Sometimes it's OK to let an old landmark go
The historic Madrona Auto building is being torn down, and everyone agrees it's time to say goodbye.
Seattle Times staff columnist
I was standing outside the old Madrona Auto building, waiting for a crowd fueled by red-faced, save-our-city outrage.
Nothing. Not a hue or a cry.
But inside and around the distinct, adobe-style garage and office that have stood here since 1900, there was plenty of noise: some 75 revelers, live music, wine and beer, kids with spray-paint cans and the occasional pop of an overfilled balloon.
Among them was the gas station's former owner, Marjorie Lutton, who bought the place with her husband, Rudy, in 1966, and sold it in 2002 to longtime tenants Tom and Diane Flood.
The Floods' company, Diluvian, will tear it down Wednesday and replace it with seven sustainable and green three-story units, six with retail at the bottom and one that allows courtyard access.
Oh, boy. Tear down Seattle history, and you're just asking for trouble. Am I right, Marjorie?
"It's long outlived its life," she said.
Well, this is a first. An unofficial landmark in Seattle is going to be torn down, and people can't wait. No Twin Teepees trauma. No Sunset Bowl bluster. No Hat n' Boots huffing n'puffing.
"It would be undignified for the buildings to remain," Lutton said.
They've remained this long, she said, thanks to Tom Flood, a teacher at Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences (SAAS) who turned them into an art studio, where kids from the Coyote Central after-school program built soapbox-derby cars (3,000 over 10 years, by Flood's estimate), and learned how to weld and build furniture.
It was also the place where Flood created community art, like the metal tree in front of Madrona Elementary; works at seven other Seattle public schools; and at Childhaven.
"It was quite the shop he set up there," said Hunter Olson, 24, who, as a middle-schooler, built a derby car with a salvaged car horn and a water pistol on the dash. "It's sad to see it go."
The garage also served as a shelter for a group of SAAS students who were brought here by teacher Roger Murray during the school's annual Seattle Challenge, which gives kids a three-day taste of homelessness.
"They've filled a useful function," Lutton said of the buildings. "They've had a creative life."
When the Luttons bought the place, it was owned by Gull Oil and leased to a man "who sat around and played dominoes," Lutton told me.
Her husband had 22 cars towed away before he opened Rudy's Auto Repair, where he did his own kind of art. Lutton's daughter, Rhea, told me how her stepfather sculpted things with Bondo while he figured out how to repair a dented fender.
After he died, Marjorie Lutton got plenty of offers from people inspired by the place.
Someone wanted to open a coffee shop. Another, a real-estate office. A woman sold flowers here for a bit; another sold picture frames. Then Flood came around in 2002 and started making projects with kids.
The only thing that remains from the original gas station is a hydraulic rotary lift from 1949 that Flood can't seem to find a home for.
"Works great!" Flood told me, then took in the raucous crowd that had come to say goodbye to the old place and greet the new plans, on display in the old office.
"I'm going to shed as many tears as I'm going to get excited," said Flood. "It's so weird, as an artist, to be so connected to the object, and what it means to people."
"People liked seeing it, but it wasn't declared historic," said Laura Bachman, whose company, Lakeside Capital, is financing Flood's project. "And if there was any whiff of that, the city wouldn't let them tear it down."
Marjorie Lutton understood why I was looking for a fight.
"People in Seattle are usually trying to preserve one thing or another," she said. "They've raised hell about stuff. Even a church.
"Sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesn't."
This time, she said, it doesn't. People like that the new building will be green and sustainable. It fits people's new way of thinking.
"It's a tired, aged old lady," Lutton said of the garage. "And this way, it's like we all want to go. You go to sleep and you don't wake up."
Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or email@example.com.
Need a lift? Call Flood.
About Nicole Brodeur
My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 206-464-2334