Monday, March 3, 2008

A historic Denny's?

An interesting recent past preservation controversy unfolding in Seattle has garnered national attention, including a piece on (You can also see photos of the building in the Newsweek article.) In a 6-3 decision that went against the recommendation of city staff, the Seattle Landmark Preservation Board recently declared a boarded-up former Denny’s restaurant, built in 1964, a landmark. While some are deriding the decision, others cheer the protection of what they call a distinctive example of the “Googie” style of architecture.

Benaroya, the real-estate firm that purchased the property in 2006 and intends to work with a local developer to redevelop the site, now plans to appeal the landmark designation. The company may have trouble making its case, however, because in an ironic twist, Benaroya itself nominated the property for designation, according to this piece in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Nation blog.

Why would a company nominate a building it intended to demolish for landmark designation, a designation that could prevent demolition? In this case, it was part of a corporate strategy: its expectation was that the nomination would be turned down, thus eliminating the possibility that an opponent of the development would later attempt to nominate the building and thus delay the project.

I’m not familiar with this particular building and can’t take a position as to whether it should be a landmark or not. This case does point out, however, that there is a great need to document and evaluate resources from the recent past, so that this kind of situation is less likely to develop. There are thousands of buildings in our region– not just of the recent past but of the more easily appreciated distant past – that qualify for landmark status and have not yet been evaluated or designated. Our Recent Past initiative is one way in which we’re looking to expand our understanding of these resources.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator