A Virtual Tour of Queen Anne Views

Architectural historians study buildings by walking around them and describing their features. Occasionally their studies discuss how the building is sited. In this virtual walk around the neighborhood, I explore how our neighborhood is sited, focusing especially on those marvelous vistas that, while often engineered (Willcox Walls for example), are often the serendipitous strokes of luck coming from living on a hill overlooking mountains, lakes, inland seas and one of the most dynamic downtown cores in the United States. This tour involves two tools, both obvious and easy to use. The most important one is your mind’s eye, where you’ve stored all those vistas, sunrises, sunsets and thunderstorms with which everyone living in Queen Anne is familiar. Having served professionally as the director of two weather-dependent Queen Anne institutions (The Children’s Museum and the Northwest Folklife Festival, both at Seattle Center) happy and unhappy vista memories populate my mind’s eye. The second is Google Maps where you can go in your quarantined quarters to refresh your memory.

Let’s start at the most popular view from Kerry Park on Highland Drive. From here Elliott Bay, the downtown core, Paul Allen’s South Lake Union technological hub, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the swooping green roof of the Fifth Avenue Garage provide a marvelous background against which Seattle’s history splays out before you. From Kerry Park, Seattle’s iconic memories of the 1962 World’s Fair reward us. The svelte feminine forms of the Space Needle have survived almost unpardonable alterations, while the parabolic arches of the Coliseum, now temporarily hung in space while private investors dig an even deeper hole for hockey and maybe basketball, draw our attention. The occasional ferry shuttling folks to and from Bremerton and Bainbridge passes before West Seattle and the center of our city’s Eurocentric founding story. You can’t see it anymore, except in your mind’s eye, but once upon a time Smith Tower, our first skyscraper, was part of the view.  Before our feet a flat area on Prospect Street hides a reservoir. Across the street from it, little Franklin Park reminds me of the Kinnears, early Queen Anne developers who sited the reservoir feeding their Queen Anne-style house down the hill here and have a street and a park bearing their name. Instead of being called Kerry Park, this fantastic viewpoint might very well be called Mount Rainier Park. From here the view to our mountain is unparalleled.  Even on cloudy days, it draws me to the park just to see if it’s out.

Author and art admiring the view at Bowen Overlook

 

Going west along Highland Drive, I skip the Stimson-Griffith and Kerry mansions, rush by the McFee and Parsons houses and cast a glance up the hill to the huge back side of the brick Stuart/Balcom House on Comstock Street. Passing Parsons Gardens, another of those privately funded public spaces on the hill, I arrive the confusingly named Betty Bowen Viewpoint in Marshall Park. From here my eye is drawn to Interbay with its railroad yard, grain silos, Expedia buildings, Piers 90 and 91, Smith Cove Park, the marina, Magnolia and its wobbly bridge. Dramatically on a sunny day, I embrace the Olympic Mountains and the shipping lanes of the Puget Sound. It is a grand view, starting out in 1904 as Phelps Park, Marshall Park shrank in size following the 1911-1916 construction of the now landmarked Willcox Walls and boulevard which extend the views as they wrap around the west side of the hill. The park expanded to the south and west when the G. W. Marshall family gave a 32,400 square foot tract to protect the phenomenal view.

I often see photographers at the Willcox Walls who’ve come for the view of the setting sun over Bainbridge Island and the Olympic Mountains.  Ships and the occasional ferry plying the waters between Seattle and Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island, or Seattle and Bremerton, are often to be seen from there.  For the first time the other day, I actually saw the ferry leaving Vashon for Fauntleroy Cove.

It is not the ferries but the mountains that draw the photographers to the wall.  The Brothers is the twin-peaked summit directly across the Sound that resembles an owl’s head. It is named after the Fauntleroy brothers, early settlers of West Seattle.  In 1857, Lt. George Davidson anchored his brig, The Ellinor, in that very cove just south of today’s Lincoln Park and gave that mountain its name. Engaged to their sister Ellinor,  he named his ship and Mt. Ellinor for his beloved who still lingered in New Harmony, Indiana.  Davidson rewarded the entire family. The cove he named for his future father-in-law, while he rewarded Ellinor’s sisters with Mt. Constance and Mt. Rose. Looking across the sound from the Willcox Walls, the last bump to the south is Ellinor; Rose is hard to see just in front of Elinor and Mt. Washington; The Brothers are somewhat to the north of them. The large mass of mountain north of The Brothers is Mt. Constance. We don’t dare share here our theories explaining her dominance of the long ridge.

The nice thing about a virtual tour is the ease which with I travel great distances. I’ve walked around the entire boulevard and ducked down First Ave. North just where Smith Street squiggles onto Queen Anne Drive. About three quarters of the way down First North, you’ll see a big evergreen tree whose branches appear to have been cut away to frame a great view of Mt. Baker. It is a real treat on a sunny spring day.

A better camera would capture Mt. Baker in the tree.

 

The view of Mt. Baker is a little better on Queen Anne Ave. just before those forbidding ‘Do Not Enter’ signs before it careens precipitously to Florentia St.

 

Snow-capped Mt. Baker. Queen Anne Ave.

I am always moved when I see Mt. Baker from Seattle. It reminds me of that day some 47 years ago when I waited in the obstetrics floor of University Hospital for the arrival of my first child. The room was on the north side of the building. Mt. Baker glistened in all her snow-covered glory announcing Zach’s arrival.

Here’s a 1907 view looking east across Lake Union.

Jump with me as my mind moves around the hill to the eastern end of Lynn Street just beyond the stop signs at Boston and 5th North where the city has created a modest overlook. Before me a big bit of greenbelt stretches out to Aurora Avenue and its traffic noises. Lifting my head up a bit, Lake Union, named by Thomas Mercer whose house was down by the shore, spreads out as a seaplane lifts off the water on its way to points north. I pick out St. Mark’s Cathedral on Capitol hill and pretend I can see Egan House tucked into the hill below it. I recall the day Historic Seattle got that sweet cottage  for free from the Parks Department and think about its near twin, the recently saved the Robert Reichert House at 3rd Ave W and Smith Street. I choose to disregard the roar of I-5 and wish it would go away. I can’t miss the Cascades from here or the memories of 4th of July fireworks.

One of my favorite views never ceases to surprise me as I head north along Nob Hill. If I time it right, looking south the Space Needle looms becoming more of spaceship than a needle. From my special vantage point, the Needle’s legs and waist disappear, and she simply floats on the city ready to go to Mars.

Oh, in that same part of the neighborhood, I mustn’t forget Bhy Kracke Park. Almost donated to the city as another of those citizen-donated parks. Bhy Kracke died on his way home to Seattle to give the land to the city.  Seattle bought it just the same in 1970. Hidden off Comstock Street a bit east of Bigelow, the park offers spectacular views over South Lake Union. The Space Needle pops up to the southwest and the spreading lawn is a wondrous site for an outdoor wedding. That same son born with a view of Mt. Baker got married there. Taking the narrow, treacherous path through the park down to 5th Ave N., the views gradually disappear in landscape that’s gone wild.

Seaplane view of Lake Union with Queen Anne on right.

There really is no end to the number of terrific views from our neighborhood, and we add new ones all the time. I’ve fallen in love with the belvedere on the west end of the John Coney Bridge, that sweet viaduct that carries bicycles and pedestrians from Harrison Street over Elliott and the railroad tracks to Myrtle Edwards Park. I was disappointed the other day when social distancing and a cluster of people enjoying the view deprived me of it. From the belvedere, I often see giant container ships entering the harbor, freighters filling up with grain and, once upon a time long ago, the myriad cruise ships heading to Alaska after depositing sum hefty sums in the lodging tax kitty that helps fund many arts and heritage organizations like the Queen Anne Historical Society. The belvedere is halfway between the two fantastic works of public art that the bridge links.

You can see Michael Heizer’s  Adjacent, Against, Upon (1972) the on the water side, while Snoqual/Moon the Transformer(2012) by Roger Fernandes is a marvelous  gateway to the bridge and reminder of the people who lived here before us.  Hewitt Architects designed the bridge as a gift to the city.

Fernando’s Snoqual/Moon the Transformer

I wouldn’t want to end this tour without telling you about the views from Seattle Center. For the most of this century’s first decade, I directed the Northwest Folklife Festival. During that time, I’d start my festival day at the corner of Second Ave. N and John St. in front of the entrance to the Pacific Science Center taking in the great view west to the water. From there, I could assess the always eastward moving weather and predict, for better and often for worse, the size of that day’s crowd and donations. Weekends at the Children’s Museum in Center House in the early 1990’s, I only had to look up to if the sun was out. If it were, I’d slump back to desk knowing all those kids we needed to attract to balance our budget were at the zoo.

Ending, I should thank Michael Kimmelman who has been doing virtual tours of Manhattan every week in the New York Times. I borrowed the idea of virtual tours during our confinement from him. I’ll do another one next week.

THE REGRADE DISASTERS

Between 1929 and 1930, a wee bit of Queen Anne (that part east of 5th Ave. N., west of 9th Ave. N. and bound by Denny Way on the south and Broad St. on the north) got washed into Elliott Bay as part of the third Denny Regrade. Our bit formed the northeast corner of the project. The lowering of Denny Park, the city’s first park, was a big part of the work even though purists will say the park isn’t in Queen Anne at all!

I’ve known that for a very long time and ever since I moved back to Seattle in 1985, I’ve wondered why. Stumbling on a paper written some 42 years ago, I discovered the reason. Having returned in my first old age at age 36 to graduate school to study historic preservation planning and architectural history, I took Seattle as the subject of many assignments. After all, I had just spent four years teaching at the UW, so Seattle history became my go to topic.

I prepared that paper (“The Denny Regrade”) for a class in the history of American urban planning with the dean of the field, Professor John C. Reps. My paper traced the history of the regrade projects. The first one took place between 1898 and 1899 when city engineer Reginald Heber Thomson (1856-1949). convinced city officials to remove a portion of the hill on the north end of Seattle’s downtown. Thomson had been the city engineer for nearly a decade when the project began. He was obsessed with fostering the city’s economic growth and sure that expanding the business district out of the pit in which he saw it trapped would help the city grow. Thomson defined the pit as the land between the mud flats south of Yesler Way and Denny Hill.

R. H. Thomson. Courtesy Paul Dorpat

The first regrade washed away First Avenue from Pine Street to Denny Way. The second regrade (1903-1911) took down Denny Hill from Second Avenue to Fifth between Pike and Cedar.  The third one occurred between 1928 and 1930 as a nutty response to the second one after it failed to increase land values or attract the energy of the burgeoning central business district. Some say Thomson was a visionary. I see him in the same class as robber barons, those stubborn autocrats set on getting their way whatever the consequences. I forgive Thomson because his bull-headed behavior was well intended and didn’t make him rich. To be perfectly fair, Thomson had nothing to do with the third regrade. He’d moved on long before it began.

Washing the hill away. spl_dr_017

Hydraulic sluicing Seattle’s soft clay made the regrade projects easy to do. The sluices were, by the way, a common strategy for moving wet earth and were part of Seattle’s culture following the Klondike Gold Rush where stream beds were diverted through sluices to strain them for gold. By the time of the third regrade, the work got easy. Rubber conveyor belts moved the washed-out dirt to Elliott Bay where cleverly designed barges dumped it. Filled with dirt falling from the belt, the double-sided barges were towed out in the bay where they flipped over, dumped their loads and presented an empty bin ready for refilling at the shore.

It seems fair to say that except for dumping tons of dirt into Elliott Bay and leveling a very big hill, the regrades flopped terribly. They did practically nothing to improve the economic vitality of the city until almost a century later when Amazon finally redeveloped that big chunk of the third regrade between 6th and 8th avenues. It is Thomson’s failure to see the possibility of the regrades failing economically that interests me.

The Denny Hotel in 1903. Courtesy Paul Dorpat

The first regrade set the stage for the second. James Moore, owner of the huge Washington Hotel on top of Denny Hill, resisted the regrade concept that Thomson touted. Moore had bought the unfinished Denny Hotel at the tippy top of the hill from Arthur Denny, renamed it the Washington Hotel and completed it at considerable expense.

Washington Hotel on Denny Hill after the first regrade. MOHAI .32002.0.38

 

Moore balked at tearing down his hotel and his substantial portion of the hill, but Thomson charged ahead with the first regrade making Moore’s hotel pretty inaccessible. When Moore caved in, Thomson moved forward with the second regrade. The top of the hill and the hotel began to disappear in 1906. About the same time, Moore built a new hotel, the New Washington, at Second and Stewart (today’s Josephinum) and the Moore Theatre next door. Both were completed in advance of the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, the world’s fair held on the UW campus.

Stretching roughly from First Avenue east to Fifth and from Pike north to Cedar, the second regrade leveled about 170 feet of Denny Hill. For comparison purposes, it stood a little bit more than one third as high as Queen Anne Hill (436 feet) today. As Walt Crowley tells it (Historylink File 1123), the failure of the first regrade was driven partially by being butted up to the second half which provided a dismal backdrop to the new flatlands of Belltown. Crowley also points to two other factors that stymied the redevelopment of the regrades. Both can be attributed to poor thinking by Thomson or his arrogance.

Crowley politely contends that Thomson could not have anticipated the advent of the automobile which made close in development of the city less necessary and that he had no way to understand the impact of skyscrapers such as the Smith Tower (completed in 1914). Skyscrapers increased the density of offices in the historic core and like the automobile reduced the need to expand over the land.

I’d agree that Thomson’s timing was off, but skyscrapers were already dotting New York and Chicago. Seattle got its first skyscraper, the Alaska Building, in 1904, just about the time of the second regrade, the big one, got underway. Were he the far-thinking urban planner local historians have seen in him, he would have understood the future of very tall buildings. Maybe his rural Ohio roots blinded him to this urban potential. As for the automobile, Crowley may be right. There were only a couple of thousand cars in the state when the second regrade began. The automobile was still very far from its polluting heyday, and no one could have anticipated its impact on urban sprawl. In fact, we still haven’t figured out how to manage it.

The system embraced for financing the regrades may have been the final nail in the coffin. To finance the work, the city adopted a local improvement district, a LID, just like the one recently imposed on downtown businesses to fund improvements along the waterfront. Property owners in the regrades were taxed to pay for the work under the assumption that the improvements, the lowering of the hills, would increase property values and make them rich.

It just didn’t work out that way. The new flat land of the second regrade was unnecessary and ugly. Without the need for fancy stores, homes or hotels in the new neighborhood, flop houses, bars and some tenements moved in. At the very same time Paris and New York were identifying unhealthy neighborhoods for their ultimate removal, Seattle built one.

Thomson tried to remedy the problem with the second regrade by washing the hill he’d left behind into the bay. The outcome was nearly as bad. The flop houses, bars and single room only apartments only spread. Eliminating the eastern portion of hill gave license to the down and out character of the first regrade to spread unchecked. My guess is that Prohibition didn’t hurt either.  

The third regrade completed between 1928 and late 1930 eliminated what remained of the hill. Eventually, the bulk of it was bought up by the Clise family, Seattle’s most well-known real estate developers. As late as 2008, the Clise property was the largest contiguous inner-city tract of land in the United States, larger even than New York City’s 22-acre Rockefeller Center.

Now, long after I wrote that paper for John Reps, I worry about the people in government making unchallenged decisions that are transforming our world. At the end of 19th c., Thomson convinced city officials to undertake a project that transformed Seattle. Until Amazon’s recent purchase of broad swaths of the third Denny Regrade, the northern portions of Seattle’s business district were a disaster, lying fallow for over 100 years. In reviewing my paper, my fear of simply accepting the wisdom of people in power is confirmed. Of course, Thomson did some great things for Seattle, particularly the Cedar River watershed project which still provides our clean drinking water, but he garnered too much power. His biggest ideas went unchallenged, and some, such as the Denny Regrades, bore rotten fruit.

 

Hot dog, a QUEEN ANNE!

Marble/Lindsley House. Photo Mimi Sheridan, 2003. 

 

The profusion of Queen Anne style houses constructed at the end of 19th c. is said to have given our neighborhood its name, yet almost all of them are gone. (I think all the earliest houses were built in the style. Naturally few survive because few were built in the first place. I must test this hypothesis, but all the early photos show the south slope peppered with the occasional house and lots of empty space.).

One of the best surviving Queen Anne style houses lingers at 520 W. Kinnear Pl. on the steep rise a bit east of where Kinnear merges with W. Prospect. Built in 1890 by Galette and Rachel Marble, the house later sold to Edward and Abbie Lindsley. Abbie ties the house to Seattle’s earliest Euro-American settlers and certainly Queen Anne’s. David and Louisa Boren Denny were her parents. She was born in 1858 and was probably one of the earliest Uptown babies. The Marble House appears in the 2003 Historic Resources Survey and like most of the buildings in the survey, it is not a city landmark

Francophones will chortle at Galette Marble’s first name. Galette des Rois or King Cake, is a well-known winter treat often served in France on Epiphany, January 6,. Read about it here

 The following text is borrowed with minor edits from the survey which was led by Mimi Sheridan:

Significance:

The Marble/Lindsley House was constructed about 1890. Because of the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889, masons were in high demand to reconstruct the burned down city. Brick contractor Galette Marble (1844-ca 1917) could choose from dozens of job opportunities when he arrived in Seattle during the first half of 1890. Born in New York, by 1865 Marble was living in Minnesota where he married Rachel (b. 1842), who had recently moved from Canada. In June 1890, Galette and Rachel purchased some Queen Anne Hill property from land developer George Kinnear and mortgaged the property to finance the construction of a house. Marble knew most aspects of the building trades including carpentry, and he likely constructed the house. Within weeks after work on the residence started, the Marbles were living in a partially constructed house. The household included Galette, Rachael, daughters Marion (b. 1870), Adalbott (b. 1858), and Florence (b. 1884). By the end of 1890, the house was likely completed, although Marble might have continued working on it into early 1891. During most of the 1890s, Galette Marble worked as a mason and brick contractor. Marble’s commute to various job sites involved a one block walk from his house to catch the Kinnear Park streetcar line that ran along Olympic Place to downtown Seattle. During the Alaska and Klondike gold frenzy, Marble mined for gold and later operated a cigar store. In December 1891, the Marbles sold the house to Edward and Abbie Lindsley who moved in with their five children: Laurence (age 13), Mabel (age 12), Irena (age 11), Winnie (age 10), and Norman (age 8). Edward Lindsley (b. ca 1853) worked for the south Lake Union Western Mill as a foremen and engineer. After leaving the sawmill, he became a teamster. Lindsley, born and raised in Wisconsin, later moved west and in 1877 married Abbie Denny (1858-1915). Washington born Abbie Denny, was the daughter of David and Louisa Denny. David and Louisa Denny were among Seattle’s first Euro-American settlers and homesteaded the lower Queen Anne and south Lake Union districts. Abbie Lindsley became a well-known local painter and wrote numerous articles for local and regional magazines and newspapers. The Lindsleys lived in the house until August 1895 and remained in Seattle until 1907.

In color. concealed by vegetation.

Some later owners and occupants include Otto Nelson, Muriel E.Leche, and Charles L. Martin. Nelson purchased the house in the early 1920s and owned it until the late 1940s. He worked as a mailer for the Seattle Times. Muriel E. Leche lived in the duplex from World War II until the 1960s. She worked as a clerk for American Mail Line, as a nurse, and an office secretary. In 1971, Charles L. Martin purchased the house. The house has had a variety of  addresses. From 1891 through 1895, it was 120 Elliott. The 1905 and 1917 Sanborn Map lists the house at 600 Kinnear. The 1950 Sanborn map shows the residence at 500 and 522 Kinnear Place. The 1975 Historic Seattle Survey of the Queen Anne neighborhood lists the house as Significant to the City. The 1979 Seattle Historic Resources Survey inventoried the house. Few residences exist from Seattle’s first major building boom (1887-1891). The Queen Anne style residence appears to meet City of Seattle Landmark criteria due to the age of the structure (over 110 years old) with alterations that are sympathetic with original design. Sources (see Reference below for complete citations): Crowley p. 176 (Rachel Mable House 1890) Woodbridge. Guide to Architecture in Washington. p. 197. “Mrs. Mary Maria Lindsley” Meany, Living Pioneers … p. 205. “Seattle-Born Woman and Pioneer Passes.” (Abbie Deny Lindsley) Seattle Post-Intelligencer October 8, 1915. Clipping file. Special Collections, University of Washington Library. “Abbie Denny Lindsley Dies at Chelan Home” Seattle Times October 7, 1915. Clipping file. Special Collections, University of Washington Library Sanborn-Perris Map Co., Seattle, Washington. 1893. volume 2 sheet 78.

 

Showing added dormer on east side of house.

Appearance

The Queen Anne style 1890 Marble/Lindsley House with a conical roof tower and curved glass windows. In the 1920s owner Otto Nelson added a rear porch (Permit # 216723), portion of roof altered, and an attic window was added (Permit # 218379), and rebuilt porch (in rear?) (Permit # 262310). Some additions added in the 1970s included a shed roof dormer to east side roof, balcony to third floor with door replacing original window, fretwork added to gable end and other architectural details added.

Detail for 520 W Kinnear PL W / Parcel ID 3879901530 /

Cladding(s):        Shingle, Vertical – Boards, Wood – Drop siding    Foundation(s):  Concrete – Poured

Roof Type(s):     Gable    Roof Material(s):             Asphalt/Composition

Building Type:   Domestic – Single Family              Plan:      Irregular

Structural System:          Balloon Frame/Platform Frame No. of Stories:   two