‘The Whittaker’ chosen as name for 4755 Fauntleroy project, in honor of West Seattle native Jim Whittaker

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The largest development currently planned for West Seattle now has a larger-than-life name:

The Whittaker.

The name chosen for 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW is a tribute to the West Seattle native who first made history as the first American to summit 29,028-foot Mount Everest, Jim Whittaker (right).

The legendary outdoorsman was, typically, outdoors when he talked with us about it – near the sea, not far from the mountains, standing in the rain at a spot where he could get a cell connection. Exactly one month shy of his 85th birthday, Whittaker says he has never had a building named for him before, jokingly telling us, “That’s usually something that happens after you’re dead.”

We also talked with spokespersons for project developers Lennar and Weingarten about the name choice and the status of what until now was just nicknamed “the Whole Foods project,” after its first announced tenant.

The project team says the choice was inspired by hearing from the community that the ~370-apartment complex is a “gateway project” that will be visible from a major crossroads and needed a name with legacy and meaning.

Whittaker’s outdoor legacy will inspire the design detail for the building’s outdoor and indoor spaces. As we reported during its Seattle Design Commission reviews, a “water’s edge” theme was already being pursued, and now “the mountains’ edge” will be incorporated – with a story and purpose, not just a vague concept.

Last year was the 50th anniversary of Whittaker’s history-making Everest expedition; the “mod” motifs of 1963 also will figure into design touches. The project team was meeting again this week with West Seattle artist Troy Pillow, whose work will be featured, to talk about what will help incorporate Whittaker’s legacy into the project, especially its outdoor amenity spaces.

The outdoors remain an integral part of Whittaker’s life, especially advocating for kids to get outside – “no child left inside.” He and his wife Dianne Roberts, a photographer, live in Port Townsend but visit West Seattle often for reasons including family – one of his children lives here.

“West Seattle is home,” is how Whittaker sees it. He was on the Olympic Peninsula coast when we talked for a few minutes by phone on Thursday. “I went to Fauntleroy grade school, James Madison Middle School, West Seattle High School … That’s where I got my hiking and climbing inspiration. My parents loved nature and the outdoors – we would go to the beach in Lincoln Park. And then starting in grade school, I would walk up the Fauntleroy hill to Arbor Heights [where his family lived], even at lunchtime, so I got a lot of exercise.”

If kids get outside, like he did, “they’ll learn a lot about themselves, and they’ll learn about the actual world.” And, like Whittaker, they may then be setting themselves up to keep active well into their later years. When we asked him what he’s focusing on these days, he laughed: “I’m 85 in a month and focusing on keeping vertical! I’m still skiing, and hiking … to enjoy every day is a gift.” As to the project that will now carry his name; West Seattle is a “hidden treasure,” in his view, with many still not aware, though it’s so close to downtown. (P.S. Go to HistoryLink.org to read a detailed biography about Jim Whittaker, whose accomplishments also include serving as CEO of REI, which too has significant West Seattle roots.

So now the project has a name.

But will it get final approval?

The writer and addressee of the famous “don’t approve the alley vacation” memo last year are both gone from Seattle city government (former Mayor Mike McGinn and former SDOT director Peter Hahn). We have an inquiry out to Mayor Murray’s office to ask his position on this but have not heard back yet.

Reps from SDOT and the Design Commission were expected to brief City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, whose Transportation Committee would be the first City Council stop for the proposal, this week.

No hearing had been set yet, as of our last check.

All the building permits have been applied for; a lot-boundary adjustment for the site is in the works now. In recent months, old tanks have been dug up from the former service station on the southwest corner of California/Alaska, and its canopy and islands were removed as part of that work, but the rest of its building remains, as does the former home of Howden-Kennedy (which moved to 35th/Ida) and former auto lots, waiting for word of whether The Whittaker will be built.

First image in this story, courtesy Fuller Sears Architects; second image, courtesy Jim Whittaker and Dianne Roberts.

Our coverage of the 4755 Fauntleroy Way project is archived here, newest to oldest.

38 Replies to "'The Whittaker' chosen as name for 4755 Fauntleroy project, in honor of West Seattle native Jim Whittaker"

  • S January 10, 2014 (4:57 pm)

    At least they got one part right.

  • WSROCKS January 10, 2014 (4:57 pm)

    What a wonderful living tribute to a local legend.

  • JJ January 10, 2014 (5:29 pm)

    As a lifetime WS resident I can’t think of a greater tribute. Also, it stands to reason someone like Jim would not associate his name unless he’s convinced its good for our community. Look forward to seeing it completed.

  • AP January 10, 2014 (5:46 pm)

    While the developers may be paying homage to Jim Whittaker, I did not see anywhere in this article an implication that Jim was promoting this project with his name.

    Did I miss something?

    I’m not against this large construction project, don’t get me wrong. I’m just a long-time West Seattle inhabitant who’s struggling with the pace of growth in the ‘hood. Plus, my faith in Seattle’s DPD, City Council, and SPD is not high at the moment. (More units + less parking + less transit = lots of stuck West Seattle folks)

  • miws January 10, 2014 (5:47 pm)

    What a wonderful tribute to Jim, and Happy Birthday to him and Lou!


    Also just thought of something that I don’t recall crossing my mind before; I wonder if Jim & Lou knew my Mom from Madison, and WS High. She would have turned 85 herself, this past August 23rd. Quite possible she would have been in the same Class, or a year ahead of them…



  • XXX January 10, 2014 (6:02 pm)

    Nice name, for what looks like a really nice building.

    I really hope this thing goes through… It’s definitely a huge improvement over the hell hole of derelict buildings that’s there now.

  • Yay January 10, 2014 (6:09 pm)

    This is pretty cool. A local West Seattle legend–seems as though he would put his name only to projects that will be a plus or benefit for the West Seattle community. Excited for no more yuck parking lots.

  • Oh, Please January 10, 2014 (6:22 pm)

    I am happy others are seeing this as a true tribute to a truly great man, but as a marketing writer myself who is often called upon for naming projects, I just see the underpinnings of crass commercialism and opportunism at its finest. If it were a facility like one of the great local YMCAs recently built in the Puget Sound area (their very purpose to help kids be active and grow strong) that would be one thing. But this is merely borrowed interest and “let’s dress it up in an outdoors theme” fakery. Just seems like a great name is being wasted (mis-used, more accurately) on somebody’s profit center. Oh well. If Jim’s happy with it, I guess that’s all that matters. Developers sure pulled the right strings on this one.

  • NW January 10, 2014 (7:00 pm)

    Well said oh please I agree 100% thank you

  • MikeL January 10, 2014 (7:46 pm)

    #Oh, If you think that this is a “let’s dress it up in an outdoors theme” then you are really missing the point. This will be a great addition to the neighborhood. All of the projects in West Seattle are for PROFIT. How many of them are acutally creating parking, and providing a real solution for this neighborhood. Maybe your not tired of looking at that site, but I endorse it and would love a Whole Foods. I will not shop at Safeway, and don’t like Kroger (aka QFC). Jim is a very great man and I am glad his name will be on the project.

  • TopHatter January 10, 2014 (7:52 pm)

    Seems like a fitting tribute to a great American outdoorsman and adventurer. Mr. Whittaker has lived a life dedicated to pursuits that encourage health and vitality, the symmetry with the healthy organic foods sold by Whole Foods was obviously not lost on the developer.

  • Mike January 10, 2014 (7:58 pm)

    Jim was an inspiration for me growing up. I hiked and backpacked many areas of our state thinking about what it must be like to do expeditions like Jim.
    That said, I’m not keen on WholePaycheck entering here, but whatever.

  • Anne January 10, 2014 (8:31 pm)

    Very cool. It’s about time this project happened – we get Whole Foods (finally) and a tribute to a West Seattle icon.

  • Alkilady January 10, 2014 (9:51 pm)

    I hope this means that the council is taking action soon to help this project move forward. It is time for West Seattle to evolve as a great, dense community!

  • TheCrone January 10, 2014 (10:23 pm)

    Good to see this project is progressing. Slowly, but definitely worth the wait.

  • Diane January 10, 2014 (10:34 pm)

    agree with Oh,Please & NW

  • Marie January 10, 2014 (10:36 pm)

    Agree with oh please completely. !

  • Been there January 11, 2014 (12:15 am)


    My mom also went to school with Jim and Lou. She turned 85 in April last year. They were a sturdy rugged bunch. Hope I live as long and as healthy.

  • Curious January 11, 2014 (12:19 am)

    Oh please- you’re someone who is often called upon naming projects, what should the name be instead?

  • BookGal January 11, 2014 (8:15 am)

    Does no one see a problem with having 4 grocery stores in a four block radius?
    Why isn’t there a large grocery store bordering the Highpoint neighborhood in the (now grassy) empty lot next to the library & medical/dental clinic?

  • miws January 11, 2014 (8:56 am)

    Been there, sounds like there’s a chance that our Moms knew each other too.


    Sadly, my Mom passed away in 1967, at age 38, from Melanoma.



  • dsa January 11, 2014 (9:32 am)

    “Oh, Please” is correct. A grocery store is not Jim’s legacy, good grief.

  • Jason January 11, 2014 (10:52 am)

    I don’t want to sound negative, and bless this nice man but naming a gigantic development project after a local outdoorsman so a nationwide grocery chain can come grace our little town with over-priced hummus is a little transparent.
    And before you respond about their wonderful natural organic food, maybe try hanging out behind key bank Sunday mornings or heading over to the PCC.

  • Oh, Please January 11, 2014 (12:11 pm)

    @Curious: While I won’t give ideas away (it’s how I earn a living–and naming costs thousands of dollars), I can share that the marketing directive is on the mark: “The project team says the choice was inspired by hearing from the community that the ~370-apartment complex is a “gateway project” that will be visible from a major crossroads and needed a name with legacy and meaning.” I think there are endless options from W. Seattle’s own history, topography and culture that ONLY WE can claim that might have been more appropriate. The Whittaker name has such broad appeal that it could have been used on a building anywhere in the Puget Sound; preferably one with a grander purpose than groceries. And to be clear, the Whittaker name is a fine one. But to me, it’s like putting the Boeing Dreamliner moniker on a Cessna.

  • Westcoastdeb January 11, 2014 (12:23 pm)

    Not to be a nitpicker, but you forgot the close parenthesis here:

    ‘(P.S. Go to HistoryLink.org to read a detailed biography about Jim Whittaker, whose accomplishments also include serving as CEO of REI, which too has significant West Seattle roots.’


    Thanks Debbie

  • miws January 11, 2014 (12:33 pm)

    But to me, it’s like putting the Boeing Dreamliner moniker on a Cessna.


    Not sure if that’s such a good analogy, Oh, Please. I’d venture a guess that Cessnas have, overall, been more dependable than Dreamliners. ;-)



  • dawn P. January 11, 2014 (1:09 pm)

    when is this building supposed to be built?

  • JoAnne January 11, 2014 (2:04 pm)

    “Oh Please” certainly hit the nail on the head.
    The last think I’d ever associate with Jim Whittaker is a ghastly development that packs in everyone cheek to jowl while taking away the sunlight and fresh air.

  • LivesInWS January 11, 2014 (3:25 pm)

    “has never had a building named for him before,”

    One of the REI corporate headquarters buildings in Kent is named after Jim Whittaker. First bldg is Anderson, after Lloyd (& Mary) Anderson who started REI. Their 2nd bldg is Whittaker.

    Frankly, a building seems a crappy object to bear the name of the first American on Everest. A park, maybe, but a building? Buildings are exactly what mountaineers are out in the wild to get away from!

  • Brandon January 11, 2014 (5:36 pm)

    I’ll second BookGal’s suggestion for putting it near the library in High Point! I understand why the proposed location is where it is, but I can’t help but wish we had a grocery store up here on the hill.

  • Brandon January 11, 2014 (9:45 pm)

    Thanks for that link WSB, very informative. I’ve walked by that lot quite a bit and wondered if it would ever attract an alternative to the Walgreens and Pizza Hut we have up here.

  • Anonymous January 12, 2014 (10:51 pm)

    Can’t wait for this project to finish! Excited to finally have whole foods here. Hopefully the building across the street will finish soon too and we can get rid of all these cranes in West Seattle.

    Also, I actually like the name choice. I think it’s a nice tribute to the Whittaker family.

  • Not complaining January 12, 2014 (11:17 pm)

    @ BookGal – if you think it such a good idea, jump at it yourself. If you don’t, then you have your answer. It’s really that simple.

  • Yodes January 14, 2014 (12:20 pm)

    Don’t care in the slightest what it’s named, just build it already! Bringing jobs, parking, and most importantly — customers — to our small businesses, is the right thing to do for West Seattle.

  • West Seattle Lifer January 14, 2014 (9:05 pm)

    I can hardly wait for this project to get started. The developer has already cleaned up the contamination on the old gas station site. What a great tribute to Mr. Whittaker. Being a resident of West Seattle makes this naming very special. The biggest project in West Seattle’s history to honor such a great man and his accomplishments, how exciting. It just keeps getting better.

  • GSDH January 14, 2014 (9:49 pm)

    A lovely name for it. I’m looking forward to this thing being completed… it’s been vacant there far too long. Let’s see the spot come back alive.

  • westseattlelover January 27, 2014 (1:55 pm)

    @Yodes – Bringing customers to small businesses that will be snuffed out due to a big box retailer such as Whole Foods?

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