In 2007, a team of Seattle consultants assessed the historical significance of dozens of buildings in the city’s urban core. Some were deemed meaningful enough that they were nominated as local landmarks. Others weren’t so lucky.
One building in the latter category was the Showbox, a downtown music venue that opened in 1939. Although its walls were virtually dripping with rare memories from nearly every musical genre since the Jazz Age, its physical structure had been altered multiple times. As a result, the consultants deemed that the space wasn’t qualified to be a historic site.
That decision, made in the early days of Seattle’s rapid redevelopment, paved the way for a fierce battle that’s playing out today. The venue’s property has since been upzoned and set to be sold and demolished. That sparked a passionate campaign to save the Showbox, and even prompted the city to take extraordinary measures to protect it in the short term. At stake is the Showbox venue itself, which is set to be replaced by a high-rise apartment building. Also at risk, depending on who you ask, is a key component of the city’s cultural history and the integrity of the city’s management of development. On all sides, it seems the outcome hinges on one question: When is it too late to save a valued institution?
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