PROGRESS STUMBLES ON. A city hearing examiner has decided that Belltown's 1915 Italian Renaissance-style Bethel Temple can be demolished and replaced by yet another 24-story office/residential tower. The city's go-ahead to the builder isn't just a setback to those hoping to preserve the ornate terra-cotta street people's church at Second and Lenora, but is a defeat for both the rich and poor of Belltown.
The church's owners say rising costs have forced them to sell the property, originally a grand public swimming hall called the Crystal Pool. (See "Trouble at the temple," SW, Dec. 28, 2000.) In the past 50-some years, the ivory-colored three-story building has functioned as a gymnasium-size church sanctuary, dining hall, and offices for Bethel Temple Ministries. Besides holding lively Sunday Pentecostal services for a 200-member multiethnic congregation, Bethel regularly doled out food, clothes, and aid to the city's homeless.
But it wasn't church supporters who tried to stop the project. Instead, the opponents were nearby condo residents who didn't want the new tower to block their views (in much the same way that their building blocked the views of other condo residents in skyrocketing Belltown). Among those challenging the 2033 Second Avenue Building project by Bellevue developer Murray Franklin Inc. were Belltown Residents Association (BRA) members Dr. Allen Wyler, director of neurosurgery at Swedish Hospital; D. Wayne Gittinger, a Seattle attorney; and William Gerberding, the former University of Washington president, who called the new high-rise "an intrusion into an increasingly civilized neighborhood. . . and it's ugly."
Developers agreed to scale down their original tower plans to please the group. But BRA wanted it stopped dead, claiming in an appeal to the city that the project could lead to formation of a "wall" of such buildings in the area.
In a just-posted decision, however, city examiner Anne Watanabe ruled that the city's Design Review Board had "considered and squarely addressed the impacts of this proposal's height, bulk, and scale and its relation to the surrounding area. The Board's recommendations do mitigate the proposal's impacts with regard to height, bulk, and scale, although not to the extent that the appellant would desire. But the fact that the building itself has not been greatly reduced in size is not an error."
Though she did order the builder to make some slight changes and remove two dumpsters from the plan, she in essence decided that while "big and bulky" may be intrusive, it's not illegal.
The opposition may appeal the ruling, and the church group continues to scout for another site, likely outside Seattle. The exterior facing, which features carved mermaids and arched windows and was designed by famed theater architect B. Marcus Priteca, may be saved and reinstalled on the new tower.