Our Northwest

Landmark status not always permanent protection

Tuesday, August 9, 2016by  Jon Osterberg
The Seattle Times reported yesterday that crews are inspecting the newspaper's former building for its impending demolition. And despite ongoing eviction efforts, squatters continue to live inside the boarded-up Fairview Avenue structure.
     What baffles some is, how can a historic landmark be demolished? The city officially designated the Times building a Seattle Landmark in August 1995.
     Seattle's Historic Preservation webpage explains, "There are fewer restrictions than you might think since the goal is to manage change, not to eliminate it."
     Seattle protects its landmarks by reviewing and approving modifications – presumably, in this case, including demolition. The new property owners, Omni Group, plan to build two new residential towers on the Times site.
     Squatters living inside the building have started fires, threatening public safety and hastening that demolition schedule.
     It's a common misperception that, once designated as a historic landmark, a building is protected forever and can't be demolished. The best explanation I found comes from the City of Los Angeles: "Landmark designation ensures a more thorough review of demolition proposals, but it does not prohibit demolition outright."
     Typically, most cities' historic preservation councils can object to and delay a demolition, but only for six months to a year.
     "Even listing in the National Register of Historic Places, which sounds more elevated than 'mere' local listing, does not provide for more iron-clad protection," says the City of Los Angeles document.
     Interesting to note, a close reading of Seattle's 1995 landmark-designation report lists the Times building's earlier locations, still around today:
  • From 1896-1901, 2nd Avenue and Columbia Street
  • 1901-1916, 2nd Avenue and Union Street
  • 1916-1931, Times Square Building at 4th and 5th, between Olive and Stewart Street.

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