The grand opening of Climate Pledge Arena (CPA) marks a dramatic moment in the history of Queen Anne and Seattle. Cherished since the 1962 World’s Fair when known as the Washington State Coliseum, it served as the site of the World of Century 21. The building has since been home to the Seattle Storm and the dearly missed Seattle Supersonics, the scene of innumerable concerts, and host to the elephants of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. It was hard to see how the building could be converted to a giant modern arena that actually respected Seattle’s historic preservation ordinance and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation. The Oak View Group (OVG), the site’s developers, pledged that it could and would build a new arena under the historic roof while respecting the intriguing patterns of the Coliseum’s window walls.
A visit to the CPA today (October 24, 2021) reveals that OVG kept its promises and certainly exceeded the expectations of this sometimes-cynical historic preservation planner. A central provision of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation states that “New additions, exterior alterations or related new construction will not destroy historic materials, features and spatial relationships that characterize the property. The new work will be differentiated from the old and will be compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment.”
In 1995, it didn’t take Queen Anne folks long to give up the Coliseum name when the building was rebuilt and renamed the Key Arena. As with this recent rebuild, the 1995 project dug a deeper bowl and attracted more income by increasing the number of luxury boxes. The 1995 work preceded landmark designation by the City of Seattle by over a decade, for it wasn’t until the summer of 2018 as OVG began planning a new arena on the site that the landmark was designated.
It does not seem unfair to characterize the 1995 rebuild as botched. In that go-around, Seattle Center excavated the massive buttresses that support the roof and exposed them to allow entrances on the arena’s floor. That project seriously altered the south façade, adding a loading zone at street level, an underground ramp for trucks unloading gear on the arena floor and a new building running north-south between the arena and the Blue Spruce building where I later occupied a dingy office. Seattle Center called it Pavilion B. Its ground floor served as the kitchen for the food vendors in the arena. The south-facing changes extensively altered that side of the building and left little to protect when landmark designation happened.
The 2018 landmark designation protected only the Native American inspired rain-hat shape of the 44-million-pound roof and the glass walls designed by architect Paul Thiry (1904-1993), who also served as the primary architect of the entire Century 21 Exposition.
Now, there is no question that the OVG rebuild goes beyond protecting those designated parts of the building. It enhances them. The troughs dug around the buttresses to provide ground floor access have been filled in.
You enter at the top of the arena and the better your seat, the lower you descend into the bowl. Placing the entrances at the original ground level created expansive pedestrian plazas on all four sides of the building.
This change actually restores the relationship of the large building to its surroundings while tying it into the expansive grounds of Seattle Center to its east. The primary entrance to the CPA now spans the entire southern edge. Called the Alaska Airlines Atrium, the entrance pavilion responds marvelously to the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Historic Preservation because it reads clearly as a new addition and because it marks well where the lines of the historic roof end.
The solar panels on the atrium help to make this point. The north elevation of the building is a glass wall that preserves the framing patterns of Thiry’s original Coliseum while opening the entire bowl of the arena to daylight and the plaza that reaches over to the Northwest Rooms (also designated landmarks) that now hold KEXP, the Vera Project and the SIFF Film Center. That glass wall is a brilliant touch.
OVG and Populous, the architects of the CPA, trumpet the Net Zero Carbon results in the new building. They are certainly right to do that; however, for a preservation planner like me the success of this project lies in the degree to which the new work respects the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards.
As with all projects of this scale, there are disappointments. The southern additions to the International Fountain Pavilion and to KEXP’s wing of the Northwest Rooms try desperately to hide themselves.
Both modifications are justified by the need to create inobtrusive ventilation and emergency exits for the CPA. At the International Fountain Pavilion very little separates the historic building from the addition, while the duplication of Thiry’s distinctive bas relief tilt walls try to make the new work blend with the old. At KEXP, the extension of the balcony overlooking the arena’s western promenade is great, but little distinguishes the additions from the original building.
The city’s Landmark Board approved OVG’s trashing of the distinctive railing along the balcony, but it could have been saved and incorporated into the new one. The biggest preservation disappointment is the shrinking of the basin of Paul Thiry’s clever fountain just outside the courtyard entrance to KEXP and the failure to restore it.
I almost wish we hadn’t fought to save it.
These little disappointments notwithstanding, the people of Seattle and Queen Anne owe Seattle Center, OVG and the Seattle Kraken a big thank you for all the care that went into making our new arena a success.
Queen Anne residents enjoying their coffee over the October 23, 1910 issue of The Seattle Sunday Times read that a site in their neighborhood was being eyed for a huge Seattle stadium, complete with an architectural drawing of the proposed facility and an estimated $150,000 price tag. Many of those readers were probably as surprised by the news as I was after discovering this bit of long-forgotten neighborhood history 111 years later. The stadium was the dream of Otto L. Luther, who in 1910 was the 28-year-old principal of the newly-opened Queen Anne High School. Luther’s idea was bold and ambitious, very much like the city itself in 1910.
The plan called for an open-air, multi-use stadium to be constructed within the natural contours of Wolf Creek Ravine, a deep gully on Queen Anne’s north side that interrupts the path of 3rd Avenue North between Boston and Raye streets. The stadium was to be bordered by McGraw Street at its south end and by 2nd Avenue North and Nob Hill Avenue along its west and east sides, respectively. The architect’s drawing includes an auto drive approach to the facility underneath a bridge at McGraw Street, where there was no bridge in 1910. Today’s McGraw Street Bridge was completed in 1936 and replaced a timber-trestle bridge that was built across the ravine in 1911.
Luther’s plan for the facility seems a bit on the absurd side today; and lack of any mention of the plan in the Times subsequent to its announcement suggests that the city quashed it immediately. But understanding Luther’s enthusiasm for his audacious proposal requires a deeper dive into the zeitgeist of early twentieth century Seattle. Because the man and his dream fit squarely therein.
Just twenty years before Luther’s proposal, Seattle’s ascension to premier city of the Pacific Northwest was in no way a foregone conclusion. In fact, Tacoma had been giving us quite a run for our money, having been chosen as the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1873. The line reached Tacoma via Portland and the Columbia Gorge in 1884, with an unreliable spur line connection to Seattle.
Seattle’s fortunes began to turn in 1889, when it was chosen as the West Coast terminus of the Great Northern Railroad. Railroad speculation and job opportunities in the rebuilding after the great fire of 1889 contributed to a population jump from 3,533 in 1880 to 42,800 by 1890. The Great Northern line to Seattle was completed in 1893, the same year that a financial panic plunged the city, and the nation, into an economic depression.
The discovery of gold along the Klondike River in the summer of 1897 lifted Seattle out of the depression in short order. Savvy city boosters recognized that the smart money wasn’t in quitting their jobs and heading to the Yukon (as Seattle’s mayor, William Wood, did via telegraph from a conference in San Francisco); it was in luring the money here. They aggressively marketed Seattle as the jumping-off point for prospectors to purchase the massive amount of supplies required for entry to the Yukon territory and successfully lobbied the government for an assay office, assuring that a good deal of the cash exchanged for gold would be spent here as well. We got them coming and going, so to speak. By the turn of the century, Seattle had firmly established itself as the premier city of the Pacific Northwest.
Bold and ambitious promotion had made Seattle a success, and that lesson stuck. Nothing the city dreamed or did during the first decades of the twentieth century was small. Massive regrading and filling projects reshaped the landscape from 1897 until completion in 1930. The city hired famed landscape architecture firm, the Olmsted Brothers, in 1903 to create a comprehensive parks and boulevard plan. They returned in 1907 to design the grounds for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific (AYP) exposition. The AYP took place on the University of Washington’s new campus on Portage Bay, to which it relocated from downtown in 1895. The hugely successful exposition celebrated Seattle’s gold-rush prosperity and promoted the city as the gateway to Alaska and the Pacific Rim nations of Asia.
The Lake Washington Ship Canal and locks were built by the federal government between 1911 and 1917, with the city undertaking construction of bridges and other related improvements. The Bogue Plan, which called for a civic center in the Denny regrade area and massive transportation infrastructure improvements, including a train tunnel under Lake Washington, was rejected by voters in 1912. Although the Bogue Plan was not embraced, the ambitious spirit behind it was very much in keeping with that of the city and its proud residents.
Otto Luther’s dream of a giant sports facility in Queen Anne seems less outlandish against the backdrop of his times. The Seattle Daily Times ran an article in February 1910 profiling the progressive young principal and the beautiful new building, which they dubbed Seattle’s finest school. Luther discussed the importance of excellent facilities and his view that the new school exemplified the democratization of high school education, putting it within reach of everyone and being what he called, “the people’s college.”
The school was indeed an outstanding and beautiful facility for learning, particularly considering that the parents of those first students were likely educated in one-room schoolhouses. But in its early years, Queen Anne High School lacked an athletic field. None of the six high schools in the Seattle district at the time had a grand, multi-sport venue such as the one Luther proposed. Students practiced in parks and used college arenas for games and track meets, when available.
The lack of a Seattle high school stadium was a situation that Luther described as an emergency in the letter he submitted to the Municipal Plans Commission along with his stadium proposal. But he made no mention of this problem or how it might be addressed in the Times profile of him and the new school just 9 months earlier. So, what happened to inspire this bold vision? It appears his inspiration was partly driven by that old rivalry with Tacoma. The Times article cites the construction of a high school stadium in Tacoma as increasing the urgency of Seattle’s need for such a facility.
Tacoma High School opened its stunning open-air stadium, built in a bowl overlooking Commencement Bay, in the Spring of 1910. The stadium gained nationwide acclaim almost immediately and was such a source of pride for Tacoma that the school’s name was officially changed from Tacoma High School to Stadium High School in 1913. The stadium-opening event was a state championship track meet in June, 1910; and one of the athletes who qualified was from Queen Anne High School. Luther was certainly aware of the stadium, but the track meet was likely his first time being there.
Anyone who has ever been to Stadium High School can imagine just how awestruck and inspired young Luther must have been at the sight of the imposing chateau-style school building perched above a state-of-the-art sports facility in a breath-taking natural setting. Queen Anne and the Seattle school district had their beautiful new building; but how could they not have a stadium befitting a city of their elevated stature? Luther wanted one even bigger and better for Seattle, and felt that that nuisance of a gully cutting through Queen Anne’s north side was the perfect setting.
Luther argued that the location was at the center of the city’s population and easily accessible to students from all Seattle high schools. He pointed to the many streetcar lines that came near the site, suggesting that only a small spur would be needed to complete the connection. The architect’s plan shows 40 tiers of seating rising 55 feet with a capacity of 33,200. That would have bested the 31 tiers of seating and 32,000 capacity that Tacoma’s stadium originally boasted (its capacity was decreased in subsequent alterations and restorations of the facility). He listed many potential uses for the venue beyond sports, including theatrical performances and evening concerts. He imagined 30,000 Seattle schoolchildren gathered on the field forming a living flag to greet the president on his next visit. Luther concluded his letter with an appeal to Seattle’s faith in aggressive self-promotion:
In these “all together for Seattle” days, when men of vision urge a million for advertisement, would it not be most profitable advertising to use but one-sixth of this sum to build a magnificent structure like this that would serve all of Seattle and serve to advertise Seattle all over the country?
So why didn’t Luther’s plan gain any traction? It is reasonable to assume that residents in the immediate vicinity of the proposed site were not keen on the idea of having a high-capacity, high-traffic venue in their backyards, an understandable NIMBY position. City-funded improvements to Queen Anne were largely driven by citizen community club members lobbying the city; and at the time of Luther’s proposal, their interest was intensely focused on completion of the Queen Anne Boulevard system recommended by the Olmsted Brothers a half decade earlier. Beyond this, federal funding had finally come through to complete the long-awaited Lake Washington Ship Canal with passage of the 1910 Rivers and Harbors Act. The western outfall of Lake Union, the view to which Luther’s stadium would have opened up, was about to become a massive and long-term construction site with the digging of the canal, eventual construction of the Fremont Bridge and construction of the temporary Stone Way Bridge that served through the canal building years.
The ambitious young principal must have been deeply disappointed that the city and the Queen Anne community did not embrace his plan. But they certainly appreciated and embraced him as an advocate, leader and mentor to the tens of thousands of students whose lives he touched over his 42-year career as the principal of Queen Anne High School. He took his position as a leader of young minds very seriously, and proudly boasted about his students who went on to achieve great success, of which there were many. He was named Man of the Year by the Queen Anne Lion’s Club in 1948. They described him as having a stern and gruff exterior that had students “quaking in their loafers and bobby socks,” but having a ready wit and deep loyalty to his school. When he retired in 1951, several former Queen Anne High School athletes formed the Otto L. Luther Fan Club, a testament to his belief in the importance of physical fitness to developing strong minds and bodies — a belief that certainly inspired the vision of a grand stadium when he looked down at the gully on the north side of the hill.
In Luther’s day, Wolf Creek Ravine was considered a danger to children and the growing number of automobile drivers in the neighborhood. It was filled from Newton Street to Boston Street (over which a 50-foot-high timber trestle carried traffic), and Boston Street paved in 1934. The portion from Boston Street to Lynn Street was filled with earth excavated for the 1962 World’s Fair and eventually turned into a p-patch. The remainder of the ravine is reserved as a natural area and can be seen from a dizzying height over the railing on the north side of the McGraw Street Bridge. After learning about Otto Luther’s dream for the site, I doubt I’ll ever be able to walk or drive across the bridge again without imagining the sound of 33,000 cheering fans rising from below.
After the Great Fire of 1889, when Seattle began rebuilding, American architecture was in the second phase of the Eclectic Movement. The first, beginning about 1860, was related to the Gothic Revival and to the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain. The second phase, which lasted until about 1930, was more academic, influenced by the l’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. It sought inspiration from great past architectural periods, such as the Italian and French Renaissance, ancient Greek and Roman, and late Gothic. These architectural styles are much in evidence in the early apartments on Queen Anne Hill. World expositions at this time were instrumental in introducing the general public to new technological advances in science, industry, engineering, and architecture. The 1892 Chicago Columbian Exposition did much to heighten awareness of architectural styles. The 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific (AYP) Exposition had an impact on the Northwest, especially Seattle, that was powerful as the Columbian Exposition nationally. A population educated by the AYP demanded buildings according to the current styles. Located at the corner of Queen Anne Avenue and W. Highland Drive, the Gable House, One W. Highland Drive, was built in 1901 by Bebb and Mendel for Harry Whitney Treat. Inspired by the English Arts and Crafts Movement, the Gable House has a brick base while tawny bricks and stucco appear in the gable area half-timber detailing. Through the beveled glass windows is a grand view of Elliott Bay and the city skyline. The house was originally constructed with 18-inch I-beams in anticipation of a third story. Between 1922 and 1970 the house was used alternately as an apartment building and a private residence. In 1975, Gary Gaffner, a lifelong Queen resident and developer with a strong interest in history, purchased the fine old house. Under Gaffner’s sensitive supervision the Gable House has been tastefully converted to apartments that respect the original design of the building.
ECLECTIC ARCHITECTURAL EXPRESSIONS
Vintage architecture on Queen Anne Hill is largely an expression of the second phase of the Eclectic Movement in building design that characterized American architecture from the 1890s to 1930s. Perhaps the most magnificent surviving example of a multiple residence on the hill is the De La Mar.
The De La Mar, 115 W. Olympic Place, was built in 1908 by George Kinnear as a grand guest house for his friends visiting the AYP Exhibition. The building is an example of the neoclassical style favored by the Beaux Arts Movement in the 1890s. Its foundation and ground floor are made of simulated rusticated stone in terra cotta. The terra cotta ornamentation makes a handsome contrast to the yellow-colored brick that faces the building.
Twentieth century restoration work has returned the handsome interior to its original appearance. The “marble” columns and the wainscoting in the entry were made using a lost technique, a cast material covered with a faux marble veneer of crushed colored particles that has the look and feel of marble. Planned on a grand and elegant scale, the lobby entrance is graced by statuary, stained glass windows, a pair of grand staircases, and richly carved mahogany. Today the De La Mar has 39 apartments with high ceilings and much original woodwork. Earlier restoration work was improved upon by Mel Kaufmann and a local group of investors in the early 1970s, and in 1978 the De La Mar was designated a Seattle City Landmark. The Chelsea Family Hotel was built in 1907 through the collaboration of Charles R. Collins, engineer, and Harlan Thomas, architect. Built to initially serve AYP Exposition visitors in 1909, the goal was to create an elegant building with spaces that would remind the guests of home, or a place one would want to call home. It would offer the refined visitor a quiet retreat from the hubbub of the city and a grand view of the Olympic Mountains, Mount Rainier, and Puget Sound. The Kinnear-only streetcar stopped across the street, and it was only a ten-minute ride to downtown Seattle, where a connecting car went north to the AYP site, on the University of Washington campus. For the first ten years, the hotel was the scene of many social occasions, including dinners, weddings, and Halloween parties. In 1913 a Montessori school was started at the hotel.
The Chelsea project had a major impact on Collins’ and Thomas’ lives and work. For a number of years Charles Collins lived with his family at the Chelsea. Thomas went on from the Chelsea, his first major project, to design the Sorrento Hotel, the Corner Market Building in the Pike Place Market, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce Building, the Rosita Villa Apartments, and the Amalfi apartment building. He built his family home at 804 W. Lee Street and eventually became a highly influential figure in Northwest architecture, serving as the Director of the University of Washington School of Architecture from 1928 to 1940 and a partner in the architectural firm of Thomas, Grainger and Thomas.
Around 1917 the elegant hotel was sold to an investment company, which converted it into apartments and closed part of the lobby and lower dining room. It was not well maintained and by the 1960s it had badly deteriorated.
However, the Victorian Revival sparked renewed appreciation of turn-of-the-century buildings, and in 1977 Dr. Steven Yarnall rehabilitated the building and restored it to its original appearance in every detail, including the leaded-glass windows. In 1978, large through the efforts of architectural historian Miriam Sutermeister and the Queen Anne Historical Society, the exterior of the Chelsea, including the loggia, was officially designated a Seattle Historic Landmark. On October 3, 1991, the building was damaged by a major fire. However, restoration work was completed immediately.
The Amalfi, named for the Amalfi Coast of Italy, 1306 Queen Anne Avenue N., was designed by Harlan Thomas. Built in 1915, the Amalfi is less refined than the Chelsea and the exterior of the building is eclectic in a less formal, rustic, Italian style. Overall the building has a bulky, massive look, with heavy, graceless balconies on the front. The original balconies were cantilevered and support beams span the entire depth of the building.
The Amalfi was designed for residents with an active social life and included a ballroom in the basement. But few balls were ever held there and eventually the space was converted to an apartment during the post-World War I housing shortage. In 1950, the Amalfi was converted to a cooperative. In 1992 the building received a facelift.
The Victoria Apartments, 120 W. Highland Drive, were designed by John Graham Sr. in the Tudor style of English Gothic, which is reflected in the details of the portals and the window moldings. A center courtyard provides the surrounding 44 apartments with good natural light while assuring tenants’ privacy. The exterior is composed of red brick with terra cotta trim around the entrances, windows, and cornice, with cast-stone lintels and sills. The interior is rich in detail and color. At the entrance vestibules and elevator halls there are marble floors with matching marble wainscot. The Victoria Apartments were renovated in the 1970s.
THE ARTS AND CRAFTS MOVEMENT After World War I the Northwest experienced tremendous growth. Several architectural styles were predominant in the apartments that were constructed as part of the building boom. The influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement continued and is seen in the popular English brick, half-timber style. The typical apartment building, designed by Fred Anhalt, a local builder, is characterized by this style and by close attention to landscaping around the buildings. In addition, bungalow and courtyard apartments became popular and were a step closer to the feeling of having one’s own place — even if it just meant a back stoop.
The apartments at 1320 Queen Avenue N. are a fine example of the Arts and Crafts Style as interpreted by Fred Anhalt. They were originally built in 1927 as family apartments and meant to be homes. Anhalt designed a series of entrances shared by several apartments. Built in the English Tudor style, with steeply-pitched roofs, random brick colors, stucco and a half-timber look, the apartments are nestled into the nearby steep hill.
THE MEDITERRANEAN STYLE
Paralleling the Arts and Crafts style was the Mediterranean Style, which was viewed as very romantic and found expression in the bungalow and courtyard designs of the late 1920s. Typical features include stucco exterior, flat roofs, arched windows and doorways, and narrow casement windows, often with leaded glass.
Seville Court, at the corner of Aloha Street and First Avenue N., is an Anhalt Mediterranean courtyard complex. The detailing on these apartments is similar to that of a courtyard complex at the corner of Boston Street and Bigelow Avenue N. Both of these buildings have stucco walls, tiled roofs, leaded glass windows and an applied, detailed scrolled arch embellishment. The leaded glass on the Boston building has a slightly different pattern than the typical leaded glass of this period.
The Villa Costella, 348 W. Olympic Place, was built in 1928 on the site of John Kinnear’s grand house. Thought to have been built by John Beardsley and Fred Anhalt, the Mediterranean theme is carried out in the interior of the building, which retains much of its original character. The floors of rich red Spanish tile alternate with wood and those made made of a combination of tile and polished slate. The walls are thick plaster with timber-beamed ceilings. Each unit has an electric faux fireplace just deep enough for one metal log textured to simulate bark. Building manager Val Reel affirms that after 60 years, most of the electrical logs still function and even give off enough heat to make the room cozy. From the living rooms, French doors open onto spacious decks, from which tenants enjoy a sweeping view of downtown Seattle. A deep overhang provides outdoor seating sheltered from the rain.
THE ART DECO MOVEMENT In 1925 a design and ornamentation concept was introduced to the general public at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, held in Paris. The style was meant to complement the machine age and one of the principal characteristics was its emphasis on the future. It was one of the first popular styles in the United States to break with the revival traditions represented by the Beaux Arts period. Soon Art Deco themes and forms were used in literally every aspect of art and design from household appliances to building design.
The application of Art Deco elements to architectural design added variety and emphasis to facades, as well as breaking down the building mass to a friendlier scale. Classic details on buildings were replaced by Egyptian, Assyrian, Celtic, Persian, Mayan, Incan and Native American geometry, incised in stone, wood and bronze. The wide use of Egyptian motifs reflected excitement resulting from the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. With their bold horizontal banding, these buildings are impossible to ignore. Ornamentation was focused at the base and top of the buildings. The movement reached its height at the time of Seattle’s construction boom of 1928 to 1931. As a result, the city has the best preserved collection of Art Deco buildings north of San Francisco.
The De Lar Mar entrance courtyard is entered through a wrought-iron gate, flanked by a pair of brick posts capped with terra cotta. In the courtyard there is a pond also trimmed in terra cotta and adorned with a statue of a maiden on a lamppost designed by Julian Everett. Entering the building, one is greeted by a mosaic tile oat of arms on the floor emblazoned with “De La Mar” and the sentiment “I think better by the sea” in Latin. Photo by Isabel Egglin
Photo: The Chelsea Family Hotel, 620 W. Olympic Place, is typical of the late Eclectic Movement. The Chelsea is a mix of English, Renaissance and Italian villa styles. The English element appears in the U-shaped plan, with the two flanking wings of the building establishing a symmetry that is repeated throughout the building in the bay windows, leaded glass transoms, and other features. The Italian influence is evident in the tiled arches that lead one from the entrance to the courtyard. This photo, taken at the building’s completion, shows the arbor for the rooftop. Courtesy Pemco Webster and Stevens Collection, Museum of History and Industry.
Looking down on Queen Anne Hill late in 1940, one could easily have seen various buildings devoted to specific uses such as hospitals, hotels, clubs and apartments. At this time there were very few buildings over 40 feet high except on the south and north slopes, where some reached 60 feet. Uniformity of yard size in the residential districts would also have been obvious. These and other characteristics of the community’s buildings were shaped by a series of city zoning regulations determining allowed uses, lot coverage and building height.
THE ZONING CODES
Queen Anne was typically zoned for R-2 use along most of the lower level sloped areas and arterial streets such as Queen Anne Avenue, West Galer, and Boston Streets, and Aurora Avenue. Seattle’s zoning codes of the late 1940s explicitly stated that R-2 zoning designation allowed apartment houses, boarding houses, hotels, clubs, and fraternal societies, memorial buildings, uses permitted in the less-restrictive R-1 zone, and in some cases hospitals. Most of the hill was also governed by a 40-foot height restriction, although some parts of the north and south slope had 65-foot limits, and the Uptown area, from Harrison to Roy Streets, had an 80-foot limit. This kind of zoning is reflected in the large number of typically small, brick, two- or three-story apartment buildings scattered over the hill. These patterns continued with a few exceptions until a new zoning code went into effect in 1955.
In 1955 the existing Seattle zoning code was totally revamped, with new designations assigned to the zones. No longer was the language of the code succinct. Building heights were now limited by both an area’s classification and by the location of the building on its site. The effect of the new regulations was that high-rises became legal in some areas formerly restricted by lower height regulations. The code also required off-street parking for tenants, which in effect reduced the number of rental units that could be built on a parcel of land.
ARCHITECTURAL STYLES AT MID-CENTURY Architecture in the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s was undergoing a transformation. Since the early 1920s, progressive American architecture was under the influence of the National Style. Originating in Germany at the Bauhaus School, under the leadership of Walter Gropius, the International Style was devoid of the ornament and decoration that had characterized architectural design for centuries. Concrete, steel, and glass were the most commonly used materials. Structural expression, glass banding, and a strong horizontal emphasis were trademarks. Many found the International Style somewhat harsh and a radical change from the well-established norms of architectural design. Eventually, this harshness was softened by the influence of elements of Functionalism and Rationalism. In addition, regional and personal variations were expressed through color, lively surfaces, and textures.
The architectural firm of Stuart and Durham designed two apartment buildings on the hill: the Queen Vista Apartments, 1321 Queen Anne Avenue, completed in 1949; and the 19-unit Aloha Terrace, 212 Aloha Street. Built in 1947 as two three-story buildings clustered around a stepped courtyard, the Aloha Terrace design reflects the preference of this period for simply massed, non-adorned brick buildings. The originally rented apartments were converted to a cooperative in 1957. The Queen Vista has 85 apartments and, reflecting contemporary regulations, has 53 underground parking spaces. Skyline House, 600 W. Olympic Place, won an American Institute of Architects award in 1956 for its designers, Durham, Anderson, and Freed. Built by E. S. Lovell, the original design incorporated 85 luxury units in an eight-story T-shape featuring multicolored balconies that offered residents a spectacular view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Range. The entry is defined with two massive columns which support the cantilevered apartments above, and the sound of gurgling fountains welcomed the residents as they entered the glass-lined lobby when the building was new. By the 1990s the building had been painted a drab mustard color and the fountains were filled with cedar chips, but the building continues to be an important Seattle example of an innovative period of architectural history. By the late 1950s, Queen Anne Hill, with its good public transportation service and fine views, was often chosen as an ideal place for retirement. Bayview Manor, 11 W. Aloha Street, is designed to take advantage of the stunning location on Queen Anne Hill’s south slope. The main residential portion of the ten-story building forms a concave, south-facing curve. In designing the very large structure, John Graham and Co. used simple massing, long horizonal forms, a variety of textures, and the original use of primary colors to highlight the balconies. Built on the site of George and Angie Kinnear’s mansion, reminders of the Kinnear era are a carved mantel near the library and some stained glass windows outside the chapel. Out on the grounds trees planted by Angie Kinnear continue to shade the site. The Italianate fountain topped by cherubs is all that remains of the extensive south-facing gardens that once surrounded the gracious home.
THE TUMULTUOUS SEVENTIES The 1970s were a time of struggle for Queen Anne between commercial interests and those wishing to preserve the neighborhoods. Battles were fought, laws were changed, and a few came out winners. Memories still linger for those who were deeply involved.
The 1900s zoning code, which permitted high-density residential housing in selected inner-city neighborhoods, started the problem. While the concept was very reasonable in light of Seattle’s population growth, the residents of Queen Anne’s south slope opposed this trend, and the ordinance prompted many citizens to request down-zoning of their neighborhoods. When the Dillis B. Ward mansion was destroyed and the Continental Apartment Building at 100 Ward Street went up in what was considered a “single-family neighborhood,” people became alarmed and angry, but nothing happened.
However, diligent citizens were watching, and in the 1960s a multitude of citizen groups formed, determined to preserve the neighborhood and the view corridors. These groups included Concerned West Slope Residents, the North Queen Anne Preservation Association, the Galer Street Community Action Committee, the Steering Committee of West Slope Residents, and the North Queen Anne Association. In 1968 The Queen Anne Community Development Council, an informal community government organization, drew up recommendations for preserving the residential character of the community’s neighborhoods which were not approved by Seattle City Hall. In the early 1970s the United South Slope Residents (USSR) formed a dynamic citizens’ group that successfully reversed the commercialization of the south slope residential neighborhoods. Headed by architect Art Skolnik, the ad hoc group was well-organized, well-connected and, equally important, well-funded when the need arose. A petition was circulated and 4,800 signatures were gathered demanding that all high-rise property on the south slope be down-zoned to low-rise. The stage was set for the battle to begin.
The developers were busy obtaining permits for projects before any zoning changes were approved. Polygon Realty Corporation was one which had a permit denied. Alfred Petty, City Building Permit Superintendent, concluded that “established zoning on Queen Anne does not appear to be in the best interest of the local community.” Polygon promptly filed two lawsuits: the first one contested the superintendent’s decision, the second contested the city’s decision to downzone some of Queen Anne Hill.
USSR joined in the court case, financing lawyers’ fees with grassroots fund-raising efforts, including tours of the community’s elegant old houses. The citizens were victorious, for the courts sided with city and upheld the denial of Polygon’s permit. The decision, based on environmental concerns, was a major one, since it clarified that all future projects would have to be evaluated on environmental grounds as well as zoning laws to obtain permits. USSR has remained a viable citizen’s organization since its inception as it continues its watchdog role, periodically reviewing controversial projects.
NEW LIVES FOR OLD SCHOOLS
During the 1960s and 1970s Queen Anne’s demographics changed and the number of school-age children dropped drastically. West Queen Anne High School was slated for closure and possible demolition. However, the neighborhood quickly rallied and was successful in achieving protection for the old school through placement on the National Register for Historic Places in 1975, and designation as a Seattle City Landmark in 1977. The school closed in 1981.
The building was converted to a 49-unit condominium building that retained the historic character of the school. The playfields were converted into landscaped gardens with parking hidden beneath. Through creative lease agreements with the school district, Historic Seattle was able to ensure that West Queen Anne School will be preserved for many years to come.
Following this precedent a similar program was followed at the closure of Queen Anne High School in 1981. Conversion of the school to the apartment building, The Queen Anne, is the hill’s finest example of adaptive reuse of a historic building. Designed in 1909 by James Stephen, the Beaux Arts Movement design took its inspiration from the late English Renaissance palace style. It is constructed of concrete, unreinforced masonry, and heavy timber, and features elaborate terra cotta detailing at the cornice and entries.
As with the West Queen Anne School conversion into condominiums, the Seattle Preservation and Development Authority and the Seattle School District cooperated to preserve the historic building while transforming it into a 139-unit luxury apartment building. Following the design of The Bumgardner Architects, the 1929 auditorium and gymnasium wings were demolished and the exterior terra cotta detailing was restored. The old Queen Anne High School was placed on the Washington State and the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, and welcomed new residents. Queen Anne High School, living a new life, continues to stand proudly at 201 Galer Street.
In 1974 the old Queen Anne Community Church building, several old neighboring houses, and Hansen’s Sunbeam Bakery were redeveloped into a restaurant-shop complex named the Hansen Baking Company. The buildings were connected with covered walks and a central court, complete with fountains, benches, and landscaping, provided a reprise from the outside world. The complex was not a successful venture and the Hill and Roats Co. acquired the property in 1988. After a bitter battle between the developers and the preservationists, the old church and baking company were demolished in 1993 as plans progressed for its redevelopment.
HOUSING FOR LOW-INCOME CITIZENS The Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) was created in 1939 to provide low-income housing and related services for the people of Seattle, including the elderly, handicapped, and disabled citizens. Although noble in its cause, the authority’s projects are not typically welcomed by neighbors on the hill. Of the 10,000 Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing units in Seattle, in 1992 there were 363 units in six Queen Anne locations: Center West, 533 Third Avenue W, 1969, 92 units, designed by Price and Assoc.; Olympic West, 110 W. Olympic Place, 1971, 76 units, designed by Sullam Smith and and Assoc.; Queen Anne Heights, 1212 Queen Anne Avenue No, 1971, 53 units, designed by John Y. Sato and Associates;
Carroll Terrace, 600 Fifth Avenue W., 1985, 26 units; West Town View, 1407 Second Avenue W., 1978, 59 units, designed by Dudly and Ekness; and Michaelson Manor, 320 W. Roy Street, 1985, 57 units, designed by Architects Virgil and Bradbury.
By the late twentieth century, land available for building large apartment and condominium complexes was scarce on Queen Anne Hill, and developers turned to building on the more difficult sites around the hill.
The Wharfside Pointe Apartments, 3811 14th Avenue W., is an example of the problems that can accompany development on marginal building sites. As excavation started in 1987, the history of the site began to unfold. Pre-construction soils testing had failed to reveal extensive charcoal dump sites. Also, a former fuel depot from the early 1900s had left behind leaking tanks with contaminated soil to be cleaned. A soils engineer was required on the site full-time to analyze soil as the project proceeded. In addition to these problems, there were difficulties with new zoning regulations which required that the building be of a mixed-use type. New city regulations also required community participation in the planning of the project. After considerable discussion, several thousand square feet of retail space was built into the ground floor of this 130-unit apartment building. At times zoning code changes made with the intention of creating a more pleasant environment for the community resulted in a proliferation of poorly-designed structures built with the sole intent of crowding the maximum development allowable on the parcel of land, thus increasing developers’ profit margin. Occasionally, good projects are built by competent architects and developers such as the Le Parc Condominiums, designed by Roger Newell and developed by James Paul Jones in 1992. The four-story 13-unit project, located at 1231 Fifth Avenue N. overlooking Lake Union, proves that it is possible to design within the constraints of the current zoning codes and create a pleasant environment for both the users and the community.
FROM PICKLES TO “MIXED USE” The Cornerstone condominiums epitomize what multifamily construction will be like in the years to come. In 1993 vacant land to build new projects is nonexistent. Zoning laws are firm and any future multifamily structures will have to be built on sites occupied by single-family homes located in multifamily zones, on industrial sites no longer able to expand, or on sites occupied by dilapidated apartment structures.
Fortune Development’s Cornerstone project, on Aloha Street and Fifth Avenue N., is built on the former site of the Green Garden Food Co., a pickle factory that had outgrown its facilities. The mixed-use project, designed by Lagerquist and Morris, has 35 condominium units with 52,000 square feet of commercial retail space on the ground floor.
Scott Jennings is a Florida-raised transplanted architect living on Queen Anne Hill with his wife Kim, also an architect, and son John. His hobbies include renovating historical structures and boating in local waters. Kim Myran is an architect. Originally from Hawley, Montana she joined the Army after school and was educated at the University of Idaho. She lives in Seattle, is a captain in the Army Reserves, and residents in a historic building on Queen Anne.