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Capitol Hill Historical Society - Historic Preservation Policy

I. Advocacy for Preservation

A. Purpose

This document establishes what the Capitol Hill Historical Society (CHHS) should advocate for, and what the standards and guidelines for that advocacy should be. This document adopts many existing municipal and national standards and guidelines and modifies them to address our unique needs and interests.

B. Introduction

Capitol Hill has a plethora of historic assets, from Auto Row to Millionaire’s Row and everything in between. These assets embody the unique historic character of the neighborhood and are a source of pride among the community. However, due to recent development pressure and at times lackluster advocacy, this character is rapidly deteriorating and being replaced with a new one that is largely antithetical to it. The more this occurs, the stronger this established precedent becomes, and the faster the whole process continues.

There are some partial remedies in place for protecting our historic assets. However, these remedies often leave much to be desired.

The city has a Landmarks Preservation Board, but even if a building is designated a landmark, the designation often applies only to the building exterior, leaving its interior unprotected.

The State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) provides some protection to non-landmark historical buildings. When the owner of a non-landmark building requests a permit to make major changes to the building, it can trigger a SEPA review to determine if the building is worthy of landmark status. However, the process can be faulty. The database used to trigger SEPA reviews is incomplete and, in some cases, out of date. Also, owners and developers have been known to circumvent the process by altering or removing historic features before applying to make major changes.

One other protective remedy is the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay established by the Seattle City Council in 2009. The overlay offers developers the option to build one story higher if they incorporate the facade of the existing building. While this has resulted in several facades being preserved, it has often failed to result in new construction that complements the facades in question or the historic character of the neighborhood, despite it being a part of the city’s guidelines that they should.

City policy continues to change to address needs for building safety and housing a larger population. CHHS must ensure that the city considers our neighborhood’s visible history during the creation and enforcement of those policies. For example, in 2017 the new Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) will provide incentives to developers in order to create more low- to-mid income housing. Unfortunately, the proposal in the Draft MHA Environmental Impact Statement directly threatens the Pike/Pine conservation overlay by offering the same incentive for affordable housing as currently exists for facade retention. There is also a proposal to eliminate the Design Review Board process entirely for 100% affordable housing projects, removing public input on how the buildings relate to surrounding historic structures.

C. Goals

To help reverse the decline of our neighborhood’s historic assets and to supplement or improve the existing tools to protect them, we will advocate for the preservation of those assets, and for new developments that complement them, based on the standards and guidelines outlined in the sections below.

Our goals are the same as the goals set forth by the city for historic districts:

1. To preserve, protect, enhance, and perpetuate those elements of the neighborhood’s cultural, social, economic, architectural, and historic heritage; 2. To foster community and civic pride in the significance and accomplishments of the past; 3. To stabilize or improve the historic authenticity, economic vitality, and aesthetic value of the neighborhood; 4. To promote and encourage continued private ownership and use of buildings and other structures; 5. To encourage continued city interest and support in the neighborhood, and to recognize and promote its unique identity.

D. Historic Character

The historic character of the neighborhood is perhaps best defined by the most prominent physical and cultural characteristics to emerge within the neighborhood over the course of its existence. By this measure, Capitol Hill's historic character derives first from its largest and most prolific period of growth to date, occurring between the years 1900 to 1933, second from the many reuses of these buildings over time, and third from changes to the built environment over time.

The structures built between 1900-1933 were of wood and masonry (brick, terracotta, and stone) in a plethora of architectural styles incorporating all manner of decorative patterns and features. The majority of them were/are residences ranging from simple wooden boarding houses and single-family homes to palatial mansions and large apartment complexes, but many were/are commercial and mixed-use.

The commercial and mixed-use buildings centered mainly around five districts: Broadway, Pike/Pine, Olive Way, 12th Ave E., and 15th Ave. E. For roughly half a century, the automotive industry dominated the first four districts giving rise to the term Auto Row. In more recent years, these districts have transformed many times over, becoming centers for interior design (decorators row), art, music, fashion, food, and nightlife. They've also been the hub of Seattle's queer community for decades.

Though structures from the early 20th century have been rapidly disappearing, a large quantity of them still remain. Their unique style and timeless charm, as well as the many cultural elements tied to them over time, are arguably what visitors and residents identify as the neighborhood's overall character.

But that’s just part of the picture. The neighborhood's built environment has changed dramatically since the early 1930s and includes structures built in all manner of unique architectural styles, from the various forms of modernism to the latest in green building. These structures, like those mentioned above, also have ties to the cultural characteristics of the neighborhood and thus deserve our attention and advocacy.

II. Preservation Concepts from City and National Law

There are many policies and laws at the Seattle level, the Washington State level and at the United States Department of the Interior level that can be used to preserve our neighborhood's assets. Among all of them we find these to be the most important in helping us define which to focus on, and what should be considered acceptable change:

A. Historic Asset

Much like the city’s definition of a landmark, we consider a historic asset to be any object, site, or improvement with significant interest as part of the neighborhood that is older than 25 years. However, our primary focus will be those constructed or installed before 1940 as discussed in section I. D. above. Also, we will consider anything a historic asset if we believe it meets at least one of the city’s following requirements for landmark status:

Criteria A. It is the location of, or is associated in a significant way with, an historic event with a significant effect upon the community, City, state, or nation; or Criteria B. It is associated in a significant way with the life of a person important in the history of the City, state, or nation; or Criteria C. It is associated in a significant way with a significant aspect of the cultural, political, or economic history of the community, City, state or nation; or Criteria D. It embodies the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, or period, or of a method of construction; or Criteria E. It is an outstanding work of a designer or builder; or Criteria F. Because of its prominence of spatial location, contrasts of siting, age, or scale, it is an easily identifiable visual feature of its neighborhood or the city and contributes to the distinctive quality or identity of the neighborhood or the city.

B. Standards & Guidelines for Preservation and Development.

The following includes standards and guidelines adapted from the Department of the Interior and the City of Seattle (1, 2, 3)

1. Additions and alterations to historic assets should:

  • Be compatible with the original design and should not, except as additions, change the character of the original structure.

  • Preserve the visual quality of individual facades including use of materials, form, and structure.

  • Use exterior materials that are similar to exterior materials used in the original building and be finished in ways that are consistent with the original building.

  • Should preserve the original layout and old growth timber beams and trusses where possible.

2. Building components

  • Building components should be similar in size and shape to those already in use along the street, provided those already in use are compatible with the historic character of the neighborhood.

  • The use of wood, brick, stone, terracotta, and stucco is strongly encouraged in new construction.

  • When brick facades are renovated, existing patterns should not be covered or painted over unless absolutely necessary.

  • If concrete is used as a finish material, special consideration should be given to ensure visual compatibility with the neighborhood.

3. New developments

  • New developments should be compatible with the historic character of the neighborhood.

  • The use of masonry (wood, brick, stone, terracotta, stucco, etc.) all around (not just on facades) and arranged in ways similar to those found on existing historic assets or in a uniquely modern fashion is desired.

  • The use of metal, glass, hardboard panels, and concrete as primary façade materials are highly discouraged.

  • Windows on primary facades should be arranged symmetrically and sized similarly to those found on existing historic assets.

  • Any effort to maintain and incorporate historic assets into new development that does not significantly alter them is highly encouraged.

  • The size of new developments should range between 60 and 120 ft in width and depth in order to remain consistent with historic development patterns.

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