Bulletin: Charlestown Court vote – NOT a landmark



(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.

22 Replies to "Bulletin: Charlestown Court vote - NOT a landmark"

  • JenV April 2, 2008 (4:48 pm)

    and so continues the onward march of mediocrity.

  • Jeannie April 2, 2008 (5:02 pm)

    Gee, I wonder if money had anything to do with it.

  • Gregg April 2, 2008 (5:05 pm)

    I’m very sad to see another piece of W. Seattle up for demolition. W. Seattle is going the route of Ballard; expect to see parking meters next. In a few years the Junction will be a quaint few blocks with development surrounded by ugly development.

  • Rick April 2, 2008 (5:41 pm)

    The “new” bridge was the beginning of the end that now has us fully in it’s grasp. Progress marches on. Or up. Or over. Whatever Sigh…

  • Jack Loblaw April 2, 2008 (5:41 pm)

    Let me get this straight: Denny’s in Ballard IS a landmark ( eyesore ) and this apartment house with all of it’s charm is NOT ? Before the usual Walmart loving snipers reply to my post: I am entitled to my opinion about what charm is and is not. You have your opinion and I have mine. West Seattle will soon look like our lovely neighbor to the south Federal Way and it’s uncontrolled sprawl. I bet that the owners of all of the Condofornications on California Ave SW do not live anywhere near here and have no interest in anything other than a quick buck.

  • Rick April 2, 2008 (5:41 pm)


  • Jack Loblaw April 2, 2008 (5:46 pm)

    Rick: I agree with you about the bridge. West Seattle is starting to look like Pottersville from “It’s a Wonderful Life”

  • Beasley April 2, 2008 (6:46 pm)

    That does it. I’m definitely getting drunk tonight.

  • JJ April 2, 2008 (7:14 pm)

    I don’t think it qualifies as a landmark. From what I understand, that basically means “You now own a very old building that cannot ever be torn down.” If the neighborhood wants it to be a landmark, they can chip in to cover the repairs/property taxes/lost property value.

  • charlabob April 2, 2008 (7:59 pm)

    I am not an architect or a builder or even a person with particularly discriminating taste. But it seems to me that someone could develop a great design that highlighted this little bungalow complex rather than razing it.

    I can see it as the “community center-office complex” for loft-like condos combining the old and the new. The new buildings can reflect the design and idea of the bungalow without being a tacky imitation of it.

    I have no idea what it would cost, but I do know the good will and publicity would probably pay that cost back in <10 years.

    I also know, eventually, some builder will do that and they’ll be hailed as innovative community visionaries.

  • Rick April 2, 2008 (8:34 pm)

    I’ve worked on California Ave for almost 30 years and used to joke with customers about someday having to rename it “California Canyon”. It was funny then. Now it’s just sad.

  • D April 2, 2008 (8:44 pm)

    On the upshot, ground level retail in this area of the neighborhood will be awesome. Hopefully some restaurants and/or coffee shops will move in.

  • David April 2, 2008 (9:24 pm)

    I like progress, and I have no problem with tearing down ‘junk’ buildings or even good buildings to replace them with something more useful. The only sad thought is…look at the picture of the current bungalow. It’s still loved and charming decades after it was built. WHATEVER replaces it, does anyone seriously think the new building will evoke the same feelings 30 years from now? In other words, the neighborhood becomes less “pleasant” and more of a generic hall of nondescript buildings…you couldn’t tell if you’re living in Federal Way, West Seattle, Boston, Chicago or Cleveland…just a pile of generic boxes with no character. Whatever replaces this, I can bet no one will struggle over it’s tear down. I wish architects still had vision or taste, and did something other than design the cheapest cookie cutter high profit junk buildings we keep getting.

  • Rick April 3, 2008 (7:02 am)

    Hey kids,dig out your old vinyl! Listen to the Ojays “For the love of money”. You know- “Money,Money,Money,Money…….Money”. Those lyrics put a little perspective on what’s going on in West Seattle. And a lot of others. I’ll miss this place. And a lot of others. Someone said that as we age we become resistant to change. I think that someone might have been a developer.

  • Paul April 3, 2008 (7:21 am)

    A few comments..first to the retail part, again, how can us small businesses afford these places. People ask for a little quaint shop, ok, do you really know how much rent these places charge? Second, do you know what us small businesses go through, we pay tax on the employee, to the state, fed, and now to the city based on their hours, we now pay tax on the square feet of space we rent because the city found a new tax to charge us, we pay b and o tax, we are going to have to pay a plastic bag tax, and I am sure I am missing a few others. Plus, didn’t we just have a discussion about how businesses need to stay open later, I’m for that, but its not cheap to stay open late. I for one would love to expand to one of these places, but I can tell you that the rent will not fit into my tiny budget.

  • TeaLady April 3, 2008 (8:53 am)

    High rents leaving no money for advertising and lack of foot traffic is the downfall for a lot of West Seattle small businesses. I don’t like to see these charming old buildings getting torn down either but who exactly can pay the high rents for such small square footage and minimal foot traffic?

  • MAS April 3, 2008 (9:06 am)

    Paul, are you suggesting that the places that would occupy the small retail shop space are somehow unfairly competing? They would have the same amount of retail space as you would, and paying the same lease. I doubt if they would do that at a loss, just to ace you out of prime real estate. Or is your point here that if they put retail space into a place like this that it will remain vacant?

  • westseattleite April 3, 2008 (11:06 am)

    As much as I hate to see it go, I can understand that the owner made an investment and it’s not a crime to get something out of that investment. If I could afford to purchase land/and or buildings somewhere I would hope to get something out of it too. I’ll hope that the architect doesn’t put another non-descript building there, but I doubt that will happen.

  • Paul April 3, 2008 (11:18 am)

    What I am saying is that the new retail spaces that are coming on line are expensive. Look at the latest businesses that are leaving west seattle because of rent expense. We are lucky because we have 2 landlords that rent under market rates. We looked for 9 months for a space that could take our business at a rate we could afford. As it is the space we are in has had several issues and a flood that nearly put us out of business. The big new landlords coming to West Seattle are not willing to rent to us businesses that don’t have a pile of cash in the bank.

  • Me April 7, 2008 (2:57 pm)

    I’m sooo annoyed with everyone just builing taller and taller ugly buildings around. This Building is at least not typical. Its not your Usual common (UGLY) new building type. Next we can say goodbye to the Charlestown Cafe because there are Denny’s that are better examples of the type of business is fairly typical, and the Charlestown Cafe is not a particularly good or rich example (of its style). PLEASE. 81 year old buildings arent TYPICAL. And Speaking for the Charlestown Cafe where do we go for American food in West Seattle? You tell me Mc Donalds or Jack in the Box? Pathetic. The American NON CHAIN Cafes are hard to come by. And you cant get that back when its gone. You cant rebuild an 81 year old building. Once its gone thats it. More “McDonalds” Buildings can be built. These buildings that are being built now are so uninteresting you bet your a** in 81 years no one will fight to not have it knocked down. There isnt any heart in these types of buildings anymore. No Personality. Just one more step to a faceless and feelingless society.

  • jillloblaw April 7, 2008 (8:55 pm)

    Hear, hear to Rick and Me’s comments. In 81 years, all we’ll have is a nondescript Pottersville complete with canyons of cookie cutter condos. For those of you who are too young to remember, watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and you’ll get the idea. I guess I’m happy I won’t be around then to see the dilapidated crap the developers made (while laughing all the way to the bank). Heck, welcome to Pottersville, or maybe even White Center.

  • jillloblaw April 7, 2008 (8:56 pm)

    Hear hear to Rick and Me’s comments.


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