Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The return of the box

The block style rides a wave

In the go-go years of speculative home building in Madison Park (say, prior to 2010) there was a lot of teeth gnashing by certain traditionalists over the fact that cute little cottages were being torn down by developers for the purpose of building large box-like structures that did not conform to supposed neighborhood values.  The idealized character of the neighborhood as "a lakeside village" was, according to this attitude, being disrupted by outsiders who really had no appreciation of the history or ambiance of the Park.

Of course Madison Park has always had a wide variety of housing types, especially when you throw into the mix the mansions in Broadmoor and Washington Park and the many "multi-family" apartment and condo structures that impact both the feel and the sightlines of the area "North of Madison."  We live in an eclectic neighborhood overall, and one that gives residential appraisers fits. That's because of the built-in difficulty of making valid value comparisons between houses that are even in close proximity to each other in the neighborhood.  House styles, sizes, and original construction dates are all over the map, even for any particular block. It's been many years since there was any kind of uniformity for much of the area that comprises Madison Park.

The recent tear-down of the "Rainbow House,"which we chronicled in December ("Another cottage comes down"), brought home for many the fact that the "village" ideal for any part of Madison Park is rapidly becoming outmoded. And as speculative development accelerates, we can assume that our neighborhood's level of eclecticness will be further enhanced.  That's because developers are more likely than otherwise to build angular structures that make use of most or all of the legally available footprint of the property.  Though not using all of the space technically available, the builder of the big abode that will replace the "Rainbow House" is using most of it.  But the company is simply creating in Madison Park what it believes a prospective buyer will demand.

A new rendering of the structure replacing the "Rainbow House"

In our real estate column for this month's edition of the Madison Park Times we quote the builder of the new 3,219 sq. ft. house as saying that the cottage that previously sat on the site was not the kind of residence people would desire in a place like Madison Park.  "We want to be around for the long term," said Isola Home's Colt Boehme, "so when we're building we need to take into account what the market wants. The buyer today is looking for efficiency and livability--and that's what we're hoping to deliver."

Isola also thinks that the style buyers are interested in is "contemporary."  For many spec builders this translates into a boxy modernism, though Isola itself claims to eschew boxes.  But as speculative building picks up in Madison Park, it's inevitable that more boxy structures will be added to the neighborhood mix. A good example of what we're talking about is this entry being constructed by another builder in the same general area as Isola's property:

A new spec house on 42nd Avenue E., North of Madison

There seems to be a bit of a trend here, and we're aware of other small houses that will soon be coming down to make way for larger, state-of-the-art structures. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with it. But if these houses are easily sold, it may well portend the relatively quick end to the ideal of Madison Park as a village.

For now, what we do know where we've come from:

An "ungentrified" row North of Madison

What we don't know is exactly where we're headed.  It could be this:

Two full-footprint houses on 30-foot-wide lots in Washington Park

[Blogger's Note:  Before anyone accuses us of being anti-box or anti-spec house, take note that we ourselves live in a box (a New England saltbox, to be sure) which we purchased from a speculative builder in 2001.  The house, which holds 2,400 square feet, replaced a teardown cottage of perhaps 800 square feet. So if replacing the old and small with the big and new is a problem, we're part of it.]  

[Graphic courtesy of Isola Homes.]


  1. If all the NW modernist and postmodernist architects were to meet untimely (timely?) deaths, then maybe people would start building homes with real warmth in them again. One can only hope that homeyness at some point has a comeback. COLD is a big problem here (not to say anything about flat roofs in a rainy climate), but then again maybe 'Flat-and-Cold' is just the ticket for Madison Park?

  2. Remember the old woman who lived in the shoe? Now we have the young family that lives in a toaster.

  3. Ya know... I simply don't know if there is an answer to this one. If I drive through a developed community that was designed with architectural uniformity in mind, I think " yuk! Too uniform". If I drive through a gated community like broadmoor with certain expectations given the zip code, I think "yuk, not uniform enough". Boxy structures make more $ for the builder because you maximize living space by not having a pitched roof. My guess is with the economy at a crawl, a lot more boxy homes are coming. I think I'll stop thinking now...

  4. Taking down the fence along the water in Madison Park will go a long way toward destroying Madison Park as the village as you say at the end of your article here.

    The ultra modern houses I don't mind as much as the huge influx of people from outside the neighborhood to the quiet waterfront we have enjoyed peaceably for so long.

    The powers that be down town in Seattle must really resent the quiet neighborhood we have all enjoyed for so many years here in Madison Park.

    Our "village" will be going the way of the buffalo thanks to Seattle City government and their failure to protect the waterfront environment of Madison Park.

    I wonder where all the aggressive environmentalist are when we need them to protect the aquatic ecosystem along our waterfront in Madison Park?

    Steve Waszak

  5. Build the DANG fence around Madison Park so we can keep the RIFF RAFF out! Worked in Arizona, so why not in the PARK?

    1. Hey! It's too late to build a fence! You already live in Madison park.

    2. The previous poster should realize that there are people in Seattle who think that Madison Park should be fenced in!

  6. The fact that people don't care what their houses look like anymore is just more of the same detachment from their surroundings that is provided by ipads, iphones, DVD players in your car, etc.

    When you walk around with your head up your..... things like charm are meaningless to you. Why would you care if your house has square corners, or craftsman-style brackets supporting roof overhangs, as long as you can text your BFF while driving your SUV with your kids in the backseat watching "The Lion King" for the 137th time, instead of looking out the window playing "I Spy."

    These houses can be cranked out quickly, since everything is square and there is no pesky, time-consuming craftsmanship involved in building one. They maximize square footage, because why wouldn't they, and because more house means less yard, because mowing takes time away from texting.

  7. So where does the Madison Park Community Council (MPCC) stand on the issue of BOX Houses? Is there apparent silence on this issue what Madison Park wants?

    The MPCC website still refers to Madison Park as a "Village"!

  8. The MPCC has as much say in what someone's house looks like as I do.

    The lack of understanding about what that club (that's all it is) can and cannot do is astonishing. Home construction is governed by zoning laws and building codes. You will never be able to legislate good taste.

    1. So how does one get an understanding of "what that club (that's all it is) can and cannot do"? Does anyone know the answer?

  9. Go to a meeting and ask, or visit their website. Both activities will clearly explain the purpose of the MPCC. Better yet, join up. They are taking nominations for new members through the next meeting in early May.

    1. I don't believe that many in Madison Park know or care what the MPCC is for or does and that has been the situation for years! The real issue is why did the post refer tot he "Council" as a "Club"?

      Maybe Bryan might be persuaded to try to explain what the Council is and does for Madison Park!

  10. Way to put Bryan on the spot . . . .

  11. No time better than now given the May elections for Council offers to discuss a way to change the Madison Park Club to be a full functioning "Council" that is fully representative of Madison Park!

    It's high time for us to wake up in Madison Park and change the "Club" into a "Council"! If we don't take this opportunity now we will have to wait another year or maybe we will have to wait for another "Friends of Madison Park"!

    Bryan and everyone should speak up now! Why do only a few use the BLOG to speak truth to power?

  12. Wow. The revolutionaries are coming out. First Egypt, then Libya. Next......Madison Park?

    Only a few use the blog to "speak truth to power" because only a few read the blog (600 readers in the whole wide world). Of those, I am confident in saying that 99.9% are part of the "we should, we could, we would," who are all talk and no action.

    The only people who are justifiable in talking about what is right and what is wrong, are people who take action. Oh, and I mean besides typing. How seriously can complainers be taken when they do nothing to change their plight?

    FYI, besides the ability to sign letters "Madison Park Community Council..." The council, and all others like it in the city, have no more power to influence anything than you or I, as citizens of the city. If you want to stifle what people do with their private property, join a condo or homeowner's accociation.

    1. If this blog has 600 readers in the whole world, then how many attendees does the MPCC have for each meeting or even for an entire year. I dare to say that more people read this blog then know who or what the Council is for!

      There are good reasons why this blog is used to speak their views rather than MPCC meetings!

      Yes, it's time for the revolutionaries to come out of the woodwork and speak up, if not we will continue to be represented by a self appointed "CLUB"!

  13. Huh?

    You people want change, want knowledge and understanding and the way to that end is to sit and complain, virtually in private? Did you go to the Sarah Palin School of How to Govern via Twitter?

    At some point, at least one of you revolutionary-types is going to have to go to a meeting, if for no other reason than to announce to the Board that they have been overthrown by a gang of none. Then, you too, can have no power over the things that you incorrectly believe that community councils have power over.


    1. So one must ask, what does your beloved MPCC have the power over? Can any CLUB member state why we have the MPCC when it can't even take a position on box houses?

  14. Actually, one must ask why the MPCC should take a position on box houses at all. What sort of position would that be?

  15. Everyone who reads this BLOG, especially those who use this blog to comment about Madison Park, should thank Bryan for continuing to maintain an independent blog that allows us to learn what is happening in Madison Park and to COMMENT!

    I don't believe that this level of information or involvement with comments in possible in any other venue and especially in the Club (Council)!

    I for one, hope that members of the MPCC board read these blog comments so they might hear and learn what people are really thinking even if they sign "Anonymous". Hopefully some of the comments are from the Board!

    The 600 people who read this blog are not all "revolutionaries". Nor is daring to speak up a revolutionary act, even in Madison Park!

  16. The MPCC can take a position on anything they want. So can I and so can you. We can write letters to the mayor that say, "I hate boxy houses," and so can the MPCC.

    The upshot is that the city, beyond zoning considerations like allowable lot coverages, height limitations, and compliance with applicable codes, has zero say in how I design a house that sits on my private property.

    If it helps you to sleep at night, knowing the MPCC hates boxy houses as much as you do, then you should go to a meeting and urge them to write a letter to the city saying "We, the MPCC, hate boxy houses."

    Beyond that, there is nothing they, you, or I can do to stop people from building boxy houses in a free society. Should you wish such control, I advise a move to a planned community, named after some land or water feature, complete with unnecessarily added "e" at the end of the name, where an association controls everything about what you are allowed to do with your own investment.

    Otherwise, boxy houses are just a part of life in the big city.

    1. Thanks for a great post -- and thank heaven we don't live in Madison Parke.


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