Urban Politics #158: Monorail Landmark Designation

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.



  • Historic Landmark Status For The 1962 Monorail
  • Standards For Designating Historic Landmarks
  • How The Landmark Designation Process Works
  • My Position
  • Additional Note
  • Viaduct Meeting Changed

Historic Landmark Status For The 1962 Monorail

The Landmarks Preservation Board voted on Wednesday, June 4, to approve an agreement designating the current 1962 monorail as a historic landmark. With this vote, the issue now moves to the City Council for final consideration.

I have scheduled a public hearing on this issue for Wednesday, July 9, at 5 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at 600 4th Avenue between Cherry and James. In addition, I have scheduled a discussion and possible vote in the Neighborhoods, Arts & Civil Rights Committee I chair on Tuesday, July 22.

Standards For Designating Historic Landmarks

There is a lengthy process for designating a historic landmark before it reaches the Council, so I’ll give a brief explanation of how it works, and where the current monorail fits.

Chapter 25.12 of the Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) regulates historic preservation in Seattle. The standards for designating a historic landmark are included in SMC 25.12.350. In order to be designated a landmark, a site or object must be more than 25 years old, and meet one of the following criteria, by being:

– Associated with an historic event;

– Associated with a famous person;

– Associated with a significant aspect of our cultural, political, or economic heritage;

– Embodies distinctive characteristics of an architectural style, period, or method of construction;

– Outstanding work of a designer or builder;

– Prominence of location; contrasts of siting, age, or scale; easily identified feature and contributes to distinctive quality or identity.

How The Landmark Designation Process Works

A landmark must first be nominated. The nomination to grant landmark status to the existing monorail system was filed in October by private citizens. The Landmarks Preservation Board must then approve the nomination for further consideration. The Board did this on March 5. On April 16, the Landmarks Preservation Board then held a required public hearing and voted to designate the current monorail as a historic landmark.

After this designation, the owner (the Seattle Center) and Board staff negotiate specific “controls and incentives.” Controls define the features of a landmark for which a Certificate of Approval from the Landmarks Preservation Board is required to make changes to those features. Incentives may include, for example, zoning variances, building code exceptions, and financial incentives.

The agreement with the Seattle Center lists the following features as requiring a Certificate of Approval: the monorail cars, original concrete beams and pylons, and 1962 elements of the Seattle Center station. A Certificate of Approval is not required for the concrete beams and pylons built in conjunction with the Westlake Station alterations in 1988, and 1988 and later renovations to the Seattle Center station.

My Position

I believe the process at the Council must be fair and open. For that reason, I am scheduling a public hearing and giving as much advance notice as possible.

That said, I am not inclined to support historic landmark status for the current monorail system. I believe that voters cast a vote to tear it down when they voted to build a new monorail system. I believe a new monorail will improve 5th Avenue, and will deliver on the Belltown community’s long-standing desire for a neighborhood station. I do support landmark status for the monorail cars, and believe they should be preserved.

ETC Plan And Current Monorail

The ETC Seattle Popular Monorail Plan included in the ballot measure approved by voters in the November, 2002 General Election, mentions the current monorail as follows:

“A number of people asked whether the ETC could find a way to preserve the existing Seattle Center monorail trains, stations, or guideway. The ‘most promising’ route [on 5th Avenue] proposed by the ETC would upgrade the existing monorail guideway, replacing it with narrower columns spaced farther apart, beams higher above the ground, and a guideway system that would meet current seismic codes.”

I believe this section demonstrates the intent of the ETC Plan to replace the existing monorail. The ETC Plan continues:

“The ETC has studied a number of options that could respond to these requests by relocating stations or by developing a route configuration in this area that could integrate the existing monorail, perhaps in a separate ‘third beam’ configuration.” The ETC did study a “third beam” configuration, and found it was not feasible.

The ETC Plan also noted the monorail authority should work with historic preservation groups and interested citizens to preserve the Alweg monorail cars, either in active service or in a museum, or other setting. The Seattle Monorail Project is doing this.

Additional Note

As a further note, there is a section of the landmarks ordinance (SMC 25.12.835) governing the demolition of landmarks. If the Council were to vote in favor of designating the entire monorail system a landmark, demolition of the current system could still be done with a certificate of approval from the Landmarks Preservation Board.

Viaduct Meeting Changed

The June 11 meeting of the Leadership Group for the Alaskan Way mentioned in UP 154 has been cancelled. The Leadership Group will next meet July 24 at Town Hall in the late afternoon, at a time to be determined.

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