by Kris Parfitt
– Capitol Hill Times Magazine –
All 41 of Seattle’s fire stations were built between 1918 and 1974, and about six have been repurposed into homes, businesses and restaurants. One of those living legends historically dedicated to saving lives and protecting property sits in green grandeur in the heart of Capitol Hill. Fire Station No. 7 – a beautifully restored yet humble Richardsonian Romanesque design created by architect Daniel R. Huntington who settled in Seattle in 1904 by way of Newark, N.J. – sits on the corner of 15th Avenue East and East Harrison Street. Huntington was renown not only for the ten Seattle fire stations he designed, but also the Arctic Club, the Colman Dock and the second First Methodist Episcopal church in Pioneer Square.
Station No. 7 was a working firehouse up until the late 1960s when the residing battalion moved to a more modern building. Owned by the city, it stood empty for years until three non-profit organizations squatted in the building and lobbied for the city to grant them ownership. Finally, in the early 1970s the city donated the building to these organizations with the requirement that they fund and manage bringing the building up to code.
The station’s saviors, Country Doctor, Capitol Hill Housing and Environmental Works, and are all still going strong. Although all three co-own the building, Environmental Works is the only one that still resides within its walls.
Environmental Works is a non-profit community design center that advocates for the improvement of the physical, economic and social environment by providing sustainable architecture and planning services to low-income community groups throughout the Pacific Northwest. They are recognized world-wide as the foremost leaders of Green Building in Puget Sound, having built the first LEED certified affordable housing building in the United States in the Belltown – the Traugott Terrace owned by Catholic Housing Services.
Bill Singer, director of architecture at Environmental Works, shared a bit of the history of the organization one sunny afternoon on the third floor of the firehouse. “The idea was a joint venture between several University of Washington architectural students in the early 1970s. Brad Collins and Larry Goetz experimented with sustainability and sustainable design during the 1970s environmental movement,” he said.
They did well, and their global recognition and awards are evidence of their hard work. Not only did they design the Traugott Terrace building, but they were also the steering committee to help write the EverGreen Design Standards.
In the mid 1990s they were the main contributors to the Model Conservation House built in the Central District. The green-built house provided tours and demonstrations on how to incorporate recycled materials, sustainable building techniques and water conservation systems into residential and commercial construction practices.
Currently, Environmental Works continues its mission and has received a grant to allowing it to conduct a series of sustainable practices, educations and presentations at the Annual Housing Washington meeting.
Station No. 7 has benefited from Environmental Works continuing experiments in sustainability. “The building meets our mission,” Singer said. The designers continue to experiment with a variety of sustainable projects such as testing the quality of recycled carpet materials on their stair treads.
Walk by their south facing brick wall on East Harrison Street and you’ll learn about their on-going experiment using vines and climbing perennials to help create a natural cooling system that shades the wall and keeps the interior cool during summer months.
The back wall hosts a rain barrel used to irrigate the quaint native plant garden with roof water run-off from our frequent rain showers. In the works are plans for a usable green roof equipped with solar panels and an edible garden.
The building is 91 years old this year and had it not been for the sustainable vision of a handful of non-profits and UW architect students, local video rental store On 15th Video might be housed elsewhere, or in a more modern possibly less green structure.