Benaroya Companies says it plans to appeal a decision by the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board to declare the now boarded-up Ballard...

Benaroya Companies says it plans to appeal a decision by the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board to declare the now boarded-up Ballard Denny’s a landmark.

The board’s decision Wednesday to designate the 1964 structure a landmark against the advice of its own staff surprised Benaroya Companies, which bought the one-acre parcel in 2006 for $12.5 million and planned to sell it to a condominium developer.

The landmark designation also drew spirited public response. On The Seattle Times’ Web site Thursday, most readers posting comments were incredulous, saying the structure did not merit landmark status. A few praised the board, saying the building represented Ballard before condos took it over.

Opened as Manning’s Cafeteria in 1964 and converted to a Denny’s in 1983, the building at the corner of Northwest Market Street and 15th Avenue Northwest is recognized for its distinct upswept roofline.

But city staff members say the deteriorating structure lacks many of the original materials and finishes that defined its architectural character, a style that includes some features of what’s known as Googie architecture.

Supporters of preserving the building said restoration was possible.

“Despite years of poor maintenance and bad alterations [such as the dropped ceiling], this building was and remains a solid piece of original, creative architecture,” wrote architect Alan Hess, a critic for the San Jose Mercury News and author of a book on Googie-style buildings. “The essential architectural characteristics of this Mannings remain, and can be restored.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, some board members also remarked about ways to return the building to its original style.

In January, members of the 11-member board which includes architects, historians, a structural engineer and a real-estate manager — overwhelmingly supported the nomination of the building for landmark status, the first step in a long process of preserving old buildings.

But board staffers and Benaroya’s attorney warned the board before Wednesday’s designation vote that, under the city’s preservation law, the board’s decision must be based on the current physical appearance of the building — not on the possibility of restoration. “By voting to designate it, the board is allowing it to stay in its current condition,” Louie Richmond, a spokesman for Benaroya Companies, said Thursday. “It can’t be about emotion and about sentimentality. It has to be about the law. If you don’t like the way the laws are drawn up, you need to change the laws.”

Under the city’s rules, once the board designates a landmark, the staff negotiates a “controls and incentives agreement” with the owner that stipulates what features must be preserved and whether the city can grant waivers to zoning or building codes to encourage preservation.

If the owner declines to participate, the staff submits an agreement for approval to the board, and the board files this agreement with the city hearing examiner.

According to city code, the hearing examiner cannot impose the agreement on the property owner if the effect would be “to prevent the owner from realizing a reasonable return” on the property.

John McCullough, the attorney representing Benaroya Companies, said it would not be difficult to show a hearing examiner that banning demolition would mean a financial loss for the owners.

Though preservationists and some community residents are celebrating Wednesday’s decision, it’s still possible Benaroya could prevail on appeal.

In the mid-1970s, as developers were demolishing several area historic theaters, the city proposed landmark status for the Music Hall at Seventh Avenue and Olive. The owners, the Clise family, fought the proposal, but the theater was declared a landmark in 1977, according to Historylink.org.

The family appealed to a hearing examiner and won.

The family’s plans to redevelop the property prompted a successful effort to redesignate the Music Hall a landmark. Again the family appealed and won, with a hearing examiner saying landmark status should not preclude a property owner’s right to make a profit. The theater was demolished in 1991.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com