The (former) Theodora building in northeast Seattle, located on 35th Ave NE closest to the corner of NE 68th Street, went through a transition to new use and became a regular apartment building called The Mod in the year 2016.
The Theodora Home was formerly low-income housing operated by the Volunteers of America, which had been on that same site in a series of buildings since 1914. The Volunteers of America no longer operate housing in Seattle and have consolidated their work in Snohomish County, so the decision was made to sell the Theodora building in Seattle.
The Theodora, built in 1965, was sold to a private developer in 2015 who renovated the building, built an addition, and refurbished the exterior landscaping. The building was designated as a historic landmark under Seattle’s historic preservation program. The report describing the building and its design, can be read here.
Northwest Modernism in architecture on 35th Ave NE at NE 68th Street
The Theodora (now called The MOD), built in 1965, was designed in an architectural style called Northwest Modern, with its use of exposed wood, overhanging roof and clean lines. The horizontal lines of the structure and its projecting form toward 35th Ave NE makes the building appear to float. The exterior includes stained wood, with strips of windows at the first and second floors, heavy timber beams that project from the building face at both floor levels, and a flat roof with projecting eaves.
The Theodora is nestled in its site by plantings on all sides to give the feeling that the building is an organic element in harmony with its outdoor areas of trees and patios. The creation of indoor-outdoor living spaces is one of the style features of Northwest Modernist buildings.
Along 35th Ave NE at the intersection of NE 68th Street the Theodora is adjacent to two other buildings by premier Northwest Modernist architects: the Northeast Branch Library (designed by Paul Thiry) and the University Unitarian Church (Paul Hayden Kirk).
The Northeast Branch Library at 6801 35th Ave NE is the only other Northwest Modern structure along 35th Ave NE which has been designated in Seattle’s historic preservation program.
The Theodora becomes a historically landmarked building in 2015
The original architects of the Theodora were Grant, Copeland & Chervenak. In 1964 this firm designed the Forest Sciences Laboratory at the University of Washington in Seattle, with exposed wood beams and glass screens similar to those on the Theodora.
At the June 17, 2015 meeting of the City of Seattle’s Landmarks Preservation Board the initial presentation, called nomination, was given by the Clark Design Group, the architects for the renovation of the Theodora. Portions of the Theodora which have been “landmarked” include the primary façade: the exterior along 35th Ave NE with its distinctive horizontal form, wood beam elements and contrasting glass screens. Some portions of the building’s interior will also be preserved, including the atrium, fireplace and lounge. As these areas are renovated, geometry and materials must match the original.
Additions and site improvements within historic preservation guidelines
It was required that the additional building to be built at the southern end of the complex must match the original Theodora in style and in scale. The site itself with its plantings was reviewed by an arborist during the historic-review process, with exceptional trees marked for preservation and an overall site plan to refresh the landscaping, which had become overgrown. The proposed site plan included more lighting to be installed on walkways, patios and entries around the building on all four sides, and signage to mark entries.
In 2015 the Clark Design Group applied for permits for construction at the Theodora, including interior renovations. The proposed construction of an addition at the south end of the property met with approval of its design both by the City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board, and by the City of Seattle’s Department of Planning & Development (DPD) for permitting. The modifications to the building and an addition were within the parameters allowed by the historic-landmarking process.
A new era of denser development along 35th Ave NE
Things are changing along northeast Seattle’s main arterial of 35th Ave NE. In 2012 to 2015 the Future of 35th Ave NE Project worked to put together a plan for “having a say” as buildings along the commercial corridor age and are replaced. One of the proposals was to allow taller buildings at the commercial intersections, with apartments on the upper floors. This greater population density would help to support local businesses.
One of the chief goals of the Future of 35th initiative is to get what people want along 35th Ave NE: a walkable commercial environment. In other words, instead of blank townhouse walls, we want the zoning to require retail storefronts and public amenities such as sidewalk spaces with canopies and courtyards. The zoning request is also called a pedestrian zoning plan because it will make the commercial district attractive for walking and shopping.
The Final Report of the Future of 35th project which summarized the findings was presented to Seattle City Council with a request for a “legislative rezone” of the commercial intersections along 35th Ave NE at the corners of NE 75th and 85th Streets. Some effects of the proposed rezone would require that buildings in these zones (at the commercial intersections), have street-level retail, restaurants and services to create a pedestrian-friendly area with residential units on the upper floors.
Destruction of commercial buildings along 35th Ave NE due to lack of zoning
A meeting called by Seattle’s Department of Planning & Development (DPD) was held across the intersection from the Theodora, at Congregation Beth Shalom, 6800 35th Ave NE, on June 24th, 2015. The meeting was part of the concluding discussions of the Future of 35th plan.
DPD was asked to assess the possible changes in zoning on 35th Ave NE at the intersections of NE 75th and 85th Streets to create a well-thought-out plan of development for business spaces. However, this request was never followed through (see 2017 update below.) As a result, all of the time and effort by Wedgwood volunteers, and thousands of dollars in grant funding for the research and zoning study, was wasted and came to nothing. Since this June 2015 meeting, absolutely nothing has been done about the zoning request to protect commercial zones along 35th Avenue NE.
As of January 2016 new Seattle City Councilman Rob Johnson, representing District 4, became chairman of the City’s Land Use & Planning Committee. Despite many applications for his consideration, CM Johnson has never enacted Wedgwood’s request to address the zoning in the commercial district along 35th Ave NE. As a result, some commercial buildings have been torn down and replaced with unwanted townhouse structures. More buildings are threatened by this kind of development, as long as there is not the proper zoning restrictions which would require retail storefronts. To date, CM Johnson has been unresponsive to the issues in Wedgwood.
The Theodora becomes The MOD
The final step in the “landmarking” process for the Theodora building took place in 2015 with approval by City Council. Historic landmarking of the Theodora building allowed the addition of new buildings on the south end of the property.
Landmarking does not restrict the naming of a building. As the Theodora has undergone remodelling into a “regular” apartment building, the new owners decided to rename it The MOD. Apartments began to be occupied as of the summer of 2016 in the completed portions of the building, while the additional, new building at the southern end of the property were still being completed.