An almost decade-long fight to protect historic resources at the University of Washington in Seattle has culminated in a State Supreme Court ruling in favor of preservation advocates in the case, University of Washington vs. City of Seattle, Docomomo US/WEWA, Historic Seattle, and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. On July 20, the State Supreme Court of Washington issued its opinion—a precedent-setting unanimous decision—holding that the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, at least in some circumstances, applies to property owned by the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle.
This case arose out of an advocacy effort to save the National Register-listed Nuclear Reactor Building at the University of Washington. In response to plans by the University to demolish the building, Docomomo US/WEWA submitted a landmark nomination application in December 2015. The UW promptly filed a lawsuit against the City of Seattle and Docomomo US/WEWA. Historic Seattle and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation joined the lawsuit as intervenors to support Docomomo US/WEWA’s efforts. The UW maintained that as a state institution of higher learning, it was not subject to the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance. In April 2016, the King County Superior Court ruled in favor of the UW.
The City and the three preservation organizations appealed the trial court’s decision. The case skipped the State Court of Appeals because that court requested that the Supreme Court take the case to decide whether a public university is subject to a municipality's preservation ordinance. This is a rare request. Oral arguments took place on June 6 at the Temple of Justice in Olympia. You can watch the proceeding on TVW here (about 45 minutes).
The Nuclear Reactor Building may be gone but it is not forgotten. The importance of the State Supreme Court’s opinion in this case cannot be overstated. This is still sinking in for Docomomo US/WEWA! Read the entire opinion here and the article by the Seattle Times here.
Docomomo US/WEWA and partners are honored to receive a Docomomo US Modernism Award of Excellence in Advocacy for our Save the Reactor efforts. We wish the Nuclear Reactor Building had not been demolished, but its destruction was not in vain.