Joseph A. Vance (1872-1948), born in Quebec, Canada, moved to Tacoma in 1890 for work in railway construction. By 1897, he had built and begun operating a small lumber mill operation near Elma, Washington — close to the site of Vance Creek County Park , which opened in 1988. He founded the Vance Lumber Company in 1908, a highly successful milling operation which he sold in 1918.
Vance moved to Seattle and began to invest in real estate through the Vance Company. He became involved with developing personal business and commercial properties in downtown Seattle, including the Vance Hotel (1927, later known as Hotel Max); the Lloyd Building (1928, named for one of Joseph’s sons and in 2010 designated a City of Seattle landmark); and the Joseph Vance Building (1929), where the Vance Company operated.
Victor W. Voorhees designed all of these buildings. For the Vance Company, Voorhees also designed the 1926 remodel of the Seattle Engineering School, which trained auto workers, into the Marqueen Apartments — now MarQueen Hotel — in the Queen Anne neighborhood. Voorhees also produced the plan book catalog known as the Western Home Builder, the source of designs for homes throughout Seattle, including on Queen Anne.
By 1931, the Vance Company had also acquired hotels in downtown Seattle: the Camlin and Hotel Continental (later known as Hotel Seattle and then renamed Hotel Earl — named for one of Joseph’s sons). As of 2021, the Vance Corporation continues to develop and manage Seattle properties.
Queen Anne style houses apparently once peppered the south side of our hill and gave the neighborhood its name. One of the last of these distinctive homes offering a strong reminder of the neighborhood’s original architectural heritage is now for sale — and probably slated for demolition.
This large 2-1/2 story house can be found at 714 First Ave. W. — just across Queen Anne Driveway from the former site of the George and Angeline Kinnear House (1888) — on the fringe of Uptown where the street dead-ends at stairs leading up to the Queensborough Apartment House and Bayview Retirement Community. It is known as the Emma Gross house for one of its early owners, who may have converted it from a single-family home to a five-unit apartment building. The house dates from between 1885 and 1890, the period during which most of the Queen Anne style houses were constructed. Its cement block foundation replaced what may have originally been a brick one.
This house is significant as one of the oldest homes in this section of Queen Anne and one of the few remaining Queen Anne-style houses in the area. This large house, with its polygonal turret, is a strong reminder of the neighborhood’s original architectural heritage. The original owner and exact construction date are not known, but it most likely was built earlier than the 1900 date given in the Tax Assessor’s records. It was owned by Emma Gross between 1931 and the 1960s. It was probably during this period that it was converted from a single-family home to a five-unit building, and it may have been used as a rooming house before that. It had several owners in the 1960s-70s. However, exterior alterations appear to be minimal.
The second section of the survey describes what the house looked like in 2003. It is relatively unchanged since then:
This 2-1/2 story house is hidden beneath large trees and is very difficult to see clearly. It has a hipped roof with deep eaves and curved brackets, and a polygonal turret at the southwest corner. A porch extends across the front (west) of the house, with stairs going down to the south. The porch has four small round columns, turned balusters and spindle work along the top; lattice encloses the area beneath the porch. To the north of the entry is a three-sided bay with three one-over-one windows. A square bay projects above the porch, with similar windows. A dentilled course runs below this. The south elevation has a small eyebrow dormer and another three-sided bay; to the east of this is a small porch and a door to the second floor. Many of the windows on the south elevation have five-over-one sash, with a simple diamond pattern in the upper sash. The three-story turret has three windows on each floor, with a lattice pattern on the upper floor. Cladding is clapboard throughout with a concrete block foundation (pre-dating 1938).
The survey omits the proximity of the house to Queen Anne Drive which effectively climbs around the Gross House. As it curves to the north, the drive is level with the rooftop.
Among recent residents: historic preservationist John Chaney, the longtime executive director of Historic Seattle; and sculptor Bill Evans (1994-2016) who lived there for many years before his death.
The house occupies a well-known piece of Queen Anne: ACT Theatre occupied the 1912 Redding Hall across the street between 1985 and 1995. On the Boards has been there since then. For a long time before 1985, it served as a dance hall known as Queen Anne Hall. The Gross House is next door to Shah Safari, Inc. which designs, manufactures, markets, and distributes clothing and accessories.
Except for the Gross House, Shah Safari, Inc. owns all the buildings along Roy Street from Queen Anne Drive west to First Avenue West including the Shiki Japanese Restaurant. Shah Safari plans to demolish the buildings it now owns and construct a multi-story apartment building there and on the parking lot adjacent to the Gross House. At this point (October 26, 2020), the best solution might be for Shah Safari to acquire the Gross House, restore it to its original glory, and incorporate it in its redevelopment of the block! Showing such care for the historic fabric of our neighbor would be fantastic and add some very special apartments to their project.