Status: Most Endangered Places
Year Listed: 2019
Location: Seattle, King County
Completed in 1917, the building now known as the Showbox was originally built as the Central Public Market, a competitor to the nearby Pike Place Public Market. In 1939, the building underwent a substantial Art Moderne remodel and opened as a performance venue, “The Show Box.” For the next 80 years, the building continued mainly as a performance venue, with brief stints as other ventures and a few periods of vacancy.
The period of Showbox history many people will remember began with new management in the late 1970s. During this time, the Showbox featured Punk Rock and New Wave-era bands, eventually becoming the premier rock venue in the city. In the 1990s, the Showbox also held comedy shows in addition to continuing to nurture Seattle’s growing rock scene. The Showbox has changed management several times in the recent past, but it continues to be a pioneering music venue and a key feature of Seattle’s identity as a music city.
When it was announced in 2018 that a developer is making plans for a 44-story tower on the site of the iconic Showbox theater, the Seattle community exploded in opposition to the project with the campaign to #SavetheShowbox garnering attention from nationally-known musicians in support of preserving this icon of Seattle’s musical culture.
Due to Seattle’s landmark ordinance and environmental review processes, the developer was compelled to nominate the Showbox for landmark status with no intention of preserving it or incorporating the building into their development. Historic Seattle, a local partner of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, commissioned and submitted a landmark nomination ahead of the developer to ensure it would be well researched and take a nuanced approach to the layered history of the building.
The Showbox was unanimously designated a landmark last year in July 2020, but the campaign to #SavetheShowbox is far from over. The best way to save a building is through a good owner, and that’s why we are hopeful that the pending joint purchase offer from Historic Seattle and Seattle Theatre Group will be accepted.