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Published in the Seattle Times online on March 3, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on March 6, 2022
The inexorable trend on many Seattle street corners: small to big
By Clay Eals
We at “Now & Then” usually focus on places we find distinctive. Meanwhile, on our city’s everyday corners, change is churning. So inured are we that our reaction is often a wan shrug.
Which brings us to this week’s “Then” photo, looking southwest across busy Northeast 45th Street at 11th Avenue in the University District.
Relatively few are old enough to recall this unpretentious 1906 home, with charming third-floor gables and a second-floor bay window. In this late-1930s view, the first-floor store sold furniture. In 1914, the retail space was touted in The Seattle Times as a “dandy little grocery.”
To its west, a General Motors billboard presages the property’s coming incarnation. In October 1949, the building was razed. In its place in 1950 arose a Shell service station, which, remodeled, survives today. But not for long.
A careful peek at our “Now” photo reveals a vandalized Seattle land-use sign. Beneath the graffiti, it discloses the planned construction of a 27-story edifice with 366 apartments and 52 parking spots, plus room for street-level stores and offices.
The working name of the high-rise, developed by global Onelin Capital Corporation, reflects the firm and the neighborhood: OneU. It’s one of several tall towers in the works between the University of Washington and Interstate 5, triggered by a 2017 upzone that allows construction up to 320 feet.
Julia Nagele, principal of Hewitt Seattle, which designed OneU, pinpoints the boom’s catalyst — last October’s opening of a new light-rail U District Station. “Because of light rail,” she says, “a person easily could work downtown while living near a very cool university.”
To her, the project’s symbolism is both stark and apt. “We are converting the site from auto-centric and not environmentally friendly to more than 300 places for people to live,” she says. “It’s going full-stop in a 180-degree direction, which is a good thing.”
An eye-opening feature is that into the face of floors 7-9 and 16-18 are to be carved “social greenways.” Drawings depict them as huge, open stairways to encourage residential mixing.
Symbolism and innovations aside, OneU is destined to become yet another big box in a metro area of so many new ones. Unsurprisingly, demolition permit applications have soared citywide: 609 in 2019, 676 in 2020 and 739 in 2021. Small to big is the inexorable trend.
So we are well beyond Joni Mitchell’s 1970 “Big Yellow Taxi” punchline: “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.” But the lyric’s lead-in line still stings: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?”
Special thanks to Larry Kreisman, Joe Bopp, Wendy Shark, Sean Ludviksen, Julia Nagele and Midori Okazaki as well as to Kurt Armbruster (who brought this corner’s pending development to our attention and is featured in this week’s 360-degree video) for their invaluable help on this installment.
To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.
Below are three added photos, two documents and nine historical clippings from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that were helpful in the preparation of this column.