Old QA house nominated for landmark status

The Queen Anne Historical Society convinced the Landmarks Preservation Board last week to accept its nomination to make the Harry Treat Home a historic landmark. The Treat mansion at 1 W. Highland Drive was built a century ago, and it was the equivalent of today's mega-mansions.

But historical significance-like beauty-is apparently in the eye of the beholder, because one of the state's first historic-preservation officers thinks the nomination is based on faulty reasoning.

The landmarks board disagreed on April 19, said Bruce Jones from the Queen Anne Historical Society. "Each member of the board felt it did have merit," he said of the nomination. "So it was a positive experience."

The landmarks board uses six criteria in its nomination process for buildings that are at least 25 years old. The neighborhood historical society is pinning its hopes primarily on one that calls for landmark status if a building "is an easily identifiable visual feature of its neighborhood or the city and contributes to the distinctive quality or identity of such neighborhood or city."

Jones has no doubts. "It has represented an icon of the historic district forever," he said of a home that was converted into apartments in 1923 following Treat's death the year before. "It is definitely a statement of the community and what's been there over time."

Perhaps, but the building was altered again in 1949 when a brick fa├žade was added over the original shingles, noted state historic preservationist Art Skolnik, who is working for the owners of the building.

The brickwork was done on the cheap, he said. "Also, they covered over a lot of the detail that gave character to the original house." In addition, most of the stained-glass tulip windows were added by a later owner, as were most of the dormers, Skolnik said.

Just because people have looked at a building for a long time doesn't mean it's a landmark, he added. "We just think it's a pretty loose argument." It would be different if the building was in its original state and was a pivotal building on Upper Queen Anne Hill, Skolnik said.

Adding a brick facade doesn't lessen the building's cultural impact on the neighborhood, counters Jones. "That becomes part of the building; that becomes part of its history."

Bolstering the historic society's argument, he also said the building deserves landmark status because it is a significant work of architecture, another criteria used in the landmark process.

Skolnik, the state's second historic preservationist and the first professional to hold the job, has precedence on his side. He was hired by the building's owners to shepherd an application for historical status on the national register of historic places, Skolnik said.

The reason for that is that being on the national register provides, among other benefits, tax breaks to the owner, he said. A city landmark status for the apartment building doesn't, and that's significant because it's an old building in need of repair, Skolnik added. "You can't generate enough revenue from the rentals to justify renovations."

The Treat House didn't make the cut on the national register, which was a surprise, Skolnik said. "We were blown away that it wasn't eligible."

Skolnik has since concluded that some claims of historical significance were based on myth. "I'm concerned about the integrity of what gets designated," he said. "In this case, I thought I had been misled."

Skolnik also charged that the landmark nomination for the Treat Home was an over-reaction by members of the neighborhood historical society following the sudden loss of the historic Black Mansion just up the street on Highland. "Now they're coming out swinging to make sure nothing else gets taken down," he said.

Jones conceded that the demolition of the Black Mansion was a factor, but so was the Treat property being put up for sale a year or so ago for close to $9 million.

The building was marketed as a tear-down and the perfect location for luxury condos, according to a sales brochure. That prospect scared people in the neighborhood and members of the historical society, Jones said. "It was just a travesty it was never landmarked all this time," he said of the Treat Home.

Skolnik said the property was taken off the market to avoid muddying the waters during the process of nominating the building for a place on the national register. "I would say it would go back on the market very soon," he added.

Jones was upbeat about preserving the building following the landmarks board meeting last week. "I think we have an excellent chance of getting it landmarked."

Still, while it is difficult, landmark status for a building doesn't necessarily mean it can't be demolished, according to Beth Chave, a spokeswoman for the Landmarks Preservation Board.

The board will make its decision on landmark status for the Treat mansion on June 7, she said.[[In-content Ad]]