattle Center Coliseum, now called KeyArena: This is structure as sculpture.

Architect Paul Thiry, a proponent of modernism, designed the original Seattle Center Coliseum, now called KeyArena: This is structure as sculpture. Lawrence W. Cheek

Seattle Center: enduring icons of 1962

Seattle Center: enduring icons of 1962 City of Seattle

The decision to host a world's fair and preserve the site as a permanent civic center has, with time, ensured that Seattle Center is home to a cluster of city landmarks. Debates over what the Center should be — park, cultural center, amusement zone, urban neighborhood — are ongoing and they will increasingly be shaped by the passage of time as many of the Center's parts age into historic status. The post-fair Center is 50 years old this year. The refurbished fairgrounds re-opened as Seattle Center on June 1, 1963.

Already, there are six designated city landmarks there: the Space Needle, Science Center, Armory, Monorail, Horiuchi Mural and the Kobe Bell. But a new historic survey of the site demonstrates that there are many additional eligible landmarks dating both from the 1962 fair and before. The Center has a number of structures that pre-date the fair, such as the Armory/Center House and Memorial Stadium, because the Century 21 exposition's builders were dedicated to adaptive re-use and eager to save money by capitalizing on existing infrastructure.

The new "Seattle Center: Historic Landmark Study" commissioned by the Center was finished in March and is now available to the public (you can get a copy of it here). It was produced by the team of HistoryLink.org and Artifacts Consulting, Inc. of Tacoma. Their findings are slated to be presented to the city's Landmarks Preservation Board on May 1.

The study covered buildings, other structures (fountains, the North entrance) and parts of the landscape and layout (Fisher Green, the original city street grid) that might meet one or more of the city's six landmark criteria. To be a landmark, a candidate property need only meet one of the six criteria, but the city also considers the issue of "integrity," whether the nominated site still is true to its original architectural form. This can be an area of scholarly debate: Does a historic structure, for example, maintain its character, or has it undergone one too many alterations? It's sometimes a judgment call.

The study found that there are 17 properties that meet one or more of the city's landmark standards, led by KeyArena (formerly the Coliseum and Washington State Pavilion) which was assessed as meeting all six. It has undergone significant change, especially on the inside. But the outside is as recognizable today as in 1962.

The future of the Key is the subject of much discussion. Mayor Mike McGinn recently announced an agreement over rents and upgrades to the facility in anticipation of its hosting, on an interim basis, professional basketball and perhaps hockey, courtesy of Chris Hansen, who is trying to bring the Sonics back to town. But preservationists worry about its eventual future if a new arena is built in SoDo. Some local politicians have suggested that the facility is doomed in that event. Others, like city council member Jean Godden, are actively looking at alternative, long-term uses for the Key to keep the Fat Lady from ever singing there.

The study finds that many of the potential landmarks fall within two clusters, which they named for the architects that had influence there. At the West end of the Center is the "Thiry Concentration" centered largely around KeyArena and the Northwest Rooms. Architect Paul Thiry designed the arena and oversaw the architectural plan for the fair and post-fair.

On the North side of the Center is the so-called "Kirk Concentration" named after architect Paul Kirk whose firm was connected with structures like the Playhouse, Exhibition Hall (formerly the Fine Arts Pavilion), Mercer Arena and even the Mercer Street Parking Garage. McCaw Hall, formerly the Opera House and before that the Civic Auditorium, does not qualify because nothing of the old structure really remains.


 


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Apr 23, 9:32 a.m. Inappropriate

The Coliseum is perfectly situated for use as a convention/exhibition venue. Since the roof is self-supporting, the seating can be removed (and the floor returned to grade so the foundation of one of the supporting structures is no exposed). After attending several boat shows at CenturyLink-Whatever, I'm convinced that any venue would be an improvement. It would be a real tragedy to let this beautiful and historic building fall into disuse.

dbreneman

Posted Wed, Apr 24, 10:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Knute – the historic property in question here is the Seattle Center, not a collection of buildings and murals. It’s genesis may be the World’s Fair, but it’s significance includes the adaptive changes after the Fair, most of which are older than 25 years. It isn’t just a collection of architectural features, as represented in the Artifacts report. An analogy would be a Landmark consisting of an historical mansion and grounds: lawn, carriage house, gardens, and the main house. Obviously with the latter, it can’t be ossified. Plants, trees, and in some cases purpose and fabric change over time. It needs to be thoughtfully adapted to the realities of present while preserving the historical values and images. The historical atmosphere and ambiance, if you have it.

Do we think of the Pike Place Market building by building? No. It’s the Market. And it is manage by a group charged with maintaining the historical character of the place while adapting to the here and now; the need for economic viability. The Market has been an outstanding preservation success known far and wide. The Seattle Center, in my mind, is no different. Treat it as a district, if one must, although truly it is a whole. A district is the least solution. But manage it for its history combined with its future. The Artifacts report is a good one; but it follows a process that applies more to individual properties; a piecemeal approach. As such, it misses the mark on dealing with a property like the Center.

Bob

weevz2001

Posted Mon, Apr 29, 10:29 a.m. Inappropriate


Noted is that none of the ‘city landmarks’ (Seattle Center) are listed in the National Register of Historic Places database (which includes National Historic Landmarks). Why is that?

Otherwise, there are many such in Seattle and vicinity. Searching by ‘resource type’ in the database, found are 16 designated districts (example: Pike Place Market, as mentioned in the comments); 128 buildings (example: Seattle Public Library); 1 site: the Dunn Gardens; 31 structures (example: the Ballard Bridge, or, the Zodiac schooner, in the Lake Union Dry Dock which was designated way back in 1982).

It would seem that given time, all properties would have significance to the history of their community, state, or the nation, including commercial ones. All would be potential nominees for inclusion in a historic registry. As Mr. Berger points out, the main issue is the ‘integrity’ of the property. Some properties are too far gone for inclusion now. How about drawing up a list of those. Least-ways, the city would get a handle on what activities to start ‘restricting’ now and to continue restricting in the future.

Thank you.

geking49

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