Board votes 6-3 to landmark Denny’s building

After over two hours of presentations, comments and debate in front of a standing-room only crowd, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board voted 6-3 to designate the exterior of the Ballard Denny’s a city landmark. “I’m very surprised,” said Alan Michelson, who spoke out in favor of saving the Denny’s. “I couldn’t tell which way they were going. It was tortuous.” Before the vote, many of the board members admitted they were “on the fence.” The building “has a hard time crossing the integrity threshold,” board member Ronald Martinson said. Christine Howard said she was “struggling with the integrity.” But board member Stephen Lee (on the right below) led the charge in favor of saving the building. “To me this building bookends Ballard and still has enough integrity,” he said, noting that he lives nearby.

After ten minutes of discussion — which followed a lengthy presentation by land owner Benaroya Companies as well as public comment — the board reluctantly took it to a vote. Martinson and Howard were among the six board members who ended up voting in favor.

John McCullough, the attorney hired by Benaroya and Rhapsody, made it clear after the vote that they’re weren’t done fighting. “The issue is not to build on the remaining property,” he told the surrounding media (photo below). “The issue is what the land owner paid for (it).”

McCullough said the next step is to show that the board’s decision “deprives the property owner of economic use of the site,” which goes to the Hearing Examiner and ultimately the Seattle City Council. When asked about an alternative plan suggested by Grace Architects that would incorporate the restaurant along with the same number of condos (below), McCullough said it’s “highly unlikely to obtain the 125-foot rezone” that the plan would require.

Meanwhile, a group of Denny’s supporters who gathered down the hallway after the vote proclaimed they were ready for the next stage of the fight. “There will be plenty of opportunity to rehabilitate the building effectively and make it an integral part of the community,” Michelson said, who’s the head of the architecture library at the UW. “With minimal effort,” he added.

The room was packed for the board session. Only a small handful of the public who addressed the board spoke out in opposition of landmarking the building. One of them was Ken Alhadeff, the owner of Majestic Bay Theatres. “If you choose to designate, you must be part of the solution,” he told the board. “And then what? What’s the next step? Who will restore it? What will it be?”

Our minute-by-minute coverage of the meeting follows below…

6:30pm – The final decision by the Landmarks Preservation Board means that the Mannings/Denny’s building cannot be torn down and replaced by condos.

6:25pm – The Mannings/Denny’s building has been designated a landmark. Approved, 6 to 3. Gasps and applause from the crowd.

6:20pm – This will be a close vote. The board members on the fence are listening to the others.

6:00pm – The first board member to speak after the public comment says he’s “on the fence.” The second, Ronald Martinson, said there’s a good case to be made on two of the landmarking criteria. But “it has a hard time crossing the integrity threshold.” The third, Marie Strong, also questions the integrity. The fourth board member to speak, Vernon Abelsen, said he will support the designation. The fifth, Mollie Tremaine, said “the building is in terrible shape” and doesn’t convey historic significance. Board member Czarina Nicholas says she attracted to the style it conveys, and says it is a strong icon to the community. But she said she’s “on the fence.” The seventh, Christine Howard, says it meets the distinctiveness criteria, but she’s “struggling with the integrity.” The eighth board member, Mark Hammon, says it is a prominent building, and could be very attractive if restored. But he said it has deteriorated too much for his vote. Now down to last board member to talk, Stephen Lee, who lives in Ballard, says he will vote in favor of landmarking.

5:55pm– The board discussion has begun. Vote coming soon…

5:45pm – The owner of Majestic Bay theater voiced his opposition to the designation. “If you choose to designate, you must be part of the solution. And then what? What’s the next step? Who will restore it?”. So far, he’s the only person from the public here to oppose the designation.

5:35pm – “This building is a fine example of Googie architecture,” said a archtectural historian, who presented two books on Googie architecture that highlight the Manning’s building. One man came forward with a proposed new design integrating the Denny’s building, but the board would not allow him to show it.

5:30pm – “The Mannings building has retained its character defining features,” said one supporter. “I ask the board to make history today.”

5:25pm – The board staff says it “does not recommend” landmark status. This is not the board’s official vote, which is coming up after a public comment period.

5:20pm – “You can’t really identify this building… as a style,” McColough said. “There’s just no unity,” added Sobol.

5:15pm – the board is now asking questions. One board member asked why the presentation focused so much on disassociating the building from Googie when the Polynesian influence may contribute to “period distinctiveness.”

5:10pm – “What you see if you designate is what you get,” Jack McColough said, urging the board not to “lower the bar” and “undermine” its credibility. He said a survey in Ballard revealed that more than 60 percent don’t want the Denny’s preserved.

5:05pm – Benaroya Companies are wrapping up their arguments

– Historian Judith Sobol, from Los Angeles, is giving a history lesson on Googie buildings, complete with plenty of Powerpoint photos. Sobol is deconstructing photos of the original Mannings building, pointing out differences from classic Googie architecure. “This is not a Googie building,” she said.

4:45pm – UC Berkeley’s Timothy Rood, brought in by Benaroya, is providing background on Bay Area architect Clarence Mayhew, who designed the original Manning’s building. Rood says he would be “very hard put to associate that building with him” given Mayhew’s previous designs.

4:35pm – Benaroya’s architectural historian said the building is a mixture of Googie, Scandinavian and Polynesian influence, or “Scandigooginesian.” Laughter from the crowd. The architectural historian is showing photos along 15th Ave to support his case that the building is not visibly prominent, despite being on a “key intersection.”
4:20pm – Benaroya’s chief architect on the project, Arthur Chang, is showing a new set of plans and photos showing the structural changes in 1984.

4:15pm – Benaroya Companies has six people presenting its case, ranging from architects to historians. Two experts were brought in from California.

4:05pm – The discussion on the Denny’s location is underway. The crowd now stretches out the door.

4:00pm – One more property to go before the Denny’s item, which should begin in 10 to 15 minutes.

3:50pm – Marc Nemirow with Benaroya Companies, which owns the property, was asked just before the meeting began how he’s doing. “We’ll see in a couple hours,” he said.

3:35pm – About 100 people have crammed themselves into a small meeting room here in downtown Seattle to hear the Landmarks Preservation Board rule on the Ballard Denny’s. The meeting has just begun, and the item on the agenda is scheduled for approximately 4pm.

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