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Arts and Culture Center

Historic building renovations underway as Auburn’s original Post Office transforms into downtown Arts & Culture Center 

Post OfficeJANUARY 2022: The City of Auburn continues the transformation of the historic Auburn Post Office into an Arts & Culture Center with major construction and renovation that began in mid-December 2021. The renovations and interior transformations were designed by Johnston Architects and the remodeling and construction project is being handled by American West Construction.

"It is such an exciting moment to see the dream of this Arts & Culture Center finally becoming a reality after so many years," says Mayor Nancy Backus. "This center will be much more than a remodeled building; it will be a place where the community can come together in appreciation of arts and to share cultural experiences that will strengthen our bond as a community."

The main floor renovation is dominated by a gallery and gathering space, a multi-use studio space for arts education of all ages, and a classroom and meeting space. The original post-office vault will be transformed into an inspiring and unique art installation space. A main-floor gift shop will serve as a revenue-generator while giving local artists an opportunity to promote and sell their work. A catering kitchen and/or café will strengthen the vision of the Auburn Arts & Culture Center as a community event space. Additional project components include newly required fire and life-safety systems, HVAC improvements/modifications; restroom improvements, new lighting systems, roof replacement and cupola repairs; as well as refinishing the original historic terrazzo and wood floors. In a future phase, the renovated basement level will feature teaching spaces for community-based arts classes, performance rehearsal spaces, and additional studios. 

“The project team found inspiration in the building’s original design. Demolition of the interior walls, bulky column wraps, and suspended plaster ceiling gave way to an open space with high wood plank ceilings, allowing ample natural light deep into the interior. Newly revealed raw structures merge with refined elements, like the building’s original floors and marble wainscot, to create a unique backdrop for classrooms, galleries, art studios, and community spaces that celebrate the building's history and bright future,” noted Ray Johnston, Founding Partner of Johnston Architects.

The City of Auburn is pleased to have the opportunity to work with members of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe on several aspects of the Auburn Arts & Culture Center project and the adjacent Auburn Arts Alley. Inspiration for the tile mosaics on the seating wall along the alley adjoining the Arts & Culture Center is a product of the collaborative work of Kathleen Fruge Brown and Gail White Eagle, a talented textile artist and weaver with The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. White Eagle provided input on many of the contemporary and traditional weaving designs, along with other Coast Salish weaving and basketry designs that the mosaics are based upon. Fruge Brown designed the base of the bench to proclaim the text of the Muckleshoot motto, “I am alive and strong” in bəqəlšuɫucid and translated into ten other languages most commonly spoken in the Auburn community. Visitors to Auburn Arts & Culture Center will eventually be greeted by a one-of-a-kind carved welcome figure created by Muckleshoot artists and traditional carvers Keith Stevenson and Tyson Simmons. This work with the Muckleshoot Tribal Culture Division will bring an iconic symbol of Muckleshoot culture into the heart of downtown Auburn and will be marked with a land acknowledgement plaque. This is an important and essential way to honor Auburn’s rich cultural diversity and history of the area.

Auburn’s original Post Office was built in 1937 as a WPA project. The building was converted into a King County Public Health facility in 1964. Vacant since 2009, the City of Auburn purchased the building in 2016 and has been working since that time to restore the architectural and historic treasure and redefine it as a central hub where cultural communities come together to learn, create and share. The 8,000 square foot building is listed on the King County Landmarks Register, the Washington State Heritage Register and the National Register of Historic Places and all exterior renovations must receive approval from King County Landmarks Commission. 

Project supported by: 
4Culture

Work on the building has been tackled in phases as fundraising efforts have allowed. Historic window restoration was completed in Spring 2019; abatement and main floor interior demolition was completed in spring of 2021; and all needed funding was secured in fall of 2021 to move forward with construction. In all, the City of Auburn has secured $928,000 in grant funds for Phase One main floor renovations which will cost nearly $2.5M. 4Culture, the arts and cultural funding agency for King County, has generously provided multiple grants from their funding programs including: Building for Culture; Preservation Special Projects; Arts Facilities; Landmarks Capital; Preservation Emergency and Unforeseen; and Building for Equity Arts Facilities grants. MultiCare has generously supported the project through its Community Partnership Fund. Additionally, direct appropriation of funds from the State of Washington Department of Commerce were awarded thanks to efforts by Representative Pat Sullivan, who championed the application. It is with immense thanks to these funders, and the unwavering support of the Auburn community and City of Auburn, that the initial renovations for Auburn’s Arts & Culture Center are finally underway. 

Grant Funding Secured

4Culture (2016-2019 Building for Culture)  $200,000
4Culture (2017-2018 Preservation Special Projects)  $10,000
4Culture (2017 Arts Facilities Grant)  $90,000
4Culture (2017 Landmarks Capital)  $10,000
Multicare Grant  $15,000
4Culture Building for Equity (2019 Arts Facilities Grant)  $50,000
State of Washington Dept. of Commerce - 2019   $500,000
4Culture (2019 Landmarks Capital)
funding toward wood and terrazzo floor rehabilitation
 $23,000
4Culture (2020 Preservation Emergency and Unforeseen)
funding toward cupola restoration
 $10,000
4Culture (2021 Landmarks Capital)
funding toward roof
 $30,000

The Phase One transformation is expected to be finished in late 2022. The Arts & Culture Center will provide increased access to the arts and cultural education for the local and regional community and drive economic activities in Auburn’s downtown core. The newly renovated lobby space and multipurpose rooms will offer new public programs like music and dance performances, visual arts exhibitions, literary arts events, and other cultural gatherings. Programming will also include arts education for all ages, including after-school programs that aim to engage underserved youth and other school age students. The goal is to make the economic, educational, cultural, and civic benefits of the arts available to all communities by broadening public access to the arts.

Project Timeline:

  • August 2016-Current: Ongoing Fundraising efforts 
  • August 2016: Building Acquisition
  • September-November 2016: Initial Community Outreach & Input
  • December 2016: Initial Designs & Cost Estimates 
  • Late Fall 2018-Spring 2019: Historic Window Restoration
  • Late 2019-Fall 2021: Interior Abatement & Demolition
  • December 2021: Phase One Renovations
  • Fall 2022: Phase One Grand Opening
  • End of 2023 Phase Two Renovations

Community Input/Visioning:

Wish List

 

Building History

The building, located at 20 Auburn Avenue NE, was built in 1937 as a Post Office constructed under the national work relief program sponsored by the Public Works Administration. The land for the post office was offered by Levi Ballard, an early Auburn citizen and the town's first postmaster in 1886. In 1964, the building was purchased by the King County Department of Public Health, remodeled and used as a health clinic. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Vacant since 2009, the City purchased the building from King County in 2016 with the intent to have this building again be a community asset and transform it into a vibrant Arts & Culture Center. Additional information on the building and history of the building (PDF).

Rendering of Art Studio  in future Arts & Culture CenterRendering of Cafe/Gallery in future Arts & Culture CenterRendering of Entrance to Arts & Culture CenterRendering of Gallery in future Arts & Culture CenterRendering of Kitchen in future Arts & Culture CenterRendering of Shop in future Arts & Culture Center

Architectural rendering of future Arts & Culture Center

Rendering of Cafe/Gallery

Rendering of Entrance to Arts & Culture Center

Rendering of Gallery

Rendering of Kitchen

Rendering of Shop in future Arts & Culture Center

 

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