(1st photo from King County Assessor; 2nd by WSB contributing photojournalist Christopher Boffoli)
We’re at the Municipal Tower downtown, where the Landmarks Preservation Board has just voted NOT to designate the brick fourplex at 3811 California (across from Charlestown Cafe) as a city landmark. Pending final decisions on permitting matters, this theoretically clears the way for it to be razed and replaced with a four-story building, apartments over retail. Full details a bit later on why a majority of the board voted no (only three voted in favor of making it a landmark, including board chair Stephen Lee). ADDED 9:50 PM: As promised, here are more details from the meeting and the discussion before the vote:
The vote late this afternoon ended the process that began last October to determine whether Charlestown Court would get landmark protection. That process wasn’t triggered because someone suddenly thought it up out of the blue — when a 50-plus-year-old building (this one is 81 years old) is proposed for demolition, state/city laws require determination first whether it might have this type of significance.
First of all – just so you know – while Melody McCutcheon, who identified herself as a representative of the property owners, acknowledged “quite an e-mail campaign” in support of saving Charlestown Court, not a single person showed up to voice that support directly to the board this afternoon.
McCutcheon spoke to the board before David Peterson from NK Architects, which is working on the site project, made his followup presentation. She went on to say, “I know (the e-mails supporting saving Charlestown Court) are sincere, but many of them seem to be motivated by a fear of what’s coming — they don’t like the quality of the new construction, with all the talk about townhomes and so forth. But the issue isn’t landmarking because of what you fear will happen … It’s not enough to nominate a building just because it has charming features. It has to really be a special building.”
And it isn’t, said a majority of the board, with some interesting digressions.
Peterson’s presentation spent a lot of time looking at whether the fourplex was representative of “Bungalow Court” architecture, as did his longer presentation at the first hearing on the proposal in February (WSB coverage here), the same meeting where the board voted to give landmark status to the ex-Denny’s in Ballard despite a long presentation contending that building wasn’t representative of the “Googie” style of architecture.
Both items seemed to be on board member Tom Veith‘s mind this afternoon as he said he’s concerned about “a trend we’re seeing in presentations, to assign a building to a style, then criticize it for not being a perfect example.” Of Charlestown Court itself, he said he would vote no, explaining, “I think the building does have some prominence (in its setting), but (its architecture) is fairly typical, and it’s not a particularly good or rich example (of its style).”
Board member Mark Hannum said, “There are other, better examples.”
Christine Howard said, “I do think it’s a wonderful example (but) my concern is with integrity, such as the window replacement.” (Peterson’s presentation had included a list of Charlestown Court details that had been altered over the years, such as window replacements; these are important points during landmark consideration.) But as counterpoint to that, one of the three who voted for landmark status, Molly Tremaine, said, “The building is 81 years old and the basic architectural elements are intact. The fact it needs tuck pointing and has window problems — most of the things we look at have those challenges. We have to look at the building for what it is. On California SW, it IS one of the buildings you look at and say ‘that’s different, that’s a nice building’.”
Another supporter, board member Henry Matthews, said he thought it should be considered an “excellent example” of its architectural type.
But with several other members simply saying they didn’t see how the building fit any of the criteria for landmark designation (listed on this page), the no’s had it, and the board moved on to other business, while representatives from the architectural firm and building ownership gathered in the hallway outside the meeting room to discuss. And now, the development proposal for the site proceeds. The official city project webpage is here. Architectural side note — If you are interested in surviving examples of similar buildings, some West Seattle addresses were listed during Peterson’s presentation — the Friedlander Court building at 2246-2262 Alki Ave, 2330 Alki, 2900 Alki, 3046 61st, and 2562 56th.
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