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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Short-Sighted Dismantling of Artwood, A Quiet and Long-Running Utopia in North Seattle

Posted by on Wed, Mar 27, 2013 at 2:07 PM

The art studio that was once a classroom.
  • The art studio that was once a classroom.

Artwood is a great story. There's a terrific full narration of it, with lots of pictures, in an old Seattle Times piece here.

But the basics are: Artwood is a tiny artist community in Lake City that used to be an elementary school. The school, designed by Northwest modernist architect Paul Thiry (it was landmarked in 2012), opened in 1959. In 1981, it closed due to miniscule enrollment. The city began renting this woodsy place to artists, who decked it out, setting up studios and homes in the classrooms and the library, stringing lights and installing sculptures and murals the courtyard and the lunchroom and auditorium and garden. They raised children and pets who ran in the halls. They made art that was shown everywhere from galleries and museums to stalls in Pike Place Market. They came in all stripes.

Cedar Park.
  • Cedar Park.
That has gone on for 32 years. The school was only open for 22. In 32 years, not one studio has sat empty. Artwood is this city's most enduring, quiet art utopia. Today there are 13 live-in residents and 11 non-residential studio tenants. It's one of the few affordable housing projects for artists in Seattle; there's always a wait to get in. You can find out more about Artwood's environment and artists (and their kids and pets) on its Facebook page.

And back in the year 2000, the artists led the effort to create a beautiful adjacent park and playground on a two-acre asphalt field. It's called Cedar Park, and it's the only neighborhood park in this part of the city.

Welcome to Artwood.
  • Photo by Lance Wagner
  • Welcome to Artwood.
Now, the city wants to use the building to temporarily house students while another nearby school, Olympic Hills Elementary, is enlarged. The city also plans to plop four portable classroom buildings and possibly some parking spaces in the park, and to fence off the public park. Populations are shifting again and the district needs more classrooms on the north side of the city. But Artwood residents are pleading with the city to take a look at other options—to consider finding a place for students that doesn't involve dismantling a long-useful and vibrant civic entity for the sake of temporary convenience.

The school board gave tenants notice to vacate, but have also admitted that they have not yet "done their due diligence" on "additional research on other sites," said Diane C. Wright, an Artwood tenant who works at Pilchuck Glass School and studies Tiffany glass. "If nothing else, we would like other taxpayers in Seattle to know how their tax dollars are being used... The price tag to reconvert this building is $10 million to create a temporary site for elementary school children."

225202_220669181410995_108951651_n.jpg
  • Photo by Lance Wagner
Cris Bruch, the sculptor, is another tenant at Artwood. He's had "ten good years" living and working there. "Dunno where we'll land," he said.

These artists aren't crying whining or crying bloody murder or asking for special treatment. They're asking the city to be smart, and to think long-term.

 

Comments (25) RSS

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1
Okay, first of all, the city has nothing to do with this. It's the school district. The city doesn't run the district or have any control over it. That's quite the basic fact to get wrong.

Now, the city wants to use the building to temporarily house students while another nearby school, Olympic Hills Elementary, is enlarged. The city also plans to plop four portable classroom buildings and possibly some parking spaces in the park, and to fence off the public park.

While the initial use of the building will be to house Olympic Hills students, it is quite likely the building will continue to be used by the district. The district as a whole and the NE in particular are nearly bursting at the seams as enrollment has grown for the last three years (with no signs of slowing down). That $10M (if that's the correct figure) is not just for temporary use of the building.

I think it is wonderful what these artists have done and yes, as a long-time district watcher, it doesn't surprise me that the district admits to not doing "due diligence." It still doesn't negate the fact that the district owns the property and needs to use it.

The district is running out of space to put these students.
Posted by westello on March 27, 2013 at 2:14 PM · Report this
2
"These artists aren't crying whining or crying bloody murder or asking for special treatment. They're asking the city to be smart, and to think long-term."
Good Luck with that.
Posted by Mugwumpt on March 27, 2013 at 2:22 PM · Report this
3
So the Stranger thinks kicking poor people out of Yesler Terrace is good, but kicking artists out of Artwood is bad. Tearing up old buildings for condos is good, except when it effects the neighborhood the paper is in. Goldy supports unions, except when they interfere with his desire for a new stadium. I love your paper, but consistency isn't your strong point.
Posted by Joe Glibmoron on March 27, 2013 at 2:23 PM · Report this
tabletop_joe 4
@3

http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/the-t…

How does that sound like approval of what's happening at Yesler Terrace?
Posted by tabletop_joe on March 27, 2013 at 2:28 PM · Report this
Womyn2me 5
PUblic school students trump Artists. that is the way it is. Artists have been making due for centuries, we still get art.
Posted by Womyn2me http://http:\\www.shelleyandlaura.com on March 27, 2013 at 2:42 PM · Report this
6
I live two blocks north of Cedar Park/Artwood and it is a community treasure. Just knowing that beautiful things are being produced in my neighborhood makes me feel that all is not lost, and every day -- weather notwithstanding -- parents pass my house on their way to the park with kids on bikes and in strollers. The Seattle School District is organizationally challenged, to put it mildly, and they will do whatever they choose to do; protests will probably have no effect. But what a shame to extinguish one more light from the city.
Posted by sarah70 on March 27, 2013 at 3:17 PM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 7
I remember school levy opponents using this to try to sway voters away from a "yes" vote last year.
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on March 27, 2013 at 3:21 PM · Report this
8
The school district is so desperate for space that there is no way to stop the conversion. The best we can do is have a voice in the process to make it as great a space as possible.

They're tearing down the old Pinehurst school to build a new one and put out a call for community members to help with the design. They may do something similar with Cedar Park.
Posted by ammjj on March 27, 2013 at 3:37 PM · Report this
COMTE 9
@1:

Before you go excoriating Jen for "inaccuracies", best look to your own apparent misinformation, to wit:

"Okay, first of all, THE CITY has nothing to do with this. It's THE SCHOOL DISTRICT. THE CITY doesn't run the district or have any control over it. That's quite the basic fact to get wrong.

Now, THE CITY wants to use the building to temporarily house students while another nearby school, Olympic Hills Elementary, is enlarged."

Well, which is it? The School District, or The City? Make up your mind, please.
Posted by COMTE on March 27, 2013 at 4:58 PM · Report this
10
Cris Bruch is a goddamned national treasure!
Posted by Lovesit on March 27, 2013 at 5:14 PM · Report this
11
Note: The building was land-marked last year. That means any new construction/improvements etc... is going to cost a lot more than $10 mil.
I grew up in the building, and my family still lives there. It is a rare and wonderful place and we all feel grateful to have been a part of it. Some of us want to fight and stay, others are ready to let go. But the people I feel sorry for are the neighbors. Because of my mom and the neighbors who came together a decade-ish ago, there is a wonderful park. There is no way that will stay. Instead this residential community (no bus stops, no sidewalks) is about to get injected with a ton of traffic. There has been very little thought in regard to urban planning, on the part of the school district.
Posted by Rosebot on March 27, 2013 at 6:06 PM · Report this
12
@9 I forgot to put quotes around that part. That was Ms. Graves. It IS the district and NOT the City.
Posted by westello on March 27, 2013 at 8:16 PM · Report this
13
It's been great living here. We built our business here, http://www.oldschoolpinups.com/ & http://www.seattleretrophotography.com/ , we were married here and spent some great times. Some of the photos in the article are mine.
We understand the district needs space. We also understand they have not done everything they can to find the most economical or practical solution.
Life goes on.
Visit us at our new location for OldSchoolPinUps & Seattle Retro Photography at 1922 Post Alley at Pike Place Market. Cheers, Lance n Trixie.
Posted by OldSchoolPinUps on March 27, 2013 at 9:26 PM · Report this
14
It's been great living here. We built our business here, http://www.oldschoolpinups.com/ & http://www.seattleretrophotography.com/ , we were married here and spent some great times. Some of the photos in the article are mine.
We understand the district needs space. We also understand they have not done everything they can to find the most economical or practical solution.
Life goes on.
Visit us at our new location for OldSchoolPinUps & Seattle Retro Photography at 1922 Post Alley at Pike Place Market. Cheers, Lance n Trixie.
Posted by OldSchoolPinUps on March 27, 2013 at 9:30 PM · Report this
15
@11, I was one of those neighbors who worked on replacing asphalt with a beautiful park. Makes me very sad to think that will go away. And once it's gone, it won't come back, no matter what happens to the school building.
Posted by sarah70 on March 27, 2013 at 10:25 PM · Report this
16
I was fortunate to have lived at what we used to just call Cedar Park, for over ten years. That was a singular time in my life that gave me a place to house my family, and happily--though haphazardly--meet our needs. Two daughters were raised here.

I most remember the community of support we had with each other--the joint efforts to govern, build and create:

One example of one of the first ways we initiated contact with large numbers of our neighbors: for three or four years we ran Halloween's Haunted Hallway: each of the 15 or so of us created a different, long-dead denizen of the teaching and custodial ranks of this ghostly, but once very disciplined, though demented, school. I was Tim the Kindergarten Teacher, dimly portrayed in a caged alcove littered by an increasingly infantile obsession. I half-hummed and muttered "Three Blind Mice" as I hid in a corner, behind a blackboard and blocks, until I launched myself at the bars of the grill directly in front of the visitors, screaming my version of the last lines of that haunting song: "See how they die!"

Of course, there were studio shows every month or so--glassworkers, fabric artists, sculptors and painters, arty gardens, and lights representing the Pleaides constellation lit each night on the large, flat and sloping roof. On one exterior wall, we wrested official permission for local grafitti artists to create a constantly evolving mural.

Before our incredible building manager helped create the coalition of neighborhood support for the park, I also remember the local community meetings called by the district, in the auditorium of our school (also the occasional homecourt of a basketball team that included such players as Washington State's current Official Meterologist, as well as the legendary cartoonist Gary Larson).

This isn't the first time the district has threatened to end Cedar Park as a community. Perhaps the demographics have drastically changed, but we--all of us tenants--endured years of meetings called to determine our fate, listened to the aging and/or just angry few call us an eyesore and worse.

Thanks to our building's manager we hung on and became an established and integral part of the neighborhood. I agree with those who point to the history of artists coming into and enhancing a place through interaction with its residents, becoming residents themselves, and then being shunted on to another lucky place.

I could go on and on, but now it's time for me to get ready for work. I'm an elementary school teacher, in Shoreline, just north of what is now Artwood.

More...
Posted by TBo on March 28, 2013 at 5:53 AM · Report this
17 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
18
@1: Fair point. I was conflating "the city" with the district, but it may be a completely separate jurisdiction. It was probably irresponsible shorthand, but I think you know what I meant. Thanks for pointing it out.
Posted by Jen Graves on March 28, 2013 at 9:53 AM · Report this
19
@14 & @16 - Thanks for your comments, always nice to have a better picture of what's happened. If you don't mind, a few questions:

1) Who spearheaded the campaign to landmark the building? And what was the intended effect of getting the designation? I ask because my neighborhood is attempting to get a school designated.

2) Is there a specific alternate plan that the District should pursue?

3) It looks like the District just approved the A&E contract early in March. This would generally be the phase where costs get nailed down. Any ideas where the $10M number came from?

Curious on all fronts, since we are trying to get additional BEX funds allocated to our school and these issues will surely come up.

Posted by Action Slacks on March 28, 2013 at 9:56 AM · Report this
20
@ 19, I am the manager of Artwood Studios and I will take a stab at answering your questions.

1.The landmark process was not spearheaded. It came about because the School District wanted to tear down the building and build a new school. Because the building is over 25 years old and over 30,000 square feet, the landmark review is automatic. The building was designed by a prominent Northwest architect and, on that basis, after much review, the Landmark board voted unanimously to landmark it as a significant example of Paul Thiry's work.

2. I can't say that I know of a specific alternative, only that this site, because it is so small, and because a neighborhood park which neighbors built over 10 years will be substantially altered (they are already planning on putting 4 portables in the park, use will be restricted and the site will be fenced), is a poor site. My experience is that there is a lot of desperation fueling their decisions right now. I understand and it doesn't make for good long term planning that takes into account the overall health of the City.

3. The vote on the A/E contract was postponed until April 3rd because neighbors requested that the School District do a feasibility study on Lake City School. As for the 10M, this is somewhat confusing because the numbers have jumped around. Before the levy, the figure we heard to rehab the building was 3 to 6M. After the levy, we heard (at a School Board Meeting) 8 to 10.5M. I don't know what the disconnect is between those 2 numbers. (as someone intimately familiar with the building, I do know that the lower number is unrealistic) The School District is asking the state legislature to kick in 10M for this...so perhaps the 3 to 4M is the amount the district would pay from levy funds? This stuff is very murky. I have no idea if the legislature will give them this extra money, given that Seattle voters just approved 2 levys that total 1.2B. I think the reality is that all these numbers are guesses.

Hope this is of some help!
More...
Posted by ASP on March 28, 2013 at 1:34 PM · Report this
21
@16...Tim the Kindergarten teacher was fabulous. And the puppet theater you created here, as well as the plays that were written....all wonderful. Thanks for commenting...nice to hear your "voice"!
Posted by ASP on March 28, 2013 at 1:42 PM · Report this
22
@20 - Thanks for the info.

It is a bit of a mess overall, and I feel your pain/lack of trust dealing with the admin folks.
Posted by Action Slacks on March 28, 2013 at 5:24 PM · Report this
23
This place is a treasure for Seattle. A school can be built in many locations, most likely better suited than this small residential site. Save Artwood Studios! Save Cedar Park!
Posted by Rosebot on March 31, 2013 at 5:36 PM · Report this
24
More information about the Cedar park Elementary School building by Paul Thiry may be found here: http://arcadenw.org/article/the-unknown-…

An older article (2004) about the Artwood Studios may be found here: http://seattletimes.com/pacificnw/2004/1…
Posted by John Ruskin on April 7, 2013 at 12:11 PM · Report this
25
There is an alternative: The school district owns also the Lake City professional building on 125th street. This building is also a former school (lake City school), and is larger, updated-to-code, and better sited. Financial estimates priced reopening the Lake City school at double the cost ($20.), but this does not include the longer term consideration that this site has a much larger capacity and therefore will meet projected growth in student population. It appears that the reduced cost of cedar park also does not account for much cost that will have to be borne by the city (traffic revisions, no sidewalks), or extra costs to comply with the historic site designation. Apparently, SD revenue from Artwood studios is larger than from LC professional building rents.
Posted by Longterm neighborhood resident on April 7, 2013 at 5:17 PM · Report this

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