Taproot Theatre Goes Modular

Taproot Theatre Company always planned to expand its home on N. 85th Street, but co-founder and artistic director Scott Nolte never imagined the Greenwood theatre’s growth would happen like this.

Almost 10 years after Taproot purchased the Eleanor Roosevelt building next to the theatre, the Roosevelt burned to the ground—the victim of an arsonist who set 14 fires around the Greenwood neighborhood in the fall of 2009.

Two months after the arson, a street-facing mural went up to cover the damage and honor both the neighborhood and the firefighters who saved the Taproot Theatre from anything more than smoke and water damage. Nolte could not ignore the empty lot. His long-range plans for a capital campaign to develop a second theatre space suddenly became too long-range. More pressing was the need to heal a scared community.

“There was just this big hole there,” Nolte says. “I knew that we would need $20 million to build an expansion on that lot, but the economy wouldn’t allow that. Then my wife [and Taproot co-founder] Pam said, ‘Why don’t we doing something modular that will cost less?’ I said, ‘Oh no, we can’t do that.’ Two hours later I was on the computer Googling modular housing.”

In March, the Northwest Design Review Board voted unanimously to approve the design of a Taproot expansion that’s estimated to cost $4.5 million and, if the plan passes two more comparatively minor hurdles, will open on the old Eleanor Roosevelt site next spring in 21 factory-built sections.

“These aren’t FEMA trailers with a nice coat of paint,” Nolte assures.

The renderings, provided by Seattle’s green-leading design firm the Miller Hull Partnership, support his claim. The 12,000-square-foot addition might be a modern marvel, but it’s modeled on a familiar design with an open, glass-front first floor and brick façade with punch-out windows above. “It’s both historic and modern,” says principal architect Robert Hull. “Improving on an old idea.”

Outside, the building will be leafy green, earning points towards a likely Silver LEED certification. Inside, the addition will contain a black box theater that can seat up to 99 people, as well as additional office space, storage, set shop, a café and a wine bar.

“Right now, if you look on the four corners at 85th and Greenwood, three of them are dark,” Nolte says. “We want to bring light to that corner.”

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