Boom The Denny’s Landmark Designation
posted by February 21 at 14:12 PMon
The Denny’s in Ballard, AKA the Drinkin’ Denny’s, was officially designated a historic landmark yesterday after a three-hour meeting of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Board. Now, before you get all “But it’s so ugly!” over the board’s decision, remember: A building does not have to be “pretty” to be designated a landmark. It merely has to meet one of the six criteria for landmarking—and the Ballard Denny’s arguably qualifies under two.
The applicants who came to yesterday’s meeting to argue against landmark status, representing Benaroya and developer Rhapsody Partners, had planned to tear down the Denny’s and develop the site as condos. (Prospective developers often use the landmarking process to argue against landmark status, because applying wards off any future applications.) They spent the better part of their time arguing that the former Manning’s Cafe wasn’t actually representative of “Googie” design—a type of midcentury roadside architecture that employed bold angles, colorful signs, large planes of glass, and cantilevered roof lines. Judith Sobol, an art and architecture historian from Los Angeles, said the Denny’s was “just not Googie…. there’s nothing about the exterior that makes the exterior work as a whole.” The Space Needle is perhaps the most famous example of Googie architecture. Here are others:
Whether the board bought its Googie argument or not, the applicants continued, the architect, Clarence Mayhew, was a nobody. “None of Mayhew’s buildings anywhere have been called out as historical or as an architectural resource,” said Timothy Rood, an architecture professor at the University of California at Berkeley. “Mayhew was not a particularly noted architect and this building is not an outstanding example, or even a good one, of his work.”
The developer turned next to the question of “integrity,” arguing that because the building has been so heavily altered (a drop ceiling was added in the 1970s to conceal a new air-conditioning system; more than 70 percent of the original windows have been boarded up or removed), there wasn’t enough of the original building left to make it worth saving. Next, the applicants argued that the building had been “dwarfed” by the condos around it, making it difficult to see from several blocks away. Finally, they turned to outright condescension. “If you designate this building you can satisfy the not unimportant sentimental yearnings for the coffee shops you visited in the past,” architect Larry Johnson told the board. “But this is the landmark preservation board. It is not the landmark restoration board. Your credibility as a board will ultimately be undermined if you designate this building.”
The board, clearly, did not agree. Five of eight board members present voted to save the Denny’s, agreeing that the building is a landmark in the traditional sense — a significant building that is recognizable to anyone in the neighborhood. “Being able to apply a label to it [Googie] is not as important as looking at the building and being able to say it’s important to the city,” board member Tom Veith said. “It sticks in your mind and you use it to navigate, remind you where you are.”
The designation thwarts the condos and throws the future of the building into question, but it does not force future owners to restore the building to its former glory, above; the decision only landmarked the outside of the building, leaving the fate of the interior in the hands of its future owners.