Building tenants oppose Seattle tunnel

Jan 25, 2011, 2:30 AM | Updated: Mar 28, 2011, 3:46 pm

If walls could talk, the building at 619 Western Avenue in Seattle would also be singing “don’t bring me down.”

Of the 169 buildings that could potentially be impacted by the tunnel project that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, Ron Paananen with the state DOT tells me 619 Western is the only one they’re concerned about because of its age and deteriorated condition.

007Engineers decided the building isn’t stable enough to withstand the tunneling underneath. They explain their concerns about the building in detail on the state Department of Transportation website.

What they describe as “severe structural distress” – large, floor to ceiling cracks on the interior walls, significant settlement, floors that slope up to five percent, and timber floors separating from the concrete walls – tenants called “artistic inspiration.”

Artist Marie Gagnon describes her art space at 619 Western this way:

The studio has been a holding tank for creativity and for intimacy. Powerful moments and conversations have taken place not only at art walk but in private studio visits. It’s been a safe space that offered healing. I’ve witnessed joy. I’ve witnessed tears. I’ve watched bodies melt as aspects of shame fell away while viewing work.

In some of my most grief-stricken moments, the space would call to me. I’d lay out large white pages on the floor, get on my hands and knees and as tears fell, filled the sheets with big black charcoal marks.

Artists paying tribute to the building, or trying to rally support to save it, started a Facebook page Six Nineteen Western after they heard rumors about plans to have the building red tagged.

A person behind the Facebook effort admits it’s “very sad looking from the outside,” but says working in the building is “wonderful.”

“As an artist it’s energizing to hear and feel the energy of your fellow artists working – hammering sounds, music, laughter. It’s a real community that feels very much like a family. It’s not just the building at risk,” the tenant writes. “The culture the artists have created over the last 30 years is also at stake.”

005Last week Publicola was the first to report that the federal government is concerned the tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct might damage the historic Federal Office Building at 909 First Avenue. That’s a block or so north of the 619 Western building.

The Feds haven’t given permission to tunnel under their location. While the General Services Administration believes tunneling could affect the integrity of the 1932 building at First and Marion, the state DOT is confident it can overcome any objections with the deep-bore project.

The Art Deco building itself is interesting. Some say it’s located at the site where A.A. Denny, William Bell, and C.D. Boren docked their boat after making initial surveys of Puget Sound and its harbors in 1851. HistoryLink.org also says the Great Seattle fire, which destroyed more than 64 acres, started in a cabinet shop at that site.

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Building tenants oppose Seattle tunnel