Eastlake

An After Thanksgiving Walk Around Lake Union

UFO sightings, new geological formations, signs of the times, and holiday cheer; walking is when you really see things, despite the boring stretches (as one of our party complained).

Or maybe because of them.

Here are a few photos of things that caught our eye the day after Thanksgiving:

A UFO above the trees on the Burke Gilman Trail.

A UFO above the trees on the Burke Gilman Trail.

Many Blue Herons show up around Lake Union  though we did not see any of the actual feathered kind.

Many Blue Herons show up around Lake Union though we did not see any of the actual feathered kind.

The most enchanted place on the lake, the Spur Line trestle.

The most enchanted place on the lake, the Spur Line trestle.

Sign of the times: "Wake Up America Bernie Sanders for President." (This place always has intriguing signs.)

Sign of the times: “Wake Up America Bernie Sanders for President.” (This place always has intriguing signs.)

And artwork -- more signs of the times.

And artwork — more signs of the times.

Startling damage from the November 5 marina fire.

Startling damage from the November 5 marina fire.

South Lake Union holiday cheer.

South Lake Union holiday cheer.

Ducks enjoy a new Eastlake pond where sidewalk and parking once existed.

Ducks enjoy a new Eastlake pond where sidewalk and parking once existed.

And another temporary geological formation -- the Seattle canyon.

And another temporary geological formation — the Seattle canyon.

 

Modern bridge to replace Fairview Avenue trestle

Seattle Department of Transportation held an open house last night about plans to replace the 65-year-old  Fairview Trestle that runs beside the historic Lake Union Steam Plant building with a modern bridge. Construction of the new bridge is planned for spring 2017, and that’s when the detours would start.

SDOT had hoped to leave at least one lane open on the old bridge during construction, but that would have prolonged the project by at least six months, so they are opting for a quicker construction schedule of 15 to 18 months as opposed to 24. Quicker construction reduces costs and might be less inconvenient all around.

The most likely detour, said a SDOT representative, will be Aloha Street to Eastlake Avenune (but SDOT is also looking at Republican Street). If Aloha is chosen, the street will be resigned to allow for better traffic flow, signal priority and a left turn lane back onto Fairview south of construction site, where one is not currently allowed.

Fairview Detour edit

(Photos are of a few of the design boards from the Open House.)

There is a stairway just north of Silver Could Inn that could be improved for pedestrian access, the SDOT official added.

The new bridge will exactly replace the old bridge in size, 65 feet wide, but will have wider car lanes and a two-way bicycle track, along with sidewalks on either side. To allow for the seeming expansions, the seven foot buffer lane is disappearing.

The floating walkway beside the bridge will also be removed and may be replaced if permitting allows. There are design plans for it.

Rendering of new Fairview Avenue Bridge.

Rendering of new Fairview Avenue Bridge.

The new bridge will have three lookout points and lots of new native plant vegetation and hardscaping (stones and pathways) on either end leading up to it.

Fairview Plants

Improved landscaping will bookend the bridge.

It will be strong enough to hold a streetcar should the streetcar be extended to Eastlake and up Roosevelt, but that is not the reason for the trestle replacement. At 65 the trestle has outlived its useful life and is not earthquake sound.

For more information and to comment go to SDOT website.

Cautionary Land Use Tales: The Battle of Roanoke Reef

It’s Halloween and it seems like an appropriate time to put up our first article in an on-going series of “Cautionary Land Use Tales.” Because it’s a little scary to think of what might have been… 

It is the Seattle land use fight by which all others are judged. Thirteen years, from 1967 to 1980, dozens of public hearings, and file cabinets of lawsuits concluded in victory for the neighborhoods of Lake Union.

Since 1962, neighborhood activists had warned that zoning loopholes could allow massive office and residential buildings along the shorelines and above the waters of Lake Union – replacing houseboats and water-dependent businesses.  State and city governments lent a deaf ear to the threat.

In 1967, neighborhood fears were realized when a building permit application for a seven-story condominium was filed for the foot of East Roanoke Street. Existing were pleasure craft moorages– some covered, some not – spread out around the Riviera Marina that housed Bill Boeing’s weathered 1916 Seaplane Station. The proposed “Roanoke Reef Condominium” was to be built on a 480’ x 100’ concrete platform located just north of East Roanoke Street – just above the waters of Lake Union. The application read: one story of concrete parking garage, then six stories of wood frame with stucco face and tinted-bronze glass.  It boasted a heated pool, glass enclosed lanais, television security system, three elevators and 168 luxury units.

Houseboaters and upland neighbors rallied against the proposed project and won outright.  The 1967 building permit for the Roanoke Reef Condominium was denied. But the battle of Roanoke Reef wasn’t over; in fact it had only just begun.

*

In 1969, Fairview Boat Works just north of the foot of East Lynn Street was demolished and construction began on a five story, 98-unit over-the-water apartment house (now the 48-unit Union Harbor Condo). Union Harbor was permitted and built before neighbors could organize meaningful opposition.  Within months, five more proposals to build mega-unit over-the-water apartment houses along Fairview Avenue East were announced.  A speculative feeding frenzy had begun, and Roanoke Reef re-surfaced as a five story, 112-unit condo proposal.

The newly formed citywide citizens group CHECC (Choose an Effective City Council) prodded state and local government to address the problem of Lake Union’s inadequate zoning, and zoning loopholes were eventually closed in such a way as to discourage four of the five over-the-water development plans. One permit was issued, however, to Roanoke Reef. The permit application was submitted to the Seattle Building Department on May 7, 1969.  It was “conditionally issued” the next day.  Building permits were either approved or denied, so to neighbors the permit spread a strong stench of impropriety.

In the end the battle of Roanoke Reef centered on what would turn out to be an illegally issued building permit.

Proposed 112-unit over the water structure aka "Roanoke Reef"

Proposed 112-unit over the water structure aka “Roanoke Reef”

*

Since individual plaintiffs could be held personally liable for construction delays while officers of non-profit corporations were protected, a first legal strategy was the creation of a non-profit community organization for upland residents. The Eastlake Community Council (ECC) was formed in 1971. Among its official purposes was (and still is) “to maximize public use and enjoyment of the inland waters and shorelines adjoining the Eastlake community.”  ECC worked with the Floating Homes Association (FHA, founded in 1962) to fight the vested permit. But each time the building permit was set to expire, the City renewed it.

Enactment of the 1971 Shoreline Management Act should have ended the project outright.  But “construction” on Roanoke Reef began March 15, just weeks before the SMA’s June 1 effective date, with workers driving 10 concrete pilings into the lakebed.

Although community scuba divers proved the pilings were haphazardly placed and certainly only symbolic, the city again renewed the building permit.

In a June 23, 1971 letter to the Eastlake Community Council’s co-founder Phyllis Boyker, then-Mayor Wes Uhlman wrote, “I dislike the destruction of a valuable natural resource like this section of Lake Union for purely business interests. Unfortunately, however, there seems to be nothing which can done to halt the project. No building or zoning codes have been violated and no laws have been broken.”

In July, real construction began. Existing moorages were torn out along with the March 15 pilings. The old Riviera Marina that included the original Boeing Company hangar was torn down, and 250 concrete pilings were driven into the lakebed.

With the start of that construction, the community took legal action.  Harold H. “Hal” Green of the firm MacDonald, Hoague and Bayless offered his legal services “at cost.” By summer’s end $11,500 had been raised toward a legal fund. On September 15, 1971, a lawsuit was filed in King County Superior Court on behalf of ECC, FHA, and Phyllis Boyker, who formed the lead as a directly affected upland resident.

Among the suit’s charges were 1) the city had issued an illegal building permit in 1969, 2) the City had repeatedly renewed the illegal permit, and 3) the developers were not in compliance with the Shoreline Management Act.

The developers, represented by Robert Ratcliffe of Diamond and Sylvester, (the law firm of Joe Diamond, parking lot magnet) quickly brought a counter-suit against Phyllis Boyker. Under the threat of financial ruin, Ms. Boyker was forced to withdraw. The developers then contended that FHA and ECC were not directly impacted by the proposal and thus had no right to sue.  The State Department of Ecology joined ECC and FHA as a co-plaintiff on February 10, 1972.  The trial began four days later.  After nine days of testimony, the introduction of 137 exhibits, and ten minutes of consideration following final arguments, Superior Court Judge W.R. Cole ruled against the community on every count – including the very right to bring the lawsuit.

The ECC and FHA were exhausted, debt-ridden, and facing an appeal deadline to the State Supreme Court. They needed an additional $8,000 for transcripts and court-ordered bonds. They raised money though dances, rummage sales, spaghetti dinners, boat outings, door-to-door solicitations, and mailings.  On April 19, 1972, in a meeting with representatives for the Attorney General’s office, (the AG at that time was Slade Gorton, a charter member of CHECC.)  the earlier promise of state help was negotiated into meaningful support.  That evening, the votes were won to commit ECC and FHA to appeal to the State Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, back at the Reef, construction continued.  A fully furnished model unit stocked with sales brochures opened at the adjacent construction staging area.  A Roanoke Reef advertising billboard appeared in South Lake Union at the corner of Fairview Avenue N. and Valley Street.

On September 6, 1972, the Attorney General filed papers with the State Supreme Court to halt construction of Roanoke Reef.   When work stopped, a significant portion of the cinder block parking structure had been completed.  Oral arguments were heard on November 13, 1972 before the State Supreme Court.  Joe Diamond, himself, argued for the developers; Harold Green and Francis Hoague (a local liberal legend) for the community.   On July 18, 1973, the State Supreme Court ruled for the community.  The City was stuck with a nearly $3 million bill for illegally issuing the permit.  What’s more, the Court ruled that ECC and FHA did have standing to sue—an important early precedent for public interest litigation that spread throughout the country.

 

Roanoke Reef July 20, 1973 two days after the State Supreme Court ruled permits were illegally issued. This Seattle Times photo portrays the moment of community victory. Note the upland construction shack and model unit where the gracious 49-65 East Roanoke townhomes now reside. (photo credit: Seattle Times)

Roanoke Reef July 20, 1973 two days after the State Supreme Court ruled permits were illegally issued. This Seattle Times photo portrays the moment of community victory. Note the upland construction shack and model unit where the gracious 49-65 East Roanoke townhomes now reside. (photo credit: Seattle Times)

*

But victory in a land use battle does not simply come with a “permit denied” ruling, and developers do not just go away.  In this case, the verdict did not include an order to remove the illegally permitted concrete platform.  Within four days, the developers submitted a new building permit application.  The proposal had been reduced to 81 units, but remained 57 feet high.  And in November 1973, the developers filed a $7,000,000 damage suit against the City of Seattle.

Although the developers eventually won a $2,896,534 judgment against the city (check written July 3, 1976), they made little headway in securing permits for their condominium. The tide of the Battle of Roanoke Reef clearly had turned to favor the community. Just before Christmas 1974, the city denied a final new building permit. The Roanoke Reef over-water condominium project was dead. During the next three years, occasional rumors circulated that a new condo building permit was soon to be submitted but the rumors always proved to be negotiation posturing or unfounded speculation.

Between 1975 and 1978, the Battle of Roanoke Reef was a miserable, tedious stalemate.  The community was unyielding in seeking removal of the illegal platform. Removal was completely unacceptable to the developers. Sketchbook entrepreneurs offered ideas for a public park, marina or restaurant to settle the celebrated dispute. Each scheme rested atop the illegal concrete slab. Most met with initial public approval. All required vigorous repudiation by the community.

In 1976, ’77 and ’78, the developers submitted land use applications to establish marinas beside the platform.  In each instance, the developers refused to state that further development would not occur. Two of the three proposals met with initial government approval. An attitude of “let’s approve it and move on to another issue” seemed to prevail.  But for the community, the platform continued to be illegal and developers refused to disclaim thoughts of future high-rise development.  Each marina proposal initiated another round of public hearings.  Each marina proposal was eventually defeated.

 

Construction of the Roanoke Reef platform. The illegal platform would remain for years.

Construction of the Roanoke Reef platform. The illegal platform would remain in place for years.

*

Like weeds through the sidewalk, life slowly began to infest the Reef’s concrete slab. An impromptu marine engine repair shop located there.  Fishing boats tied up for off-season moorage.  Some live-aboards took advantage of the $1 per foot moorage fees. Kids dove off the slab and canoes cruised under it.

In 1978, the Roanoke Reef stalemate was broken and a temporary truce was declared.  It was agreed that a City-hired consultant conduct a study of the legal, economic and environmental ramifications of the concrete slab. The community supported the study only after demolition was included as an option.

Soon after the consultant’s report, Lucile Flanagan (later the benevolent owner of the Crest Theater) quietly emerged with a viable Roanoke Reef plan. Ms. Flanagan would purchase the property for $500,000, demolish the concrete slab, construct and sell 20 condo houseboat moorages, plus nine townhouses at the site of the former construction staging area. The sale was finalized in the summer of 1979 and the Environmental Impact Statement completed during the first months of 1980.

No single individual led the community’s efforts. Only houseboater Terry Pettis (FHA Executive Director) and uplander Victor Steinbrueck (an ECC board member) were intimately involved from beginning to end, but they thought it proper that the Battle of Roanoke Reef be spearheaded by the ordinary folks of  the FHA and the ECC. Nine ECC presidents served during those years. The long casualty list of cancelled vacations, lost career opportunities and strained family relationships explains the rapid turnover.

1980 demolition party invite

1980 demolition party invite

*

On a sunny Saturday – July 26, 1980 – the Battle of Roanoke Reef officially ended with a neighborhood party on the concrete platform.  Food, music, beverages, skydivers, politicians and speeches accompanied this latest of innumerable fundraisers for the ECC Legal Defense Fund, with one and all invited to start the demolition of the slab at one-dollar-a-whack.

A submerged reef of concrete is located somewhere off Blake Island where the remains of the platform were finally hauled to rest, but not before a few souvenir chunks were given out.  For many years thereafter (it may be there still), on a shelf in the Director’s reception area for Seattle’s Department of Construction and Land Use there was a chunk with an engraved red aluminum label reading, “Roanoke Reef, 1971-1980.”

(Note this is a classic piece that was first published in 1987 and more recently ran in the Summer 2014 Eastlake News. It was written by Jules James.)

Sink or swim? Nov. 3 hearing for Ride the Ducks

The fate of Ride the Ducks is in the hands of Olympia right now and a hearing at the state capitol will provide more information on whether the ducks will be allowed to sink or paddle back to shore.

The Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) is holding a status conference, open to the public, Tuesday, Nov. 3, at 9:30 a.m. on their investigation into the safety operations of Ride the Ducks. People can either attend in person at the UTC hearing room or request to be conferenced in prior to the meeting. For conference line availability call 360-664-1234.

“At the meeting, UTC motor carrier safety staff will provide the judge with preliminary findings from their ongoing investigation,” wrote a state representative after a request for information.

Much hangs in the balance. Will the Ducks be permanently sunk as many hope or will the state toss them a lifesaver and allow some form of operations to resume?

The state suspended the Ducks operations four days after the horrific and tragic accident that occurred on the Aurora Bridge September 24. Since that time the state has been looking into the safety practices and maintenance records of the two types of vehicles Ride the Ducks operates for its tourism business, “Truck Duck” and “Stretch Duck” vehicles. The “Stretch Duck” vehicle is under the most scrutiny as it was the type involved in the Sept 24 accident.

In a Joint Stipulation filed Oct. 1, 2015, both the state and Ride the Ducks have the objective of returning the “Truck Duck” vehicles to service within 30 days if they pass “regulatory inspections” and the “Stretch Duck” vehicles “within a reasonable period of time.”

But returning the Ducks to service is not what everyone wants.

Over the past three years Eastlakers have actively fought a proposed private Ride the Ducks boat ramp adjacent to Terry Pettus Park citing safety and noise concerns. The ramp would have as many as 18 amphibious Duck vehicles an hour during peak season crossing the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop trail and entering the lake in close proximity to the local houseboat community.

The Eastlake Community Council, the Log Foundation (a cooperative of three houseboat docks adjacent to Terry Pettus Park) and the Floating Homes Association in February 2015  filed a legal appeal with the Washington State Shoreline Board countering the city’s decision to permit the Ducks. Finally on the advice of their attorneys when it appeared the appeal would not be successful, the three groups reached a settlement agreement with Ride the Ducks in June 2015 for significant noise abatement through the proposed ramp area among other things.

Now, Ride the Duck opponents of the Eastlake ramp site, with enough public support, see the hearing in Olympia as an opportunity to sink the Ducks.

image from www.stoptheducks.com

image from www.stoptheducks.com

Ideas for High Capacity Transit between Roosevelt and South Lake Union

In case you missed it, the city of Seattle held two open houses this week to get public input on the concept of high capacity transit, either rapid street car or rapid-ride bus service, from Roosevelt to South Lake Union. It would run down Eastlake Ave. The city is also looking at where bicycle routes should go on the segment, as Eastlake may be getting pretty crowded.

The point is to get the HCT in place when Link light rail opens at Roosevelt Station in 2021. That may seem like a ways away, but in transit development time that’s like the blink of an eye.

People

There were no firm plans; the city was just gathering input and with that would develop several concepts and then narrow those down for further public input, likely in November.

Plenty of people were at the open house Tuesday in the U. District. I can only assume that a like number were at the open house in South Lake Union the night before.

The city staff members were taking suggestions, talking to people and encouraging them to write ideas down on post-it notes and place them on a map of the segment.

If you have an idea – bike route, station stops, etc., it’s not too late to let the city know. “There is no firm deadline for public comment at this point,” wrote Alison Townsend, Transit Strategic Advisor, in an email. “But, if you want your ideas considered as we begin developing alternatives, sooner rather than later would be better. We will probably dive into alternatives in about 2 weeks. So, if you could get your ideas in the next few weeks, that would be great.”

Send ideas to:

roosevelttodowntown@seattle.gov

More information:

www.seattle.gov/transportation/roosevelthct.htm

Some open house signage:

Narative

 

Flowchart

 

 

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

Next East Howe Steps Gateway Plaza meeting is March 19

Everyone is cordially invited to learn more about this new public space in Eastlake on Thursday, March 19, beginning at 6:30 p.m, at the TOPS-Seward School Library, 2500 Franklin Avenue East.  Please come and see the design for this new public space and meet your neighbors!

The public visioning portion of the East Howe Steps Gateway Plaza Project kicked off on December 11, with a spirited, two-hour Open House meeting of 45 active and engaged members of the Eastlake community, followed by a second Open House on February 5, during which 55 community participants further refined ideas presented and discussed in December.

Facilitated by Debi Frausto and HBB Landscape Architecture, with assistance from members of the project’s Steering Committee, a broad cross-section of Eastlake residents spent time in small groups, brainstorming ideas for the new plaza and sharing their preferences, before coming together as a larger group to vigorously discuss possibilities for this iconic community space.

The finished project will complete the link between Capitol Hill and Lake Union’s Cheshiahud Loop Trail, via the popular East Howe Steps and a thorough revamping of the E. Howe Street Right-of-Way between Eastlake and Fairview Avenues, which passes between two forthcoming developments and will culminate in a new East Howe Steps Gateway Plaza.

Concepts discussed during the first Open House included the notions of a “front porch” for the Eastlake neighborhood—a flexible site that can readily support quiet relaxation, vigorous exercise, and public gathering—and of an “iconic space” that will be both memorable and engaging for the entire Eastlake Community and visitors to the neighborhood.

02 05 15The Front Porch Concept jpg

Steering Committee members and project lead, Brian Ramey, were “stunned by the immediate and overwhelmingly favorable consensus” of the first Open House. The entire committee was also very pleased by the large turnout.

The numerous ideas presented were carefully documented throughout the event and further discussed during subsequent Steering Committee meetings that led into the rousing second Open House on February 5, at which three design concepts were presented and discussed.

The 55 attendees were encouraged to frankly assess three distinct HBB conceptual designs, then freely “mix and match” from those alternatives by recombining the elements each most wanted to see in the new public space. The eventual results provided HBB with a vivid framework for a final design that will incorporate the most desirable elements of all three alternatives into a community preferred concept that best utilizes the available space, while still meshing well within the context of the adjacent developments and Fairview Avenue East.

The design concepts examined during the February 5 Open House included “The Porch,” a curvy design that flows from an elevated “porch” overlooking the water, through terraced steps and into a traditional plaza; “Playfully Active,” which places a “catwalk/perch” above a variety of witty and playful elements at various elevations, allowing lots of flexible and fun uses for all ages; and “Avenue of Lights,” which includes a dazzling use of lighting, color, and various reflective surfaces above, along, and directly underfoot within the pathway, to create a series of “rooms” and a strong connection through the space.

Each design also included varied seating options which could accommodate “exercise stations,” along with extensive landscaping that promises to minimize the amount of paved “hardscape” in an area that is currently little besides pavement and concrete.

Another goal is to create a safe, vibrant, and well-integrated crossing between the plaza and the well-known Cheshiahud Loop Trail, directly south across Fairview Avenue East.

Ultimately, “The Porch” proved a runaway favorite as the overall design concept, while both flexible, inventive lighting and the catwalk/perch idea found broad support and will be integrated into HBB’s final design in some form. The importance of the Fairview Avenue crossing was an additional component that emerged repeatedly during group discussion and will also be addressed in the final conceptual plan.

The upcoming third East Howe Steps Gateway Plaza Open House is intended to present the final result of the community visioning: A conceptual design that fits the space and that will be acceptable to all of the stakeholders, including the East Howe Steps Gateway Plaza Steering Committee, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, the Seattle Parks Foundation (the plaza project’s fiscal agent), and the adjacent private property owners, culminating in a new treasure for the greater Eastlake Community.

Please join us at TOPS-Seward School on Thursday, March 19 at 6:30 p.m., and bring your neighbors. The atmosphere will be friendly and fun. Don’t miss out!

You can reach the members of the East Howe Steps Gateway Plaza Project Steering Committee via:

E-mail: easthowesteps@gmail.com

Mail: 117 East Louisa Street #187, Seattle WA 98102

Phone: 206-271-4744

There’s also a website: easthowestepsplaza.com

East Howe Steps, Seattle Parks Foundation donation page

East Howe Steps, Facebook Page

 

By Tom Kipp on behalf of the Project Steering Committee

 

Apartments and retail next to perch at old Red Robin site?

The Daily Journal of Commerce reported Thursday that developers Michael Heijer and Robert Hardy are eyeing the old Red Robin site at 3272 Furhman Ave. E. for a 63 unit apartment complex with 1,800 square feet of retail on the first floor and 15 underground parking spaces.

Original Red Robin restaurant at 3272 Furhman Ave. E. Photo by cdmilton

Original Red Robin restaurant at 3272 Furhman Ave. E. Photo by cdmilton

The Eastlake Community Council is holding a public meeting about this site as well as another at 2203/2209 Eastlake Ave. E. on Monday, Feb 2, at TOPS Seward School, 2500 Franklin Ave. E. from 7 to 9 p.m.

If you miss that meeting, according to DJC, another design review for the Red Robin site will be held at Seattle University in the Case Commons Building, room 500E, on Feb. 25 at 8 p.m.

Red Robin flew the coop in 2010 when owners of the chain closed the original restaurant location despite its popularity and historical significance. The building remained empty with talk over the years of a new restaurant or even perhaps a market. Likely the building’s maintenance problems that the chain’s owners said were too costly to upgrade also hindered any new occupant. A 2007 sink hole in the parking lot probably didn’t help sell the site either.

Red Robin site after demolition this summer. Photo by Rick Miner

Red Robin site after demolition this summer. Photo by Rick Miner

The restaurant had an illustrious history becoming one of Seattle’s early business successes in the 1970’s and 80’s. And it had a sort of Seattle grittiness before morphing into something more family friendly and becoming a household name. The original Red Robin was a tavern and its mascot a joint-smoking cartoon red robin.

Smokin' Red Robin mural. Photo by cdmilton

Smokin’ Red Robin mural. Photo by cdmilton

The Eastlake Ave Blog reported on the Red Robin closure and wondered if the outdoor sign or any other piece of the building would go to MOHAI. Still waiting to hear.

 

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.

East Howe Steps Gateway Plaza Project: Connecting Capitol Hill, Eastlake and Lake Union

Everyone is cordially invited to learn more about this new public space in Eastlake that will unite the historic East Howe steps on Capitol Hill with a new path across Eastlake Avenue and down to Fairview Ave. and the Cheshiahud trail on Lake Union. Share visions of what might be, during a public open house on Thursday, December 11, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm in the TOPS Seward Alternative Public School library (located at 2500 Franklin Ave. E.). Two more open houses with different objectives are scheduled, so please put all three on your calendars. They are February 5 and March 19 also at TOPS, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Come ready to show your creative side, as we work together to create this vibrant new public plaza!

A group of dedicated Eastlake residents formed the Lake Union Neighborhood Council over 10 years ago for the sole purpose of working toward the creation of the East Howe Steps Gateway Plaza. Recently, with the support of the Eastlake Community Council, the Lake Union Neighborhood Council applied for and received a $25,000 grant from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.

The East Howe Steps selection committee, after a very crowded application process (9 applications), selected the Landscape Architect firm, HBB, who will eventually lead the neighborhood to the design of The East Howe Steps Gateway Plaza.

This innovative community project will—among many other things—complete the pedestrian connection between the Cheshiahud Loop Trail along Lake Union and 10th Avenue East on Capitol Hill, via the well-known East Howe Steps, which begin underneath Interstate 5, at the west edge of Colonnade Park. These well-used steps continue upward across Lakeview Boulevard and Broadway Avenue East to North Capitol Hill, near Saint Mark’s Cathedral, Volunteer Park, and the Seattle Preparatory Academy.

In this satellite view of E. Howe St. you can see where the public right of way would extend, between the dotted parallel lines, linking Fairview  Ave. and Eastlake Ave. A public plarea would be at the Fairview Ave. end.

In this satellite view of E. Howe St. you can see where the public right of way would extend, between the dotted parallel lines, linking Fairview Ave. and Eastlake Ave. A public plarea would be at the Fairview Ave. end.

The project will be built in the East Howe Street Right-of-Way, between Eastlake Avenue East and Fairview Avenue East, through what is currently the parking lot of the former Don Eduardo’s Mexican restaurant

HBB concepts

HBB concepts

The project will be built in the landing area where the East Howe Street Right-of-Way (ROW) meets the Fairview Avenue East ROW now public parking. The Lake Union Neighborhood Council has been working over the last 10 years with the City and the adjacent private property owners to develop the eastern 100 yards of the East Howe Steps as a pedestrian way between Fairview Avenue East and Eastlake Avenue East. Most of the costs of construction for this segment is being paid for by the adjacent private property owners. The East Howe Steps Gateway Plaza project will establish a broad public landing space south of 1910 Fairview Avenue East and will complete the link for Capitol Hill with the Cheshiahud loop trail.

Longtime Eastlake resident Brian Ramey has been working with his neighbors to complete the connection between Lake Union and Capitol Hill since the early-1980s, when he and other Eastlake residents convinced the City and the State Department of Transportation not to construct a proposed 1500-unit mini-warehouse building beneath the Interstate 5 freeway overpass, where Colonnade Park is now located.

Mr. Ramey subsequently conceived the idea of a public stairway and plaza that would reclaim and transform over 9000 square feet of city property in the specified section of the East Howe Street Right-of-Way (an area which is 30 feet wide and approximately 100 yards long, fanning out dramatically as it approaches Fairview Avenue East and the Cheshiahud Loop Trail), and has been working with private developers in pursuit of that goal.

More recently, he successfully sought the initial grant from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, and recruited a wide-ranging, volunteer Steering Committee of neighborhood residents to shepherd the project toward successful completion.

Seattle Parks Foundation is the fiscal agent for the East Howe Steps Gateway Plaza grant through the Lake Union Neighborhood Council, and has a web page devoted to helping the Lake Union Neighborhood Council raise the necessary funds to design and build the plaza.

The initial planning stage includes a six-month “visioning process,” coordinated and led by HBB Landscape Architecture, a Seattle firm selected from among nine applicants to design an approach to what will become a unique public space in the Eastlake neighborhood. HBB’s project manager is Juliet Vong, who will be assisted by HBB designer Arielle Farina Clark and Debi Frausto, a well-regarded public facilitator.

By next spring the visioning process based on input from residents of the Eastlake community, local businesses, and property owners will determine what design elements to include in the East Howe Steps Gateway Plaza Project.

Input will be gathered during three public events beginning with the Thursday, December 11“kick-off” open house from 6:30 to 8:30 pm, in the library of TOPS at Seward School located at 2500 Franklin Avenue East.

The Steering Committee is determined that the final result will be a fusion of great design and everyday functionality—a comfortable place for private contemplation as well as spirited public events; a strikingly beautiful addition to the Eastlake neighborhood that fits seamlessly with its rich history; and a memorable public space that can be enjoyed by all the residents of Eastlake on a year-round basis, at all times of day or night!

The Steering Committee envisions numerous forms of ongoing public outreach—a series of public events to solicit ideas and opinions from a broad segment of local residents; printed informational posters and flyers; notices and information on local blogs and websites; and features in both neighborhood and citywide press.

In addition, members of the Steering Committee will be available to answer questions at all three planned public forums, as will members of the HBB team and other interested parties, including representatives of the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.

Brian Ramey is the primary contact for The East Howe Steps Gateway Plaza Project. He can be reached at easthowesteps@gmail.com, via mail at 117 East Louisa Street #187, Seattle WA 98102 or phone: 206-271-4744

There’s also a website: easthowestepsplaza.com and Facebook page: East Howe Steps.

By Tom Kipp, on behalf of the Project Steering Committee

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