Columbia City

The Columbia City Landmark District is one of Seattle's eight historic districts. It is a collection of commercial buildings, churches, apartments and houses.

At its center is a "village green" with a 1914 Andrew Carnegie library branch of the Seattle Public Library. The area preserves the small town atmosphere of its turn-of-the-century roots as a mill and railroad town. In 1978, Columbia City was designated a landmark district in Seattle to preserve the area's unique character and to encourage rehabilitation of areas for community use, housing and pedestrian-oriented businesses. Columbia City was designated a National Register Historic District the same year although the boundaries are slightly different.


Both Columbia City and its neighbor, Seattle, first boomed as mill towns. But, while Seattle became dominant in the region, Columbia City was annexed by its larger neighbor just fourteen years after its incorporation. Nonetheless, Columbia City maintained its identity and remains a distinct and historic part of Seattle.

From the time of its incorporation in 1893 until its annexation by Seattle in 1907, Columbia City prospered from logging and the railroad. The Seattle, Renton, and Southern Railway stretched the seven miles from Seattle to Columbia City in 1890, establishing a profitable two-way freight business. Columbia City shipped surplus lumber to a Seattle that was rebuilding after the 1889 fire and Columbia City needed the finished goods Seattle could provide. Much of Columbia City's lumber, as well as goods from Seattle, went into its own buildings and lakeshore summer residences.

Columbia City's growth increased when C. D. Hillman used the railway to hasten real estate sales. From 1900 to 1907, Seattle and the surrounding areas grew rapidly and brought good economic times to Columbia City. Many new buildings were built along Rainier Avenue South, most of which still stand.

These buildings had stores on the ground floor and a meeting hall or dance floor upstairs. The rent supplied by the meetings, dances, and occasional apartments made construction of many of the buildings possible. As the forests around Columbia City fell under the loggers' axes, the people of Columbia City made plans to drain Wetmore Slough and make the town into a seaport as part of the 1917 Lake Washington Ship Canal development farther north. The port never developed, and the slough was filled by 1920.

With money donated by Andrew Carnegie, a branch public library was built in 1914 above a ravine deeded to the City in 1892 as a park.

Although the ravine's creek now flows through sewer lines, the park remains, providing Columbia City with its "village green."Although community concern for safety resulted in the removal in 1936 of the railway from the center of Rainier Avenue South, Columbia City continued to grow along with Seattle.

Columbia City Review Committee

District Boundary Map

This map shows the boundaries of the Columbia City Review District:

Columbia City Review District Map

Making Changes in the District

Making Changes to a Building in the Columbia City Landmark District:

What must be reviewed and approved by the Board?

The following changes require that the Board issue a Certificate of Approval before the City will issue any permits:

  • Any change to the outside of any building or structure.
  • Installation of any new sign or change to any existing sign.
  • Installation of a new awning or canopy.
  • Any change to an interior that affects the exterior.
  • New addition, construction, and/or remodel.
  • Any change in a public right-of-way or other public space, including parks and sidewalks.
  • Demolition of any building or structure.
  • Exterior painting

Application for Certificate of Approval

To apply for a Certificate of Approval, please follow the instructions on this form:

District Guidelines, Ordinance, and Standards

Reference these resources for Columbia City Landmark District Guidelines, Ordinances, and Standards: 

National Register Nomination

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the Columbia City Application Review Committee and City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board?

The Columbia City Application Review Committee and the City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board are charged with maintaining the historic character of Columbia City, ensuring that the architectural integrity and aesthetics of the buildings and landscape are preserved. The Review Committee consists of five members, two that are appointed by the Chair of the Landmarks Preservation Board and three that are appointed by the Chair of the Columbia City Business Association. The Review Committee is responsible for making recommendations to the Board. The Board is responsible for the final review and approval of applications for Certificates of Approval for any change to the exterior appearance of buildings or structures, streets, sidewalks, and other public spaces in the District.2. What must be reviewed by the Review Committee and Board?The following changes require a Certificate of Approval to be issued by the Landmarks Preservation Board before the City will issue any permits:

  • Any change to the outside of any building or structure
  • Installation of any new sign or changes to existing signs
  • Installation of any new awning or canopy
  • Any change to the interior that affects the exterior
  • New addition, construction and/or remodel
  • Any change in public rights-of-way or other public spaces, including parks and sidewalks
  • Demolition of any building or structure
  • Exterior painting

3. When are Review Committee and Board Meetings?

The Review Committee typically meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 4:00 PM at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center, 3515 S. Alaska Street. The meeting schedule can be found under the Meeting Schedules, Agendas/Minutes link on this page. The Board conducts regular meetings at 3:30 p.m. the first and third Wednesday of each month at 700 Fifth Avenue, Suite 4060. All meetings are open to the public.

4. What is a Certificate of Approval?

A Certificate of Approval is an official notice of approval issued by the Columbia City Review Committee and the City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board. To get your project reviewed and approved, a completed Application for Certificate Approval needs to be submitted to the Landmark District Coordinator.A Certificate of Approval is not a permit. An applicant is still responsible for obtaining relevant permits after receiving approval from the Review Committee and Board. The Department of Planning and Development issues permits after an applicant has received a Certificate of Approval.

5. What is the Approval Process?

Step 1
Submit a completed application and the appropriate fee to the Historic Preservation Program, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, PO Box 94649 Seattle, WA 98124-4649.

Step 2
The Landmark District Coordinator will review the application and plans for completeness and compliance with the regulations.

Step 3
After the application is determined to be complete, it will be placed on the agenda for the next public meeting of the Review Committee.

Step 4
The Review Committee will recommend to the Landmarks Preservation Board whether to approve, approve with conditions, or deny the application.

Step 5
The Landmarks Preservation Board Coordinator will schedule your application to be reviewed by the Board at one of its meetings.

Step 6
Either a Certificate of Approval or a Letter of Denial will be issued.

Step 7
You or any interested party of record may appeal a decision to the City Hearing Examiner within 14 days of the issuance of the Certificate of Approval or Letter of Denial.

6. How Do I Schedule for Review Committee Consideration?

If you are starting a new business or service, changing the location of your business within the District, or making physical changes to the outside of your property, building, or business, call the Columbia City Landmark District Coordinator at (206) 684-0226 for assistance in reviewing your plans and in scheduling for Committee review.