tears, dust, rubble, and the future in georgetown

The following was originally published on January 23rd, 2008 at Seattlest.com.

We hope this isn’t a growing trend. From the Croc to the Sunset Bowl to all of Seattle’s bars, it seems as though any place of which beer is an integral component is endangered with stifling regulation or closure or even the wrecking ball. The very latest, of course, is a portion of the old Georgetown brewery just a scant few days after the 104th anniversary of Georgetownian incorporation.

bricks in need of repointing

Of course we’re sad to see the Stock House go but you can’t argue with an uncooperative foundation that’s sinking below you. We’re happy the rest of the complex is staying, though Sabey really needs to get on with fixing the place up –see the bricks above and focus before it’s too late. Still, a lesson to all: perhaps cold storage is not the best adaptive reuse for a historic building.

Not all preservationists are unanimous on this issue but we’re glad the facade is tumbling with the rest of the building, if tumbling is going to be a building’s fate. We hate facadism and facadectomy. That some new building will go up in the Stock House’s place is a foregone conclusion and we’d rather it be something entirely different, though complementary, than something ultra-new partially hiding behind an old, skin-deep, context-free facade. Do we really want something like this?

But Sabey shouldn’t escape unscathed. Their demolition, rather than deconstruction, has looked a little rushed. While the exterior is nice to look at, for sure, it is the interior that is at least as, if not more, compelling. Check out This empty world’s as well as Scott Engelhardt’s gorgeous photographs of the gems inside the complex. We wonder how much of that can be and will be re-used. Judging by the way the demo was proceeding the other night, it did not look like much although Sabey has stated:

we will be able recycle or re-use a substantial amount of the demolished material (say 90%+). Exterior bricks will be reclaimed as much as possible for re-use on other Rainier Cold Storage buildings. Interior bricks are to be either recycled (if crushed) or made available to the neighborhood (if whole)… The timbers will be retained in a warehouse and reused. All metals will be recycled. Most of the simple building material recycling has already occurred (for example, Curt Thompson took quite a few old doors, Second Use came through taking plywood/fixtures, etc).

We’ve seen buildings painstakingly disassembled brick by brick, which would have been altogether fitting for a building of this vintage given that it resulted from hand-crafted, brick by brick, construction over a century ago. We feel for old buildings when they are taken down so destructively because we’re romantics and we think about the workers who originally built it with sweat, mortar, and more than a few expletives. Over the years, structures are given lives by the people within them and the activities that go on inside. Aside from mere aesthetics, this is why architecture still moves people. Judging by the crowds these last few days, the flowers stuck in the fence, and the all that has been written about them, it seems we aren’t the only romantics.

With the Stock House gone, we’d like to remind Sabey, and those who would poke, prod, and oversee them, that the remaining brewery buildings seem to have gone a long time without some basic repair. Might we suggest some repointing before you need to spend more money and social capital on demolition of the remaining buildings?

architectural details

It would be nice to recycle some of the old materials in the new design but there is a limit with respect to how a new building should look. The Georgetown Community Council seems to want brick and classical design elements. Great… replace neo-classical Romanesque architecture with… um… neo-neo-Classical rounded Roman arches? JVA at MidBeaconHill blog and several of her commenters have it right: mixing faux-old brick and details with genuinely old brick is a terribly gauche. We like their idea of cladding it in metal or a mix of old and new materials. At the same time, we understand the GCC’s fright: the last thing Georgetown, or all of Seattle, needs is yet another piece of crap clad in remnant bits of mismatched metal siding (what is it with developers and their love of this stultifying style, anyway?) that lacks any visual coherence and unity.

breach in great wall of georgetown

Of course, now the Great Wall of Georgetown has been breached, allowing the filthy freeway to pierce and pollute the neighborhood’s once-pristine solitude and air. All ribbing aside, it is true. In those moments between the haunting and entirely romantic, albeit LOUD, bursts of train horns or prattling airplane engines, Georgetown has a remarkable, refreshing, and almost eerie silence. Airport Way can feel post-apocalyptically deserted at High Noon sometimes. Part of this solitude lies in its isolated location and the other part lies in its contrasts. Unlike other neighborhoods, the aural landscape here is not a constant drone. Rather, its silence is punctuated by the echoes of a distant truck rumbling along 4th Ave S, for example, or the sounds of industry. It remains to be seen how this development along Airport Way changes things.

partially demolished wall

excavator bucket seen through window opening

Developers wield immense power in the definition of neighborhoods and their resultant quality of life. Like their influence, their responsibility extends beyond private property lines. Let us slay the sacred cow of private property right now and make steak from some of its fundamental, sacrosanct principles. Nothing exists in a vacuum; private property exists within complex urban zoning which exists within larger civic and social constructs. Developers are, therefore, morally bound to examine the impacts their work will have on communities and partially abide by them.

We’ve often felt that this intersection of Airport Way S and S Vale Street is the real heart of Georgetown. There are plenty of examples of ruined intersections in this town. It’s not very often that people lay memorials for buildings. Yet the Stock House even made burly dudes with tats and inserted metal weave flowers into the chain-link fence surrounding the demolition site. Sabey especially and Georgetown now have the civic obligation to do right by this crossroads.

RCS Demolition 1

photo courtesy of Greg Phipps in the Seattlest Flickr pool.

additional photos

[ night demolition ]
[demolition revisited]
[earlier photographs]

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