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Georgetown Steam Plant is getting a refresh

The historic property received some extra funds for renovation as it explores avenues for activation

The interior of an industrial facility. Four concrete arches contain three floors of open railings. Courtesy of the Historic American Engineering Record, Library of Congress

The Georgetown Steam Plant, an iconic piece of both Seattle art and engineering history, has been getting some upgrades to its 1906 building.

Seattle City Light, which took over operations from 1951 until the plant was decommissioned in 1977, still owns the facility and operates a monthly tour through the space’s industrial aesthetic. But the goal is to clean the place up, extend its life, and eventually operate more than a tour out of the long-dormant steam plant. The latest boost to the effort is a $500,000 federal grant through the Save America’s Treasures program, distributed by the National Parks Service, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Rehabilitation work, says City Light, includes removing layers of paint, repairing concrete to stabilize the structure, and, eventually, repairs to the windows and doors, plus a new roof. More detailed plans show the extent of the envelope’s concrete cracks—and other wear and tear, like spills, rust, and deteriorated railings.

An architectural illustration with a series of wiggly and straight lines.
An architectural illustration from 2013 of the building’s south facade. Exterior cracks are indicated by squiggly lines.
Courtesy of Seattle City Light

Other funding for repairs comes from City Light, 4Culture, and the Washington State Historical Society.

The plant originally provided power to a growing network of streetcars. Today, it’s the last of its kind—as the American Historic Engineering Record explains it for people with knowledge of electrical history, “the last operative example of vertical Curtis turbines.” At the time, it was a major technological achievement, and although the plant was decommissioned in the 1970s, the space’s history earned it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Since then, it’s gained more cultural acclaim. Punk band Big Black, featuring Steve Albini, had its last show there in 1987. In 2016, local theater groups Satori Group and Artbarn built a performance around the space. It has also been used as an engineering training facility.

Seattle City Light says that despite just four hours of public tours each month—one Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.—more than 8,500 people visitors since the tours started in 2014. Eventually, City Light hopes to bring more regular programming to the space, and last year issued a request for proposals (RFP) for organizations interested in bringing educational programming in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (or, appropriately, STEAM).

City Light says that there’s no finalized agreement from the RFP yet.

This article has been updated to correct the build and decommission dates of the building and to provide updated visitor numbers.