OCTOBER 2010 NR & WHR NOMINATIONS/LISTINGS » FirstMethodistChurchSeattle

National Register Nomination: First Methodist-Episcopal Church, 1908, Seattle

The First Methodist Episcopal Church is historically significant under criteria A for its direct association with the initial period of Seattle’s downtown commercial expansion, which occurred due to local economic prosperity after the Klondike Gold Rush and the explosive population growth and suburban residential development. During this era, modern urban architectural scale began with the construction of the earliest steel-frame high-rise buildings and the establishment of a concentration of banking enterprises and department stores downtown. While a significant number of commercial properties from this era remain within the downtown commercial core, the First Methodist Episcopal Church is the only extant downtown church building dating from this era.

The First Methodist-Episcopal Church (now commonly known as First United Methodist Church) was the first organized church congregation in the community of Seattle, established in 1853. The congregation subsequently built two early downtown churches. The subject building housed the congregation from September 1908 until March 2008.

The church is also significant under criteria C as a well-preserved and highly significant example of ecclesiastical architecture and as a notable work of the local architectural firm. The church exhibits distinctive Beaux Arts Classicism stylistic features and is an outstanding work of the important Seattle architectural partnership of James H. Schack and Daniel R. Huntington. It includes highly artistic stained glass windows attributed to Povey Brothers Glass Company of Portland, Oregon. The period of significance begins in 1908, the date the building was completed, and ends in 1960, the 50 year cut-off mark.

The church had a seating capacity of 2,000 with three balconies that functioned to increase the seating capacity. It would be clad with brick and terra cotta and included a sixty-four foot diameter “art glass” dome. Cost of construction was estimated to be $125,000. The building is very intact inside and out with little alterations over the course of its use.

The church building remained in continuous and active use for church-related activities as well as public gatherings and musical events throughout its entire history. In the early 1980s the church congregation began to consider redevelopment plans for the church site involving the potential construction of a new multi-use church facility and office tower. In March 1985, the City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board voted to approve designation of the church as a Seattle Landmark. The church appealed the designation decision. The case was eventually argued before the Washington State Supreme Court 1995. On May 9, 1996, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that, due to restrictions it had placed on alterations to the interior and exterior of the building, the Landmark designation was unconstitutional because it violated the rights of church to the free practice of religion.

This was a precedent setting case…and the building has been in the eyes of the preservation community since with various discussion of demolition and redevelopment. In May 20, 2007 the Nitze-Stagen & Co. stepped in with plans to preserve and adapt the historic church building for a permanent new use.

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