Montlake Elementary will soon go before the City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board in an effort to maintain the building as a key feature of the neighborhood. The school is an important resource for neighborhood families, and (unsuccessful) efforts in recent years by the Seattle Public School District to shut it down have raised questions and concerns about the building’s long term future. Should the school close one day, a landmark designation would preserve its architectural integrity while allowing it to be adapted for other uses. Should the school not close, Montlake would join the esteemed company of other historic schools in the district.
The nomination report was prepared by historic preservation specialists, BOLA Architecture + Planning, with funding from the Montlake Community Club. “The management goal of the Board will be to preserve the site and building as a main feature of the Montlake Community neighborhood,” said neighborhood preservation activist Jon Decker. “The benefits also include having more flexibility with the Seattle Department of Planning and Development with regards to the zoning ordinances. This would include the possibility of converting the use of the building into a combination of housing, a community center, offices and retail shops.” Decker cites the West Queen Anne School condos, the Wallingford Center and the Northwest African American Museum at the former Coleman School as good examples of adaptive reuse.
There are currently no plans to shutter Montlake Elementary, but the school’s low enrollment numbers will likely continue to make it a target for budget cutting at the school district. This landmarks nomination effort is a ‘just in case’ strategy.
Montlake Elementary was built in 1924 and designed by noted school architect Floyd Naramore, whose Seattle portfolio includes landmarked facilities at Garfield, Roosevelt, Hamilton, Dunlap, Bryant, West Seattle and Cleveland. Later in his career, Naramore designed T.T. Minor and as founding partner in the firm NBBJ, he designed UW Health Sciences and the VA Administration Hospital in Seattle.
BOLA’s report details the features of Montlake’s “Georgian Style,” in particular its red brick cladding, large bay windows, decorative stonework and characteristic “MONTLAKE SCHOOL” inscription over the entrances. While most of the building’s architectural interest is in the facade, the sides were left uncharacteristically blank. Naramore’s original design for the school included a north wing extension that appeared to be canceled just before construction began in 1923. Space was left on the south side of the site for a second wing as well. The wings were never built, but the planned flexibility of future expansion was a key feature of early Seattle Public School buildings, brought on by booming population growth in those early decades.
Talk of Montlake’s future these days is more about contraction than expansion. The silver lining, however, is a renewed showing of community support to keep the school open. Today the elementary school receives high marks for achievement and educational resources. How Landmark status would affect the school building as a school remains to be seen.
The first Landmarks Preservation hearing is April 17th – details here.