By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The largest development currently planned for West Seattle now has a larger-than-life name:
The name chosen for 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW is a tribute to the West Seattle native who first made history as the first American to summit 29,028-foot Mount Everest, Jim Whittaker (right).
The legendary outdoorsman was, typically, outdoors when he talked with us about it – near the sea, not far from the mountains, standing in the rain at a spot where he could get a cell connection. Exactly one month shy of his 85th birthday, Whittaker says he has never had a building named for him before, jokingly telling us, “That’s usually something that happens after you’re dead.”
We also talked with spokespersons for project developers Lennar and Weingarten about the name choice and the status of what until now was just nicknamed “the Whole Foods project,” after its first announced tenant.
The project team says the choice was inspired by hearing from the community that the ~370-apartment complex is a “gateway project” that will be visible from a major crossroads and needed a name with legacy and meaning.
Whittaker’s outdoor legacy will inspire the design detail for the building’s outdoor and indoor spaces. As we reported during its Seattle Design Commission reviews, a “water’s edge” theme was already being pursued, and now “the mountains’ edge” will be incorporated – with a story and purpose, not just a vague concept.
Last year was the 50th anniversary of Whittaker’s history-making Everest expedition; the “mod” motifs of 1963 also will figure into design touches. The project team was meeting again this week with West Seattle artist Troy Pillow, whose work will be featured, to talk about what will help incorporate Whittaker’s legacy into the project, especially its outdoor amenity spaces.
The outdoors remain an integral part of Whittaker’s life, especially advocating for kids to get outside – “no child left inside.” He and his wife Dianne Roberts, a photographer, live in Port Townsend but visit West Seattle often for reasons including family – one of his children lives here.
“West Seattle is home,” is how Whittaker sees it. He was on the Olympic Peninsula coast when we talked for a few minutes by phone on Thursday. “I went to Fauntleroy grade school, James Madison Middle School, West Seattle High School … That’s where I got my hiking and climbing inspiration. My parents loved nature and the outdoors – we would go to the beach in Lincoln Park. And then starting in grade school, I would walk up the Fauntleroy hill to Arbor Heights [where his family lived], even at lunchtime, so I got a lot of exercise.”
If kids get outside, like he did, “they’ll learn a lot about themselves, and they’ll learn about the actual world.” And, like Whittaker, they may then be setting themselves up to keep active well into their later years. When we asked him what he’s focusing on these days, he laughed: “I’m 85 in a month and focusing on keeping vertical! I’m still skiing, and hiking … to enjoy every day is a gift.” As to the project that will now carry his name; West Seattle is a “hidden treasure,” in his view, with many still not aware, though it’s so close to downtown. (P.S. Go to HistoryLink.org to read a detailed biography about Jim Whittaker, whose accomplishments also include serving as CEO of REI, which too has significant West Seattle roots.
So now the project has a name.
But will it get final approval?
The writer and addressee of the famous “don’t approve the alley vacation” memo last year are both gone from Seattle city government (former Mayor Mike McGinn and former SDOT director Peter Hahn). We have an inquiry out to Mayor Murray’s office to ask his position on this but have not heard back yet.
Reps from SDOT and the Design Commission were expected to brief City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, whose Transportation Committee would be the first City Council stop for the proposal, this week.
No hearing had been set yet, as of our last check.
All the building permits have been applied for; a lot-boundary adjustment for the site is in the works now. In recent months, old tanks have been dug up from the former service station on the southwest corner of California/Alaska, and its canopy and islands were removed as part of that work, but the rest of its building remains, as does the former home of Howden-Kennedy (which moved to 35th/Ida) and former auto lots, waiting for word of whether The Whittaker will be built.
First image in this story, courtesy Fuller Sears Architects; second image, courtesy Jim Whittaker and Dianne Roberts.
Our coverage of the 4755 Fauntleroy Way project is archived here, newest to oldest.