Preservation board to discuss demolition of artists' studios

The board meets Wednesday (Jan. 19) and must sign off before state transportation officials can tear down the 619 Western building. At issue is whether the building can withstand shaking from the Viaduct tunnel-boring project.

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Sometimes the interests of art, culture, tourism, preservation, and history do intersect, as with the 619 Western building in Pioneer Square.

The board meets Wednesday (Jan. 19) and must sign off before state transportation officials can tear down the 619 Western building. At issue is whether the building can withstand shaking from the Viaduct tunnel-boring project.

Members of the Pioneer Square Preservation Board will meet Wednesday morning (Jan. 19) at City Hall to discuss, among other topics, the proposed demolition of the 619 Western arts building, the base for almost 100 working artists for 31 years.

Demolition of the century-old building is part of a larger project: the replacement of the Alaskan Way viaduct. The demolition of 619 Western, or any building in the Pioneer Square historic district, must be approved by the preservation board.

The massive viaduct project, which would replace the elevated structure with a below-grade tunnel, potentially impacts many residents, business owners, and buildings in and around Pioneer Square, but perhaps none more than 619 Western.

Wednesday’s meeting — the board meets on the first and third Wednesdays of every month — is the first since the Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT) recommended tearing down 619 Western, a warehouse converted into studios and gallery space for almost 100 painters, photographers, and other visual artists. All board meetings are open to the public.

The DOT determined the aging, concrete-and-timber structure, which shows noticeable signs of settling, is too frail to withstand the nearby boring necessary to build the tunnel. The DOT said it considered several factors in making its decision, including the condition of the building, its historical significance, and the cost of retrofitting the building to make it safe.

The DOT is touring media through the building this afternoon (Jan. 18) to point out structural issues, and will meet with residents tonight to discuss its plans.

Safety was the reason the DOT cited in making its decision. In fact, said DOT spokeswoman KaDeena Yerkan, demolishing 619 Western might help prevent damage and preserve the Polson building next door. The nearly identical Polson building is attached to 619 Western but is in better structural condition.

Before 619 Western can be demolished, the DOT must receive approval from the city-appointed preservation board, which oversees development in Pioneer Square and sets guidelines to protect the neighborhood’s unique character and look. Board approval is needed in Pioneer Square for any new business; new signage; changes to the exterior of buildings; and any new construction or demolition.

The preservation board was created to fight the planned demolition of historic buildings in the 1960s and 1970s. Where the members of the board stand regarding the fate of 619 Western is not known. A board staffer said board members can respond to agenda issues only in a public setting.

Board members, who are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the city council, represent property owners, business owners, social services, architects, historians, and attorneys. At least one board member must reside in Pioneer Square.

The board chairman is architect Lorne McConachie, a principal at Bassetti Architects, whose offices are a block from the 619 Western artists building. Other members of the board include structural engineer Ryan Hester, gallery owner Catherine Person, commercial real estate manager Adam Hasson, Bread of Life Mission director Willie Parish, architect Erin Doherty, Jessica Miller, and Ann Brown, who lives in Pioneer Square.

The 619 Western building was converted to low-cost artist studios in 1979 and has become one of the most popular destinations on the neighborhood's First Thursday art walk.

If you go: The Pioneer Square Preservation Board meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday (Jan. 19), in the Boards and Commissions Room (Rm. L280) at City Hall, 600 Fourth Ave.


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Hugo Kugiya

A former national correspondent for The Associated Press and Newsday, freelance writer Hugo Kugiya has written about the Northwest for the Puget Sound Business Journal, The Seattle Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times. His book, 58 Degrees North, about the sinking of the Arctic Rose fishing vessel, was a finalist for the 2006 Washington State Book Award. You can reach him at