MYNORTHWEST HISTORY

City advice to landmarks board for Memorial Stadium is a real head-scratcher

Aug 16, 2023, 8:59 AM | Updated: 4:09 pm

Image: Memorial Stadium was built in 1947 in honor of Seattle Public Schools alums who died in Worl...

Memorial Stadium was built in 1947 in honor of Seattle Public Schools alums who died in World War II. (Photo: Feliks Banel, KIRO Newsradio)

(Photo: Feliks Banel, KIRO Newsradio)

The Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board will meet on Wednesday afternoon to decide whether or not Seattle High School Memorial Stadium at Seattle Center should be designated as a city landmark.

The 1947 stadium, built as what one newspaper described at the time as a “permanent” tribute to more than 800 Seattle Public Schools alums who died in World War II, has long been neglected by the school district, who acknowledged as much to KIRO Newsradio in 2017.

Plans were recently announced by the school district, in partnership with the City of Seattle and a private group, to replace Memorial Stadium with an entirely new facility and keep only the words “Memorial Stadium” as part of a naming rights deal that will help generate revenue for the project. This plan follows a school district ballot measure in 2022 which many voters found confusing when it came to weighing in on support for the preservation or the replacement of the stadium.

Building a new stadium will require a demolition permit for the current facility in order to replace the 76-year-old war memorial – a process which a city official described to KIRO Newsradio in June as “a bit complicated” and “wonky.”  As part of the complicated process, the school district nominated Memorial Stadium for review by the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Landmark Preservation Board as to whether or not it should be designated as a city landmark.

Based on plans already shared for a new stadium, it’s no great stretch to say that Seattle Public Schools would probably prefer that Memorial Stadium not be designated a city landmark; a landmark designation would likely only act as a barrier to any demolition plans.

The landmark nomination, a lengthy document prepared by consultants who were hired by Seattle Public Schools, was found to be missing much in the way of the actual history and context of Memorial Stadium as a public gathering place for high school sports, as site of Seattle’s first TV broadcast in 1948, as home to opening and closing ceremonies and other World’s Fair events in 1962, as home to the Seattle Sounders’ inaugural season in 1974, and the venue hosted dozens of concerts by local and national artists.

In the latest wrinkle in this complicated and wonky saga, the staff report prepared and shared in advance of today’s meeting, which is a document that members of the Landmarks Preservation Board will use as a road map as they weigh Memorial Stadium’s future, makes a fairly odd assertion about the structure’s lack of significance.

The staff report acknowledges that there have been many significant events held within the structure and grandstands of Memorial Stadium but then goes on to say that “[t]he coordinator believes this significance may not be embodied in the 1947 stadium structure itself.”

Huh?

To say that the significance of events and gatherings held within a structure is not embodied by that structure seems like a splitting of hairs not seen before around these parts when it comes to weighing of the significance of a potential landmark.

To extrapolate a bit, why would any structure where events and gatherings happen inside, be it a home, a school, a theatre, and so on, be considered significant then?

If Memorial Stadium is not made a landmark, many previous landmark designations would seem able to be called into question by someone who now disagreed with an earlier action by the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board.

It seems that if the Seattle Landmark Preservation Board follows the staff recommendation, they could potentially create a destructive precedent where any owner of a current landmark who wants that landmark designation removed might be able to assert that “yes, significant things happened inside this building, but the building itself is a separate matter and not significant, that significance is not embodied by the structure.”

KIRO Newsradio reached out to the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods staff early Wednesday for comment and reaction to these specific concerns in advance of today’s meeting.

In an email response, City Historic Preservation Officer Sarah Sodt wrote, “It is the Board’s work to determine if the property meets the designation standards and has the ability to convey its significance, and the Board’s determination of whether to nominate the property will take place during the public meeting of the Board this afternoon.”

Sodt did not respond to a follow-up email asking, again, for further explanation of the odd language in the staff report.

The meeting of the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board will be held today, Wednesday, August 16, 2023, at 3:30 pm at Seattle City Hall. Members of the public are allowed and encouraged to comment as part of the proceedings.  Advance sign-up is required, and there are provisions for participating remotely.

For more information:

Presentation documents are available on the Department of Neighborhoods website under the August 16, 2023, meeting date.

To virtually attend the meeting, visit this site with Webex.

To listen to the meeting by phone: Dial 206-207-1700, enter the meeting access code: 2489 930 2293, and then the password: 1234.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him  here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks  here.

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City advice to landmarks board for Memorial Stadium is a real head-scratcher