For some time now I have been amused by the saga of the Ballard Denny's, otherwise known as the Manning's Cafeteria building. If you are unfamiliar with the story (from out of town), you can catch up at my ballard.com--the blog has been following the struggle since the beginning. If you are too lazy to read the whole thing, here's a brief recap:
The notoriously ugly Ballard Denny's building, which is supposedly an example of an obscure 50's-60's architectural movement known as 'Googie', has been the subject of hot debate for at least six months. The Denny's is closed. The Benaroya development group wants to knock it down and build condos; neighborhood activist groups want to save the building.
The building was originally home to the Manning's cafeteria, and the most prominent group fighting to save it is called 'Save Manning's', presumably because it sounds better than 'Save Denny's'. Interestingly, neighborhood residents fought to save the building when Manning's closed back in 1983. They won the battle, and Denny's set up shop in 1984.
In February the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board voted 6-3 to designate the exterior of the Ballard Denny’s a city landmark.
Since then the Benaroya development company has filed suit in King County Superior Court to challenge the decision.
Newsweek has covered the story, along with the AP and all of the major local news sources.
When I first heard that people were fighting to have the building declared a landmark, I cracked up. The building is so ugly that I wouldn't have been surprised to hear that Ballard residents protested when the building first went up in the 60's.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I appreciated the fact that people were fighting to save this 'retro-futuristic' dinosaur. The battle has been criticized for being political and not aesthetic--apparently no one protested when the building was slated to be demolished to make way for the now defunct monorail project, but people got riled up when Benaroya, a development firm, bought the lot.
I find this last detail profoundly pleasing. Talk about heart. I appreciate that there are people in this city who are paying attention and scrabbling to protect the things that give us character. Even, or , perhaps especially, if they happen to be divinely ugly.
When you really start to think about it the Manning's building has an ugliness that verges on grace--much like a good dive bar, the ugliness has a glory to it. One can imagine infinite sags of love and loss unfurling there over cigarettes and coffee. Seedy? Definitely.
I was bitching about this whole saga with a cab driver the other day, and mentioned that there is some talk of incorporating the Denny's building into the proposed condo development. I thought this was pretty funny and was getting a kick out of imagining the monstrosity that might result. We discussed what they would be likely to put into the retail space, and I went on my usual rant about Seattle's glut of useless bistros and salons. Poverty proposed that they put a miniature bowling alley in the space to replace Sunset.
"You know what everyone in this neighborhood really needs?" said the cab driver. "A Denny's." Good point, man.