Jun 8, 2022 - Business

Campaign to preserve former Bruce Lee studio underway in Seattle

Building with text that says "University Way Apts" and a store awning behind it, along a sidewalk.

Bruce Lee taught martial arts at 4750 University Way NE. Photo: Melissa Santos/Axios

A local group is working to preserve a Seattle apartment building where Hollywood legend Bruce Lee once taught martial arts.

Why it matters: Although Lee spent his childhood in Hong Kong, he went to college at the University of Washington and set roots down in Seattle, fostering a generation of martial artists and a legacy that goes beyond the big screen.

What's happening: Charlette LeFevre, head of the nonprofit Northwest Museum of Legends and Lore, is spearheading the effort to preserve the site of Lee's former studio at 4750 University Way NE.

  • The building — constructed in 1958 — is up for sale now.
  • LeFevre says she is concerned the structure will be demolished and redeveloped.
  • To prevent that, she plans to submit an application sometime in the next week to try to get the building designated as a city landmark.

What they're saying: LeFevre, who also leads a Bruce Lee fan club, told Axios the building represents not only the beginnings of Lee's teachings, but also "his fight for equality."

  • She said Lee broke new ground by teaching women, Black people, and others who at the time didn't have access to kung fu instruction.
  • That's part of why she wants to see his old teaching space restored to an active studio.
  • "It goes a lot deeper than going to see a Bruce Lee movie," LeFevre told Axios.

What's next: Seattle's Landmarks Preservation Board will review the application from LeFevre's group.

  • If the nomination moves forward, that would put changes to the property on hold unless the building owner gets special approval.
  • The property would then go through a lengthier designation process, which would need city council approval.

Between the lines: LeFevre also plans to try to get the building on the state and national historic registry.

  • That could help her organization — along with other nonprofits — apply for grant money to try to buy the building outright, she said.

The bottom line: Michael Houser, state architectural historian, told Axios that there's a strong case for putting the property on the state and national lists.

  • “From our perspective, the building is more than worthy,” Houser wrote.
A view of a midcentury building with cars and trees abutting it.
The building as seen from across the street. Photo: Melissa Santos/Axios
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