Earlier expansions beyond the then existing footprints took place before the 1990s and the Save Our Parks Initiative 42: All park land shall be preserved for park.
A Bit of Summary and background of the Legislation:
The City and SAM have had a long-term relationship and operating agreement regarding the museum building in Volunteer Park currently known at the Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM). As part of a 1931 agreement authorized by Ordinance 61998, SAM (formerly the Art Institute of Seattle) agreed to provide funds to build and operate the museum and the City agreed to fund utility costs and janitorial services and keep the facility in good repair. The building was completed in 1933 at a cost of more than $250,000. Additions were constructed at City and SAM expense in 1947, 1954, 1959, and again in 1969. The agreement between the City and SAM was most recently amended in 1981 through Ordinance 109767. In that agreement, the parties agreed to cooperate in assessing the need for capital improvements and in seeking City funding as well as public and private grants for those improvements. In the last 20 years, the City has spent about $3.2 million on capital repairs and improvements to SAAM. Read complete memorandum here.
Changes through Time
Annual reports of the Seattle Art Museum in 1933 and 1934 note some work occurred early in the life of the building. During construction, rock salt was used to keep rainwater from freezing and cracking the stone around the front entrance. The museum decided to have it replaced in the spring of 1934, due to both the salt staining and to make sure weathering remained consistent (Annual Report, 1933, p. 4). Later that year, the Masonite Company replaced the gallery floor, as it had been incorrectly installed (Annual Report, 1934, p. 4).
Drawings citing major changes to the building include those for a roughly shaped L-shaped 1947 office addition on the north and east sides, designed by well known Seattle architect J. Lister Holmes. The addition, restricted to the sub-basement, included seven offices of various sizes (one labeled as the secretary’s office and spatially operating more like a front room or lobby area) and a darkroom to the far west. Two offices make up the easternmost portion of the L-shape, while two others are in the opposite portion of the L-shape, one with a corner assistant’s desk. This addition extended around the northeast corner of the original museum building.In the 1932 original drawings, this space was noted as unexcavated, but Holmes’ 1947 addition plans cite it as an existing store room. Although no drawings cite this work, at least part of the basement was excavated and converted into storage space between 1932 and 1947.
In 1952, Seattle architects Young Richardson Carleton & Detlie proposed an expansion of the building, referring to as the “Museum of Dreams.” This project proposed four new galleries, a wedge-shaped auditorium, an exhibit and activities room, six new children’s classrooms, and new storage to the south and east of the building. It would also have converted an existing lecture hall at the basement into a gallery, and the large gallery in the northwest corner of the main floor into two smaller galleries. The preliminary study for the project showed staff parking in the sub-basement under the auditorium; two circular entrance drives (one to the east, leading to a porte cochere, and one to the southwest); and additional parking.
This scheme was never realized, but in 1954, a single north gallery, for the Samuel H. Kress Collection, was added. Also designed by Seattle architects Young Richardson Carleton & Detlie, this gallery is similar to original ones, measuring approximately 25’ by 35.5’. As a result of this expansion, the gallery directly to the west of the addition was given a new ceiling, and a covered loading dock area for delivery vehicles was created below it off the basement level.
Young Richardson Carleton & Detlie also provided another design in 1955 for alterations and an addition on the east side of the building. The plans, which were soon realized, called for a 31’ by 66’ gallery on the main floor at the southeast corner with a similar sized meeting room below it, which expanded beyond the original back facade by 15.5’. The meeting room, used for the trustees and staff conferences and some social events, also featured a bay window, facing east, which extended an additional 5.25’. The plans also contained details for movable partitions for enhanced flexibility.
In 1969, Bridges/Burke Architects of Seattle provided designs for another alteration to the sub-basement. This included a new mechanical room and library storage in the southeast corner, a second mechanical room on the north, and an office east of those that were added in 1947. At the basement level, there were minimal alterations: a new area way to the south of the 1955 meeting room, and a new doorway from the library to the vestibule to the east. Later changes involved the provision of a covered area for delivery vehicles and windows to offices, both at the north end; the addition of an accessible ramp for exiting the northwest gallery; enlargement of sub-basement storage spaces; and provided a new freight elevator. In the 1980s and 1990s, systems (including mechanical and electrical) were upgraded, and improvements were made to security and fire alarm systems and acoustics in the auditorium. An original meeting room was transformed into a teacher training space, and the library refitted with new casework and technology systems. Investigative studies were undertaken and the exterior sandstone was restored by David Leavengood Architects of Seattle in 1994. In 2005 – 2007, the roofing and skylights were repaired and replaced, along with a seismic upgrade, by S. M. Stemper Architects, Seattle, with structural engineer Ronald Martinson.
Despite the additions made to the Asian Art Museum, the building remains largely intact and original. The visible modifications are limited to the building’s secondary back and side facades, which were more utilitarian and less expressive than the primary west facade. Interior modifications to the galleries are few, and most of the remodeling that has been done has occurred in staff, storage, and service spaces to address needs in areas beyond the public realm. Finishes, such as flooring and environmental systems, have been upgraded, but original decorative finishes have been retained. The entry lobby, garden court, and galleries remain as they were originally designed. The building maintains original aspects of location, setting, design, workmanship, materials, and association. It is a compelling component of the Seattle’s heritage and a vital part of its present cultural life.
*For more images of past expansions and to read all information go to:
United States Department of the Interior
National Park Service / National Register of Historic Places Registration Form
NPS Form 10-900 OMB No. 1024-0018
Seattle Art Museum King County, Washington
If we allow SAAM to expand into parkland now, it will only continue on into the future!