State preservation office presses DOT on its pre-tunnel demolition plans

The two state agencies are at odds over whether to preserve the 619 Western arts building or demolish it before replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel. Update: The National Trust for Historic Preservation is taking an interest.

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Cracks in the 619 Western building show its instability.

The two state agencies are at odds over whether to preserve the 619 Western arts building or demolish it before replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel. Update: The National Trust for Historic Preservation is taking an interest.

This story has been updated with additional material, which is in italics below.

The state agency in charge of preserving Washington’s historic and cultural resources has recommended the state not tear down the 619 Western arts building and consider repairing it instead.

Allyson Brooks, the State Historic Preservation Officer for the Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation, said she met with upper-level managers at the state’s Department of Transportation to discuss “the best path forward” and “strongly suggested” that they reconsider their recommendation to demolish 619 Western in preparation for the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project.

“It was a very good discussion,” Brooks said. “They seemed very open to looking at this situation in the big-picture scenario…We asked them to re-think plans based on the reaction of advocacy groups, timeline issues, and the risk of potential litigation.”

The Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation is only an advising agency and does not have the authority to allow or block the demolition of 619 Western, currently used by almost 100 artists as studio and gallery space and part of the Pioneer Square historic district. That decision rests with the city of Seattle, which would issue the demolition permit.

The city's process begins with the city-appointed Pioneer Square Preservation Board, which must approve the construction or demolition of any building in the historic district. That board put off a planned discussion of the issue this week (Jan. 19), saying it needed more information from the DOT.

Federal law requires the Washington DOT to consider all alternatives before proceeding with demolition. “I don’t know what they’re going to do,” Brooks said, “but we did have a good discussion.”

Ron Mayers, son of the owners of 619 Western, said the DOT told his family the building, even if structural bracing was added, would not hold up to the stresses of the boring necessary to build the tunnel that will replace the viaduct. The DOT has said that to save the building, it would have to drive new steel pilings deep beneath the building to shore up its failing wood pilings.

The DOT and the building owners are still negotiating terms for compensation should the building be demolished, Mayers said.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has also become involved in the project as a consulting party, Brooks said. One of its trustees is developer Kevin Daniels, whose offices are in the Starbucks building in SoDo. His company was responsible for the redevelopment of Union Station.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which typically works with local and regional agencies and governments on issues related to historic preservation, will ask the state DOT to add the Trust as a “consulting partner” on the project as defined by National Historic Preservation Act, said Anthea Hartig, director of the Trust’s western regional office.

“We are keenly looking at the project,” Hartig said. “What we’d like to be is a resource for the DOT and our (historic preservation) partners in Seattle.”

The Trust’s involvement would amount to another, more powerful layer of checks and balances for the construction process and bring to it a considerable amount of legal experience on the federal level. Hartig said her organization is responding in part to concerns voiced by local agencies that the DOT has not made available for scrutiny the calculations it made before recommending that 619 Western be demolished.

“It seemed preemptive at first glance,” Hartig said. “Not to be platitudinal, but demolition is forever.”

The DOT did not immediately comment.


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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