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From Charm to Ruins to Waste

Eastlake is seeing a lot of demolition, but the hardest to watch fall are the old vintage houses and apartment buildings. I’ve probably been watching too many “Rehab Addict” reruns, being addicted to “Rehab Addict,” but something about seeing those old houses brought back to their former glory makes me high. Nikki Curtis, the show’s star, goes out in search of old wood flooring, doors, and built-ins to replace what’s been torn out of old structures, that cry, according to her, “Make me pretty again!”

So when there was a recent post on the Eastlake Social Club Facebook page about the sunny yellow bungalow on Minor Ave. being brought down (pictured above), I hoped that at the very least parts of it would be recycled or salvaged to find a new home in a house being restored or maybe repurposed to add some character to new construction.

After the demolition of the house on Minor Ave.

After the demolition of the house on Minor Ave.

But it turns out that was not the case as neighbors commented. Well how hard could it be to salvage the special architectural features of a house, was there a demand for it?

Not hard at all, and yes.

The demolition debris -- in it: smashed windows, iron railings, lots of old wood, and even a new washing machine, according to a neighbor.

The demolition debris — in it: smashed windows, iron railings, lots of old wood, and even a new washing machine, according to a neighbor.

The city of Seattle encourages it. And there are all kinds of good reasons for doing it – keeping the waste out of a landfill for one, providing jobs for the local reuse and recycling industry for another.

And that industry is hungry for salvage – architectural, plumbing, lumber, you name it.

The salvage shop closest to Lake Union, RE Store, over in Ballard no longer exists (although they do have a store in Bellingham), but there are two others, both in the SODO district, that are doing a lively business. Earthwise is a little hidden gem on 4th avenue near the West Seattle Bridge; it’s fun, like stumbling onto a Pee-Wee Herman set, and vast. Items are haphazardly and creatively arranged drawing you in.

Earthwise in SODO -- happy to salvage.

Earthwise in SODO — happy to salvage.

A few blocks away on 6th Avenue, the arty setting of Earthwise, gives way to a Home Depot-like atmosphere at Second Use. Second Use is huge with aisles and aisles of items inside and out, and was busy, this Saturday, with a line of pick-up trucks out front and customers loading goods.

A helpful clerk at Second Use let me know that stock turns quickly, usually within two weeks, so if I wanted something, I shouldn’t wait, and that the website is updated with some two hundred items daily, with measurements down to the eighth of an inch.

So what to do when there’s word of a vintage, unique structure that’s going to be torn down? The store manager for Earthwise told me over the phone that they’d love to hear about it. They’d be happy to reach out to the owner or contractor for permission to remove whatever non-structural items might sell. And Second Use had large moving vans in the parking lot at the ready waiting for calls.

Second Use, also in SODO, with trucks at the ready.

Second Use, also in SODO, with trucks at the ready.

Another option before demolition, one in the architect’s hands, would be something like Ada’s Technical Bookstore on Capitol Hill. It’s a wonderful example of combining new and existing architecture, taking the old Horizon House bookstore and morphing it into something bigger and modern. Ninety percent of the original wood was reused in the new structure. Last year, Ada’s won a Historic Seattle award for “Preserving Neighborhood Character.”  It would be great to see more of that kind of creative, adaptive reuse of old houses and apartment buildings that adds density but keeps the neighborhood charm.

 

Breaking News:  A little more searching on the web, and it turns out that the RE Store itself has been salvaged. It has a new life as Ballard Reuse.

 

Lake Union Photographs on Display at Cafe Senso Unico

A wonderful display of Lake Union photographs that look like watercolors is on display through March 28 at Cafe Senso Unico in downtown Seattle, 622 Olive Way, Seattle, WA 98101. I just happened to stumble across them on my lunch hour while doing errands and ducking into the cafe for a cup of caffeine to get me through the second half of the day.

The jewel color prints caught my eye as familiar houseboats, but I didn’t realize how familiar until I got up close.  They’re by Thea Yeannakis, a 28-year-old artist, who grew up on a Eastlake houseboat, went to TOPS-Seward School, Nathan Hale, and the UW, and still lives on an Eastlake houseboat.

The photos all framed and for sale at reasonable prices, capture that magical feel of Lake Union and are definitely worth the visit to the downtown cafe.

For more info contact Thea at M.Design.Thea@Gmail.com

Here are a couple of the images I snapped on my cell phone, though it doesn’t really do them justice:

 

Houseboat 1 photo

Houseboat 2 photo

Lake Union Steam Plant building turns 100

The Lake Union Steam Plant that now houses ZymoGenetics turns one hundred years old this year. It’s been called the monument on Lake Union, and its story is, well, monumental. It’s one of auspicious birth – built at the start of the electric age; heroic life – providing emergency power for the city; shocking death – discovery of toxic waste; and finally resurrection – the renovation into a modern biogenetics laboratory. It begins like many great stories with a prequel – the Hydro House.

Hydro House

Squeezed between ZymoGenetics and an old renovated warehouse the gnome-like structure of the Hydro House on Eastlake Avenue is easy to miss and a delight to find. It was built in response to a young city’s growing energy needs and to a possible failure in the Cedar River dam.

Hydro House in 1912; notice 40" pipe being installed on left. Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives

Hydro House in 1912; notice 40″ pipe being installed on left. Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives

At the turn of the 19th century, electricity was changing people’s lives in ways analogous to today’s technological revolution. As with information technology, Seattle took a leading role in electrical power. The first light bulb in Seattle, also the first west of the Rockies, “flickered to life” in just 1886, according to a HistoryLink essay. Some twenty years later, in 1905, the Cedar River Falls hydroelectric facility became “the nation’s first municipally owned hydro project,” according to Seattle City Light.

The early users of electricity, industry and commerce provided steady growth for the utility. But by the end of the first decade, a new market was opening – the home. No sooner were additional generators planned for the Cedar River station than it was apparent even more would be needed.

“The support given the municipal plant by the Seattle citizens was so enthusiastic that it became necessary to plan extensions almost as soon as service began,” a 1931 City of Seattle Department of Lighting Annual Report notes in its history section.

By 1910 city engineers decided to just tap all the energy potential of the Cedar River site by means of a large concrete dam. But there was a risk involved with the dam, a potential failure of one of the dam’s reservoir walls. To provide enough power to the city while resolving that issue, Seattle needed a back-up power source and planned for a coal-fed steam plant on the south end of Lake Union.

In 1911 voters approved financing for the initial phase of the Steam Plant. Yet it too couldn’t be built fast enough. Since actual power from the Steam Plant was still a few years away, the possibility of building a small hydro facility on the site was re-introduced. The idea for a hydro project on Lake Union had first been raised in January 1902 to power city street lights. But its funding instead went toward the much larger Cedar River Falls hydro electric project.

Now the timing was right. The Hydro House was quickly built and put into service by 1912 for a cost of about $30,000.

The Hydro House was innovative. It used the latent power of the Volunteer Park Reservoir. Overflow water propelled by gravity fell through a 40-inch pipe some 3,400 feet long with a drop of 412 feet to generate 1,500 kilowatts of power. Technically it was the city’s second electrical generating facility.

In reality, “the unit was too small to be a real factor in supplying the rapidly increasing demand but it was the first auxiliary power source for the City,” again according to the 1931 report, “and paid for itself many times over during its first three years as a standby plant in emergency.”

The Hydro House as it is today viewed from Eastlake Avenue.

The Hydro House as it is today viewed from Eastlake Avenue.

The Hydro House, originally called the Power House, is now a local landmark structure. In 1987 architect, preservationist and former Eastlake Community Council board member Susan Boyle nominated both it and the adjacent Steam Plant for landmark status in a well-researched, 15-page, single-spaced, typed nomination form.

The building was designed by Daniel Riggs Huntington, the City Architect from 1911-1925, who also designed many other still-standing historic structures. The Fremont Library, also a Huntington design, bears a familial resemblance to the Hydro House. Both are Mission Revival Style structures. Although, “the Lake Union Power House was a contradictory hybrid,” notes Boyle, “a new building type [electrical] clothed in an old style.”

Boyle describes the Hydro House as “a single story, wood and concrete frame structure with a basement level below the grade of Eastlake Avenue. The primary elevation is the east one on Eastlake Avenue (original drawings show no indication of Fairview Avenue, which was built later on pilings). The building is stucco-clad, clay tile, gable-roofed structure, with its ridge running parallel to the street.”

She notes that there are two small concrete towers on the structure that originally contained cross arms for transmission lines.

“The original roof towers clearly expressed the use of the building and the simple symmetrical arrangements of elements spoke of its utility, but the building’s size and style gave it a domestic character.”

A window outlook sat squarely on the roof ridge, for visually monitoring those early transmission lines. The thick north and south concrete walls of the Hydro House rise to form low roof parapets that were likely “designed to serve as fire walls to separate the Power House from neighboring buildings.”

An inset entryway was changed shortly after construction. “A pair of panel doors with a glass transom was originally set into the front opening at the east elevation to provide a small covered entry,” writes Boyle. “This was changed in 1914 when the doors were moved forward to their present location on the face of the building.”

Other changes include “the removal of grillwork and installation of windows at the two dormers and gable ends. When the building ceased to operate as a generating plant, the cross arms and exterior wires were removed. But for these changes, the exterior of the Power House today is original.”
As for the interior, only the original concrete walls and roof trusses remain.
Comparing the design of the Hydro House with the neighboring Steam Plant “clearly suggests the revolutionary character of the later building.”

The Hydro House was quickly eclipsed when the initial phase of the Steam Plant was completed in 1914. The Hydro House’s main floor, formerly a storage area (with the generators in the basement), became a lunch and locker room for Seattle City Light steam plant employees. And its loft became a darkroom for the city’s Engineering Department staff photographers.

The Hydro House continued to serve as an emergency back-up power source for some 18 years. In 1932 it was finally shut down entirely. Its generators were said to have been sold to a Christian radio station in Ecuador calling itself “The Voice of the Andes.”

“The only remnant of power generation within the Power House,” writes Boyle, “is a braced concrete pier in the basement that once supported the turbines.” Another remnant exists outside, beneath Fairview Avenue, amidst the pilings and partially submerged in Lake Union’s shallow waters, the large outflow pipe of the generators.

Hydro House today viewed from Fairview Avenue. Sketch by Karen Berry.

Hydro House today viewed from Fairview Avenue. Sketch by Karen Berry.

Today the Hydro House has a new life, owned by ZymoGenetics, and leased out as a restaurant to The Great Northwest Soup Company. In this way it still functions as it once did as a lunchroom to employees in the larger building. The restaurant is open to the public Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. While enjoying a breakfast or lunch at the Hydro House, you can look up to see those original roof trusses and also wander outside onto a modern patio for a view of Lake Union.

Next: “Life of a Steam Plant.”

A version of this article was first published in the Eastlake News, the Eastlake Community Council’s newsletter.

Lake Union resident one of five  arrested in Everett for blocking oil train Sept. 2 tells why they, and he, did it

I am a veteran climate activist.  I have written about the climate crisis for over 25 years and for most of the last 15 worked full-time to advance climate solutions.  I have spent a lot of time trying to stop global warming sitting in front of a computer.  On September 2, 2014 it was time to sit in front of a train.

Continue reading An arresting experience…

Delta Tripod shot

In case you missed it, the Modern Love column in the New York Times a couple of weeks back features Seattle as one of its settings and Gas Works Park as the turning point for finding love or almost finding it:

A few nights later, we met again. On top of a small knoll at an abandoned gas factory converted into a park, we had a conversation I’d had a few times before.

“I like you,” I said, “but I’m not ready for a relationship.” This was my standard pain-prevention opening line.

“Me either,” Jason said. “Let’s just have fun.”

“O.K.,” I said. “Good.”

We stared out at the black water of Lake Union, our fingers casually interlace

Each Sunday the Modern Love column features a different author, a different story, about how love appears in our modern times. Rachel Newmann’s Seattle-setting story, also features rides on The No. 9 Metro bus, and The Stranger newspaper plays a pivotal role. Find out what happens. Is love lost or found? Here’s the essay: Waiting Patiently for the Wall to Crumble

 

Gas Works gets a nice write up on Ziptopia, a blog sponsored by Zip Car of all things. In particular it highlights how close Gas Works came to never being realized but thanks to the relentless vision of its architect:

Given that discussion of what to do with the site started in 1962 when the City of Seattle acquired it after the plant had shut down, many people strolling through the park may have no idea just how groundbreaking Gas Works Parks is. When the city ultimately decided to turn it into a public place, most people assumed that the structures would be removed.

“What was unique in this situation was a landscape architect convincing a city that an industrial site could be reused as an open space,” Brooks says.

That’s just what Haag did. He explored every nook and cranny of the site, and the idea slowly came to him to keep some of the structures of the old plant. “I had no rock outcroppings and no sacred trees. Not much there except these wonderful iron totemic structures. The more I was around there, the more I bonded with those things. And I thought, ‘Yup, I’ve got to save them,’” Haag explains in a recently recorded oral history project.

Initially, it seemed most everyone in the city opposed the idea of retaining the structures, with both daily newspapers coming out against the plan. But Haag finally won over the community.

Richard Haag also described his struggle at an Eastlake Community Council meeting last year featuring videos of Lake Union History:

The park was originally going to be named for Myrtle Edwards. The park concept was being spearheaded by her family, but the family was adamantly against saving the structures and denounced the idea at public meetings. The sentiment from the family and many members of the public was, “Save that pile of junk?  What is going on here?”

Haag had a painting commissioned to show how the park might eventually look with the gas works and revealed it at a public hearing that over 700 people attended. That helped sway public opinion enough to let the project go forward.  The Edwards family withdrew the councilwoman’s name for the park. And instead the park, the first of its kind, became most known for, as Haag referred to them, its “industrial ruins.”

Fallen cyclist was Wallingford resident

The Wallyhood blog reports that the bicyclist who was killed downtown at 2nd and University was a Wallingford resident and that a fund for her family has been set up in her honor:

We’re very sad to report that Sher Kung, who lived near the Ladybug here in Wallingford, was struck and killed by a truck while on her bicylce Friday morning. KIRO reports that she was traveling in the left side of the street bicycle lane on 2nd Ave, and that “witnesses said the bicyclist was heading south in the bicycle lane next to the truck when she was hit as the driver made the left turn.”

Sher was a lawyer at Perkins Coie law firm. She leaves behind her partner Christine Sanders and their seven month old daughter, Bryn.

Her neighbor Paul McClinton let us know that Sher was earning a living for the family at the time of her death, so a fund has been created to help the family. More information on the fund here.

A beautiful makeshift memorial featuring two white bikes and heaps of flowers has appeared at corner near where the accident happened (photo below).

memorial at 2nd ave

Catching sight of the elusive blue heron

Catching sight of a blue heron is a rare but not unheard of treat. (I know of at least one person who has been out on the lake numerous times over many years and has never seen one.)

But a blue heron occasionally makes visits to the commercial dock on the south end of Fairview Ave. and Hamlin St. where business-owner, manicurist E. Marie works. She’s been catching sight of them for years but always sans cell phone. Finally this past week she caught some pictures of the elusive bird. The grainy dream-like photos only seem to add to its mystery.

BH on dock

BH lower head

IMG_20140829_200208_192

BH with sunset and houseboat

photos by E. Marie

 

 

Memorial for Visionary Architect Philip Thiel at the Center for Wooden Boats

Movie stars and rock legends don’t make me swoon, but 92-year-old architects with visions of public plazas dancing through their heads, now that’s something to write home about.

The caption under his picture says it all, “Citizen Thiel fights for a plaza above Brooklyn Station with his weapon of choice: an architectural model.”

And that’s what he had the first and only time I saw him; two years ago he came to speak in front of the Sound Transit Board (where I work – disclaimer!) pulling that architectural model out from under his arm and good naturedly made his case for a public plaza that would be like the great ones in Venice, Paris, and Rome.

It was, he told the Sound Transit board, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Sign me up, Mom.

Photo by John Stamets

Photo by John Stamets

But the Professor Emeritus of Architecture and Urban Planning at the UW didn’t get to see his battle through, let alone won.  Philip Thiel died peacefully May 10, 2014 surrounded by family and friends. The fight for a public space above the Sound Transit University District Station is still undecided. The question is will it be the expected development, likely office space, over the underground light rail stop that opens in 2021, or will it be what Thiel envisioned, a public space along the lines of a European plaza.

The cause has been taken up by many others since being launched by Citizen Thiel.

One of those others helping to carry the torch is Cory Crocker who came across one of Thiel’s type written flyers promoting the plaza idea lying on a table at Café Allegro in the U District. Thiel had left the flyers around the café where he enjoyed free life-time coffee (thanks to another public space battle he led, that one, on the café’s behalf).

After seeing the flyer Crocker called Thiel. He helped take the cause high tech by setting up a website for U District Square – the heart shaped logo design was Thiel’s, and Thiel’s early passionate, type written flyers are posted on the site’s blog.

Thiel was insistent that community action could change the course of development, says Crocker, that government agencies and public institutions worked in silos without always seeing the big picture or understanding what was in the public good. Neighbors, Thiel felt, had to rise up and give direction, says Crocker. “Public streets really are owned by us.”

Crocker says Thiel put the idea of a public square out there showing that it could catch hold, become contagious.

Thiel was giving directions and providing inspiration for the square even from his deathbed.  Says Crocker, “his mind was sharp to the end.”

A memorial celebration for Phil Thiel will take place at the Center for Wooden Boats on August 17. Naval architecture was a first passion for Thiel, so it’s appropriate that the arc of his life would be celebrated there. He had a special affinity for designing pedal boats and tiny houseboats that as one commenter replied put everything wonderful together, tiny houses, boating, and bicycling.

The memorial is open to the public. Family and friends welcome those wanting to help support the cause of a public square in the U District and just ask that folks RSVP through the U District website for planning purposes at www.udistrictsquare.org/memorial.

Joining other visionary Seattle architects who have left their mark on the city, perhaps sipping a coffee at a small table, Thiel will likely be watching it all, as his family has said, from that great plaza in the sky.

Chocolate Topped MOHAI

Chocolate goes with a lot of things: coffee, raspberries, and naked performance artists, but the Museum of History and Industry seemed like a bit of a stretch. Yet that sexy aphrodisiac is on display there, and of course when you get right down to it chocolate is an industry and has a history, so the exhibit at MOHAI,  once you get your mind around it, like chocolate with oranges, makes yet another perfect combination.

The exhibit which is on tour from Chicago’s Field Museum is as rich and a varied as its subject, taking you from deep in the Amazon rain forest where the cacao tree grew undiscovered for centuries with only birds sipping its fruit’s nectar and dropping the fruit’s bitter seeds, where chocolate comes from, on the fertile rain forest soil to its discovery by ancient civilizations where it was made into a spicy drink and revered.

Then Spaniards conquering South America found it, not quite gold but close enough; it was also used as currency by native people. Its history takes an especially brutal turn when sugar and cocoa are married by Europeans. One simple display says it all: an elegant teaspoon spilling its holding of sugar – the value of a day‘s work for a slave.

When you come to the modern age, there’s a reminder that all is still not well in the world of commercial chocolate but the rise of artisan chocolates is helping to change that with fair trade and sustainable farming practices. And chocolate is another good reason to save our global rainforests, cocao’s natural home.

The exhibition, which runs through September 28, is all ages friendly with a lot interactive elements for kids, and MOHAI is offering additional toppings to go with it including a double-chocolate feature outdoor movie night August 23 of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Chocolat.

“But there’s something missing,” I said to my husband as we left the exhibit. “Yes,” he said, “samples.”

So for a quick fix, visit MOHAI’s gift shop, which offers a nice selection of local chocolates. Or make a plan to head over to your favorite chocolatier and savor the food first offered only to kings and gods.