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Building New AND Saving History

Posted by Johnine Larsen on December 8, 2017
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As Seattle keeps growing, it faces the question of how to keep growing. Sprawl outward, with more suburbs and distant communities of single-family homes? Or stay close to the downtown core with rezoning and multifamily housing, rezoning old neighborhoods and tearing down houses to make room for condominiums and apartment buildings?

One of the loudest arguments against rezoning is loss of history. Constructing new multi-unit housing means tearing down old, classic buildings. Goodbye, brick-built and weathered Seattle. Hello, uniform glass and steel.

However, that’s a false dichotomy.

Building new, denser housing doesn’t have to come at the expense of historic structures, as the Gridiron condos show. The Gridiron is 107 new condominiums in Pioneer Square, currently in development. It’s an eleven-story mass of concrete and steel containing 107 residential units for a mix of incomes, from lower-end units to luxury condos. Beneath it, restored and preserved, sits the historic Seattle Plumbing Building.

The Seattle Plumbing Building was built in 1903. The triangle-shaped building has sat at the intersection of First Avenue, Occidental, and Railroad Way for almost as long as that intersection has existed. But before Gridiron started remodeling it, the Seattle Plumbing Building looked as blank outside as it did inside—many of its windows had been filled in with bricks long ago, and the historic building had sunk into near-vacancy. King County owned the building and used it to store old office furniture and equipment.

Now, the Seattle Plumbing Building is getting new life. The Gridiron project isn’t just the 107 condos above the historic building—the Seattle Plumbing Building itself will be rejuvenated with a ground-floor restaurant and bar.

This is the type of development that could strike the perfect balance between development and preservation. New residential units, because goodness knows we need more units to keep up with demand—but also old, historic buildings, because this has been a beautiful city for a long time, after all, and it’s filled with culture that’s worth preserving.

If more developers can find this balance, I see a bright future for Seattle’s urban core. Enough housing to keep things affordable, and enough history to keep Seattle fascinating and gorgeous.