Old grocery now a museum: ‘It’s a modern cathedral’

Curved glulam beams at Cascadia Art Museum in Edmonds rise up to 26 feet over the gallery floor, creating a huge barrel vault.

“It’s a modern cathedral,” said Lindsey Echelbarger, the museum’s founder and president. “It’s really graceful, soaring lines that these huge curved beams create.”

That’s high praise for a former supermarket built in the 1960s.

The project won the Art + Architecture Award in Historic Seattle’s eighth annual Preservation Awards.

The museum opened in September 2015, occupying half of what had been the 22,000-square-foot store at 190 Sunset Ave. S. It focuses on paintings, prints, photography and sculpture created by artists who were active in the Northwest during the mid-19th through the mid-20th centuries — a period the museum said has been largely overlooked.

Johnson Architecture & Planning designed the museum, which has five galleries. Exhibits in the Gateway Gallery will change yearly, and other galleries will change exhibits quarterly.

Echelbarger said he and his wife, Carolyn, were frustrated at the lack of attention paid to a number of very good Northwest artists, so they started the nonprofit museum. They provided start up-money and make ongoing contributions.

Cascadia exhibits about 200 artworks, none of which it owns. It borrows from collections, artists’ families, museums, and from the University of Washington Special Collections archives.

“The idea of a regional museum is not rocket science,” said Echelbarger. “Most of the other regions of the United States appreciate collecting and showing, and are proud of their regional artists. The Northwest is behind for a variety of reasons.”

Cascadia’s visitors can identify with the art they see there “because it’s art they already know,” he said. For instance, one show of watercolors of Washington state from 1800 through the 1930s depicted many familiar scenes.

“We had watercolors of Seattle Center being built and everybody could identify with the buildings and appreciate the artwork because they were intimately familiar with the subject,” he said.

Currently the museum is showing art by Peggy Strong, who was born in Tacoma and became a painter despite being partially paralyzed in an automobile accident in 1933, according to the museum’s website.

The former Safeway store was designed by architect Charles Ogden of Everett, and opened in 1966, said Echelbarger.

The space housed an antiques mall for about 20 years before Salish Crossing LLC bought it and the rest of the 60,000-square-foot shopping mall in 2012.

The LLC is completing the renovation of Salish Crossing mall and bringing in new tenants, including by adding a building in the parking lot that will house Top Pot Doughnuts.

A corridor was created to divide the former supermarket into space for the museum and retailers in the other 11,000 square feet. Scratch Distillery, Brigid’s Bottleshop, a specialty beer retailer, and an upscale restaurant called 190 Sunset occupy that space, driving traffic to the museum and vice versa, said Echelbarger.

He has been involved in real estate for about 40 years. Among Echelbarger Co.’s projects are a QFC shopping mall in Bothell and two strip malls anchored by Bartell Drugs in south Snohomish County.

Echelbarger said the 4.5-acre Salish Crossing, located midway between the Puget Sound and Main Street Edmonds, was a diamond in the rough when the LLC purchased it, but is now 90 percent leased.

Lindsey and Carolyn’s son Nicholas is the principal developer of the strip mall, and the parents and others are investors. “My son and I recognized this potential in this well located property,” Echelbarger said.

Inside the Cascadia Art Museum, the high ceilings of the Safeway store create expansive space for art, unlike in many small museums that often have low ceilings, he said.

The flooring is Douglas fir end-grain blocks, part of the museum’s effort to use Northwest products.

Over each gallery entrance is a plaster relief sculpture Cascadia created from molds by Glen Alps, a longtime professor at the University of Washington School of Art.

The museum project team includes Delap Construction, contractor; Swenson Say Faget, structural engineer; Lovell-Sauerland & Associates, survey and civil engineer; and Studio Lux, lighting designer.

Steve Johnson, principal with Seattle-based Johnson Architecture & Planning, said the project was complicated partly because utilities had to be placed around the up to 50-foot-deep capped pilings that hold up the foundation. “We tried to be as clever as possible and not drive the cost up, and create good spaces,” he said.

Because of unstable soils, the parking lot had dropped three feet. So the team had to devise a ramp to the museum that would not dominate the facade, he said. Planters were used to hide the ramp, with both installed on pilings.

“We wanted to keep the structure of the Safeway store open because it was beautiful and appropriate to the era of the museum,” Johnson said.

To meet current energy codes, a performance-based energy calculation was done. Johnson said this allowed for added insulation under the roof and in exterior walls, where it would not take away from the structure.

Johnson said the expansive space is well suited for displaying art, but “when we (first) saw the old antiques mall it was a little stretch of the imagination.”

The museum has about 700 members now and recently raised $350,000 in an auction.

When Echelbarger first saw the former Safeway store, he said he thought it would make a nice museum space.

“And it actually turned out to be a spectacular museum space,” he said.

Cascadia Art Museum project



Tom Marks Photography


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