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130-year-old Seattle landmark severely damaged by fire in Belltown neighborhood

The historic Wayne Apartments was scheduled for demolition despite being granted landmark status in 2015. The apartment building dates back to the 1890s.

SEATTLE — A historic building dating back to the 1890s was severely damaged by a fire in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood early Thursday morning.

The fire at Wayne Apartments, located on the 2200 block of 2nd Avenue, was first reported just after 4 a.m. At one point, black smoke from the fire could be seen over the Seattle skyline as crews worked to put the fire out.

Seattle Fire Department spokesperson David Cuerpo said the building was divided into three separate units with no central hallway, which created a challenge for firefighters as they had to go down a set of stairs and then back up a set of stairs to get to each unit.

The fire was upgraded to a 2-alarm fire once crews confirmed it had spread to the void space between the ceiling and the roof of the building that connected the adjacent units. Cuerpo said when a fire reaches that void space, it can “spread through the entire building. So that’s exactly what happened.”

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The fire was under control by 5:45 a.m. and Seattle Fire scaled back the response to “a few units” by 6:15 a.m. Seattle Fire tweeted crews would remain on the scene until the fire was fully extinguished.

Cuerpo said first responders did not find anyone inside the building when they made entry. No injuries have been reported.

The Seattle Department of Transportation closed sections of 2nd Avenue, Bell Street and 3rd Avenue for several hours while crews responded to the fire. All roads reopened before 10 a.m. King County Metro said the emergency response also caused service delays for buses traveling in the area.

Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections responded to the scene to evaluate the building’s structural integrity.

The cause of Thursday’s fire is currently under investigation. Seattle Fire said no damages were estimated due to the building being slated for demolition.

The Wayne Apartments building is one of Seattle’s oldest landmarks. It was built between 1889 and 1891 and became a city landmark in Oct. 2015.

The building was one of the last examples of a rowhouse, according to Steve Hall, SEPA representative for the Friends of Historic Belltown.

During the Denny Regrade, the iconic rowhouse portion of the building was raised and the first-floor commercial space was created. In 2015, the building landmark designation said it "contributes to the distinctive quality or identity" of the neighborhood.

The city's Department of Neighborhoods said when it came to the Wayne Apartments it evaluated "economic hardship factors" that are in the city's Landmarks Ordinance and placed "no controls" on the building.

Documents from the city show that Wayne Apartments was to be replaced with seven stories of market-rate housing with first-floor retail. It's a brand new design that seemed to leave the building's history in the past. The building's design plan states part of the 2nd Avenue façade would pay "homage" to portions of the Wayne Apartments.

A spokesperson for the city of Seattle confirmed a demolition permit was issued for the building. However, the developer “was not able to demolish it because of trespassers living in the building.” The spokesperson said the developer was in the process of going to court to get an “ejectment order.”

In early June, Hall wrote an email to the city requesting action to address public safety risks at the vacant buildings on the block after several people and businesses “expressed concerns regarding criminal activity” in the area.

In the email, Hall said the properties, which included Wayne Apartments, were abandoned and slated for demolition, but "are now being regularly entered by people.” Hall added that “intimidating individuals and groups are regularly concentrating and loitering” in the area, and along the abandoned storefronts and in the alley.

“People do not feel safe walking by this area and someone could definitely get hurt,” Hall wrote. “And while we are hearing a lot of talk about downtown 'coming back,' this block is sending the wrong message for Belltown: that we are definitely not back. The situation is harming our community by preventing the safe enjoyment of and movement through our neighborhood by residents, visitors, and business workers and patrons.”

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