Historic Seattle

What you can do to help save First United Methodist Church

First United Methodist Church.

YES, the First United Methodist Church might be saved! After a decades-long struggle to save the 100-year-old First United Methodist Church from demolition, there is renewed hope that preservation will happen. Located at Fifth and Marion streets, the sanctuary is acknowledged as one of downtown's architectural treasures. Historic Seattle is jubilant that this portion of the community's character may be saved from demolition.

The First United Methodist Church congregation agreed on September 17, 2006 to negotiate with local developer Nitze-Stagen in a complex real estate transaction that would lead to preservation of the historic sanctuary. The company's President, Kevin Daniels, said plans for any new use inside the First United Methodist Church are still evolving, much the same as they did when his company rehabilitated Seattle's Union Station a few years ago. Daniels, a former Chair of Historic Seattle's Council, is known for his coordination of rehabilitation and operations of Starbucks Center, the former Sears Building in SoDo, Merrill Place in Pioneer Square, and the Kodak Building in San Jose, California.

For more information on the congregation vote see the article by Kathy Mulady of the Seattle PI.

As Historic Seattle members know, our efforts to protect First United Methodist Church have extended over the past five years. Our work included forming a Coalition of Historic Seattle, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Friends of First United Methodist Church. This Coalition worked with the church leadership to find a preservation solution including bargaining for a land swap to protect the building after the congregation relocated to another property. You can read more about the Coalition and the Friends of FUMC at: At Historic Seattle's request, both the National Trust and the Washington Trust both placed FUMC on their Most Endangered lists in 2003 thereby gaining statewide and nationwide attention for the threatened building.

The Coalition filed a series of legal challenges to the City of Seattle's environmental review findings which concluded that the church could be demolished without mitigation. In October, 2004 the Coalition conducted a public design charette to encourage viable adaptive re-use concepts for the church building and which demonstrated that demolition was not necessary. View the results of this charette at: First United Methodist Church Design Charrette . Finally, the Coalition filed a legal appeal based on the City's environmental review process. That appeal was denied in the State Appeals Court in November, 2005 and the Coalition paid the church's legal expenses.

The grassroots group Save Our Sanctuary formed in the Spring of 2006 and worked with local media contacts to furnish them with timely information about the church leadership's plans for the site. During the past few years, FUMC leadership told the press it had made the only decision possible--demolition.

Historic Seattle has stressed all along that adaptive re-use, not demolition is the best solution for this site because religious buildings play a fundamental role in Seattle. These properties define our local history, are an important source of artistic patrimony, and provide vital space for many local social services, in addition to their religious contribution. Former religious buildings can be sensitively adapted for other uses, whether for cultural facilities, community centers, commercial space, residential use, and so on. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Partners for Sacred Places have been working together to create models for reusing houses of worship after their religious use is discontinued.

The National Trust conducted a national search for examples of closed religious properties that have been successfully reused. As communities take proactive steps to encourage and protect sacred places, these case studies provide examples of appropriate new uses for First United Methodist Church. Alternative approaches for former religious properties can keep these important community anchors in active use. Examples from across the country demonstrate how these buildings can be successfully adapted for new uses, including restaurants, retail and commercial space, professional offices, cultural and community centers, museums, hotels, and housing.