Save Seattle’s Showbox Theatre — UPDATED!

Great news, everyone!

On Monday night, the Seattle City Council voted to extend the historic district protections near Pike Place Market to include the Showbox. This is a great step forward toward saving the building from being torn down and turned into luxury apartments, but it’s only a temporary protection, lasting just 10 months.

The unanimous vote buys more time to put through official paperwork that could officially and for all time save the theatre.

The Showbox doesn’t have official historical landmark status yet, but that’s in the works. In the interim, however, any and all changes proposed to the building would have to be approved by the Pike Place Market Historical Commission and its processes and procedures.

This is a big win, but, again, a temporary one. The next meeting with the developer is set for October. Stay tuned…


Original post:

If you were part of a band in Seattle in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was a really big deal when you booked a gig at the Showbox.

Along with the nearly 100-year-old Paramount and other venues, like OK Hotel that no longer exist, The Showbox is a legend among grunge enthusiasts, music fans and people whose sounds filled the 79-year-old, 1,100-seat theatre.

And it’s in danger of being wiped from existence.

Musical history at risk

A Vancouver-based developer, Onni Group, wants to tear down the Showbox and replace it with (gah) a 44-story condo and apartment building.

Some of Seattle’s finest, and the new generations following in their footsteps, are doing their best to save it, mounting an incredible effort and a fantastic noise to banish the thought of losing the theatre.

“This place (has) musically favored what Seattle IS at its core. Progress is great and all, but not at the cost of the soul of the city,” says Duff McKagan of Guns ‘n’ Roses.

He was joined by Lily Cornell Silver, daughter of the late and irreplaceable Chris Cornell, in calling for sanity and preservation instead of more condos in the high-rise-rich city.

(Yes, there’s an influx of people moving into Seattle and they need a place to live, as do the rising number of homeless at the heart of Pearl Jam’s recent pair of sold-out shows that brought some 100,000 people to the city and helped raise more than $11.5 million. There’s housing issue and part of that is due to sky-high rents, but this is not about that. At least not today. The apartments in this building would be luxury units.)

Join the effort

There’s the obligatory petition, started by Jay Middleton, who calls the proposed destruction of the theatre “tragic and heartbreaking to every single musician and concertgoer in Seattle. The Showbox at the Market has been active as a music hall since 1939 and has legends like Duke Ellington to grunge heroes Pearl Jam. Let’s make this venue a historical landmark to preserve Seattle’s rich culture of music and various arts that have graced this venue and keep it going.”

As of Sunday night, Aug. 12, more than 92,700 people have signed on.

Using their influence

Musicians, as they do, are coming out of the woodwork to save the theater.

During their second Home Show on August 10, Pearl Jam used their considerable status among Seattle musicians, residents and activists, calling on the city’s officials to preserve the theater and make things right.

They’re among the more than 150 artists to sign an open letter to the Seattle City Council imploring that they use their better judgment and turn down the developer’s plan.

Sleater-Kinney, Run the Jewels, Dave Grohl, Neko Case, the xx, Fleet Foxes, the War on Drugs, Grizzly Bear, Death Cab for Cutie and dozens and dozens more have signed an open letter, published in the Seattle Times on August 10.

“The Showbox is integral to the social fabric of the Seattle music scene,” says Mike McCready, putting it on par with CBGBs, Fillmore East and West, the Troubadour and Whisky.

He wore a Showbox shirt during the first Home Show in support.

“As our city continues to grow in density, it’s imperative that we protect the spaces that give Seattle its cultural identity,” Macklemore adds. “If we value our musical heritage and want to leave the next generation with a piece of authentic Seattle, this is our fight.”

The city’s efforts to preserve the Showbox

Earlier in the week, the advocacy coalition of Historic Seattle announced it had submitted a landmark nomination for the Showbox, calling it “an exciting moment in the effort to Save the Showbox. We submitted the nomination ahead of the developer, allowing our advocates more time to demonstrate the significance of this ionic place and to make the case for why it must be protected as a landmark.”

City Councilmember Kshama Sawant has also submitted a proposal that would extend the Pike Place Market Historical District to include the theater, which would put the building itself under the governance of the Pike Place Market Historical Commission. The city council voted last Wednesday (Aug. 8) to narrow Sawant’s original proposal, which included 16 other buildings, to focus instead on just the theater. If the proposal passes, it would extend the protection for “a temporary, 10-month basis, and would need a later vote by the council to be made permanent.”

The Seattle City Council will vote on this ordinance on Monday, Aug. 13.

Realizing they’d stepped in it, Onni Group “very cleverly and immediately responded to these concerns with an offer to ‘incorporate’ the Showbox into its proposed tower. While details apparently will follow — everything from perhaps naming the new tower ‘The Showbox’ to incorporating a stage at street level of the tower — the focus has been on the theater rather than the impact of a 44-story building towering over the main entrance to the Pike Place Market. It’s a classic instance of not seeing the forest for the trees,” writes Henry Aronson of the Seattle Times.

He argues that the problem is bigger than the Showbox; that if the apartment building becomes reality, it’ll ruin one of Seattle’s icons, the always popular and busy Pike Place Market, home to fish throwing, seafood, sourdough and all things Pacific Northwest. “The City Council has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to preserve the Market district as we know and love it,” he says.

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