Can West Seattle’s past save its future? Southwest District Council continues preservation conversation

(Image by Christopher Boffoli, meshing present and past along California SW north of SW Alaska in The Junction – click for larger view)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

As we continue to cover big new development projects like 4755 Fauntleroy Way (in-depth coverage here), some wonder if there’s still time to preserve some of what Southwest District Council leaders call West Seattle’s “Main Street character.”

Grappling with the topic over the past few months, a core group of the council’s members has been exploring whether historic-preservation options exist to serve that goal. Wednesday night’s monthly SWDC meeting continued the conversation, with special guest Karen Gordon, the City of Seattle’s Historic Preservation Officer.

Details on the discussion, what might happen next, and other toplines from the meeting – ahead:

One of the five SWDC reps present Wednesday night, Fauntleroy Community Association’s Vlad Oustimovitch, mentioned he had been talking with an expert on the issue who thought a “conservation overlay district” might be appropriate in West Seattle – the sort of thing that’s been discussed for the Pike/Pine district on Capitol Hill – and he asked Gordon her thoughts.

Gordon’s department started surveying neighborhood commercial districts at the turn of the millennium, she pointed out, and the information is online (though more than a decade old, she acknowledged). “The first step (toward any sort of plan) is to do a survey and inventory,” she noted, so that should be done for the areas that might be involved in such a district. City grant funds could be sought for that kind of survey, and other neighborhoods have done so, she said, such as Queen Anne.

To the point Oustimovitch mentioned, the Pike/Pine concept isn’t really “regulatory” – it “incentivizes,” she said, so “the character buildings are defined in that overlay – it ‘incentivizes’ developers to protect a building, but doesn’t prohibit demolition.” The council should decide whether it’s looking for something more incentive-based or regulatory, Gordon said. She added that the City Council may be looking at conservation districts “on a citywide basis.” Reaching out to community members and property owners to see what they think is vital too, she said – that’s what’s been done in Pike Pine, since the primary supporters were property owners.

(Seattle Municipal Archives 1956 photo from California/Alaska in The Junction)
West Seattle Junction Association rep and SWDC co-chair Susan Melrose and Morgan Community Association rep Chas Redmond toured the area with an eye toward the kind of buildings that the community might be interested in protecting. That doesn’t count as a survey, Oustimovitch said. Melrose wondered where to get the guidance on what the scope of an overlay might be.

Gordon also made reference to the Columbia City Landmark District – discussed at last month’s SWDC meeting (WSB coverage here) – which she said includes residential blocks as well as commercial areas. Redmond brought up the fact that around Seattle, there are “a number of” business districts like California SW that have tis kind of potential – he described the linear nature of California SW as a true “main street.” Gordon said the National Register of Historic Places has dealt with that sort of linear quality – with railroads, for example, and the development that happened along tracks. Local protection for those, however, “is not very common,” she said.

In terms of next steps, she said it would be important to identify the “clusters” of interest – and then identify one to focus on, where they could start working with property owners. Then, apply for matching funds in the March application cycle (it’s too late for this fall). She also advised the council members to look at background material on the city website, including the surveys of commercial districts, which include about 6,000 properties citywide.

She pointed the council to other resources, including National Trust for Historic Preservation, that have more background on these types of districts and how they are administered around the country. Their conversation will continue.


The SWDC has changed its format in recent months to begin with updates from members on what their respective groups/organizations are focused on – something that all admitted had received short shrift under the previous format.

Morgan Community Association (Chas Redmond) – He mentioned that Parks is trying to buy the market/dry cleaners site north of Morgan Junction Park, which includes some ravine/open space to the west (previous WSB coverage here). Even if the purchase becomes reality, the businesses would not close immediately, because Parks then would have to figure out how to develop the site. Traits of the site could be perfect for P-Patch gardening and outdoor-movie screening, Redmond reported. … He also mentioned that the Murray Combined-Sewer Overflow control project is up to 60 percent design and “looking really good.” The actual construction isn’t expected to start until next spring – and then will last more than two years.

Senior Center of West Seattle (Jim Edwards) – Some big events coming up, including a chicken dinner on October 17th, and they have casino trips too.

Fauntleroy Community Association (Vlad Oustimovitch) – The Fauntleroy Fall Festival, 2-6 pm October 14th on the “community campus” of the schoolhouse, YMCA, and church, is coming up fast. The RapidRide bus stop by the ferry is causing some trouble, he mentioned, as FCA had foreseen and warned. Also in the area, the Barton Pump Station Upgrade Project work immediately north of the ferry terminal continues to ramp up, and the pocket beach Cove Park has “disappeared for a couple of years.”

West Seattle Junction Association (Susan Melrose) – The first-ever WSJA-presented Harvest Festival, coming up October 28th, is a big deal, with logistics being worked out for the West Seattle Farmers’ Market to move into the street that day, and 20 organizations planning activities for California SW during the festival, plus a kids’ costume parade – led by the West Seattle High School Marching Band. Melrose says that they’re also working on safety problems in The Junction such as deep tree wells – they’re looking into some gravel filler that will improve the walking area. Asked how Junction Plaza Park is doing, Melrose says the dog-waste problem there has improved.

Alki Community Council (Tony Fragada) – He talked about the grant being sought for a sculpture in conjunction with Seal Sitters, an organization with which ACC has been working a lot.

Seattle Police (Lt. Pierre Davis) – Crime Prevention coordinators will be focusing soon on prevention of car prowls, now that it’s getting darker earlier. He also mentioned that SPD is working on “eradicating” drug -related problems in the Delridge/Brandon area, which has had scattered trouble lately, as well as the speeding problem near K-5 STEM at Boren, which the Aggressive Driver Response Team has been coming in to work on.

He also recapped the Safe Communities gathering at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center last Thursday night, attended by more than 100 people (WSB coverage here), with the intent of plugging people into resources as quickly as possible. Melrose told Lt. Davis that the WSJA board misses the “beat cops” that used to be in The Junction, because they had “such a positive effect.” He said that the system they’re looking out now called “hot-spot policing” will encourage officers getting out of their cars in emphasis areas such as The Junction, and implementation is coming up when officers get off vacations, special deployments, etc. Will any of the 12 new officers in the mayor’s proposed budget come to the Southwest Precinct? They’re pushing for it, Lt. Davis affirmed.

SDOT’S NEIGHBORHOOD STREET FUND: Art Brochet, a consultant with SDOT, came to talk with the council about the process of applying for and vetting potential Neighborhood Street Fund projects – like the 25th SW work featured here earlier this week. Brochet said the application process is online this year. SDOT is encouraging applications to work closely with District Councils, whose support is important as the city decides who gets the money. The councils will review applications from their respective districts next January. “Any sort of project is eligible,” Brochet said, even though sidewalks have been the most-proposed category (the projects must be on “right of way,” which means on or by streets or alleys).

The Southwest District Council meets the first Wednesday of every month, 7 pm, at SSCC’s board room – public always welcome

10 Replies to "Can West Seattle's past save its future? Southwest District Council continues preservation conversation"

  • miws October 5, 2012 (12:27 pm)

    Great coverage, as usual, WSB. And I love that “meshed” photo by Christopher!


    The main Metro Customer Service location on S. Jackson St has a “meshed” photo of 4th & Pike, showing an old 1930’s era trolley coach at the Pike St bus stop, as well as a modern bus. Being not only a Seattle History geek, but a bus geek as well, I’d love to be able to get a copy of it someday.



  • kevin October 5, 2012 (12:29 pm)

    An outstanding job of merging old and new by Christopher Boffoli! Great image Christopher.

  • And Now For Something Completely Different October 5, 2012 (1:04 pm)

    I love preservation efforts! There are parts of the town that are culturally or architecturally important. But a lot of it has already changed and always will. Much of it you have to get over. New York city looked different a 100 years ago too. Go back another 50 years from that picture of the Junction and it would just be trees. I LOVE that folks are ok with clear cutting the forest to make West Seattle…and paving over nature to make California, Admiral and Alaska streets…but how DARE buildings get higher than 2 stories! (sigh) Everyone gets nostalgic as they enter middle age, fearing their life slipping away reflexively cling to a magic static past that never quite existed and start resisting change. Look, I don’t want a skyscraper on Alki, but yes, Seattle is VERY different than it was 100 years go, 50 years ago. We want “growth” (ie. good economy) but WHERE do you think that growth happens? For a long time we just shuttled all “growth” off to the suburbs…which turned out to make sprawl, environmentally horrible, the worst thing you can do. The BEST thing for the planet to live as dense as possible, where you can use mass transit and walk more. If you want to live somewhere with unchanging buildings (no economic growth, truly static) feel free to move back to the little town of 3,000 here I grew up in downstate Illinois. The town bank and barber shop and still there from 40 years ago. But living in SEATTLE, a city that didn’t even exist much more than 100 years ago (and has only been a ‘major’ city for perhaps 50 years) is silly. This is a FAST GROWING CITY/REGION. Do NOT LIVE HERE if you want a static unchanging way of life…bad idea! Whether you like or not, agree or disagree with me, doesn’t matter, this area is changing fast…and will continue to do so. Seattle does a pretty good job compared to most cities as far as preservation. Keep the Log Cabin Museum and help fix the old Homestead, but let the PetCo building (ugly) go for crying out loud!

  • john October 5, 2012 (3:54 pm)

    I agree with And Now For Something Completely Different, and particularly would note that while our small-town feel is worth putting some effort into preserving (by continuing to support our many independent businesses), saving the buildings (many of them unattractive and in poor condition, and certainly far from a cohesive style) is not the solution.
    I do think that good design review to help make sure that new development is an improvement is essential!

  • wetone October 5, 2012 (4:00 pm)

    A big No to any type of historical,preservation district. Would force alot of people and business out of the area. Gets way to many people involved in property owners rights. Makes it way to expensive to remodel your home or build in these types of areas. Height and density needs to be addressed in West Seattle as to much to quick has happened. Start a group or committee and go after height and density issues, but leave the historical and preservation out.

  • plf October 5, 2012 (4:00 pm)

    well now and for ever, you miss the point..density works when you have an infrastructure can support it…tear down a single family home and put up a large ugly complex with 20 times the people and cars…are streets,, bridges cant manage it..also crime is going up alot to do with the shere density of people in an area…Born and raised in Seattle and frankly the changes are not in concert with quality of life..You really think it is best for people to live on top of each other, to save the planet..silly comment…the population growth is to high no matter where they reside..People can determine the course of their city and ideally..Wseattle is not improving with folks like you and your myopic perspective

  • Sarah October 5, 2012 (7:21 pm)

    I vote YES to keeping the Junction as historic as possible and looking small town. That is what attracted me to WS 20 years ago. I want to see it preserved. There will be NOT be a hindrance to remodels, developments, etc…(Obviously, to the message two above, the train is out of the station on that one…unfortunately.)
    I’m sick of watching WS become just another unoriginal neighborhood in Seattle.

  • 35this35mph October 5, 2012 (8:05 pm)

    “cohesive style” yuck.

  • The Velvet Bulldog October 5, 2012 (9:10 pm)

    I say make ’em bring back canopies on every building so we don’t get wet walking through the Junction!

  • patt October 6, 2012 (10:39 am)

    And Now For Something Completely Different,
    I think you cut and pasted from the last time you posted on this subject. Your point is well taken, change happens.

    A bigger point is to guide the change to the character of the area. (here is where I sort of C/P.) On 2nd Avenue in the 90’s, there was a height restriction so a buildings would be 2 stories at side walk and get tall as it went to the alley or in some cases to the next street. It was called a stepped back.
    It created valleys instead of cannons.
    Check out the stucco buildings on 40th SW/Oregon for good example.
    Historic is good, character is better.

    And Yes, canopies are a good idea

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