Big, bigger, biggest.
June 2, 2008
Some big things are happening in the Northwest home market, and I’m not simply talking price. The obsession with Big landed in my backyard (and in a local rag) last week: from the recent deal-closing on the Dresden-esque Deano’s and its raunchy neighbors at 22nd & Madison to Madison Park’s inflated new construction encroaching on both property lines and life savings, Big has exacted a full Nelson on my little corner of the city.
First, MadPark’s encroaching homes with huge price tags. I picked up the latest copy of The Stranger yesterday, mainly because of the image on the front: close-up of a dude with serious ‘stache and aviator shades, which, naturally, reflect a beautiful seaside scene — and, quite possibly, a can of PBR in his hand. I scanned the cover, and, just below PBR Man, I found this teaser, McMansions Invade Madison Park. “Criminy!” I thought. “To the BlogCave, Robin!”
The paper’s Jonah Spangenthal-Lee reports on recent construction by local firm Blueline Developers in the Madison Park neighborhood, a place that once was populated by old-growth homes (not unlike my 1916 mini) and beached houseboats, and is now undergoing an extreme makeover. According to Spangenthal-Lee, the developer has purchased “about a dozen cottages…tearing them down to the studs and replacing them with multimillion-dollar megahouses.” While the new homes do fit in with the neighborhood in terms of style — many nod to the Craftsman bungalows they dwarf — they don’t work by way of economics: these super-trooper houses sell for $1.25 to $2.7 million, a far cry from the going rate of the older homes in their midst.
Moreover, these biggie digs do nothing to help increase urban density; as Madison Parkite Jim Hagen tells The Stranger, “[When] you’re getting rid of a house that’s a half million dollars and [instead of condos or town houses] putting up housing that’s a million and a half dollars, it’s going to make it harder.” Of course, much of the new construction in Seattle has that pseudo-Arts and Crafts–meets-midcentury look, which certainly wouldn’t gel with the surrounding homes, so maybe this situation is six of one, half-dozen of the other. Nonetheless, I remained unconvinced that building a monster manse over the top of an historic home does right by neighbors and neighborhoods, to say nothing of the planet. Who needs a 5,000 square foot house? Who? Really? Maybe a family of 40.
Second item of business: the development of dilapidated Deano’s and Club Chocolate City (not that kind of chocolate). The Central District News bids a not-so-tearful farewell to the sagging corner store and neighboring club, once a nexus of drugs and crime and old-school CD seediness. It appears that developer Jim Mueller is setting up to demolish the current structures and replace them with a six-story, block-covering apartment complex. Okay. Density. Cool. But what about the equally cool architecture of Deano’s? What about restoration? Or, at least, partial restoration? The pics of the proposed building aren’t anything to shout about; kinda “I-wish-we-were-in-Prague, but-let’s-use-vinyl-siding,” or, as one commenter said, “Seattle’s residential architecture is quickly becoming the East Germany of the United States.” (Ha!) The Deano’s building is shabby, but the bones are beauties. Why can’t we use the bones we already have? Why do we have to break them?
Which brings me to the final order. I’ve been following the construction of Shannon Quimby’s Portland, Oregon, home via the Oregonian‘s ongoing online Home & Garden feature, Ultimate Recycle. It is known as the R.E.X. house, which stands for Reuse Everything eXperiment; this means that Quimby and Co. are reusing every bit of material from the original demo’d home, from the foundation to the floorboards to the fixtures, in the new house. The new, huge, monster of a house that, not unlike the aforementioned Blueline blighters, doesn’t really fit with the neighborhood. And, not unlike Deano’s, replaces a serviceable building with something new, quite possibly for the sake of newness (she never fesses up to the reason behind the rebuild).
Am I wrong to be upset? While I’m glad to hear that Quimby is into reuse, I’m baffled by her choice to tear down the house (a totally cute, blue-and-white bungalow with a street-facing solarium and a beautiful roofline) and erect Buckingham Palace in its place. What gives?
Okay. Huffity-huff-huff. What do you all think?