In August our community got a history lesson when the new owners of the Baker Building at 18th and East Union, Michael Cozzi and Karen Moskowitz, moved forward with an ambitious renovation. Traffic literally stopped when 1960’s era painted advertisements and a poster for Sam Smith’s run for Seattle City Council were revealed as layers of siding were peeled away in late July.
Today the most obvious parts of the exterior renovation are complete. The dated store fronts were replaced with more period-appropriate windows, and the northern, brick portion of the building, which houses Gallery 1412, Tougo Coffee, and an expanded New City Theater, has a fresh coat of paint and some new foundation work.
When the story about the purchase of their building and their transformation of it was covered on CDN two months ago, it was met with mixed reactions. While most of the community responses were positive, some residents voiced concerns about the business owners who had been displaced. When we met last week on the construction site to walk through and survey their progress, Moskowitz was eager to clear up misunderstandings.
“Unfortunately the situation, when you’re buying a building, you can’t spend a lot of time communicating with tenants until the sale is done and all that, so there is always some anxiety,” Moskowitz explained.
“We obviously need to take two spaces for ourselves, but otherwise want to maintain the spirit of the building. You know, having just been displaced ourselves, we understood the dynamics, so our approach was to try to get as much information out there as soon as possible,” she said.
Cozzi and Moskowitz said that after the sale was final they were able to sit down and explain their long term plans for the building with the current tenants and discuss how they could work together as their leases came up for renewal. Cozzi and Moskowitz wanted two units in the building’s wooden south portion for their work spaces, both because of the natural light possible in the corner unit, which is to be Moskowitz’s commercial photography studio, and because of the flexibility that part of the building offered with wood construction. The northern portion of the building is brick and thus offers fewer remodeling opportunities.
They offered the beauty parlor, which was located exactly where Cozzi envisioned his future music studio, a space in the brick portion of the building, as the tenants in 1406 were already planning to end their lease before the building was bought. The hair salon business decided to go elsewhere, but New City Theater was happy to take the vacant space and sign a 10 year lease, allowing for an expansion for the first time in 30 years.
In fact, all the current tenants of the Baker Building have now signed 10 year leases. That means New City Theater, Tougo, and Gallery 1412 are going to remain as important parts of the Central District arts community in the coming decade, and hopefully much longer.
Another concern in the community was the fate of the historic signs that were discovered on the south side of the building in late July. Despite the City’s requirement that the exterior billboard be removed because of the threat of lead poisoning, many in the community seemed hopeful that the piece of history would be able to be saved after all. Unfortunately, they were not able to keep the entire wall intact, but it was removed in pieces.
“We kept the part for ourselves that says ‘Hot Fresh To Go’. And then a few other people took various parts of the sign. Our architect took the part that said, ‘Chinese Food and Grocery’…we saved as much as we could,” said Moskowitz.
The sign from Sam Smith’s 1967 run for Seattle City Council also drew a lot of questions. Moskowitz reported that Mr. Smith’s son came and retrieved the sign. Thanks to word of mouth that piece of Seattle history is exactly where it belongs.
There is still interior work to be completed, but the outside looks nearly finished. There will be new, lit signage for the brick portion of the building, and awnings have been ordered for the storefronts in the wooden structure. The building has been affectionately nicknamed the Parr Building.
“We needed to have a name for the building when we were starting our business entity,” said Moskowitz. She and Cozzi and other artists had studios in the Coho Building in Capitol Hill for 20 years. The Coho is a type of salmon and Parr is a name for a juvenile salmon.
“And so this is like the spawn of the Coho. We swam up the hill,” Moskowitz explained, laughing.
You may view an online gallery of Karen Moskowitz’s photography, following the progress of the 18th & Union renovation, here.