The vanishing history of Jefferson Park Golf, Part I: The Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board

The clubhouse at twilight. Photo courtesy of Mark Holland.

This is the first in a series of three articles on the current plans and process to demolish the Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse.

by Mark Holland and Mira Latoszek

This fall, the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation (DOPAR) plans to demolish the historic 1936 Jefferson Park Municipal Golf Course Clubhouse on Beacon Hill. DOPAR claims the Clubhouse is of no importance to Seattle history and culture. On February 15, 2012, a landmarks nomination for the Clubhouse was presented before the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board.

The author of the nomination is Bassetti Architects, hired by DOPAR to both prepare the landmarks nomination and to design the replacement facility. Bassetti was about 50% of the way through the new clubhouse/driving range design when DOPAR submitted the nomination to the Landmarks Preservation Board. The Historic Preservation Officer, Karen Gordon, head of the Landmarks Preservation Board staff, approved the nomination for submittal to the Board.

During their presentation, Bassetti Architects and the Parks Department diminished the historical and architectural aspects of the Clubhouse on all six standards in SMC 12.45.350, the Seattle Municipal Code which defines the standards for historic designation of buildings and sites in Seattle.

In a cover letter to the Landmarks Preservation Nomination for the clubhouse, DOPAR Superintendent Christopher Williams details how the Clubhouse fails to meet the six standards for historic designation in SMC 12.45.350. After citing Christopher Williams’ cover letter, the Parks Department project coordinator, Susanne Rockwell, addressed the Board. From the meeting minutes:

“She said that this nomination was submitted as part of the MUP process. She said that this building is not part of the Olmsted plan, many alterations have been made, and it does not meet the needs of DOPAR now. She said that DOPAR has been a good steward and has twenty five landmark properties but did not support nomination.”

Four Beacon Hill community members spoke in support of the Clubhouse. One community member noted the nomination was incomplete because it was for the “building only” and did not include the putting greens, forcing the Board to discuss the Clubhouse out of the context of rest of the Golf Course. From the minutes of the meeting:

“She said that the nomination has a hole in it and the putting greens need to be included; all information needs to be included in the review and if the clubhouse and putting greens are not looked at together it doesn’t make sense.”

The Landmarks Preservation Board chair noted that, according to the rules, they could only consider the contents of the nomination. The Board staff then recommended against approval of the nomination. The Board vote ended in a split; four in favor of approval and four against. Without a majority this meant the nomination failed: the history of the Jefferson Park Golf Clubhouse officially declared not “important” in the Landmarks Preservation Board archives.

A brief discussion followed the vote. Two Board members noted the absence of the putting greens from the nomination. From the meeting minutes:

“Ms. Strong said this was a difficult one for her; she learned to golf here. She supported nomination and wished the putting greens were included… Mr. Hannum noted the loss of integrity but said the building deserved more analysis; he supported nomination. He said he would be more comfortable if the putting greens were included.”

On August 9, 2012, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) approved the Master Use Permit (MUP) application for concept approval and land use variances. All that DOPAR needs now is City Council “Concept Approval” of the new plan, as described in SMC 23.76.064.

The Seattle City Council will vote either for or against “Concept Approval” for the Bassetti plan in a hearing before the Land Use Subcommittee chaired by Councilmember Richard Conlin on September 12, 2012. If the City Council approves the new design concept, the Golf Clubhouse and the century long history of the Jefferson Park Golf course will be tossed in the trash like yesterday’s newspaper.

Meanwhile, just a few miles away, over at the West Seattle Golf course, it is a different story. DOPAR will fully renovate the Clubhouse, and will not ruin the integrity of the historic golf course with a driving range: a project cancelled last year by Parks Superintendent Christopher Williams due to overwhelming public pressure.

What exactly do DOPAR, Bassetti Architects, the Historic Preservation Officer, and four members of the Landmarks Preservation Board find so uninteresting about Jefferson Park Golf History?

Coming up next: The vanishing history of Jefferson Park Golf, Part II: Dreamers and Builders.

Mark Holland and Mira Latoszek are long time Beacon Hill residents, founding members of the Jefferson Park Alliance (JPA), and both served on the Jefferson Park Planning Committee (JPPC) during the North Beacon Hill Neighborhood planning process from 1998-2000. Mira is a co-author of Seattle’s Beacon Hill.

7 thoughts on “The vanishing history of Jefferson Park Golf, Part I: The Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board”

  1. While I have no interest in golfing, and only the history of the golf club house, in what ever shape it takes ,with our Parks Levy dollars . The current clubhouse, while it uses part of the old club house structure, it does not include the very early club house structures I had shown
    a couple of weeks ago. Those would indeed be historical.

    It is assumed that golfer’s fees will be used over time toward it and maintenance,etc. The club house ,the driving range and the golf course is really only used by a relative few compared to other parks and public venues,albeit it is open to everyone.
    So I leave it up to those golfers and others to work out opinions as DOPAR,planners and others come up with viable plans that suits everyone,which isn’t going to happen, but cost a lot of money. L L

  2. I have no interest in golfing, though I like that there is a public golf course available for those who do. However, to even begin to think that the clubhouse fits the description of “historical site” is just bizarre to me. The building looks like any other, does not have any distinguishing features at least externally, and does not seem to meet the six points laid out in the code. Frankly I do not see how including the putting green would make it more “historical”.

    I do not know why the building is to be rebuilt, as it looks ok to me from the outside. It is my understanding that money for the improvements at Jefferson Community Center were previously approved. I don’t understand what the fuss about it now is.

  3. This process has been very confusing to me. The same people who were most active in the original neighbornood plan, and in particular the early proposals for Jefferson Park that pushed for serious elimination or reduction of the most accessible portions of the golf facility, are now the biggest proponents of limiting changes to the same facilities they would have eliminated. Anyone who hasn’t been in the neighborhood very long, or has forgotten what was going on back in the late 90’s, should take a look at the 1999 neighborhood plan which includes a concept plan for Jefferson Park. It is still online at this link:

    Section 5 on page 70 is where the main discussion of the golf facilities begins. This is the recommendation for the driving range: “Build a new driving facility south of the existing facility along with a new clubhouse per the effective design used at the Interbay golf facility. Consider construction of a double-decker facility in order to maximize efficiency of operations and increase the revenues from these facilities. Mitigate the higher structure through placement near the Medical Center and coverage from mature trees along Beacon Ave. which exist at this location. Temporarily remove the Jefferson Park range at the existing site if the West Seattle range is built, until the new Jefferson Park range can be constructed.”

    That recommendation apparently received overwhelming support from the community, but was shot down by the City. It would have demolished the current clubhouse and replaced it with something based on, in their own words, “the highly successful new Interbay facility”.

    Regarding the putting green issue, I don’t want to call the Landmarks Board members unprofessional, but making a remark about the effect of the putting greens on potential Board votes without hearing the actual history of the putting greens really indicates how arbitrary that process is. When Ms. Strong indicated she would have voted for the plan if it included the putting greens did she know that the putting greens didn’t exist in their current location for a number of years after the 1936 clubhouse was completed? Did she know that historically, the putting green was actually where the driving range is now and was only moved to the current location when the driving range was constructed years after the clubhouse was constructed. That would mean that the greens have more of a direct connection to the driving range than the clubhouse and that if you insist on including the putting green in the nomination, the driving range should be included as well, right? The current greens are definitely old, but they are only located where they are because the driving range needed to move to the current location. The fact that they are not original, yet are valuable, indicates that the value lies in the function, which is being replaced and improved.

    Regarding the comparison to West Seattle, their clubhouse is not only the original clubhouse for that course, but it is a much better foundation for a remodel than the current Jefferson clubhouse. Even though it is also in need of a remodel, West Seattle was named by Golf Digest only a few years ago as having one of the 50 best 19th holes in America.

    Jefferson Park Golf history IS interesting, but it involved a number of steps that began more than 20 years before construction of the original version of the current clubhouse. The greatest historical significance of Jefferson Park Golf is that of bringing public, accessible play to everyone, and that is tied more to the course itself and preserving all course functions, including the main course, the short-9, driving range, etc. than it is to a single building. If the original clubhouse that burned down in 1919 was still standing, I would say get the USGA involved and preserve it as a museum of American public golf and build a seperate clubhouse nearby. What we have now is a 1970s remodel of the third clubhouse at Jefferson. It isn’t worth saving based on history or function. It’s time to build a new facility that meets the needs of golfers and will also be able to provide services to other Jefferson Park users.

  4. That clubhouse has to go. Regardless if it’s a major remodel, or a complete teardown, any improvement will be an improvement.

    I go there several times a week for the driving range, the practice greens, or for the course itself, but I try to spend as little time in the clubhouse as possible. It’s not very comfortable, and the restrooms are very uninviting.

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