Details: New design proposal partly preserves Charlestown Court


That’s the dramatically different new design just unveiled by Junction-based Nicholson Kovalchick Architects for the mixed-use project at 3811 California SW (map), currently the site of the 80-year-old brick fourplex known as Charlestown Court:


It’s been 14 months since we first told you Charlestown Court was marked for teardown, and two months since we brought you the city Landmarks Board‘s decision that it didn’t merit landmark status, which seemed to open the door for demolition. But instead, a surprise twist last night, as we briefly mentioned earlier — full details ahead:

The project has its next, and ostensibly final, design review this Thursday night, 6:30 pm, Madison Middle School. But NK representatives briefed the Admiral Neighborhood Association on the new plan last night, and that’s when they revealed it had been revised in a big way, to preserve the most distinctive aspects of the old building — its two front side units, or “wings,” each with a swooping roof and side arch. Here’s a county photo from about 10 years after its 1920 construction:


With NK principals Brandon Nicholson and Shanna Kovalchick watching as ANA meeting participants, NK architect Michael Godfried explained the new plan.

After the Landmarks Board’s 9-3 April vote against landmark status, Godfried said, “we were at a point where we could have gone forward with what had been designed for the site … (But) at that point we really realized there was a lot of community support for this building. To give the developers credit – they said, there is some interest, maybe we can craft some solutions – they stepped up to the plate – and we came up with a win-win solution.”

Here’s what that “solution” involves:
-Preserving the two front “wings” of Charlestown Court by jacking them up and rolling them about 12 feet forward
-Making each of those units a condo – current floor plan intact – with a retail unit below
-Creating a “really lush” circular/oval courtyard between the “wings” and the rear structure
-Demolishing the rear, rectangular part of the existing building
-Recycling the bricks from the teardown section, to reuse them on the new ground floor beneath the preserved “wings,” which would extend the existing design elements, such as the front chimneys, windows, and arches (see rendering atop this report)
-Putting up a big new building on the back of the site, with 12 condos and four “live-work” units; this rendering shows what the structure would look like on the alley-facing side:


-Entries for the front retail units will be on the north and south ends
-The parking garage entry will be from the alley, on the north side (adjacent to the 7-11)

One hitch is that, according to Godfried, this new plan would require more than a few “departures” — deviations from city code. Even the existing building, he explained, is “non-conforming.” But “these front two ‘wings’ and the courtyard are what people enjoy,” he reiterated. “This takes the courtyard-style apartment and brings it forward to a new adaptation.” He said some of the inspiration came from viewing classic “courtyard apartments” during the landmark-consideration process for Charlestown Court (see the documentation here).

Moving the “wings” will be something of a delicate process, involving Nickel Brothers, a house-moving company whose local rep is West Seattle developer Jeff McCord (who also was a Design Review Board member until recently). It will involve putting the structures onto rollers.

After Godfried’s presentation, it was clear several meeting attendees were impressed.

“It borders on heroic,” said ANA president Mark Wainwright. “This is a great project.”

Diane Vincent said she was relieved to see the new design, because, knowing the project was on the agenda and had been rejected for landmark status earlier this spring, “I was afraid I was going to come tonight and start crying.”

“The developer cares about quality,” Godfried said at that point. “They were open to this.”

WHAT’S NEXT: The Southwest Design Review Board meeting on 3811 California SW is at 6:30 pm Thursday, Madison Middle School, followed by the same board reviewing 4532 42nd SW at 8 pm (another mixed-use proposal at the site of a building with some history – it was one of West Seattle’s first hospitals). If all goes well, Nicholson estimated last night that 3811 California construction could start in six months, and last a bit longer than a year past that. It was also noted at the meeting that it’s important to attend the Design Review session if you want to show support for the project’s attempt to preserve sections of Charlestown Court, because of those “departures” that will have to win approval from design reviewers and city planners.

OTHER ADMIRAL NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION MEETING NEWS: Two items of note, a playground proposal and the group’s decision on whether to oppose the potential West Seattle jail sites — our report on both, with other miscellaneous notes, is coming up later.

42 Replies to "Details: New design proposal partly preserves Charlestown Court"

  • JenV June 11, 2008 (6:40 am)

    that is….actually not too bad!

  • Christopher Boffoli June 11, 2008 (6:53 am)

    Nice. I appreciate how they kept the lines of the front wings but expanded their footprint.

  • Mike Dady June 11, 2008 (7:04 am)

    Very, very impressed with the willingness of the owners and NK to switch gears and make use of some of the beautiful parts of the old structure!

  • andrew June 11, 2008 (7:12 am)

    What? Are they driving Hot Wheels in the future? Check out those mini-cars. Actually, not a bad idea.

  • miws June 11, 2008 (7:13 am)

    As George Carlin once said, regarding something totally unrelated to construction, or building preservation, “Saaaayyyy….by God, that’s fairly decent!”



  • WSMom June 11, 2008 (7:22 am)


  • Delivery Dude June 11, 2008 (7:33 am)

    Absolutely beautiful. Keep it!!

  • Rick June 11, 2008 (8:00 am)

    Yes!!!Yes!!!Yes!!! Finally … some common sense. Not just $$$

  • T. De June 11, 2008 (8:15 am)

    Now that’s an architech who understands the West Seattle community. Good job!

  • For the Record June 11, 2008 (8:23 am)

    That’s actually quite nice. I’ll officially donate $50 to a local charity of my choice if that ACTUALLY gets built looking anything even close to that. I’ve seen a lot of ‘artist renderings’ offered up that end up looking nothing like the final project. But I here’s hoping…

  • Bonnie June 11, 2008 (8:34 am)

    I like it. Wish they’d do more of that with older buildings instead of just tearing them down.

  • GenHillOne June 11, 2008 (8:36 am)

    Preservation, recycling, reusing, style, creativity, on-site parking…KUDOS! Even if a little more costly, I bet there are plenty of like-minded tenants out there that will be interested. This is the kind of project that deserves to have city code “departures” approved.

  • thriftwaygirl June 11, 2008 (8:50 am)

    That really looks very nice – BRAVO!

  • alkinet June 11, 2008 (8:58 am)

    Not to be a downer, but I have never seen a project in West Seattle that ends up looking like the concept drawing. The budget numbers usually get in the way. Looks good on paper, just not when they are trying to make a profit. Especially in this market.

  • Johnny Davies June 11, 2008 (9:03 am)

    I hope this situation will impress upon developers that a community can actually embrace and support a well thoughtout design. Instead of battling with a neighborhood, they can acutally work WITH a neighborhood.

    That is a great design – I’d be happy to support this project. Nice job and a BIG THANK YOU from a west seattler.

  • MargL June 11, 2008 (9:03 am)

    How cool! I hope they’re able to get support from the City to get it built!

  • Jo B June 11, 2008 (9:12 am)

    Thisis an incredible adaptation… we need to show up if we can to show the city we support this design…

    it would be a shame for the developer to end up with the old design because the city didn’t step up to the plate.

  • d June 11, 2008 (9:42 am)

    Now. THAT’s what I’ve been talking about.


  • cc June 11, 2008 (11:02 am)

    hire these architects for more west seattle projects PLEASE this is great!!!

  • lg June 11, 2008 (11:35 am)

    wow! as a charlestown streeter myself I’m happy to see such a lovely design. thank you to the developers for listening!

  • JanS June 11, 2008 (12:58 pm)

    beautiful…I love it…and definitely a lesson for other developers and architects out there…

  • Diane June 11, 2008 (1:11 pm)

    Diane Vincent here; guess I need to watch what I say on the record when TR is in the house; funny, before my “crying” comment, I first said that when he started to present these designs, I felt like breaking into applause, absolutely thrilled, beyond impressed, and relieved; my fear was another beautiful historic building would be demolished and replaced with another mass of glass & steel (i.e., Shoremont Apts on Alki; Pb Elemental; how “green” can it be to destroy this historic building?).

    The Charlestown Court designs and presentation were fantastic. It was a wonderful surprise to see these renderings; as the architect went on to describe what they have planned, to preserve and raise (not raze) the sweet little cottages, reuse bricks from the rear units integrated into front building, design the front as an extension of these adorable apts, retaining classic elements, and preserving/enhancing the courtyard; also to preserve the interior is huge (many developers totally gut the inside, saving only outside walls, or 1 partial façade, often completely indistinguishable from its original, yet call it historic preservation); I was blown away, so happy and thankful to this wonderful group of architects; they really get it, and have gone to great lengths to make this happen; the word “daunting” came up a few times last night; historic preservation is so worthwhile, and is my passion, but can be extremely daunting, and more costly; major kudos and cheers to the design group and the developer for all their efforts; since this project is right on California, it will be widely seen, should really stand out, make a marvelous case study, and set a precedent for excellence in future development; here’s hoping other builders/architects and the city (dpd, council, mayor) will take notice.

    I loved Mark’s comment, “heroic”; so true.

    Thanks to Tracey for all the details and photos; I wanted to look at the drawings close up after presentation, but there were more topics on the agenda, so the plans were packed up.

    now the dilemma, go to this design review Thurs eve, or the Fauntleroy Place groundbreaking celebration? or try to do both

  • DG June 11, 2008 (1:16 pm)

    This is lovely. Bravo to Nicholson Kovalchick Architects.

  • WSB June 11, 2008 (1:20 pm)

    Diane – BlueStar has said the actual “groundbreaking” would be around 6 pm so you might be able to do both :) there are in all about five things worth covering tomorrow night and we’re also strategizing how to “do it all”!

  • Forest June 11, 2008 (1:24 pm)

    I like the rendering, but suggest the section in the center rear of the courtyard would look more true if its roof slope were slightly curved out and flared at the bottoms with overhanging side eaves that better jibed with the original roof lines.

  • Diane June 11, 2008 (1:49 pm)

    The replacement building in the rear also looks great; the overall design is beautifully integrated old with new, excellent example of adaptive reuse in the whole project; and openness on the alley side; the rear drawing made me giggle, shows sliver of neighboring closed off townhouse, for comparison of good and bad design; would you like open terraces & balconies, perhaps even interact with your neighbors, or walled off by 5 ft fence?

    Depending on what retail goes in, the “lush” courtyard looks like an inviting place to visit/hang out, within blocks from my home; fantastic!!!

    this “house raising” should be piece of cake for Nickel Brothers; they moved giant 100 yr old house down side of hill, through city streets, by barge; these guys are the ultimate recyclers.

    I’m very excited about watching this project, especially the raising; we are so fortunate to have wsblog documenting it all; Ashworth Cottages at Green Lake, and the Cobb Apts downtown both have fantastic websites with photos of the deconstruction/building process, and we have Tracey; lucky us.

  • Indaknow June 11, 2008 (4:23 pm)

    I think that is an attractive project!

  • grr June 11, 2008 (5:22 pm)

    I’d buy one.

  • Tom June 11, 2008 (7:33 pm)


  • Pokey June 11, 2008 (9:39 pm)

    Kudos to all involved! If only every developer would realize that if the proper amount of TLC and creativity is put into each project taken on, they too, could become local heroes and make just as much money in the long run.
    I’m sure these won’t be cheap, but one should be darn proud to live here when finished.
    alkinet: I understand your skepticism, but how bout the ones (can’t remember the name) down the street toward the lighthouse from Cactus restaurant on Alki. They came out looking pretty good don’t you think? Of course, they were re-done quite a few years ago. My point, it CAN be done if someone is commited enough, even on spaces that aren’t declared historical.

  • jeannie June 11, 2008 (11:33 pm)

    Finally, intelligent design! I like it. What a contrast to some of the purely ugly condos on California Ave.

  • Herman June 12, 2008 (10:10 am)

    Now THAT’s a townhouse I could live in.

  • Flippydingles June 12, 2008 (11:02 am)

    Very nice.

  • Kara June 12, 2008 (1:27 pm)

    Finally Seattle growth in a positive direction!

  • Scott B. June 12, 2008 (8:10 pm)

    I like the proposal.

    I thought at first “they’re going to perch the two wings on top of concrete that mimics (poorly) the look of the existing brick.” Then I found out while actually reading the article that bricks from the back section will be used on the supports for the existing wings, which could go a long way to preserving the original look depending on how it is done.

    The old bricks cannot be used to build a load bearing wall, so they will be used as fascia to hide the concrete. Demolishing the interior structure while saving old bricks individually then using them for an exterior fascia would add to the demolition cost.

    I hope the developer does pay homage to the original look… in real life, that is all we can hope for since demolition is permitted and the developer presumably hopes to make a profit.

  • Pelicans June 12, 2008 (8:23 pm)

    WSB-If the NKA design is approved, do you have any info on a sign-up list to purchase one of the top front units with the original floor plans?

  • WSB June 12, 2008 (8:50 pm)

    we’ll see what we can find out. co-publisher is at the design review meeting where they just finished this item but no word yet on the results.

  • Leo June 12, 2008 (9:54 pm)

    Finally! A nicely designed small scale multi-family project in West Seattle. Kudos to N-K architects and the developer for proposing something much nicer than all of the faux “craftsman” townhouses that are being constructed along California Avenue.

  • roddy June 12, 2008 (11:08 pm)

    top story on king 5 tonite…yes!!!

  • roddy June 12, 2008 (11:08 pm)

    top story on king 5 tonite…yes!!!

  • Neighbor June 13, 2008 (6:15 pm)

    I like it… pretty cool.

  • average joe June 13, 2008 (11:07 pm)

    may i please remind everyone here that this same architecture firm is building a HUGE BOX 3 blocks away…a project with ZERO character…a building which maximizes EVERY lot line, set back, building height restriction, and zoning restriction.
    see ‘california mixed use’ or ‘admiral mixed use’ on the architects’ website. thank you.
    this project keeps a few bricks and that is “preservation”? i don’t think so. this project keeps a “false” residential feel to California Avenue and introduces a zoning violation and “departure” in every direction…up, out, down, sideways, and of course backways.
    the effort has merit, but not for the sake of those single family homes behind them…
    TOO many departures to the zoning code and not enough in return.
    How about, make them pay for privacy screens for all of the neighbors who now have 12 tenants sitting in their respective balconies over their backyards.
    ask yourself (and everyone you know whom lives in a single family zone), would you be happy with (3) stories above your private deck, your intimate patio, or your secluded hottub area?
    Great project, just move the back to the Setback, like it should be!

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