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A DRIVE-THRU LANDMARK?
January 2nd, 2011 by Clark Humphrey

There’s talk about seeking historic preservation status for the doomed Bank of America drive-thru branch at Broadway and East Thomas.

SRM Development wants to establish the right to tear the bank branch and three adjacent buildings down. That’s so the four buildings (and a back parking lot, where the Capitol Hill Farmers Market has been held in recent years) could eventually make way for another of those retail-residential mixed use projects that were so popular a few years ago.

Right now there’s still a surplus of storefront and condo spaces, on the Hill and in the greater Seattle area. But SRM is betting that, as the economy eventually improves, this backlog will eventually fill up, leaving a market for new projects again.

In December, SRM learned that the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods has formally begun to investigate whether the B of A building was worth landmark status. This status, if granted, would not automatically prevent the building’s demolition, but it would make the developer jump some more bureaucratic hurdles.

The building in question was built by Seattle-First National Bank, for more than 50 years the state’s dominant bank.

“Seafirst” (as it was later known) and its predecessors gave Seattle many true landmark buildings. In downtown alone, the Seafirst heritage includes three of its headquarters buildings—the Dexter Horton Building, the 1969 Seafirst Tower on Fourth Avenue (now known as “Safeco Plaza”), and its last headquarters, the Columbia Center (the tallest building west of the Mississippi).

Several original Seafirst branch offices are also landmarks, or could be. In that roster, I’d include the relatively huge (for neighborhood branch banks) brick edifices in SoDo (still used by B of A) and on Denny Way (now a Walgreens).

But the Broadway branch building’s a more quesitonable candidate for landmark status. It was built in 1967, to a standard suburban-style prototype Seafirst was using at the time.

It presents a slate facade and a small rock garden to the street, and a blank wall to its barren side plaza. It’s never been a particularly pretty or pedestrian-friendly spot. Its drive-thru window is a quintessential example of the ’60s “car culture” City officials now want to discourage.

Two of the other three buildings SRM wants to replace as part of the development scheme have far more character. They’re the old First Security Bank building (later a Crown Books, most recently housing a salon and a pho restaurant) and the old Cafe Septieme/Andy’s Cafe building. The former sports an institutional white facade, symbolizing an image of comfortable solidity banks used to care about promoting. The latter is a quaintly aged neighborhood diner structure.

If the City’s willing to let those buildings fall, for the sake of higher residential density near the future light rail station, there’s no real reason to keep the B of A building standing.

(The bank itself plans to move back onto the block when the retail/residential complex is built, and to temporarily occupy other space on the Hill during the construction.)

(Cross posted with the Capitol Hill Times.)


One Response  
  • Art Marriott writes:
    January 3rd, 201112:16 pmat

    Clark,

    There are a few places around here where at least parts of old bank edifices have been preserved, one of them being just the entrance of one of the old brick-and-terra-cotta Seafirst buildings in Lake City, which became the centerpiece of a mini-park of sorts. However, that one preserved the old Seafirst logo in stone above the archway. If the building on Cap Hill doesn’t have something like that…well, in a few years it’s likely nobody will want to be reminded of BofA and its recent dismal track record of mismanagement and greed.


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