On April 10, 1974, J. B. Simpson died. He willed his plant to Alaska-Arctic board member Otto Johnson.

With his sister Christine, Johnson managed it for three more years. Then, he sold the property to Brodie Hotel Supply, Inc.

The landmark structure would go forward to relationships with a range of resident artists, art events and art resources. In 1998, however, despite attempts by artist residents and a well-known Boston arts developer to buy and save it, the "landmark" was completely structurally altered. Under a Variance from the Seattle Landmarks Board, the most significant wall was destroyed, the roof and top celiings rebuilt – and the old structure was physically married to a shoddy new building. With entrances altered, it was divided into narrow condominiums.

These declined, partly owned and partly rentals. By 2009, the once-grand south facade was sporting a complete covering of tarps, signifying the repairs needed by its faulty conversion.


     In Conclusion

In the 1980s, the Seattle Empire Laundry would become another kind of landmark: a pioneering instance of artists' housing. Fondly known as "66 Bell", the old building housed and entertained countless artists and visitors. Punk rock concerts were played, record labels started, sound installations presented, films made, theater staged, galleries housed and open studios held inside its premises.

In 1997-1998, a group of the resident artists tried to stop its transformation into condominiums by making a market-rate offer for the building - which would have been preserved as artists' studios, while being seismically retrofitted.

They were helped by a Microsoft executive, the head of a local law firm and the late, beloved Boston developer John McLaughlin. McLaughlin brought to the proposal twenty years of work in creating and preserving artists' housing - in Boston, his extant work in that field includes the Brickbottom complex, the Artist Tenants of the South End building and the celebrated Laconia Lofts project.

The owners of Seattle Empire declined to consider any offer. On March 3, 1998, they submitted to the Department of Construction and Land Use an eleven-paragraph Historical Background document about the laundry.

This inaccurately asserted that the building's original east entrance no longer remained, claimed that "no historical photographs are available", incorrectly asserted uniform interior ceiling heights and cited the installation of a 1919 ramp that was in fact never built. (The permit in question had been mis-filed; it applied to a nearby department store property).

The document also incorrectly asserted that the owner and developers' plans for the building "do not call for exterior changes, except to the north facade."

On March 18, 1998, the Seattle Landmarks Board Coordinator submitted document LPB 90/98 to the city's Department of Construction and Land Use, stating that "it was unlikely that the building at 66 Bell Street would meet the standards for landmark status". Fifteen days later, the same official accepted a landmark nomination for the building and set it to be heard May 20, 1998.

That day, the Landmarks Preservation Board issued a six-paragraph Staff Report (LPB 161/98) that acknowledged the "extensive research" presented in the nomination materials, yet recommended that the Board decline to grant landmark status.

During the May 20 nomination hearing, advocates hired by the owners also vigorously opposed the landmark effort. They insisted they would continue to do so.

Nomination was granted; the designation hearing was set for July 1, 1998. The landmark proponents made a legal request that discussion of the building's historic features precede granting of any permission to partially destroy it - via the granting of a Certificate of Approval.

Nevertheless, before designation arguments were heard, the owners were given permission for such alterations. The building was designated a Seattle landmark later that day, in the early evening of July 1, 1998 (LPB 231/98). Officially, its significant features were to be preserved.

Many people at the local, regional and national level supported the building's nomination (see Landmark Credits). Like the majority of contributors to the research effort, almost none were ever residents in the building. The Seattle Empire Laundry building, greatly altered, is now a set of condominiums and rental units known collectively as "Belltown Lofts".


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