Unassuming in low-slung wooden siding and slab concrete, the oddly shaped building at E Pike Street and 14th Avenue on Capitol Hill carries an equally odd history. And right now it’s embarking on a brand-new chapter.
Longtime Seattleites knew the upstairs space as the Electric Tea Garden, a den of avant-garde music and after-hours raves that shut down several years ago. Longertime Seattleites knew the first-floor corner space as the American Artificial Limb Co, a small manufacturing facility that has served the Northwest since 1968. Savvy new-schoolers know the third occupant, once a dry cleaner, as the latest home of LoveCityLove, the arts collective/gallery space/DIY mindstate that has inhabited several other spaces around the city, breathing creative life into empty spaces awaiting impending development while paying reduced rent. In 2016, LCL left its previous digs in First Hill and took over the 1,200-square-foot space, which has since hosted all manner of events, from yoga classes to album release parties to pop-up boutiques to lectures to art openings.
About a year ago, when the American Artificial Limb Company relocated to Georgetown, folks at LoveCityLove took notice.
“We could peek through the door and watch them working on the space and imagine if we got in there,” says Lucien Pellegrin, one of LCL’s principals. “It seemed so far-fetched.”
Gently but insistently, Pellegrin petitioned the landlord to give LCL access to the empty space at a discounted rental rate. This strategy had worked in the past, putting him in contact with some of Seattle’s most arts-minded landlords and real-estate developers. By that point, LCL had successfully managed five spaces since 2014. After six months of negotiations, the building’s holding company, NWCC Investments, gave LoveCityLove access to the former Artificial Limb Co. Then the real work began.
The primary crew of LCL organizers, including Pellegrin, Zachary Self, Grace Kelly and Julian Genette, gutted what remained of the office, removing wall-to-wall carpeting, several non-supporting walls and other infrastructure. They built a bar in the back, near a small patio and a door that connects the Limb space to the back of the current space. They discovered the basement was even bigger than the first floor, totaling some 4,500 square feet combined, and renovated that as well, relocating the ancient steel furnace and adding vertical tube lighting to the support beams to create a subterranean space that’s part catacombs, part Tron.
They installed plexiglass over the vent holes between the basement and the upper floor, providing photo-ready portholes between floors. They carved out a space with a separate entrance where fashionista Tori Kirihara will install a pop-up boutique called S/HE, selling what she describes as “a mixture of fast-fashion feminine outfits as well as androgynous clothing,” beginning in late March or early April. They built a ladder to a nest above the main entrance—their elevated DJ booth. After five months of work, the group hosted its first event, a party organized by Kirihara that featured a dozen visual artists, DJs and singer Will Jordan on Valentine’s Day.
Unlike previous LCL venues, the group could occupy the space for a while. Self believes that due to its irregular shape and various right-of-way restrictions, the parcel will be challenging to develop. For their part, building owners NWCC Investments XII, LLC are “weighing all their options.”
“We’re excited that such a program is able to stay alive and utilize our building in the manner that they have,” says Joanna Barnhart, a representative of NWCC. “Although we wish it could be forever, both parties understand that is not the case.” She says that NWCC has no clear idea on how long the building will be empty and until they reach a decision LCL will lease the space at a non-disclosed reduced rate.
Chinn Construction, the company constructing the Luna Apartments across Madison where Piecora’s Pizza used to be, is using the former Electric Tea Garden as their temporary project office. When they’re finished, that space will be empty too. LCL’s goal is to take over the entire building to create a food hall and workshop space, some 6,000 square feet of LoveCityLove. Ideally, they’ll one day buy the building.
In the meantime, they’re raising revenue by renting the current space for events and consulting with property managers at apartment buildings around town, including Broadcast and Chloe nearby and Helix-Ellipse in the U-District, to provide cultural curation. And, of course, seeking investors