Sad Day on Elliott! Art Deco Factory Lost

Sweet Art Deco factory failed to garner votes at Landmarks Board! Good bye!

 

On Wednesday, November 5, 2019 (Guy Fawkes Day) the Landmarks Preservation Board voted to allow the demolition of the Williams & Company potato chip factory at 1405 Elliott Avenue W.  While Guy Fawkes failed to blow up the Parliament Building in London on this day in 1605, the landmarks board commemorated the day by denying the building’s nomination as a city landmark and paving the way for its likely demolition.

As we noted in our letter to the Landmarks Preservation Board, the potato chip factory meets designation criteria “D,” as it is a remarkable example of the industrial Art Deco/Zigzag style buildings constructed in Seattle as the city slid into the Great Depression. As one member of the Queen Anne Historical Society remarked, “this is so sad. Seattle has very few Art Deco buildings, and this is a very nice one indeed.”

We supported the nomination for several reasons. First, it is on Smith Cove, historically an extremely important site that documents how the filling of tidal flats constitutes one of most significant aspects of Seattle’s economic heritage. The building site is located on one of the most important land fill projects in the city’s history. The filling of Smith Cove and the elimination of its mud flats transformed the eastern edge of the cove into a major transportation corridor and the site of many nearby industrial buildings. Interbay’s industrial heritage is rapidly disappearing as the neighborhood changes to accommodate new uses.

Also relevant to criteria “D,” we pointed out to the Board that the Williams and Company building represents a creative use of malleable concrete as its sole material expression. With its stepped features and the delightful decorative elements of its central tower, The Williams & Company building is a remarkably expressive utilitarian building. Alas, the distinctive tower will soon be gone!

The distinctive tower will soon be gone!

 

The 1925 Parisian International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts set off an explosion of new design parameters. It provided inexpensive and distinctive answers to the pomposity of the Beaux Arts movement and brought crisp lines, dynamic geometric designs and new fenestration patterns all of which, window alterations notwithstanding, are present here.  The boom of the stock market and its crash in 1929 contribute to the significance of the Williams & Company building. It is one of the last buildings completed in Seattle prior to the construction hiatus during the Great Depression and compares well to the many Art Déco industrial buildings along Elliott Avenue and Art Déco buildings elsewhere in the city, e.g: the Meany Hotel, the Skinner Building, and the Armory at Seattle Center .

Also, as the document prepared for the nomination shows, this building met the criterion that the a building or site be the outstanding work of architect or designer. We contended that the Williams & Company potato chip factory is an outstanding design by George Wellington Stoddard who between 1920 and about 1960 is responsible for a large body of work in Seattle. Jeffrey Ochsner’s book, Shaping Seattle Architecture is peppered with references to his work. His 777 Thomas St. building is a simpler design that has been previously recognized as a Seattle landmark.

Jeffrey Murdock, a preservation advocate on the staff of Historic Seattle, attended the Landmarks Preservation Board’s discussion of the nomination and advocated for its preservation. He lamented that with so many public comments posted on the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection website once the land use sign was posted, none of these community members was present to speak in favor of the nomination.

Jeff’s email following up on the vote is compelling.

“The owners and attorneys introduced how the property is now a superfund site, and that the site must be cleared for remediation. I began by commenting that all buildings come before the board with some kind of back story, and that the only task before the board is to determine the property’s historic significance. The proposed demolition of a landmark should not enter the board’s consideration, according to the city’s landmarks ordinance.

“I focused on the exemplary level of concrete craft in the region during this period, which this building certainly conveys. I also commented how it is significant that this building, unlike other art deco buildings that usually rely on applied ornament like tile and metals, stands elegantly and convincingly in its proportion and form, crafted of humble concrete. What is significant about this building is that it is a well-designed example of the art deco, made much more significant by its material expression.

The vote was 3 in favor, 3 against. Those voting against said they just did not see that the building was significant.”

Jeff knows well the landmark process, having served for many years on the board. He recently completed a dissertation on Robert Reichert, the architect who designed one of Queen Anne’s mid-century gems at the corner of Smith Street and Third Avenue West.

James Washington, Jr. on Queen Anne: Where’s our Public Art?

Georgia Gerber’s dog in front of Trader Joe’s notwithstanding, I may be barking up the wrong tree when I worry about the lack of public art in our neighborhood. But truth to tell, Seattle Center aside, we simply do not have many works of public art on Queen Anne!

I was drawn to this subject of Queen Anne’s public art when the Landmarks Preservation Board included James W. Washington, Jr’s sculpture, The Oracle of Truth in its designation of the AME Zion Church on Madison Street. I am really thrilled by this decision to landmark one of Washington’s sculptures. With Gwendolyn and Jacob Lawrence, James Washington Jr. was one of the most important African-American artists in Seattle’s 20th c. history. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time a sculpture been folded into a landmark nomination, so the designation is momentous. …Continue reading “James Washington, Jr. on Queen Anne: Where’s our Public Art?”

A Beautiful American Foursquare on our North Slope (Revised)

(Subsequent to publishing this article, super sleuth and passionate historic preservationist, Leanne Olson, provided answers to some of the questions I posed. They are reported in the Follow Up added below. Leanne chairs the society’s Landmark Preservation Committee.) 

“Look Up” is an old dictum bandied about by architectural historians like Jane Jacobs. The dictum still applies, but it assumed folks were walking around historic buildings with their eyes glued to the sidewalk. In this new post-automobile era where walking and biking are replacing fossil fueled outings, I am adopting a new dictum. It is quite simple, “Just Walk.”

Eastern façade 2925 Warren Ave. N.

Walking up to the top of Queen Anne from Fremont along Warren Ave. N., I stumbled on this absolutely gorgeous American Foursquare half a block south of Florentia at 2925 Warren. Even though I’ve driven that block a million times since moving here in 1985, and even though I ride my bicycle down Warren at least twice a week, I’ve never walked the block before. The whole block is a bundle of lovely early 20th-c. houses, I would never appreciate on wheels, so let’s all get out and Just Walk. We’ll love Queen Anne even more and be in better health.

This house is unique as the sole building on the street for which the city’s side sewer card gives no date of connection. I have no doubt that it was built prior to 1910 (see Follow Up below). Spectacularly perched on a very steep and narrow slope, the house has projecting bays on brackets at each corner of the second story. The sweet diamond shaped window between the two projecting bays is capped with delightful decorative scrollwork (hardly visible in the photos) that the contractor either bought at a local lumber yard or copied from a pattern book.

If the tipped square window is true to style, it lights a walk-in closet serving one of the bedrooms behind the corner bays. Those bays plus the hip roofs on each corner bay and the central portion of the house are typical American Four Square. At the top of the house and centered above those characteristic corner bays is an exquisite dormer with what is for Seattle a rare tripartite Palladian window. As with so many houses of the period, whatever their apparent style, this one has a projecting bay on the rear of the first floor whose windows must light the dining room. As with so many houses of this style and period, the entire body is sheathed in beveled siding (we called it narrow board clapboard in the east).

The house looking northwest (darn pole)

 As often the case with American Foursquares, a wraparound front porch leads to a front door on the north side of the house. The porch, which sports neatly turned posts, is unusually wide to accommodate, I am guessing, what were great views to the north and east before trees grew up and before 1932 when Seattle sprouted the George Washington Memorial Bridge that may block some views now. Truth to tell, the view to the north is still spectacular. The porch also hides a bay window which probably lights the living room and serves as the final touch on a superb, well balanced set of windows and decorative features that make this house so special. I am especially fond of the vertical panes that form a transom above all the large windows, and I can’t resist those small panes in the upper portion of the Palladian.

2925 Warren Ave. N. looking northwest

It would be great to know who built this house (see Follow Up below) and why all the houses on the block are scrunched so close together. I’ve made up stories about houses on the northern slope of Queen Anne. One of them claims that they are later with a smaller footprint than those on the top of the hill, because facing north with so few hours of sun, they had to wait for the sunny lots elsewhere on Queen Anne to run out. The date of this house and several others on the block which were constructed in the first or second decade of the 20th c. disproves that theory. It is more likely that the narrow lots and smaller houses reflect marketing to working class folks who labored in nearby mills or downtown factories. A short walk down to Nickerson made it easy to catch a streetcar going downtown.

Follow Up:

As I guessed, the house was built before 1910. In fact, according to the Seattle Daily Times of October 11, 1908,  the city had just issued a building permit to W. D. Arnot for a two-story frame residence to be 22′ by 35′ and costing $2,500.  We don’t know if Arnot actually occupied the house, and we don’t know when he broke ground. We can be pretty confident that the first occupants moved in over the course of 1909.  They may been Mr. and Mrs. Wiley Chapman noted below.

On December 8, 1912, on page 62, the Seattle Sunday Times  reported  the marriage of Olacile Winnifred Chapman to John Alexander McDonald who were wed at St. Anne’s on November 28.  According to the Times, the wedding reception was held at 2925 Warren Ave. N., the home of the bride’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wiley Chapman. The Times noted that , “Mrs. W. Cathey sang a solo, If I Could Live a Thousand Years, I ‘d Live Them  All With You,” and that , “Music was provided by the Ross Seminary Quartet, composed of Mr. and Mrs. William Cathey and Mr. and Mrs. Earl Newton.” 

Now that is amazing! Mr. and Mrs. William Cathey were the parents of my one time next door neighbor Bob Cathey. Like his parents, Bob was a musician. He taught in Seattle’s Public Schools and attended the Free Methodist Church where he was in charge of music. Ross, we remember, was  the name of the neighborhood at the foot of Third Ave. W. where  the Free Methodist Church and Seattle Pacific University, an affiliate of the church, are located.  The church actually founded Seattle Pacific University, naming it Seattle Seminary.

Finally, it is pleasant to learn that the city’s survey of Historical Buildings completed in 2005 included this house. You can find the survey report here.