Talking History: Railspur’s first completed building breathes new life into 1906 warehouse

Renovate and bring a 1906 warehouse into the Twenty-First Century but in a way that respects and reflects the building’s history. This was the design vision for the recently completed 419 Occidental, phase one of developer Urban Villages Railspur project. The result is a striking property that at once evokes images of trains transporting materials to 20th Century laborers and of modern day office workers innovating in tech filled spaces.

419 Occidental is a 89,000-square-foot mixed use seven story project in historic Pioneer Square. The project also has a mezzanine level made of CLT that opens out onto two rooftop decks offering great views of the city and sound. The first floor and basement is approximately 15,202 square-foot and will house a food hall on the first floor with plans for a noodle restaurant/bar and speakeasy on the basement level. The remaining six floors and the mezzanine offer approximately 77,000 square-foot of office space.

The front entrance of the building is located in an east-west alley accessible from Occidental Street – home to the railspurs that give the larger project its name. When you walk into 419 Occidental the blend of old meets new is arresting. A diversity of materials meets the eye – brick, wood, steel, concrete and glass. Floor to ceiling glass walls – punctuated with heavy doors that appear to float in place – separate the lobby from the first floor retail space and allow visitors to see into the first level and out onto the street. Original exposed brick walls and concrete columns juxtapose the modern glass and steel bracing that has been added to the property.

“In terms of the building’s structure, almost everything is original. We only replaced things – like windows or columns – when they were too damaged to be salvaged,” Thomas Schaer principal at SHED Architecture and Design, the architect for 419 Occidental, shared with me during a recent tour of the property.

Traces of the building’s history and former use are also preserved and incorporated into the design. These include vestiges of old windows and chimneys and salvaged pulleys from an original elevator system hung on the first floor walls. The project’s large floor to ceiling glass windows/walls – which are on all sides of the first floor – offer views of Pioneer Square’s historic cobblestoned streets and of the alley railspurs where trains used to transport materials to and from the building when it was a warehouse. Mass timber was also chosen as the material for the construction of the mezzanine in part to mimic timber floors typical in C20 warehouses.

A design highlight – and sure to become an iconic feature – of the project is an eight-story stair tower attached to the building on the same side as the front entrance. The stair tower is also in many ways a microcosm of the blend of old and new at the heart of the project’s design. It is built using a mix of CLT, glass and steel and whilst looking very modern was designed to evoke the fire escapes that are emblematic of many early C20 warehouses and buildings in the area. The steel was also given a rust finish to better blend in with the existing building. The stair tower is completely removable and was added to replace an existing staircase that was previously in the center of the property.

“When you are using the stair tower we wanted it to feel like you are on the side of the building. . .almost like you are somewhere you shouldn’t be,” Shaer added. For sure, this unique feature offers a view that in 1906 would have only been possible for birds.

Denver based Urban Villages is the developer for 419 Occidental. Bobby Harvey, Director of Development at Urban Village’s reached out to Historic Seattle to offer the non-profit a private tour of the completed project and to showcase the historical renovation and restoration work done there.

“I’m really blown away by the project and the transformation of the space” Eugenia Woo, Director of Preservation Services at Historic Seattle said at the event. “In particular, I’m struck by the quality of the project…and how the design is sensitive to the history of the place. . .I think it shows that you can make historically sensitive improvements while at the same time updating and transforming a historic property.”

Urban Villages is currently seeking out tenants for Occidental 419. The project team includes Chinn Construction (General Contractor), Swenson Say Faget (Structural Engineer) PAE, (Mechanical engineer and Energy consultant), MIG-SvR (Civil Engineer, Landscape and Design) and IA Interior Architects who designed the lobby interiors, alley lighting and also worked on project branding.

This project is part of Urban Villages’ larger Railspur historic adaptive re-use development that includes the renovation and restoration of two additional proprieties at 115 S. Jackson and 100 S. King. Railspur will also activate a series of adjacent alleys that connect the three properties.

115 S. Jackson Street is a three-story, 23,000 square-foot multi-family project with 26 market rate efficient units ranging from 250-350 square-feet. All units have lofted beds and a full kitchen. 10 units have outdoor space. There is also a rooftop deck with amenities and a shared laundry room. On the basement level of the property there will be a Bike Club offering rentals, retail, repair and service, a taqueria and a grab and go bodega. SHED is also the architect for this project.

The eight-story 67,000 square-feet 100 S. King will be a boutique hotel with 130 keys. There are also plans for a rooftop bar and restaurant with a wrap-around garden offering unparalleled views of the city’s skyline and event spaces. Biophilic design will dominate. The project features a six story living green wall in the interior of the hotel that all inward facing rooms will look onto. Miller Hull is the architect for 100 S.King Street. As with 419 Occidental the design of the hotel will be respectful and reflective of the history of the area and building. Hotel rooms are being designed to make the most of ‘tactile features’ such as exposed brick so that guest can literally interact with the past during their stay.

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SSF and Emma Hinchliffe


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