Cultural preservation groups from around Washington state are voicing opposition to the proposed developments on the former Weyerhaeuser campus, arguing that applications to build on the site do not adequately address its historical significance.
The Weyerhaeuser headquarters itself was completed in 1971, with the surrounding campus finished in 1972. In letters to the city of Federal Way obtained by the Mirror, groups like the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP), an independent government agency, and nonprofits like the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation cited the age of the campus and the headquarters’ architectural renown as the main reasons the site should be preserved.
“While 50 years is typically the minimum age for properties to be considered for eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places, since completion the Weyerhaeuser property has been highly acclaimed for its architecture, landscape architecture and master site plan,” wrote Gregory Griffith, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer for DAHP, in a letter dated Aug. 23.
Locally, the board of the Historical Society of Federal Way voted to agree with the DAHP letter, said Historical Society President Diana Noble-Gulliford.
Planning for most construction projects in Washington includes the completion of a “SEPA Environmental Checklist,” a questionnaire issued by the state Department of Ecology per the State Environmental Protection Act. The SEPA checklist asks applicants to list any environmental threats their construction may pose, including those to “historic and cultural preservation,” which is section B. 13 of the list.
“We have reviewed the applicant’s SEPA checklist and find the response to be woefully inadequate as related to Section B. 13, Historic and Cultural Resources,” Eugenia Woo, the Director of Preservation Services for Historic Seattle, wrote in a letter dated Aug. 22. “The applicant’s response references the National Register of Historic Places criteria for evaluation and concludes that the ‘Weyerhaeuser Headquarters has not achieved significance in the past 50 years.’ This is a false statement not grounded in any professional analysis.”
Section B. 13 opens by asking if there are “buildings, structures, or sites, located on or near the site that are over 45 years old listed in or are eligible for listing in national, state, or local preservation registers located on or near the site.” Applicant Chill Build Seattle answered that the “building was constructed in 1969 which makes it 47 years old. Not listed to applicant’s knowledge.”
Andrew Phillips, President of Docomomo WEWA — a nonprofit “dedicated to the Documentation and Conservation of the Modern Movement in Western Washington” — also took issue with Chill Build’s answers to the historic and cultural questions on the checklist.
“To say that the Weyerhaeuser Headquarters has not achieved significance within the last 50 years is to ignore the fact that the property has been considered an exemplary example of Modernist design since it was completed in 1971,” Phillips wrote in a letter dated Aug. 22. “Designed by two of the world’s most prominent architecture and landscape architecture firms… the Weyerhaeuser Headquarters is one of the most architecturally significant Modern properties in Washington state.
“A 1972 [American Institute of Architects] National Honor Award recipient and 2001 AIA Twenty-five Year Award winner, the Weyerhaeuser Headquarters, with its integrated landscape and building design, exhibits enduring significance that has stood the test of time.” We believe there is no doubt that the Weyerhaeuser Headquarters is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places… because it clearly has achieved exceptional importance within the last 50 years.”
Each of the preservation groups closes by advising the city to consult with professional historians and cultural experts before giving final approval to the project.
“The process of a formal, educated, determination of eligibility and significance of the entire site must be completed to adequately inform future development,” wrote Chris Moore, Executive Director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, in a letter dated Aug. 22. “Thank you for considering our request to respect the future of the entire property and its lasting importance to the community.”
The Federal Way City Council will hold a public meeting Thursday, Sept. 1, to gather comments on the proposed developments.