Pacific & Ford McKay Buildings
Perhaps the most ambitious of VRE’s historic renovations, the former Pacific & Ford McKay auto showrooms sit at the corner of Westlake and Mercer. By 1939, some 40 automobile-related businesses could be found on the 12-block stretch of Westlake Avenue near Lake Union. However, as years passed these buildings, which were built in the 1920s, were sinking and at risk of collapse. In addition, they were in the path of a major roadway project – the Mercer Corridor.
In 2006, VRE sought and obtained Landmark designations for the buildings, and then worked painstakingly to disassemble the historic elements (including both the exterior and interior tile work) in order to preserve them during the redevelopment process. Every piece was catalogued and put into crates, where they were stored for five years before being rebuilt on a site 60 feet north of their original location. The packaging of the historic elements required a complex catalog system with labels for every piece divided by zone. Every wall, plinth, pilaster, capital, and fluting was measured, and nearly 3,000 pieces of original terra cotta façade and other historic elements were carefully packed into 116 crates and catalogued before being transferred to storage. During the reconstruction process, VRE’s team relied on these records to determine whether a piece of terracotta or terrazzo came from the frieze, the ceiling, or the interior fountain.
In 2015, the reconstructed buildings were unveiled as part of the 270,000 square-foot life sciences building that is home to the Allen Institute, an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit medical research organization dedicated to answering some of the biggest questions in life science and accelerating research worldwide. Located on the northwest corner of Mercer Street and Westlake Avenue North, the building is an innovative combination of old and new which reflects the neighborhood’s history and character.