A Public House

Behind the scenes of the Anderson School project

Photo courtesy of McMenamins

Why build a pub, brewery, and hotel in a historic school?

“Wouldn’t you want to drink in class?” asked Mike McMenamin as he stood in Bothell’s former Anderson School earlier this spring. That kind of attitude is part of what has made Mike and his brother Brian successful publicans. The brothers are the namesake behind McMenamins, an iconic mixture of pubs, restaurants, and hotels with 45 properties in Oregon and eight in Washington.


Photo by Kathleen Nyberg

Anderson School is the company’s first Seattle-area hotel project. The renovation of the former Bothell school property, more than five acres with approximately 100,000 square feet of building space, will feature a 72-room hotel; a family-friendly community pool (which will be free for Bothell residents); a market-fresh restaurant (in the school’s old cafeteria); a first-run movie theater (in part of the old gym); meeting, concert, and event space (which takes up the rest of the gym); and Anderson School Brewery, featuring a bar with games like shuffleboard (this will be in the school’s former wood shop). McMenamins’ Anderson School is slated to open in October.

The McMenamins are known for taking historic buildings and turning them into something new. What makes the perfect building for a project? “Unfortunately it seems like ones that are half rotten,” Mike joked. “It has to have the spaces for gatherings, ceiling heights for performance, but one of the main things we like to get involved in are places with historical value because that deep reservoir of history is the soul of the place,” he said.

Remodeling a school that was built in the 1930s presents a number of challenges. According to Mario Espinosa, lead architect on the Anderson School project and senior associate at Ankrom Moison Architects, Inc. in Portland, there are two reasons a remodeling project like this differs from designing a building from scratch.


Photo by McMenamins/Kathleen Nyberg

The first is technical. With old buildings, surprises and unknown obstacles like hidden walls and mislabeled building plans can throw a big wrench into the design and construction. Those challenges don’t exist in new designs. There also are strict federal and state guidelines regarding historical buildings that require careful time and effort in planning and construction. The unknowns and those regulations can make projects more expensive than new buildings (construction costs of Anderson School were at $20 million in April 2015, with more expenditures expected as the project continues to take shape). The upside to following historical guidelines are significant rebates and tax credits from the state and Department of National Interior, which Espinosa said could be up to 20 percent of the cost.

The second factor that separates new and old design is a spiritual one of sorts. “We are injecting an old building with new life. You are not necessarily bringing the past into today. It’s more like repurposing it so that within our new lifestyle, the building can still serve a purpose. To make it so that people sense what it was, but they can now do what they need to do in this building — whether they want to go to the theater, stay overnight at a hotel, or go to dinner and have some beers, is what this particular client is so in-tune with in providing that experience,” he added.

Shannon McMenamin, general manager for lodging, gift shop, and spa (and Mike McMenamin’s daughter), played a big role in guiding the interior design of Anderson School. She said the biggest challenge for designing these spaces is to straddle the tightrope between keeping things creative and different so that not all properties look the same, but adding touches here and there that are common throughout all McMenamins’ properties. “We strive to push past what’s comfortable and what we know works to find new ways of doing things,” she said.


Photo by McMenamins/Kathleen Nyberg

“For me I’ll find one thing that will be my inspiration, and that thing can change many times throughout the course of a project. For Anderson School guest rooms, it is this beautiful curtain fabric with Chinese dragons on it and giant flowers. The colors are spot on, and it has a very deco 1940s vibe to it. Every day we’ll come across pieces, be it art, a fixture, a statue, mask, a bit of history, and they are added to the ever-increasing pile of things that will end up making the Anderson School so unique. My family is always on the hunt for that one-of-a-kind thing that will make the space that much better, and it doesn’t stop once the location opens. We are constantly re-evaluating and changing spaces.”

According to Shannon, everything about the building of McMenamins’ properties is a collaborative effort. And those values pinpoint what makes this family’s properties so successful — community. The Brothers McMenamin are publicans — purveyors of public houses, which were historically community gathering places in small villages in England. Those traditions are present in all of McMenamins’ properties, and the brothers are eager to share their take on the public house with visitors from Bothell, the greater Eastside, and beyond this October.


Photo by McMenamins/Kathleen Nyberg

McMenamins Passport
Love scavenger hunts, free food, and new experiences? Check out the McMenamins Passport program. For $25, you get a passport that you can fill with stamps at different McMenamins locations, or for completing different McMenamins experiences (attend a concert, book a massage, etc.). Earn swag and free food as you fill your passport, and if you fill your whole passport, you’re eligible for the grand prize, which includes a three-night stay at any McMenamins hotel, concert tickets, happy-hour drink prices for a year, and more.

Anderson School is scheduled to open Oct. 15. The property, which will feature a 72-room hotel, movie theater, pub and brewery, concert venue, restaurant, and more, is expected to employ about 150 full- and part-time employees. The project is part of Bothell’s extensive long-term redevelopment plan that aims to create a new city hall and city center.

Some of Mcmenamins’ other locations:
1. Crystal Hotel, Portland 2. Grand Lodge, Forest Grove 3. Kennedy School, Portland 4. Old St. Francis, Bend 5. McMenamins Edgefield, Troutdale

is a contributor to 425 magazine.
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