About 100 artists in the historic Western Building were notified by the state Wednesday they have to move out by Oct. 1 unless significant repairs are done by then, after city inspectors deemed the structure unsafe.

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About 100 artists in the historic Western Building were notified by the state Wednesday they have to move out by Oct. 1 unless significant repairs are done by then, after city inspectors deemed the structure unsafe.

Tenants already were preparing to move by next spring, to make way for the state Highway 99 tunnel project. Now they have to move sooner.

In addition, the monthly First Thursday art walks — when hundreds of visitors climb the narrow staircases to find fresh art, conversation, maybe a glass of wine — are forbidden there as of Aug. 1, says a notice from the Department of Planning and Development.

Johnny O’Brady, a painter who has represented the artist group, said Wednesday he’d probably organize a farewell event next week. “A lot of people, you’ve been seeing them for years. It would be nice to say goodbye,” he said.

The tunnel construction won’t be affected, said Amy Grotefendt, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation (DOT).

In fact, the DOT still intends to spend up to $20 million to protect the structure, at 619 Western Ave. in the Pioneer Square district, while the tunnel is drilled. Measures include steel sheeting that would isolate the building from vibrations.

The state initially planned to buy and demolish it, but relented after objections by historic-preservation agencies. The DOT and its contractors figure the expense is necessary to pass environmental reviews and avoid costly schedule delays, Highway 99 project administrator Ron Paananen has said.

The state will pay artists’ moving expenses this fall, instead of next year as planned, Grotefendt said, after sending an update by email to tenants Wednesday afternoon.

The Western Building, erected on soft soils in 1911, has an assessed value of $4.4 million. For about three decades it has belonged to Benjamin and Lois Mayers of Bellevue, whose representatives couldn’t be reached for comment late Wednesday. The owners have been content to keep renting the artist lofts, without any plans to sell or do major reconstruction.

Some floors are sagging, and some vertical beams have cracks several inches wide. The city’s notice, issued in June after a March 4 inspection, specifically requires that masonry parapets be reinforced.

Some artists are chronicling these last bittersweet months at 619western.com.

“It’s been stressful, and a distraction for people,” said O’Brady.

“A lot of people probably don’t know where they’re going to be moving. And it’s going to be tough, with only two elevators,” he said.

Of about 120 tenants, 20 or so already have moved this year. Some moved within Seattle, others to California, New Mexico or Germany, he said. City Council members have said they value the artist colony and would strive to keep it in Seattle.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com