On the Block: After 94 years, the W.G. Clark family is ready to redevelop its prime spot in SLU

The north portal of the viaduct replacement tunnel is taking shape, and so is a new apartment project nearby at 408 Aurora Ave. N. — on the site that has been home to W.G. Clark Construction Co.for the past 94 years.

W.G. “Bill” Clark founded the firm in 1910, and in 1923 he reassembled an old barn near the corner of Harrison Street for his company’s new headquarters.

“It’s a pretty old building. There’s a lotta history here,” says Chris Clark, Bill’s grandson. “It is extremely emotional.”

The barn, he recalls, “was the nucleus of an old farm” his grandfather bought in 1921 on the 400 block of Yale Avenue North, where Amazon is today. His grandfather ran a contracting business doing repairs and renovations, and used a fleet of Model Ts to reach customers.

When the railroad came through, Bill moved the barn, originally built in 1888, to the present Clark property, which he bought for $400. That two-story barn has been renovated several times, and is now likely the oldest building in South Lake Union.

“In 1933,” says Clark, “Seventh Avenue North became Aurora Avenue North, and they chopped 12 feet off the building to widen the right of way.” State Route 99/Aurora was built during the 1930s as part of the Pacific Highway.

Clark began going to the office as a child during the 1950s. “It was always noisy,” he recalls, “but there were still parking meters on Aurora.” Interstate 5 didn’t yet exist. And when the Battery Street Tunnel was connected to the Alaskan Way Viaduct in 1954, adding even more traffic to Aurora, the building entrance was turned around to the east.

After three generations of family ownership, the Clarks sold their company to current management.

“I retired from the business 10 years ago,” says Clark, though he still keeps a small office at the headquarters building. “The family is completely out of the business, but we still own the property.”

Now the site is being developed by the Metropolitan Companies. The building at 408 Aurora will be seven stories with 75 studio apartments, a roof deck, large bike room and no vehicle parking. The site is about 7,200 square feet.

“It’s a very unique site,” says Metropolitan’s Trent Mummery. “There’s not really a street frontage.”

Indeed, the site is constrained to the west by Aurora and the tunnel portal below — though there is a sidewalk and planting strip. To the east is an L-shaped alley.

On the same block Wilshire Capital Partners’ is planning 403 Dexter, with 98 units, and Mill Creek Residential is building 435 Dexter (aka Modera South Lake Union), with 294 units that are scheduled to open early this year. Two smaller parcels on the block are owned by Kilroy Realty Co.

When the tunnel opens to traffic, likely in 2019, Harrison will be extended across the old Aurora trench, connecting Seattle Center with SLU. The new intersection at Aurora will have crosswalks and a traffic light. Thomas and John streets will likewise be reconnected.

Design documents for 408 Aurora say future residents on the building’s west side will have unobstructed views of Seattle Center, Queen Anne and Olympic Mountains. That’s because of the new north portal and the Gates Foundation’s low-rise campus to the west.

ARC Architects is designing 408 Aurora. The team also includes Karen Kiest Landscape ArchitectsSwenson Say Faget structural engineer and LPD civil engineer.

Who’s the general contractor? We’re guessing W.G. Clark has the inside track for that job.

Total cost is estimated around $7 million. Unit sizes will range from 305 to 410 square feet. Total project size is about 38,000 square feet.

The master use application for 408 Aurora has been submitted, says Mummery. Pending final permits, “We hope to break ground in the fourth quarter of this year.” Construction should last about 18 months.

So where will W.G. Clark go? Current President Scott Smith didn’t respond to DJC queries, but Clark says that the company has bought, or has an agreement to buy, a new building in Eastlake. He says the company will move sometime this year, depending on when the apartment project starts.

W.G. Clark recently won two AGC Build Washington awards for renovating of Pier 54, and constructing the UW’s Maple and Terry Halls.

“The construction company has outgrown the building,” Clark says. For over a decade, the firm sublet space from its neighbor KING TV. “But when KING sold the property, we knew the end was near.”

Of the apartment plan, he says, “We’d been thinking about it for 10 years. We’d been seeking to purchase the parking lot [to the south] from KING, but that didn’t come to pass.”

Two years ago, Kilroy paid $50.4 million for the KING block, and two related parcels across Harrison, for its project at 333 Dexter Ave. N. After that, says Clark, “We engaged Trent and started conceptualizing.”

“We’ve owned this thing for 90 years,” says Clark, “and hopefully it’ll remain in the family for another 90 years.”

So what will they call 408 Aurora? The Clark Arms? Clark says no decision has been made.

Or, wait, here’s my suggestion: The Barn.

Clark suspects some of the barn’s old old-growth timbers may be worth salvaging — and may be used on 408 Aurora.

“Underneath the stucco is the cedar siding that grandpa took off the old barn. We don’t want to lose the connection,” he says. In such a changed neighborhood, “This really is a prime piece of property.”

Sometimes when he goes to the office, Clark says he thinks: “I may be the only person in a several block radius who’s worked in the same neighborhood since 1971. Everyone here is new!”

As will be the future residents of 408 Aurora.

IMAGE CREDITS

ARC Architects

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