A Historic Denny's in Seattle?

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Interior of Manning's Cafeteria in 1964

Credit: Eugenia Woo

It may look like an ordinary fast-food restaurant, but fans of a Denny's restaurant in northwest Seattle want to make it a landmark.

Complete with a swooping roof, large glass windows, and a futuristic flair, this particular Denny's is characterized as Googie, a bold, post-World War II architectural style that first became popular in Los Angeles. Architect Clarence Mayhew designed the building in 1964 as a Manning's Cafeteria restaurant, which went out of business and became a Denny's in 1983. Although the structure is now boarded up, it remains one of Seattle's few remaining examples of Googie architecture.

Benaroya Companies, a real-estate development company that bought the structure in 2006 from the Seattle Monorail Project is currently in close negotiations with Rhapsody Partners, a Kirkland-based development firm that wants to construct a condominium tower on the site.

However, Rhapsody's condo plans have been temporarily sidetracked. Earlier this month, Benaroya nominated the Denny's for landmark status.

"Benaroya wanted to make sure that construction would not be stopped once it started, and this is a fairly common practice for developers: to nominate a site they feel will definitely be rejected as a landmark so that they can proceed, with 100 percent certainty, that the process will not be hindered," says Louie Richmond, a spokesperson for Rhapsody who is working closely with Benaroya

Unexpectedly, however, the city is actually considering the nomination.

This potential designation is causing tension in the Seattle neighborhood known as Ballard. Some residents that the 44-year old building is not old enough to be considered a historically significant landmark. They also find the unusual architecture inconsistent with the increasingly trendy neighborhood.

To others, the building is the "gateway to Ballard," as the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation put it in a letter to the city's Landmarks Preservation Board. "The highly expressive roof form of the structure works to make it an easily identifiable visual feature of its neighborhood, contributing to the distinctive quality and identity of Ballard … [it] stands as one of the least altered examples of the Googie genre in Ballard, if not Seattle."

Saving the building won't work unless it has a new purpose, says Christine Palmer, preservation advocate at Historic Seattle. "It's never all right for any municipality to designate any building for a landmark and have no viable use for it for the next 50 or 100 years. That issue has not yet been meaningfully addressed by the neighborhood or developer. It is not the Landmark Board's job to address that, so someone in the neighborhood or the developer needs to propose a viable option to what is going to go in there if the building is preserved," she says. "I don't want a white elephant in Ballard."

A meeting to discuss the future of the building is scheduled for Feb. 20.

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