Bulletin: 3811 California advances to next landmark round


(photo by WSB contributing photojournalist Christopher Boffoli)
First time we’d ever gone to a city Landmarks Preservation Board meeting. Had no idea it would take four hours for them to get to 3811 California (aka Charlestown Court). Four fascinating hours, though, considering the first three were mostly devoted to the Ballard Denny’s nomination (as you may have read elsewhere, perhaps at our hyperlocal counterparts MyBallard.com, it was approved, shocking many members of the capacity crowd). Once all the dust settled from that, and the capacity crowd cleared (before/after photos coming up), it was time for the West Seattle presentation (most of which you can read here), which was interrupted briefly so everyone could view the lunar eclipse through the meeting room’s huge windows (south-facing, 40th floor of the Municipal Tower downtown). Anyway, we’ll add more detail shortly, but the headline – Landmarks Board members voted in favor of city staff’s recommendation to consider the exterior of Charlestown Court for potential landmark status. Next step in the process – a public hearing April 2. ADDED 10:10 PM: Here are the details from tonight’s vote —

To recap how this 80-year-old fourplex (which is across from the Charlestown Cafe) got to this point: We first reported last spring on a then-new proposal to tear it down and replace it with a mixed-use building. Then last October, a tenant tipped us to the plan to have it considered for landmark status. That required the preparation of nomination documentation (say that five times fast), received by the Landmarks Board a few weeks ago, at which time they put the proposal on today’s agenda.

The presentation at tonight’s meeting followed the same lines as the 46-page nomination document prepared by West Seattle-based Nicholson Kovalchick Architects (read it here).


The main investigative points in the presentation were whether Charlestown Court is an example of “Bungalow Court” architecture, and whether it’s a notable example of the work of its “prolific” architect, William H. Whiteley. Intertwined with those specific examinations were history highlights of the city in general and West Seattle in particular, such as the fact that the first “permanent” bridge between WS and the rest of the city was built in 1924 — three years before the Charlestown Court building went up (the King County Assessor photo below is from 1937, 10 years after it was built).


Board members also saw the current-day photos featured in the nomination document, every angle of the building, outside and inside, including its unusual false fireplaces, which one board member thought might be enough to have the interiors considered for landmark status as well. But it was the exterior that really caught board members’ eyes; Vernon Abelsen remarked on the building’s “nice detail” and “symmetry which isn’t typical of this style.” Stephen Lee echoed that comment, voting to advance the nomination because he was “really taken by (Charlestown Court’s) symmetry … I’d like to have more chance to study it.”


Christine Howard called it a “nice example” but worried aloud about its condition. The strongest endorsement for preserving the fourplex came from Mollie Tremaine, who noted, “There’ve been about three of these taken down on California (Ave) this year — I think it’s important we save what we can.”

So in the end, the board went with the staff’s recommendation to consider the exterior for landmark status, based on its potential qualification under Criterion D (“embodies the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, or period, or a method of construction”) from the list on this city webpage, which also explains the process — nomination submitted, nomination approved (which is what happened tonight), public meeting set (April 2) before a vote on whether or not to actually designate it a landmark.

So what happens if the board DOES vote then to designate Charlestown Court’s exterior architecture as a city landmark? That same page explains the ensuing steps, which would start with “Controls and Incentives” negotiations with the property owner and then progress toward a City Council vote.

If you have something to say about whether this building should become an official landmark, set aside April 2 to attend the Landmarks Board meeting, and/or send comments to board coordinator Beth Chavebeth.chave@seattle.gov.

POSTSCRIPT: Before and after photos from the meeting today/tonight – crowd for the Ballard Denny’s hearing and vote, followed by the (non)crowd for the West Seattle presentation:



7 Replies to "Bulletin: 3811 California advances to next landmark round"

  • Patty February 20, 2008 (10:27 pm)

    How did the meeting come out? Did it get landmarked?

  • WSB February 20, 2008 (10:33 pm)

    As we reported, the board voted to approve it for official consideration as a potential landmark. So the next step is the April 2 hearing.

  • Julia February 21, 2008 (8:29 am)

    Hooray – I’m so glad that someone has taken the time to try to save this building. My eye is always drawn to it every time I drive down California. I love the old brick, the symmetry, the sloping roofs, and the arched entries. I missed writing a letter during the original comment period, so I’m so thankful that this building might be saved.

  • peebs February 21, 2008 (12:00 pm)

    I do love good architecture, which I consider the court apartments to be. Even with poor maintenance and abysmal lack of any attempt at landscaping, the court is much more attractive and charming than the insensitively placed, cookie cutter crap that West Seattle and other city neighborhoods are being peppered with these days.

  • Emily February 21, 2008 (3:47 pm)

    Thanks so much for covering the potential landmark designation of these lovely apartments. Having only lived in West Seattle two years, I was shocked to discover such a lovely, 1920’s building in our neighborhood could be demolished. Now there is hope!

    Neighbor input will be very important prior to the April 2nd meeting. Thanks for getting us started by providing the needed background and links to City of Seattle sites we can consult in composing our emails to Beth Chave, coordinator of the Landmarks Board. It’s the best chance we have of saving this gem.

  • John Bennett February 21, 2008 (7:47 pm)

    Bravo ! These old buildings need to be saved. They are part of our history and unique neighborhood. If we don’t watch out all of California Ave. will be packed with ugly cracker box ” town homes”.

  • VintageSeattle.org » Links To The Past: Week Of February 24 -- High-Res Blog Visualizing The Emerald City's Past February 24, 2008 (2:37 am)

    […] Bulletin: 3811 California Advances To Next Landmark Round West Seattle Blog reports on the Charlestown Court four-plex landmark nomination being approved. The next step is a public hearing on April 2nd. Sadly, this duplex probably won’t be so lucky. […]

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