Community Post

Washington Hall For Sale – Condos Next?

My busy morning kept me from immediately catching this bit of news in the Seattle Times:  Washington Hall is up for sale, and one of the interested buyers wants to put condos into it.

The current owners are the Sons Of Haiti, an African American order of the Masons, and they are tired of the maintenance hassles of dealing with such an old and needy building.

Charles Adams, a building manager and an officer with the Sons of Haiti, said the group, which purchased the building in 1973 for $50,000, hopes to sell it for $2 million to $2.5 million so it can buy a newer building in Renton for meetings and activities.

As far as the building’s history is concerned, no one knows more about it than Adams. Now 75, he was there when Brown, Hendrix and Cab Calloway played. The hall was often rented out for shows by the legendary black performers. 

Historic Seattle is interested in buying and preserving the building for the community, but the asking price is steep when considering the potential cost of repairs that are needed on the structure.   The executive director of the Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas is interested in partnering with Historic Seattle, including helping with fundraising.

And while I’m generally a supporter of growth, density, and development, can’t we all agree that historic, culturally significant public spaces should be off-limits for conversion to condos?

0 thoughts on “Washington Hall For Sale – Condos Next?

  1. This building has actually been on the market for over a year on and off. I went through it in the early part of 07′ and it’s in very rough shape. Sand is in piles at the bottom of the building from the grout falling out. The top floor had a dead bird, bird droppings everywhere, and exposed studs and electrical to the point this building almost needs to be condemned. At the same time there in unarguably history to this building, hopefully Historic Seattle can find a way to save it, the second best thing would for it to become condos as at least that we preserve some of the building. If it continues on it’s current course I would imagine that someone is going to get hurt in either a fire or collapse of the structure.

  2. The followins is a brief excerpt from Historic Seattle’s “Advocacy Update” published late last year: (see

    Washington Hall, at 14th Avenue and Fir Street, has been an African-American hub since the 1910s. You can view the City’s site record for this historic building at: Built in 1908 as a settlement house by the Danish Brotherhood Society, the hall was the site of Seattle’s first documented jazz performance, a Grand Benefit Ball for the NAACP on June 10, 1918, featuring Miss Lillian Smith’s Jazz Band. In the decades following, the cozy upstairs theater, with its quaint balconies, hosted Marian Anderson, Mahalia Jackson, W.E.B. du Bois, Joe Louis, Duke Ellington, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jimi Hendrix. In 1958, the hall was purchased by the Sons of Haiti Masonic Lodge, which from 1978-98 leased it to performance-art presenter On the Boards.

  3. This has to be the most poorly written article I’ve read in some time. Knowing the Sons of Haiti, they are nothing like what was described in the article–careless money grubbers. Getting the building in others’ hands is more complicated than the article lets on. I have every confidence that Historic Seattle and CD Forum will be able to save that wonderful place. I just wished that the “journalist” would have cut the Sons a little slack.

    P.S. Fats Domino never played there!

  4. You might not be aware that the grey boxes are direct quotes from the Seattle Times article referenced at the start of the blog post, so The Times would be a better place to register concerns about describing the Sons of Haiti as “careless money grubbers.”

    FWIW: I read both the original Seattle Times article and the blog post and did not come away with that impression. Given the increase in land values over the last 35 years (and the large site so close to downtown), the increase in value from 50K to 2M seems not unreasonable. I was happy to believe that the group no longer wanted to shoulder the burden of trying to maintain a historic but decrepit building: the notion of “money grubbing” was not mentioned in either article and never crossed my mind.

  5. Obviously the market is telling them that they are asking too much…. or else it would have sold in the past year, right? Maybe they are money grubbers/ maybe not, but like anyone selling anything, if no one is buying, well… there you have it… Typical of the older families/businesses in this neighborhood to put a property/house with A LOT of deferred upkeep on the market and expect to get close to a well-kept or new property. It just takes them a few months/years and a few price drops to get the point…..I have seen it constantly over the past 10 years in madison valley….

  6. A few details were not made entirely clear in the “Seattle Times” article. Historic Seattle brought the Washington Performance Hall property “under contract” for a limited time in late 2007 to undertake a a study of the feasibility of purchasing and preserving the building. They were looking at the possibility of the the building’s use by the Central District Forum and by other arts and community groups.

    However desirable it might be to renovate and preserve the building for arts uses, the potential income from that is not huge. Initially Historic Seattle estimated it would need to raise at least $7 million from government and private donors. Later estimates were higher — up to $10 million. Although Historic Seattle says it is still working at it, it looks like the initial option has expired and now other purchasers are being solicited by the Sons of Haiti. If the building is to be saved it will require a a lot of commitment from just more than Historic Seattle and the C.D. Forum. Are there potential users — arts groups or institutions, for example — who could commit to using the building if it were preserved?

    It’s most likely that Historic Seattle, or any other potential purchaser that has in mind renovating the building and preserving the theater, will have a tough time competing against other purchasers who have something else in mind. Maybe the future use of the property most beneficial to the community is also the most expensive. If the value’s in the land, deferred maintenance could have little effect on the price the seller can get.