Warehouse in Seattle's Pioneer Square Spared

One of the many historic buildings in Seattle's Pioneer Square was spared from demolition earlier this month, thanks to a new proposal from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

Built as a warehouse in 1910, the industrial six-story building at 619 Western Avenue was one of the first buildings in the area to be built with concrete instead of brick. Today the building is home to more than 100 artists' studios.

Last year WSDOT announced plans to bore a new tunnel underneath Pioneer Square and demolish the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Because the historic district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the project is federally funded, the state agency was required to comply with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Several organizations, including Historic Seattle and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, became consulting parties in June 2010.

Despite Historic Seattle's recommendation to save the building, WSDOT announced in January that it would demolish the artists' studios.

"We were all surprised," says Eugenia Woo, director of preservation services at Historic Seattle. "There was simply no discussion about it." Woo then contacted the Western Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and it too was brought on as a consulting party in the 106 process. "Suddenly, WSDOT was getting lots of pressure from many different angles," she says.

On Mar. 2, WSDOT released a proposal that, so far, seems to address everyone's concerns. The department plans to stabilize the building during tunnel construction with a temporary steel frame that, in theory, will hold the building together. Some retrofitting will be done inside the building as well. The stabilization project is estimated to cost between $15 million and $20 million.

"We're very pleased with this proposal," says Brian Turner, a lawyer in the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Western Office. "It represents the perfect outcome for Section 106. The agency responded very positively, and while the artists may still face relocation due to the state of the building, it's a great outcome for preservationists."

Chris Moore, field director at the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, estimates that it would cost $25 million to $35 million to completely restore the building. "The current owners purchased the building in the early '80s and haven't put very much money into it. The rent is cheap, but it's not earthquake-safe," Moore says. "We really don't want to lose the artist community in Pioneer Square. So if the building stays essentially in the same condition, the artists could possibly move back in once construction is over."

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