Byrd Barr Place : From Community Engagement to Outstanding Stewardship
On September 28, 2023, Historic Seattle awarded Byrd Barr Place its Outstanding Stewardship Award for their efforts in restoring historic Fire Station #23 as their permanent home. In 2020, the organization was given the Historic Firehouse #23 after operating there since 1968. Rafn and SHKS Architects feel honored to have been a part of bringing new life to the 1908 structure at 711 18th Ave in Seattle. Together, the team achieved the "impossible."
Byrd Barr Place has deep roots in Seattle's Central District and Seattle's local history around civil rights activism. Established in the 1960s, BBP is committed to community engagement by providing comprehensive support programs. These programs were put forward to address poverty and racial disparities, which were, and still are, a significant issue in the community.
Initially founded in 1964 as the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP), it provided Seattle's Central District residents a way to address the pressing needs of the African American community in the area. This community faced systemic barriers to education, employment, housing, and economic opportunities. By 1970, CAMP's presence grew to over 300 employees and hundreds of volunteers, with many programs evolving to help those facing poverty.
In the mid-70s, CAMP expanded its operations and followed the African American community as it moved from the Central District to the Rainier Valley. In the 80's and 90' CAMP saw a need for new services due to the systemic challenges that faced the African American and other minority communities. Many of these services are still provided today as most of their clients live at 150% or more below the federal poverty level.
Over the next 20 years, CAMP continued to evolve and grow, tackling rising new challenges such as gang violence, drug trafficking, and homelessness. Today, the organization serves people from all areas of the city with many ethnic, social, and cultural backgrounds. Today, with the help of over 5,000 volunteer hours, the food bank serves more than 12,300 individuals and families with 1.3 million pounds of healthy food every year.
The organization made its final name change in 2018 to what it is now, Byrd Barr Place. They chose the name to honor Roberta Byrd Barr, an influential figure, a prominent civil rights activist, and a leader in Seattle's African American community. In 1973, Barr became Lincoln High School's principal and the first woman and African American to hold that position in the Seattle Public Schools district. She fought for racial equality and social justice and significantly contributed to the advancement of marginalized communities.
Fire Station #23 had multiple renovations over the past 114 years and urgently needed updates. The BBP employees working there dealt with cold temperatures in the winter and hot temperatures in the summer, as there was no modern heating or cooling system of any kind. The stairs to the second floor were steep and far from being code-compliant, limiting access to those with disabilities. BBP operated the food bank out of the old carriage bay that had previously been remodeled into a dance studio. While the masonry building was generally in good shape, the layout and function of the building needed updating to meet the needs of BBP as new permanent tenants.
The former director of Byrd Barr Place, Andrea Caupain, who led the organization for 20 years, strived to make one more lasting change: a modern home for the organization's future. Even before gaining ownership of the firehouse, Andrea enlisted the help of Pacific Program Management (PPM), led by Clark Lindsay, and together they formed a plan to revitalize Fire Station #23.
SHKS Architects created a welcoming and accessible entry, stairs, and elevator. They reconfigured and expanded the internal community space to accommodate larger groups and queuing for the food bank. Second-floor offices are open for transparency, collaboration, and light. New mechanical systems keep the building comfortable year-round. Exposed structure highlights the building's history where possible, and thermal improvements were included in the overall strategy. The renovated Fire Station is inclusive and adaptable in keeping with the mission of Byrd Barr Place.
The construction took a little over a year. Self-performed work included seismic, concrete, rough carpentry, finish carpentry, and specialties. And while every renovation has surprises, the unforeseen conditions of Fire Station #23 were consistent with the planned contingency. This allowed BBP to include a long wish list of upgrades that created their ideal permanent home.
Byrd Barr Place has achieved so much by leveraging its strong community ties, strategic partnerships, and dedicated staff to drive transformational community impact. The organization's commitment to fostering equity, justice, and a sense of community remains unwavering, exemplifying its role as a catalyst for social change. With a rich history spanning several decades and a new CEO, Dr. Angela Griffin, we at Rafn Company hope they will have many more decades of success in their new home.
Byrd Barr Place offers a range of programs designed to tackle various aspects of poverty, including energy assistance, food security, financial literacy, and housing stability. BBP assists individuals and families at risk of homelessness by providing rental assistance and support services. When families face challenges like these, education cannot always be a priority. This is combatted by the Youth Program that offers mentoring, tutoring, and after-school activities to help kids be kids and focus on what they should be able to focus on: education and having fun. The most utilized service at Byrd Barr Place is the food bank. The food bank operates by partnering with local businesses, community organizations, and volunteers to fight against hunger in the city.
To learn more about Byrd Barr Place or how to get involved, please visit their website, byrdbarrplace.org.
Photos by zorn b taylor.