Charlestown Court not worthy of landmark status, says Landmarks Preservation Board, again

(County archives photo of the building now known as Charlestown Court)
We’re at the Municipal Tower downtown, where the city Landmarks Preservation Board voted this afternoon to reject landmark status for Charlestown Court. The building is proposed for demolition to make way for an 8-unit townhouse project.

This was the second time the Tudor-style 1920s-era brick fourplex at 3811 California SW had been nominated; the last time, in a process that played out 2007-2008, the board said “no,” but development proposals then stalled until the current one, and the city said too much time had elapsed for them simply to refer to that previous vote, so the process needed to start again.

Before today’s presentation about the building, Paul Cesmat said he has owned it since 2007 and declared it has structural issues – “the brick’s not structurally sound, the chimney has issues, this has been pointed out to us … and we have insurability issues … I feel that this building does not meet historical criteria … and it’s not structurally worth saving.” It is wood-framed without concrete backing the brick, he explained in response to a question later.

The presentation focused on changes made to the building, including its windows, contending the changes made over the years affected the fourplex’s “physical integrity.” The photo you see at the top of the story was shown, with the comment “It’s a shame that’s not there any more.” (The nomination document from the June meeting, including photos and history, can be seen as a PDF here.)

In pre-vote discussion, board members said basically that while you could consider it “handsome” or “charming,” it just didn’t “rise” to landmark status.

One “yes” voter was a West Seattleite on the board, Deb Barker, who said “the footprint of this building is so distinctive … not a typical one for West Seattle … and that amazing strong roof line has not changed … a strongly identifiable visual feature from California Avenue SW.” She mentioned a nearby subdivision of “small Tudor buildings” to which this seems to have a relationship. “In my 29 years of driving past this building, it’s always been well-maintained” and eye-catching, Barker added.

Another “yes” voter said that “while it’s not necessarily the most impressive example of the architect’s work, it’s not the most humble or basic, either … I think it holds its own among its peers in the city.” And yet another one said basically that while it might not stand out in a big way now, we’ll miss it if it goes, because this type of building is disappearing around the city.

No one spoke during the public-comment period. Before today’s vote, West Seattle-residing City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen had sent the board a letter supporting designation as a landmark – read it here (PDF) – we received a copy just as the hearing began. It was not mentioned at the hearing, though.

The board did hear from a representative of Gamut 360, the prospective townhouse developer, who read from the minutes of the April 2008 board meeting at which the building was previously rejected for landmark status.

The townhouse project still has to go through the city permit process, including approval of a demolition permit, before construction can begin.

19 Replies to "Charlestown Court not worthy of landmark status, says Landmarks Preservation Board, again"

  • pupsarebest August 6, 2014 (6:47 pm)

    Well, exactly—who needs “handsome” or “charming” when we can have “ugly” and “soulless”?

  • JayDee August 6, 2014 (6:57 pm)

    I am sorry it couldn’t get landmark protection, not to screw the developer in general but to eliminate the homogenization of Seattle. Example: 55th Ave SW, west side, just shy of Genesee. Two forgettable boxes shoe-horned onto the lot, maximizing profit; it will take a dedicated gardener to make these look like anything but boxes.

  • Rick August 6, 2014 (7:33 pm)

    Bring on the boxes!

  • fj August 6, 2014 (8:24 pm)

    Not to say this is a landmark, BUT pretty soon nothing will achieve landmark status, because Seattle will be filled with ugly-ass boxes.

  • 935 August 6, 2014 (9:11 pm)

    People of West Seattle…these units go up for sale all the time. Buy them if you want to save them. Pool resources and purchase properties that you “feel” are noteworthy.
    I dislike the blight of boxes that seem to be popular in WS now….but that’s the key descriptor “popular” if people stop buying them….they will stop building them.

  • Seattlite August 6, 2014 (9:52 pm)

    Let the flat-liner-roof-box-type structures (because it ain’t architecture) rule. WS along with other ubran/residential areas have been deluged with these unsightly boxes with windows structures with absolutely no appeal. And, from what I’ve seen and heard are made with the cheapest of cheap materials.

  • kathleen greiff August 6, 2014 (10:13 pm)

    “they paved paradise to put up parking lot.” makes me sad.

  • Jim August 7, 2014 (12:09 am)

    1) I wonder how many of the sad faces above are driving around in 1920’s cars? Most 90 year old things aren’t worth saving.
    2) If one values this old bldg so much one should pay the owner mkt value and preserve it oneself.
    3) For all the complainers about today’s blight of boxes, imagine how some folks grumbled at the onslaught of these Little Boxes when they were constructed in 1920.

  • Dale August 7, 2014 (6:16 am)

    I can attest that a building like this would have insurability issues. Originally built in 1927, upgraded in 1985. Fourplex with crumbling brick facade. Generally, this risk would be searching for coverage in a secondary market. The may underwritten by an offshore Lloyds syndicate or worse. Premiums would be high and coverage restrictive. Those costs would need to be shared by the 4 apartment tenants. There may be some charm visually to the units but I think a development which meets upgraded electrical, plumbing codes is a safer and quieter option.

  • wakeflood August 7, 2014 (7:27 am)

    Lets face it, when it comes to residential-based architecture, this region isn’t old enough to have developed any stylistic consistency worth noting, with the possible exception of pockets of Craftsman (which we share with similar period residential buildouts in many cities) and LOTS of warboxes (my first house in WS). Are warboxes worthy of landmark status? I hope not. And I’ve seen lots of beautiful Craftsmen that have been bastardized to accommodate our modern lifestyles too.

    This particular building has lots of charm but there’s a number of similar era/style residences around WS – even a few left around Alki which have been modernized inside.

    We’re a land of mutts and that means we’ll continue to have transitional styles sharing our residential streets.

    These main streets that used to be primarily residential are becoming primarily commercial and mixed use. Very few of them will have the footprints to allow the new development to integrate the old elements with the new – as some have done downtown. (Old facades on new buildings.) But I suspect a few buildings could.

    I really enjoy the murals around WS, where much of this old environment is captured. Maybe that’s is the best way to memorialize this particular element of our past?

  • pattc August 7, 2014 (8:04 am)

    As far as I can tell all of the old murals are on private property. Not 1% for the arts, there are only 2 of those sites in WS, but then again we are mostly residential.

    The murals are here by the kindness of strangers. Most are very faded and in disrepair. When development comes in, they go. The one at the 4755-4799 Fauntleroy Way SW is going with the demolition.

    It’s sad Charlestown Court is going, but lets not pretend thing that aren’t ours, are.

  • John August 7, 2014 (8:41 am)

    Don’t worry, in the short space of only 10 years, what replaces these buildings will be nominated as an example of the Great 2010’s Building Rush, a fine example of how developers slap together OSB and other fine materials and call it housing. Like the Blob, or some other fine example of historical architecture in Seattle, it will just be a passing footnote as it gets replaced by something else again.

  • wakeflood August 7, 2014 (9:50 am)

    So true, pattc. Did we just make a case for landmark status for the murals?? ;-)

    • WSB August 7, 2014 (9:53 am)

      Just a semi-correction here. While the mural on the old Huling building along Fauntleroy will be “going” when it’s demolished, the plans include a recreation in the project (The Whittaker) on that site – we’ve mentioned it a few times, apologize that I can’t dig up a specific link right now, running late on a few things – TR

  • NW August 7, 2014 (9:51 am)

    The current trend in building reflects the people here in general the street freeze. Look at the frontage of these box like buildings cold and uninviting.

  • RDPence August 7, 2014 (10:37 am)

    I’m not familiar with the specifics of this proposal, but it looks like the growing practice of submitting weak and flawed landmark proposals, intending for them to be rejected. To me this is a corruption of the landmarking process, and I wish the board would put its foot down.

  • wakeflood August 7, 2014 (12:28 pm)

    Well, RDP, I’m not sure what proposals you consider weak but there’s been some fairly dubious ones over the years.

    To wit: A serious proposal that went all the way up to final consideration of designating the old monorail concrete stanchions as worthy of preservation as one of the few examples of architectural “brutalism”. Or, as a designer would describe it – cheap, fast & dirty.

    That one always made me chuckle.

  • WestofJunction August 7, 2014 (2:10 pm)

    What I love about living in cities is the mix of different architecture styles within the same neighborhood. The boxes are today’s style, something else will be the new,new thing tomorrow. My main consideration is not so much style as density issues – and development such as apodments and apartment houses without adequate parking bother me much more. Dale is spot on about costs of insuring/fixing the fourplex. The best way to maintain a neighborhood feel is for people to maintain their homes and encouraging landlords to maintain their rental properties. If you are a tenant whose landlord doesn’t care about maintaining the property, and you are able to do so, please pick up a paintbrush and at least keep the siding coated with paint so it won’t rot. Maintain the lawn and keep shrubbery trimmed back to help avoid insect and rodent infestation. Just doing these things will help ensure that the structure you are living in will be fixable for the next owner rather than a tear down.

  • dsa August 7, 2014 (5:08 pm)

    I will miss the structures as much or more as anyone, but it really should not be up to some board to dictate to a private owner that their property rights are limited due to nostalgia.

    The problem is we don’t cherish historic craftsmanship enough. If we did the owner could and would save much of the facade in an upgrade and get a premium in rents for it.

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