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December 02, 2014

Historic building that houses Seattle's oldest bar has a new owner

Puget Sound Business Journal

Marc Stiles

A Pioneer Square building that houses the historic J&M Cafe has been sold.

But before they take over, the new owners may have to evict the previous owner who last summer looked to have been living in the run-down top floors of the building. In a brief interview on Tuesday, Brittany Shulman, the new owner, said that her company, Seneca Ventures, "just plans on restoring this building and bringing it back to life."

The probable plan is to have a hotel in the three-story building at 201 First Ave. S. She said she's working on the project with Kurt Fisher and did not have time to answer more questions. Fisher was not immediately available.

According to an affidavit recorded last week with King County, a limited liability company called J&M Capital Group paid nearly $3.24 million for the building that was constructed just after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. The Washington Secretary of State's Corporations Division lists Shulman of Seattle as the LLC's registered agent.

The sale of the building was news to Mike Petrone, general manager of the J&M, which is 125 years old. He said people have been curious about the future of the building. Word of a possible sale has been out since last summer when the Business Journal wrote that the property had hit the market with an asking price of $3.9 million.

"Everybody asks about it non-stop," Petrone said Monday.

The father-son team of Jim and Ross Klinger, commercial real estate brokers with Kidder Mathews, listed the building for sale. Ross Klinger this summer said he and his dad were talking to some prospective buyers who were looking at turning the building's upper floors, now dilapidated, into a hotel. He also touted the location a block from the central waterfront where the city is planning a $1 billion, 26-block-long park. A hotel upstairs would make sense. The building was designed for a wholesale business, but by the time of the Klondike Gold Rush, this building, like all the other ones on the block, was occupied by a business on the ground floor and a hotel on the top floors.

The J&M Cafe on the first floor seems in fine shape, but the upstairs - where Jacob "Jack" Buttnick, who once owned the building is rumored to live - is spooky and dilapidated, with holes in the floors and ceilings, windows without glass and old bathroom fixtures strewn about. During a tour of the building this past summer, a rat scurried down the hall. It appeared from piles of clothes and a ramshackle office set-up that Buttnick might be living and working in the building.

An agitated Buttnick yelled at a PSBJ photographer that he still owned the building during the tour. Last summer, creditors who had loaned money to Buttnick were demanding to be paid back, according to court documents, and the court had appointed a receiver to oversee the disposition of the property.

It's unclear if Buttnick is living in the building now. Petrone said a light upstairs was left on all weekend, and that one of the bar employees had seen Buttnick last week.

"Upstairs would not be a good place to be camping," Petrone said. "It's freezing."

It was also unclear from the county's online records when Buttnick bought the building, though public notices of a forced sale of the property started appearing five years ago. That was several months after the J&M abruptly closed after a former operator filed for bankruptcy.

At the time, Buttnick offered to buy the J&M's trademarked name and the bar's property inside.

"I am optimistic that the J&M will soon be up and running as it has been for years," Buttnick told the Business Journal at the time.

A month later, the property inside the J&M was auctioned off, and the bar reopened under new ownership not long after.

For the full story, go to Puget Sound Business Journal.

© 2014 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved.

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