Restoring the Bones of Seattle Yacht Club’s 100-year Club

When your yacht club’s mainstation building has weathered a century of storms and rain, it might be time to see what lies beneath the outer skin. This is exactly what the Seattle Yacht Club decided it was time to do. Complicating this was the fact that the Old Grand Dame is on the National Historic Register, so it can have no significant exterior changes to the appearance of the building or the footprint. SYC Architect and Club member describes how SYC undertook this project.

As with any wood-framed structure that has withstood the ravages of a century’s worth of wind, rain, sun and occasional neglect, the grand dame of Seattle’s Montlake neighborhood was showing her age. Designed by former Commodore and renowned Seattle architect, John Graham, Sr., and completed in 1920, the Seattle Yacht Club’s clubhouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places 86 years later.

Three years ago, Commodore Ted Shultz asked me how much it would cost to “re-side” the building. In my experience, I have learned to never offer an opinion about how much something will cost without serious study, consultation and discussion, so I proposed that all exterior finishes be replaced or restored instead of replacing only the skin of the building. Because these new surfaces would likely not be disturbed for another hundred years, it made sense to go one step deeper now and do a seismic upgrade of the structure beneath.

First, we decided to bring the structure up to current building code standards for an earthquake-resistant design. We then drafted a list of things that we wanted to improve, limiting it to just exterior work so that the interior of the Club remained fully functional and operational during the construction period. A committee representing all constituent interests was then formed to decide how we would accomplish this.

Once we agreed to a defined scope of work, we decided that this should be a winter-time project so as not to disturb the summer’s events, but would have cost implications beecause the work would have to be fully enclosed during periods of inclement weather to keep the building dry. While the building is about 19,000 square feet in floor area, it’s just a big house. So, I contacted a trusted contractor who had extensive experience building large, intricately detailed homes. They looked at the project and developed a detailed cost analysis.

The SYC by-laws require a majority vote of the membership for capital improvements of this magnitude. I developed a detailed narrative and made presentations to the Club while working to gain the approval of the Seattle Landmarks Board because they enforce the development restrictions for any building designated as “Historic.” Once we cleared that hurdle, the project was put to a vote of the membership in June of 2022, and passed by a 9 to 1 margin.

With the funds approved, I set to work preparing the construction drawings, hiring the engineer to perform the seismic retrofit design and writing the project specifications. I also began the arduous process of wresting a building permit from the City of Seattle. This was all done under the auspices of the Club’s House and Building Committees. In addition to the siding, the project also included the removal and replacement of the original ship-lap sheathing; the oldest of the original single-glazed windows, doors, and trim; a deteriorating and non-code conforming deck railing and flat roof; and the refurbishment of the soffit above the porch below. Costs were updated as the scope developed with the design. In July 2023, we executed a contract with Walter F. Toth Construction to begin work on August 1.

Phase I of the work began with the erection of a weatherproof scaffolding on the east side of the building, and demolition of the old siding and sheathing to expose the un-insulated stud cavities. To our great fortune, the framing was found to be rot-free, including the sill plates (the horizontal 2x6s that come into direct contact with the concrete foundation), a true testament to the qualities of older buildings.