I was talking to some soon-to-be Eastlake residents the other night and realized that they (and, I presume, others) didn’t know the history of the Lake Union Steam Plant. Indeed, they didn’t even know that the ZymoGenetic’s building had been a power plant in its past life.
That evening, I happened upon the Flickr stream for the Seattle Municipal Archives. And there was a photo of the plant taken in the 1920s (right). There was apparently some construction work under way at the time (note the wood covering an entrance).
According to HistoryLink, the original power plant on the site, built in 1912, employed hydro power. Water coming down from Volunteer Park turned the turbines. The building was known simply as the “Power House.”
The original Power House is the small building on the south with a red roof. Over the years, the plant was expanded in three phases. Originally intended to produce power for peak loads, it eventually ended up generating electricity for base loads. In the mid-1980s it was shut down (I saw it in operation exactly once).
The original plan was to convert the steam plant to condominiums, but that fell through. ZymoGenetics bought the building in 1993 for $1.6 million and, according to HistoryLink, spent 20 times that much renovating it. It was accorded historic preservation status in 1994.
The plant’s seven original smokestacks were in bad shape and were removed in 1991. Six replacement stacks were installed during the renovation in 1994 (federal standards, HistoryLink says, discourage exact replicas). In the meantime, new condos had sprouted on the western slope of Capitol Hill. Condo owners had grown accustomed to the view unemcumbered by smokestacks.
When the replacement stacks were installed, residents of those condos screamed to the Seattle Times that their views were being destroyed.
A piece of one of the original smokestacks will soon become a permanent part of the Eastlake landscape. We’ll let you know when.
Thanks to the Seattle Municipal Archives for use of the photo.