Photo by Peggy Sturdivant
The Ballard Carnegie Free Library, an unmistakable presence on Market St, was nominated to become a historic landmark

Ballard Carnegie Library takes first step in road to landmark status

The Ballard Carnegie Free Library made its first step Wednesday to becoming an official landmark.

Though opposed by owner Karoline Morrison, the building was unanimously nominated at the Landmarks Preservation Board meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 19, to be registered as a historic landmark.

This is actually the second time the library has been nominated. Architect Larry Johnson, who submitted the current application, had also gotten the building nominated back in 1977. He had no idea until he was looking through a list of landmarks in 2006 that it never made designation.

“I think everyone in Seattle thought it was a landmark, but it wasn’t, it never made designation,” Larry Johnson said. “It fell in between the cracks back then.”

He joked that now he could play the hero and help get it designated this time.

However, Wednesday’s nomination only applied to the exterior and not the interior of the building. Board members believed that the interior had been too dramatically changed.

During the presentation, architect Larry Johnson, who created the application, flipped through a slideshow of pictures. The exterior, other than new vinyl windows and a fence built outside to be used as a beer garden, looked largely the same as it always has. And indeed, when an older, black and white photo was compared to a recent one taken just this year, there was little difference that could be seen.

The inside, on the other hand, had seen several changes with the new owner of the Kangaroo and the Kiwi, including newly painted walls, removed doors, installed bathrooms and several other changes to the façade. Board members concluded that the integrity of the inside had been too greatly altered.

Don Root, CEO of GM Nameplate, who has been a neighbor of Morrison’s for years and helped represent her at the meeting, argued that having landmark status could possibly obstruct Morrison’s ability to have tenants, who are the ones that pay for the building and, as a result, pay for its preservation. “It’s a difficult building to be used for anything,” he said.

Morrison said that everyone she had talked to said landmark status would be a hindrance to any businesses she had and that it would cost her a fortune to deal with.

Root said that if the owner of the building does not think it should get landmark status, then that should be respected.

However, concerned community members and preservationists at the meeting, while thankful for all of Morrison’s hard work, were more concerned about the building’s future, when ownership will inevitably change hands.

“I do believe that this is the only thing that will keep this from the building being demolished or crazy changed should it change hands,” said Mary Schile, President of the Ballard Historical Society.

Morrison said that she was picky about tenants and likewise would be picky about who the building would get turned over to. She said that as she has sustained the building throughout so many years, no one needed to worry about its preservation.

She also said that people have to be realistic about tenants. Though everyone has not been excited by the changes the Kangaroo and the Kiwi has brought, she said the owner has been an excellent tenant and has brought unprecedented popularity to the building.

“Never in the history of that building have that many people been there,” she said. “I have given this building back to the people of Ballard.”

Luci Baker Johnson, Historic Seattle Manager of Volunteer Services, said she had moved to Ballard from the Midwest and has fallen in love with the neighborhood because of the unique character and history that it had. Still, she said, she has seen the neighborhood’s integrity begin to crumble throughout the years as it gave way to condominiums and other new development. This concerned her.

“I do feel it’s really important to not let Ballard disappear ... I think this is one way that can help,” she said.

Morrison pleaded with the board to not consider the nomination. The board, though they agreed unanimously to nominate it, were sympathetic toward Morrison’s request and consoled her that landmark status did not mean a death sentence.

“I believe there are actually great opportunities for owning a landmark and doing business in them,” one of the board members said. He said that he would encourage owners to look at the status as a possible benefit, and not the "hammer of doom."

He and others at the meeting pointed to Ballard Avenue as an example, which is a fully landmarked district. The strip has become extremely popular and bustling with successful businesses, restaurants and bars, he said. The Seattle Weekly even went so far this year as to name it, “The Best Mile in Seattle.”

The nomination only means that the building qualifies to be a historic landmark. The meeting to officially designate the building will take place on November 7.

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