AKA: 1st United Methodist Church, Downtown, Seattle, WA; First United Methodist Church, Downtown, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - religious structures - churches

Designers: Graham, John and Company, Architects and Engineers (firm); Schack and Huntington, Architects (firm); John Graham Jr. (architect); Olof E. Hanson (architect); Daniel Riggs Huntington (architect); James Hansen Schack Sr. (architect)

Dates: constructed 1907-1910

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811 5th Avenue
Downtown, Seattle, WA 98104-1608

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This small church designed by the Seattle architectural firm of Schack and Huntington was dedicated in 1910. During the 1980s and 1990s, the 1st Methodist Episcopal Church #3 became embroiled in a landmark historic preservation case that went all the way to the Washington Supreme Court. The court ruled that churches in WA State could not be designated as civic landmarks without the approval and consent of their congregations.

Building History

Olof Hanson, while in the employ of James Schack and Daniel Huntington, contributed to the design of this third building for the 1st Methodist Episcopal Church in Seattle, WA. Architect and historian Susan Boyle has noted that during the brief partnership of Daniel Huntington and James H. Schack, Sr., Schack was probably responsible for the design of this church: "Records from City of Seattle Landmarks Nominations and other sources suggest Schack was the designer of these two buildings [1st Methodist Episcopal #2 and the Arctic Club Building #1]." (See Susan Boyle, BOLA Architects, "The Baroness Apartment Hotel 1005 Spring Street, Seattle Landmark Nomination Report,"Accessed 06/03/2010.) The official name of this congregation had been, since its establishment in 1853, the "1st Methodist Episcopal Church of Seattle," but this was changed in 1968 to the "1st United Methodist Church of Seattle."

An article in the Seattle Daily Times of 04/19/1910 indicated that the Assistant Pastor Harry C. Wilson of the 1st Methodist Episcopal Church was heavily involved the fundraising campaign for this third church: "Harry C. Wilson, formerly assistant pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church, who had charge of the building fund for the new edifice dedicated Sunday, has been appointed from the 1911 class of the Boston University school of theology, to the pulpit of the Methodist Church at Jamaica Plains, Boston. He left this city two years ago to complete his education at Boston. His first pastorate was at Wallace and Sultan, in Snohomish County. Later he went to Hillman City." (See "H.C. Wilson Gets Charge," Seattle Daily Times, 04/19/1910, p. 24.) From this article, the church was dedicated on Sunday, 04/17/1910.

Between 1968 and the 1985, Seattle's downtown grew in scale dramatically, with an increase in the area's homeless and disadvantaged communities. At the same time, the 1st United Methodist Church's congregation dwindled in size. Because the church's membership had dropped and because it wanted to provide new facilities for public service, church officials considered their options to either demolish the 1910 facility and rebuild in place or sell out to a office tower developer and find another church site. In order to prevent the church's demolition, the City of Seattle's Office of Urban Conservation (active between 1975 and 1992) nominated both the interior and exterior of the church for landmark designation under the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, Sattle Municipal Code (SMC) 25.12. The nomination process began in 12/1984, with a formal nomination happening before the Landmarks Board in 02/1985 and, after a pitched battle, the designation of landmark status occurring in 11/1985.

Following the Landmarks Board's decision to designate 1st United Methodist Church of Seattle a City of Seattle Landmark, the congregation sought relief from the City of Seattle Hearing Examiner. It argued that the church sancuary's old-fashioned 1910 design "... prevents the Church from adapting to current Church liturgy...." It stated that "The present sanctuary is too large to foster as dynamic and meaningful worship services as desired. Membership of this Church today is one-half or less than that of only 30 to 40 years ago. The expansion of the commercial core of the city, the construction of the freeways, the construction of vastly expanded medical and commercial facilities on First Hill are some of the changes in Seattle which have contributed to the decline in the Church's membership." (See Leagle.com, "First United Methodist vs. Hearning Exainer, accessed 07/20/2015.) The Hearing Examiner sided with the Landmarks Board, causing the church group to file suit in Seattle Municipal Court.

Over a decade, 1st United Methodist continued its appeals of decisions that went against it, taking the case to the Washington Supreme Court in 1995. On 05/09/1996, the court issued a 5-4 decision overturning the Court of Appeals verdict, upholding the congregation's right to resist landmark designation. Its majority opinion stated: "In the present case, United Methodist has demonstrated that the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, SMC 25.12, severely burdens free exercise of religion because it impedes United Methodist from selling its property and using the proceeds to advance its religious mission. Thus, the City's attempts to designate United Methodist a landmark violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I of the Washington State Constitution. We reverse the Court of Appeals and hold landmark designation of United Methodist unconstitutional." (See Leagle.com, "First United Methodist vs. Hearning Exainer, accessed 07/20/2015.) This decision has made it impossible for city landmarks boards in Washington State to designate a church a landmark without the congregation's approval.

In 05/2002, First United Methodist Church made an agreement with the Seneca Group, a development firm, to raze the church and build on the 1910 church site. (See Greg Lange, HistoryLink.org, "Washington State Supreme Court rules against Seattle landmark designation of First United Methodist Church on May 9, 1996." accessed 07/20/2015.) The developer filed for a Master Use Permit to build on the site. According to 2004 City of Seattle records, "First United Methodist Church (Church) and The Rainier Club, a private club, applied for a Master Use Permit (MUP) to establish use for a 33-story, 590,000 square foot office tower, with a small amount of retail at street level and a below gradeparking garage for approximately 538 vehicles. The office tower would also house the Church"s office and human service uses and would connect to a new Church sanctuary to the south. Church-related uses would be approximately 42,000 square feet. In addition, the project includes a 7,500 square foot addition to the Club for a fitness center and expansion of other Club uses." (See City of Seattle Muncipal Archives, "In the Matter of the Appeal of FRIENDS OF FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, ET AL. from a decision by the Director, Department of Planning and Development, regarding the EIS issued for the 811 Fifth Avenue Project," accessed 07/20/2015.) This plan would be increased in scale when the city changed its zoning laws governing high-rise heights in 2006.

Between 2002 and 2004, an opposing preservationist group, the "Friends of First United Methodist Church," (composed of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, and Historic Seattle) coalesced and filed a grievance with Seattle's City Hearing Examiner against the Director of the Department of Planning and Development, for accepting the developer's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and for allowing the demolition to occur. In this case, preservationists were again dealt a setback. On 09/27/2004, the Hearing Examiner agreed that the Friends' multiple objections to the adequacy of the EIS were not substantial, and that they did not outweigh the congregation's contention that "...the building no longer meets the liturgical and ministerial needs of the church." Behind the scenes, however, efforts to save the church continued, as public officials met with developers to encourage the 1910 building's preservation.

On May 20, 2007, members of the First United Methodist Congregation voted to sell their church property to Nitze-Stagen and Company, Incorporated, of New York and Seattle, real estate developers. Under the deal, the church sanctuary was to be saved, and a 40-story building would be erected elsewhere on the same site. Nitze-Stagen had developed a reputation as a development company that made efforts to renovate and reuse historic buildings. This project was revived in 2012 when financing capital became available. The Seattle City Council passed an additional ordinance about the church's preservation on 05/10/2010.

Between 2009 and 2012, 1st United Methodist Church was used as concert hall, the "Daniels Recital Hall," named for Kevin Daniels of Nitze-Stagen. In 2012, the rapidly growing Mars Hill Church, led by charismatic Pastor Mark Driscoll (born 10/11/1970), occupied the building until 2014, when the church dissolved.

Construction of the high-rise development at 801 5th Avenue, delayed by the Recession of 2008, began in 03/2015. By this time, it had become known as "The Mark." (It has also become known as the "5th and Columbia Building" and the "F5 Tower.")

Building Notes

The 1st Methodist Episcopal Church #3 was registered on the National Register of Historic Places and as a City of Seattle Landmark; in 2009, Historic Seattle, a preservation advocacy group, planned (along with the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation) a symposium entitled "The Public Value of Sacred Places," to be held at the Good Shepherd Center, Wallingford, Seattle, WA, 09/12/2009.


A chapel/community center wing to the 1st United Methodist Church designed by John Graham and Associates and completed in 1950, was demolished in mid-2008. Although not appreciated by most contemporaries, this small modern building was a fine work by the Graham firm. This addition was removed to clear land that would enable the erection of a 660-foot building, the 5th and Columbia Tower. The profit generated from the skyscraper income allowed Seattle development firm Nitze-Stagen to retain the 1st United Methodist Church and renovate it.

Seattle Historic Landmark (1984-09-10): 111882

PCAD id: 6224