Wednesday morning, Seattle Art Museum (SAM) broke ground on a long-awaited expansion to Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM), located in the middle of Volunteer Park in Capitol Hill.
The art deco building was the original home of SAM (one A) but became SAAM (two As) after SAM moved to its downtown location in the early 1990s. It’s now home to a large collection of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Himalayan, and southeast Asian art.
“For the last 20 years, we’ve known the day would arrive when we needed to restore this building, a museum that houses one of the most important Asian art collections in the country,” said SAM director Kimerly Rorschach. “That day has come.”
That day arguably came a while ago. The building was first gifted to the city in 1933, and and still has the original heating system—and is in need of seismic upgrades, a new HVAC system with cooling and humidity controls, a loading dock, and a freight elevator, not just for visitor safety, but for preserving the museum’s art collection.
The museum’s 13,650-square-foot, more modern-looking expansion, which includes 3,600 square feet stretching eastward into park land, will include new space for galleries, offices, meetings, and studios.
In exchange for a new 55-year lease on the property and some zoning exemptions—technically, Volunteer Park is zoned single family—the museum will provide an estimated $338,725 in public benefits. That includes donation-based admission and signs clearly instructing that donations of any amount grant entry, plus a four free days each month. The museum is also subject to some benchmarks, like hours of operation and outreach programs.
The whole renovation will cost $54 million, with $21 million coming from the city. The museum’s $33 million will be helped along by federal historic building tax credits—the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2016—and fundraising.
LMN Architects leads the expansion design team, with landscape design by Walker Macy, in close collaboration with SAM and Seattle Parks and Recreation.
After years of neighborhood controversy, the expansion gained unanimous approval from the Seattle City Council back in January. Leading up to that, a group called Protect Volunteer Park had taken issue with the plan to expand the museum’s footprint, claiming it will disrupt the views and original vision of the Olmsted park. By the end of the process, though, the group seemed resigned, with one spokesperson telling the Seattle Times it was a “done deal.”