An affordable housing development with a design that celebrates the African American history and culture in the Central District, Capitol Hill Housing’s Liberty Bank cleared the East Design Review Board on Wednesday, but with one condition — replace the building’s muted colors with more striking tones.
The Liberty Bank Building is named in honor of Seattle’s first black-owned bank, the 57-year-old structure razed last October at the corner of 24th Avenue and East Union.
More than 700 bricks salvaged from the demolition will be incorporated with a basket weave pattern into the ground floor facade and courtyard portal for the six-story mixed-use Liberty Bank Building.
Multiple accent colors were also designed into the massing of the building, the earth tones, asymmetry and back-and-forth rhythm inspired by the afrocentric design principles of Dr. Sharon Sutton. But those colors didn’t pop for the East Design Review Board.
“The first thing I thought was Home Depot,” said board member Dan Foltz. “The tan and the orange don’t do it for me.”
Board members referred to the vibrant African American quilt designs included in Capitol Hill Housing’s presentation, expecting those more vibrant colors would be reflected in the design.
“I’m more than a little disappointed, I was shocked,” said board member Curtis Bigelow. “I think we should condition more better colors.”
Mentioned during Wednesday’s review, but not discussed at any length were plans for numerous art features that will honor the community and history of Liberty Bank. Al Doggett and Esther Ervin are leading a team of artists for the project.
While CHH and its partners explore a revised color palette for the exterior, the review board’s decision on Nov. 30 allows the public corporation to request a contract rezone from the city, in order to construct the Liberty Bank Building above 40 feet.
Doug Leigh, a partner with project architecture firm Mithun, addressed changes to a bike workshop that had been proposed near the courtyard portal on 24th Avenue and vetted by the review board in May.
“We got a lot of response to that,” he said, “not exactly positive.”
The fix was to make the space a resident workshop, where people can still work on their bikes, but also use it for crafts and other projects, Leigh said. The revised design also does more to minimize views into the bike storage area.
The resident courtyard on 24th Avenue is sited in the middle of the Liberty Bank Building’s C-shape design, with an orangish accent wall, which review board members agreed was also more muted than it needs to be. The courtyard itself was positively received, with Bigelow commenting on its various small, intimate gathering spaces.
“It’s just going to make a great mixing place,” said CHH Board chair Cathy Hillenbrand during public comment.
Resident Joanna Cullen said she wanted to see more detail designed into the southeast corner of the development. The review board agreed that too much detail would distract from the historic LB logo of the original Liberty Bank building that is being added to that corner of East Union and 24th.
CHH has a memorandum of understanding with community partners Africatown, The Black Community Impact Alliance and self-sufficiency nonprofit Centerstone that commits the development to the betterment of the neighborhood, with CHH eventually making the building available for public ownership.
The MOU also commits CHH to using black-owned subcontractors for the project and making its retail units along East Union available to black small business owners.
Walter Zisette, CHH associate director of real estate development, said 2,700 square feet of ground-floor retail will be made available to four businesses, but no tenant decisions have been made yet.
“They deserve a shoutout for building the coalition that they have,” said Jeff Floor, co-chair for the Central Area Land Use Review Committee, when voicing support for the project. “That was no easy feat.”
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