Weyerhaeuser move: A modern landmark's future in question

The architecture of the company's Federal Way headquarters has been admired from the start. And there could be challenges with construction on a Pioneer Square site with an industrial past.
Weyerhaeuser headquarters in Federal Way.

Weyerhaeuser headquarters in Federal Way. Bethany Weeks/Flickr

The announcement that Weyerhaeuser is moving its headquarters from Federal Way to Pioneer Square raises surprising questions about heritage.

The timber giant is locating next to Occidental Park, site of controversies over the removal of its trees in the past. That might make Pi-Square preservationists want to do something akin to hiding the arboreal silverware. But seriously, there's no reason the "tree growing company,” as its old slogan had it, cannot be a good urban citizen.

Perhaps they could be tapped to help with plantings around town to improve Seattle's tree canopy.

Historian/geologist David Williams points out, however, that the new company headquarters will be located on some of the worst land in the historic district. Not that anyone minds getting rid of the overpriced parking lot there, but Williams points out that this particular spot was originally a mushy tidal marsh area and one of the first such to be filled by settlers — especially by a guy with a wheelbarrow named Dutch Ned. The ground is said to contain sawdust from Henry Yesler's sawmill and debris from the Great Fire of 1889. Williams points out the squishiness of the land can be seen in pictures of the buckling parking lot (check his map and images here). Core samples have found wood chips, creosote, brick, asphalt and mortar, among other materials.

Such are the foundations of modern Seattle, at least in some locales. Williams blogs that "these cores and early maps do give one pause to consider Weyerhaeuser’s decision to move." Perhaps Weyerhaeuser could also help fund some good historic archaeology on the site while establishing a firm footing for its new HQ.

Weyerhaeuser confirms that its entire 430-acre campus and its buildings in Federal Way are for sale, which gives another cause for pause to wonder what will happen to the fabulous, award-winning Skidmore, Owings & Merrill-designed headquarters it will leave behind. Opened in 1971, the horizontal concrete structure is an early example of eco-design (it received a conservation award in 1973). It has long been considered a modern architectural masterpiece.

There is also the fate of the company's gardens. The widely admired Bonsai garden was donated earlier this year to the non-profit, the George Weyerhaeuser Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection and the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation. There's also an impressive Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden, likewise managed by a private foundation. Weyerhaeuser spokesman Anthony Chavez says “The Bonsai and Rhododendron Gardens will not be affected by the announcement of moving our corporate headquarters to Seattle.”

Eugenia Woo, a board member of the mid-century modern architecture preservation group, Docomomo-WeWA, says the Weyerhaeuser headquarters' future is a concern. "Red flags are up," she says. "The setting cannot be beat. It's a spectacular property and one of the best examples of modernism in the state."

University of Washington professor and architectural historian Jeffrey Karl Ochsner in a Facebook comment writes that the building "clearly deserves to be recognized and protected. Under the 50-year rule it is not yet eligible for the National Register, but I think a good case could be made for the exception given to especially meritorious buildings."

Allyson Brooks, the state's chief preservation officer, says she will reserve comment until more is known. "It's a great building, but let's wait to see what Weyerhaeuser has to say about its future."

While the freeway-adjacent Weyerhaeuser campus might be ripe for redevelopment if viewed as a large blank canvas, from an historic landscape and architectural standpoint, it's a gem. It's as yet unclear whether the building would be protected or repurposed by a new owner, but it is certainly landmark-worthy. Indeed, its design was meant to be a modernist showcase — a landmark in a literal sense — visible to millions of I-5 commuters.

The Puget Sound Business Journal reports there is a lot of potential interest in the site. The grounds and building with ivy terraces, rock sculptures, ponds and Zen-feel do suggest possibilities as a kind of luxury hotel and spa property. Or maybe a building for some public purpose, like a school, or a corporate campus for some other prosperous company. How about a McMenamins?  Using some of the land for housing is another possibility.

Jim Ferrell, mayor of Federal Way, says he'd like to see the building preserved. "I agree that the current Weyerhaeuser building is an architectural masterpiece and certainly one worth preserving. From our perspective that would be our primary approach, and we will do whatever we can in this transition and help them locate an interested party to occupy that site."


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 5:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Homeless shelter? Share wheel campsite? Plenty of room for support services on-site, close to schools, easy access to transportation.

Cameron

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 8:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Share/Wheel site? As Governor Tarkin might have said, "Federal Way is too remote to make an effective demonstration."

talisker

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 7:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Federal Way absolutely does not need any more housing. It needs businesses, but it also needs goods and services-offerings near businesses for those employees to use while they're here. There's nothing east of the freeway close to the office buildings (there are a bunch of additional completely empty 2-3 story office buildings nestled among the trees) and WSDOT cut them off even more so by eliminating access to the 18 from Weyerhaeuser Way with the triangle project. I think Weyerhaeuser is going to have trouble unloading this holding. (New owner will also acquire two heliports.)

Will the new owner get naming rights for the street or will it already be renamed
"World Vision Way"? (If we were being petty we could go with "Disenchanted Parkway" as an immediate but temporary name change.)

Perhaps it's also time for a name change for the whole city. How about "Fairway"?

tvjames

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 8:25 a.m. Inappropriate

Nah, it'll be something like the new big development near Black Diamond. Federal Way already has huge swaths of commercial land that could be denser than it currently is. But developers could make a killing by converting a few hundred acres into housing and retail/light commercial.

talisker

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 7:40 a.m. Inappropriate

I spent nearly three years (1978-80), during a sabbatical from Washington, D.C., working in the Weyerhaeuser headquarters building in Federal Way. It was a wonderful building architecturally. Employees regularly used the natural walking trails adjacent to the building.
Shocked e-mails from Weyerhaeuser alums began circulating following the announcement of the move to a boxlike, nondescript building on Occidental. I immediately thought of Weyerhaeuser family members' reaction to the news.

This appears to be a cold business decision taken by current management without regard to anything but bottom-line considerations.

What of the Federal Way complex? Another corporation's headquarters?
A hotel or resort seems unlikely. I'm waiting for a statement by
Weyerhaeuser management that it will insist that a purchaser keep the building and surrounding complex in their present form. If such a statement is not forthcoming, expect the worst.

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 11:11 a.m. Inappropriate

"This appears to be a cold business decision taken by current management without regard to anything but bottom-line considerations." WeyCo management has been like this for many years, and that management style led directly to the downsizing driving the move into Seattle.

louploup

Posted Sat, Aug 30, 7:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Good grief. Do you like ANY businesses?

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 10:11 p.m. Inappropriate

Why do you state a presumptively generic assumption in response to a comment about a specific corporate entity in a specific industry? I have been working in the area of forestry and natural resources for over 40 years. In the course of that work I have had close dealings with many companies, agencies, and NGOs, large and small, including many of the corporate forestry entities around here, from WeyCo, Simpson, Plum Creek etc down to Green Crow and Manke. There are honest actors, and there are those who do "whatever it takes" regardless of the ethics or impacts. Most are somewhere in between, but overall timber operators are a pretty conservative bunch.

Frederick Weyerhaueser started out in the late 1800s as a clearcut and run operator in the North Woods, and moved to Washington in 1900, buying railroad land grant land from James J. Hill. When I began dealing directly with WeyCo in the early 90s, they were 'the' big player for timber around here. Over the next two decades, I have come to appreciate the company for its ruthlessness. The company has consistently worked the Legislature to enact measures contrary to the public interest, and methodically and effectively opposed improved forest practices regulation in the Legislature, at the Forest Practices Board, and in the courts.

I agree with dbreneman that the WeyCo of old "is long gone." I think Steven R. Rogel is largely to blame for the wholesale deconstruction of the company. As chair and CEO for about ten years (c. 99 - 08) he drove the company into debt due to his fanatical desire to buy Willamette where he had been chair before coming to WeyCo.

Other timber companies had better moments. E.g., Simpson was akin to WeyCo when I first dealt with it in the 70s (see http://www.fseee.org/index.php/component/content/article/200098), but a younger generation of Reed's descendants (it's still a closely held company) took over later and actually placed the Shelton Unit (Simpson's large block of land in Mason and Grays Harbor Counties) under decent management to meet ESA and CWA requirements.

I also agree with BarExam and Brewster that the site and building should be preserved intact for a new use.

louploup

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 12:21 p.m. Inappropriate

I've visited the main building many times, my wife worked there for years. Its a jewel of a modern building, and the surrounding grounds feel like your in a park. Personally this is a great opportunity to create a mixed urban village and still retain the beautiful feel. As for the move by Weyerhaeuser, I applaud the decision to move into Pioneer Sq. The building felt empty in the downsizing of the last 15 years. Those who want to bash the company, go ahead, but they are a cornerstone of our local business community for over 100 years, and I would like them to stay here.

BarExam

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 4:57 p.m. Inappropriate

I wonder if the City of Federal Way did anything to try and keep them around . . sad they are losing such a company that's been there for so long . . . a big loss to South King County! The City is planning on building a 32M performing arts center with convention space in their "downtown" which has no definition at all. I would think this would have some impact on that as well. I love where we live . . Redondo is beautiful HOWEVER, we lost the Metropolitan Market (that was sad) . . Top Foods. . . gone . . No Whole Foods etc. Downtown Des Moines looks like a ghost town practically. Just whining. Done. Ending on a positive note, the parks are beautiful in FW and hopefully that Bonsai Garden will remain intact and in DM as well . . . Saltwater State Park is a gem and so is the Beach Park.

Posted Sat, Aug 30, 7:56 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree Susan. Your area needs solid management/business oriented jobs. Let's hope this business headquarters goes to another business.

Posted Fri, Aug 29, 5:17 p.m. Inappropriate

I suggest a serious look at converting the Weyerhaeuser campus for use as an international arts festival each summer, and for outdoor concerts (pop and classical) as well.
A second idea is a research park, for incubating new businesses, such as Stanford Research Park, assuming there are also good opportunities for real estate development nearby.
A property of such size and beauty, not to mention the headquarters building, rarely comes along, particularly one with such good freeway access. Just selling it off for piecemeal development would be a tragedy.

Posted Sat, Aug 30, 5:13 a.m. Inappropriate

Washington State University, Federal Way Campus.

Cameron

Posted Fri, Sep 5, 7:22 a.m. Inappropriate

I suggest an elite private research university would provide a greater value and variety to our regional higher education "system". We have individuals here with the resources and a business climate that could benefit from such an asset. Such an institution could attract talent from around the world to support our knowledge-based economy. Let's get on it.

Posted Fri, Sep 5, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Now this makes a lot of sense. A Federal Way Campus would be a good use of this lovely complex with its parking and other needs an amenities already on place. JG-

Posted Sat, Aug 30, 8:33 a.m. Inappropriate

David Brewster's suggestion of a research center might be a good one.
Cameron's idea of a WSU campus also is good---probably too sensible to be considered. The integrity of the complex ought to be maintained.
A worst case would have the site broken up for piecemeal commercial development.

Posted Sat, Aug 30, 7:49 p.m. Inappropriate

This building generates taxes for the City of Federal Way. Schools and many of the use proposals suggested here will not.

This building is certainly a statement building, it would be cool if it could be sold to another local company for office headquarters, or simply another campus office. Microsoft comes to mind. The south part of King County definitely needs more good paying jobs of the caliber of Microsoft.

Let's hope good home-grown business neighbors are talking.

Posted Sat, Aug 30, 9:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Tenants wanted, Logan's Run Business Park.

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 5:46 p.m. Inappropriate

I did some contracting work for Weyerhaeuser a few years ago, and used my access to wander around the headquarters building one afternoon (I was working in another building nearby). It is indeed a very inviting, beautiful structure inside as well as out. Most of the hallways are along the north-facing windows with open spaces to their south. It would be a shame to lose this building. But the company that built it is long gone.

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 5:29 p.m. Inappropriate

dbreneman: Yes, long gone. Talked with the mayor of Federal Way today. He's meeting with Weyerhaeuser people tomorrow. He says the company that is leaving town is not the one that arrived in 1971, and that it has been downsizing there for some time. He's intrigued with the idea of turning the facility into an educational campus--a college or university branch or some such. Certainly, in terms of economic development, a lot could spin out of that. But the city itself is in the early stages of a reinvention, so perhaps the timing of the move will speed that along.

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 12:03 p.m. Inappropriate

Knute- When I graduated UW Architecture in '49, many, most architects had their offices down in Pioneer Square. As my Docomomo profile shows, I worked for many of them. Weyerhaeuser people will probably enjoy working there- as we all did. JG-
http://www.docomomo-wewa.org/architects_detail.php?id=79

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 9:49 p.m. Inappropriate

Green roofs, integration of the building melding into the topography. Maybe time to switch out the ivy for some moss.

Posted Thu, Sep 4, 5:34 p.m. Inappropriate

The photo reminds me of one reason we have been steadily removing ivy—it rapidly forms huge trunks 3" to 8" in diameter. To have it look like it does in the photo I would guess requires cutting it to the ground very frequently—every June?

Another reason would be to keep it from producing berries that the birds spread near and far, not even mentioning its tendency to climb trees and buildings. All of this paragraph responsible for getting it placed on the noxious weed list. Another case of the architect's simplistic notation "growies"—working best on paper.

afreeman

Posted Fri, Sep 5, 4:26 p.m. Inappropriate

The "growies" (ivy and other) may well have been the impetus for Weyerhaeuser moving. It was thus in our case- our somewhat smaller deck garden prompted our recent move to a nice apartment in DownTowm Mercer Island from our much larger DownIsland home. JG-

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »