South Lake Union development

Make Way, McKay

But City’s bulletin suggests it will raze two terra cotta gems to widen Mercer, right where Vulcan plans an office building.

By Eric Scigliano July 9, 2009

Anyone monitoring the Seattle Department of Planning and Development’s permit application notices last week might have suffered a shock. DPD announced that on June 30 the city’s Department of Transportation completed its application for a permit to demolish an automobile warehouse building at 601 Westlake Ave. N. to accommodate “Mercer Corridor Improvements”—i.e., the plan to transform Mercer Street from a wide, blighted, oft-jammed one-way thoroughfare into an even wider, and still-jammed two-way boulevard. Public comments accepted until July 15.

Just one problem: 601 Westlake is the address of the 1924 McKay Pacific Building, an ornate terra cotta and stained glass gem. It and the adjacent McKay Ford Building aren’t just rare visual grace notes in a blighted corridor. They’re protected city landmarks, monuments to a brash bygone era, and mementoes of a Seattle original, the pioneering car dealer and Seafair founder William O. McKay. The DPD bulletin made it seem they were up for leveling. And sure enough, the South Lake neighborhood blog, using Google Maps, showed the Pacific and Ford buildings as one of five initial sites “to be demolished” for the new Mercer. (The others range from undistinguished to ugly as sin: West Marine, the old Taco del Mar headquarters, a grim warehouse, and the Lincoln Towing yard, home of many a painful memory for victims of legal carjacking.) City planners worry that, in the words of one, “

In fact, the current review is for the demolition of the newer, non-landmark auto showroom across Mercer from the two McKay buildings. It’s confusingly listed under the same address, even though it falls under a separate permit.
Vulcan Development to put up a big glassy office building with a fountain courtyard where the McKay buildings stand, already has its permit. It plans to start asbestos removal later this month and finish the demo in about 14 weeks. But it will first disassemble the buildings’ facades and much of the Pacific Building’s equally opulent showroom. Later it will reassemble these as an entry to the new building 70 feet to the north (making way for the new, much wider Mercer Street).

Here’s hoping (you always gotta hope these days) that the money holds and Vulcan finishes the project. It would be a shame to leave these gems packed away in some warehouse like the Lost Ark.

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