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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Smashing History

posted by on October 23 at 16:59 PM

As you read this, crews are breaking off the terra cotta trim from a 1914 building at the corner of Second Avenue and Stewart and throwing the pieces into Dumpsters. Stripping the building of its vintage details will erase the building’s historic status, tenants and neighbors say, which will potentially allow the owner to redevelop the site into a tower.

“Our guess is that it had to do with taking down what would have been the historically significant portion, which is the terra cotta,” says Joe Woods, an architect at Hummel Architects, a tenant in the building. “[The owners] would have their hands tied if the historic process got further down the line.”

The two-story MJA Building is a product of the downtown building boom of the early 1900’s, which was spurred by the Klondike Gold Rush. In 2004, a historic resources survey found that the building “appears to meet the criteria of the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Ordinance.” But for reasons that are unclear, the building didn’t become a historic landmark.

New owners, calling themselves MJA Building LLC, bought the property late last year. Under zoning rules adopted by the city council in 2006, a new building on the site could be as tall as 400 feet. Until this week, it looked like this:


But today, Slog tipper Christine alerted us to the carnage occurring under the scaffolding that wraps the building. Construction workers are “taking the terra cotta off in such a way that there will be no way to salvage the actual material,” she says. The owner “is replacing it with one of those hideous fake stucco products.” She sent this photo of how it looks today:


“We are just trashing our history when we do stuff like this,” says Jeff Hummel, owner of Hummel Architects. “These buildings are our heritage.”

The property-management company, KG Investment, sent a notice about plans for stripping the exterior to the building’s six commercial tenants two or three weeks ago, calling it a “seismic retrofit,” says Hummel.

“They have been framing this as a seismic retrofit, which is total bullshit,” says Hummel. “It is not.” If it were a retrofit, he says, the owners would also reinforce entryways, the skin of the building, and other components of the frame. Building owners could retain the historic facade and still build a tower on the site, he argues, much like the Cristalla a few blocks north.

KG Investment and MJA Building LLC have not returned calls to comment.

RSS icon Comments


Grrrr. Sons of bitches should have their building taken away from them.

Posted by Fnarf | October 23, 2008 5:23 PM



Posted by CP | October 23, 2008 5:24 PM

I understand the position, but it's not OUR heritage, it's not OUR land, it's not OUR building.

Sorry, but if you owned it perhaps you might do the same if $40million or whatever it might be is waved in your face.

Posted by Deidra | October 23, 2008 5:29 PM

It is our heritage. It belongs to the city. You shouldn't buy property in cities that care about historic preservation, and pass laws to enforce it, if that bothers you so much. You know, when you buy property you're entering into a covenant with the laws of the place where the property is located. There are lots of shit holes where nobody cares what you do the place, or unincorporated backwaters where there is nobody to care. Of course there's a reason why property in those places isn't worth much and isn't appreciating.

The sad part is that Seattle is too poorly governed to proactively defend these things.

Posted by elenchos | October 23, 2008 5:42 PM

Echoing elenchos: There are plenty of hideous buildings in this town. Start with those.

Posted by keshmeshi | October 23, 2008 5:44 PM

glad i'm not their architect. i'd feel worse than if i did work in dubai.

Posted by max solomon | October 23, 2008 5:44 PM

Greg Nickels is the worst this that ever happened to Seattle.

Posted by Mayor Fartnickels | October 23, 2008 5:45 PM

And, given the right design, a tower with that as it base would look fucking amazing.

OK, I'm done.

Posted by keshmeshi | October 23, 2008 5:46 PM


Posted by It's Mark Mitchell | October 23, 2008 5:46 PM

Goddammit. Local boy Ken Alhadeff (owner of the Majestic Bay movie theater in Ballard) sold this (the MJA Building) and four other family buildings at the peak last year to consummate out-of-towners MJA LLC, an REIT fronting for Iowa City's Principal Financial Group. The Principal is a publicly traded financial services giant whose stock has been hammered this year from $70 down to $18, largely on overexposure to enormous real estate acquisitions across the country.

In marketing the buildings, Alhadeff had made a point of advertising how tear-downable this MJA Building was.

The other buildings the Alhadeffs sold off to the Principal were the Broderick Building (paid $13 mil), the Broadacres Building, ($23 mil), the MiKen Building, ($9 mil), and the Coliseum Theatre ($13 mil).

I think at least the Coliseum and the Broderick are landmarked already; given the Principal's worried shareholders I suspect the honchos there are in no position to give a flying fuck about local architectural sentiment right now.

Posted by tomasyalba | October 23, 2008 5:48 PM

The reason why it is on the survey but not a landmark is that the City has not taken all steps to implement that study, ie having the building be reviewed by the landmark preservation board for designation. there are alot of buildings on that list - they have been prioritized for designation, but unfortunately there are not enough resources to deal with all the potential landmarks. Call City Council members including Sally Clark, Tim Burgess and Tom Rasmussen - and ask them when the City will give the Historic Preservation office enough $$ to do the job that Seattle deserves.

Posted by seattledesign | October 23, 2008 5:53 PM

Can we encourage facadism in this town? Please? It's a dirty word in Chicago, and among historic preservationists, but it's better than this shit.

Posted by Dan Savage | October 23, 2008 5:55 PM

And one of the few remnants of what once made downtown visually appealing disappears.

God I hate this place sometimes. I can barely walk the stretch between the market and the square along 1st through 4th without feeling homicidal.

Posted by gnossos | October 23, 2008 5:56 PM

I love it! They should install an array of fake ice cubes with Christmas lights. Maybe even put in an ice shop--specializing in all things ice.

Posted by Mr. Poe | October 23, 2008 6:01 PM

Hey if Vulcan could get away with it with the Lillian, maybe they thought the city could get their back too?

Posted by Trevor | October 23, 2008 6:13 PM

Walt Crowley is rolling in his grave.

Posted by Jeff Stevens | October 23, 2008 6:14 PM

I work at a firm in the building next door to this one, and several of the architects in our office and in the neighborhood tried to stop this with no success. Here's the history: A few years ago the building was nominated for historic registration and because one member of the board did not show up for the meeting, there was not a quorum to pass the nomination. The building is eligible for nomination again in a couple of years and that is why the owner has elected to spend $800,000.00 to remove the terra cotta so that there is no possibility of historic registration or this building in the future. The 'renovation' was drawn by a registered architect -his name is Collins Woerman.

Posted by Suzanne | October 23, 2008 6:25 PM

That is one of my favorite buildings downtown. Whenever I walk by it I look up and wish current architects could make such attractive facades.
If this was even on a list that was going to be reviewed for preservation it should be protected from this kind of damage. It's a shame.

Posted by Enigma | October 23, 2008 6:27 PM

I think the question is - why wasn't the building declared a historic landmark? Seattle had 94 years to do this. The owners are jerks, but I can't say I wouldn't do the same thing - save some terra cotta or get millions of dollars?

Thanks again for this reporting. I don't think anyone else in town would ever report about this.

Posted by jrrrl | October 23, 2008 6:29 PM

Fuck. And KG owns the marina where my boat is moored.

Anybody know of a cheap open 30 foot slip on Lake Union? I think maybe it's time to take my business elsewhere.

Posted by COMTE | October 23, 2008 6:30 PM

Fnarf, stop being silly and becoming what you mock.

Elenchos, what about the heritage before those buildings were constructed? and what about the heritage that other people value? and the heritage people are trying to create? Just because you and the slog echo chamber value something differently doesn't mean there is a social imperative to protect what you value. You say there are plenty of buildings that nobody cares about, but the reality is, there are plenty of buildings that somebody cares (look at what charles regards as the height of architecture. I prefer art deco. remember that denny's?) about either genuinely for their architecture and history or reactionarily to protect the status quo. Where do you fit in?

And developers are already looking at other cities besides seattle. Bellevue is a great case. Sure, it doesn't have history, but every city starts somewhere at some time. Chicago is amazing because it wanted to be a big city and didn't fight it incrementally, every step along the way. Seattle's problem is that it has fought height, density, at almost every point and now it's paying the price in having old, short buildings that no longer having value to the owner.

There are merits in preserving history, but not every old building is historic or worth saving, and certainly the exterior alone isn't what determines historical value.

And if you really want to get down in it and claim that the public owns and deigns the uses for the buildings, their historical significance , then you're going to have to pick a bone with laws you think are faulty, not the developers that come in and operate within the limit of the rules. And you'll have to accept that people who disagree with you are part of the public.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 23, 2008 6:33 PM

COMTE, do you live on that boat?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | October 23, 2008 6:34 PM

Collins Woerman is a sleazy company.

(Just hoping this shows up in google results -- sounds like our only recourse now.)

Posted by jrrrl | October 23, 2008 6:37 PM


Posted by Rat Bastards | October 23, 2008 6:43 PM

Who's in to donate $25,000 to buy the building? $5,000? $500?

Wait, nobody?

Oh, so it's an amazing landmark as long as that cost is borne by the current owners, not the city that's (presumably) benefiting from it?

Posted by Alf | October 23, 2008 7:37 PM

COMTE - there's probably a free 30' slip at Seattle Marina on Northlake.

Posted by another one of them fancy yachtie types | October 23, 2008 8:27 PM

Collins Woerman is a hack, the no-talent a** clowns that did the whole foods abortion @ denny/westlake.

this falls a block out of the pike place historic district.

DPD shows the reason for construction as
"Voluntary seismic retrofit by replaceing(sic) roof parapet, siding and window per plan."

it's unfortunate that the companies couldn't be bothered to at least salvage the terra cotta.

(515) 248-3076

14719 NE 29TH PLACE
(425) 895-9000

Posted by mike | October 23, 2008 8:36 PM

Subchapter IV Designation of Landmark Sites

SMC 25.12.350

Standards for designation.

An object, site or improvement which is more than twenty-five (25)
years old may be designated for preservation as a landmark site or
landmark if it has significant character, interest or value as part of
the development, heritage or cultural characteristics of the City,
state, or nation, if it has integrity or the ability to convey its
significance, and if it falls into one (1) of the following

A. It is the location of, or is associated in a significant way with,
an historic event with a significant effect upon the community, City,
state, or nation; or

B. It is associated in a significant way with the life of a person
important in the history of the City, state, or nation; or

C. It is associated in a significant way with a significant aspect of
the cultural, political, or economic heritage of the community, City,
state or nation; or

D. It embodies the distinctive visible characteristics of an
architectural style, or period, or of a method of construction; or

E. It is an outstanding work of a designer or builder; or

F. Because of its prominence of spatial location, contrasts of siting,
age, or scale, it is an easily identifiable visual feature of its
neighborhood or the City and contributes to the distinctive quality or
identity of such neighborhood or the City.

it just has to meet one of those reqs, and surely it met more than a few...

Posted by mike | October 23, 2008 8:45 PM

We have a good photo of it. People who care about that kind of stuff can look at it online.

Bring the growth.

Posted by Bryan | October 23, 2008 8:58 PM


eat a big fat piece of shit and move to dubai.

a picture doesn't offer up the pleasure of walking by and appreciating something in that building that catches your eye.

you'd prefer wonderful projects like century square, the old wamu tower and anything that matt driscoll touches?

Posted by holz | October 23, 2008 9:05 PM

What about the heritage they are trying to create?


Posted by elenchos | October 23, 2008 9:12 PM


Posted by Mr. Poe | October 23, 2008 9:28 PM

Couldn't they have used that terra cotta to ruin the Wall of Death ramp? Bastards.

Posted by stinkbug | October 23, 2008 10:05 PM

Way to do something everyone! I'm sure your bitching on Slog will solve things just like it did when they tore down the Ballard Dennys.

... Yah, real work or involvment would be a waste of time when you can do all this.

Posted by iain | October 23, 2008 10:19 PM

The posters in support of this destruction are completely ignorant of the value of preserving a city's historic heritage. The terracotta could have been incorporated into a new development, but the owners chose not to out of greed and contempt. The City of Seattle is equally to blame for its land-use codes and lack of a historic preservation ordinance. Seattle has manged to lose just about everything except Pioneer Square, Ballard Avenue, Columbia City, and the Market complex. Portland and Vancouver are far more progressive and advanced when it comes to building livable cities with rich urban character.

Posted by Disclaimer | October 23, 2008 10:34 PM

I recently took a tour of the new Clatter and Din studio which is under construction down in Sodo, in a "'hundred year old" brick building and they were explaining how the city forced them to do siesmic upgrades on pretty much everything including the roof. The entire thing had to be torn out and replaced. I don't know if this is the same case though... Sad to see it go.

Posted by Shane | October 23, 2008 11:33 PM

WTF Seattle, how is this allowed?? What a load of shit!

Posted by raisedbywolves | October 24, 2008 1:12 AM

The most frustrating thing is that it's basically wanton destruction; the terra cotta could have been salvaged even if they had removed it. But they are destroying it because they can. It's uncivilized.

Posted by litlnemo | October 24, 2008 2:43 AM

Sounds like Hummel Architects should make a point and move their offices. If the owner wants to anger the tenants by making the building look like shit, the tenants can take their money elsewhere.

Posted by EmilyP | October 24, 2008 9:01 AM


How did I know when I saw the initial post that Bellevue would add a comment that demonstrates his knowledge of the cost of a few things and his utter lack of understanding of the value of everything?

News flash - great cities such as New York and Paris would be lesser places if they didn't still have many (if not most) of their older buildings - even workaday ones.

Sad, but not surprising.

Posted by Mr. X | October 24, 2008 9:28 AM

So, just to be clear for everyone, per @27:

The Greg Nickels administration signed off on this "Voluntary seismic retrofit."

Posted by Trevor | October 24, 2008 10:34 AM

@21 - So, please explain to us why this particular building shouldn't be historically preserved? The fact is that it narrowly missed historic registration due only to a procedural mishap on the landmark board, not due to its inability to meet the criteria. This is a building that, by all commonly-accepted standards of historic preservation, should be preserved. Your assertion that we're only upset because we personally liked how the building looked speaks to your unwillingness to fully understand the situation.

Posted by Hernandez | October 24, 2008 11:14 AM

Small clarification. I did not state that the owners would have their hands tied by the preservation process. What I said was that they are under the impression that their hands would be tied, but that we have a different understanding of this based on the Cristalla project just down the street. Not having studied the project I can't say for sure, but in looking at this precedent it seems that they could develop the site to the maximum height & sq. ft. allowed by code and still retain the historic terra cotta of the existing building.

Posted by Joe woods | October 24, 2008 11:45 AM

building don't get landmark unless someone puts together a landmark package and proposes it for approval. it is a formal process that requires quite a bit of time and money, but it can be done by anyone. including any of us reading this right now.

Posted by andy | October 24, 2008 12:41 PM

I'll add to Joe's comments above and hopefully clarify some of the concerns expressed in earlier comments.
I'm not saying owners should be denied development rights. They buy commercial property with the intention that it will be valuable and profitable. Not very many companies buy properties to just preserve it with no future increase in happens, but not often. I don't know any home owners that would take that approach with their own property so I don't see the need to expect business to do that.
My point is that this owner was misguided in their assumption that they would be denied any future development of the property if it had historical status. There are three very good examples of properties in this city that both preserved a historic facade AND achieved maximum development potential: Cristalla, the 1201 Tower (old WAMU Tower) and the Columbia Tower.
The MJA buildings historic components are not the structure or the windows or the's the terra cotta facade. Everything else could go and a whole new building put up in it's place with the terra cotta facade at its base. Cristalla did it most recently and that historic base helps give an otherwise unacceptional design some character.
I also agree that one persons historic facade is another persons eye sore, but as an architect that has spent a majority of my career taking eye sores and converting them into valuable property without selling their souls, this is an opportunity missed. As the song says..."you don't know what you got 'till its gone".

Posted by jeffrey Hummel | October 24, 2008 1:56 PM

We are all really sad here next door as we watch the terra cotta being ripped off and discarded in the dumpster. It's sickening.. What's worse is all the people working there at Weinstein have their windows foamed over so that they can be in a dark cave while they hear the destruction of their little gem of a home outside. It's really adding insult to injury to all of the architects who work there every day!

Posted by Christine | October 24, 2008 2:23 PM

Seattle has it's head up it's ass when it comes to historic preservation. The people weep and moan over a derelict chain restaurant but pay no attention to the charming well crafted house next door that was also demolished. We tear down the most beautiful and well maintained buildings but no one seems to notice that pile of crap at fist and seneca (there's a playground on the corner lot!)

Posted by BoB | October 28, 2008 10:07 AM

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