A plea for the Key

Advocates show their love for the venue

On a day reserved for grand gestures of romance, KeyArena was on the receiving end of some love. 

The multipurpose venue designed by architect Paul Thiry was the focus of a “heart bomb” event on Valentine’s Day, as dozens from Historic Seattle, the Queen Anne Historical Society, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, and DOCOMOMO Wewa (a volunteer preservation group with an emphasis on Northwest Modernism) gathered with hand-made valentines on Feb. 14 to celebrate the building. 

The crafty signs sported messages like, “The coliseum is key to Seattle,” and “The coliseum is a landmark: It’s a Thiry (Paul) & Reality (Bigly).”

Historic Seattle executive director Kji Kelly said KeyArena was a “perfect, opportune place,” to hold the event, because the facility is a community asset that needs to be valued and preserved. 

“It’s a good, demonstrable way for us — as a historical preservation organization — to highlight buildings that are significant, that need to be saved, that need someone to quite literally love them and pay attention to them and take care of them,” he said. 

Kelly said the event also tied into the city’s Request for Proposals regarding the arena’s future. Bidders are required to submit a plan that presumes it will be designated a landmark, but can, in addition, submit a plan for only new construction. 

“We don’t see that as an option,” Kelly said of potentially demolishing the existing arena. “If it comes to that, we’re fully prepared to challenge that type of notion that something like this can be demolished.”

A landmark study performed for Seattle Center four years ago indicated the venue meets all six criteria for that designation, and the city has started the process to review the building’s status. 

Eugenia Woo, director of preservation services for Historic Seattle, and a member of the Docomomo WEWA board of directors, mentioned the building’s connection to the 1962 World’s Fair, and its architecture (with Thiry considered one of the “fathers” of Northwest Modernism) as reasons the Key is worth preserving. 

“We just hope that the city of Seattle will not tear this down, or let it be torn down,” she said. “We hope it gets landmarked and that it will be saved.”

Queen Anne resident and Queen Anne Historical Society board member Nicole Demers-Changelo brought a large “break-up” note with the city of Seattle. She said with everything going on in the city, departments aren’t communicating with each other. 

“Our neighborhood, as a whole, for Queen Anne, is constantly getting overlooked when it comes to resources and services,” she said. “Our neighborhood and our community members use our resources. We use our community center. We love our schools, but we’re often the last on the list of priorities. And so for Seattle to come into our neighborhood and just give away one of our resources without giving us something back is a problem.”

As a historic preservation organization, Kelly said Historic Seattle will continue to push for the building’s future. 

“We want to find either a continued, existing use, or find a new uses for existing buildings,” he said. “So, we’re always going to be a voice for preserving, specifically, KeyArena, because it’s such a valued community asset.”

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