Our Sweet Queen Anne Cottages

“At First Avenue West and West Garfield Street, these Craftsman bungalows are of minor significance individually.  As a group, they provide a rhythm and consistency of scale.” Steinbrueck and Nyberg

No one understood better than Victor Steinbrueck and his colleague Folke Nyberg how much Seattle or Queen Anne’s historic working-class housing defined the city. The six identical working-class Craftsman bungalows they referred to in their 1975 poster still stand on West Garfield Street between the alley and First Ave. W. Four of them face north on Garfield; one sits on First Avenue W. while the sixth one backs up to it from the alley. As Steinbrueck and Nyberg suggest, the historic value of buildings often lies more in the urban patterns they create than in their individual distinctiveness.

The pattern Steinbrueck and Folke captured.

In 1975, Victor Steinbrueck embarked on a project with Folke Nyberg and Historic Seattle to identify and publish a series of ten posters inventorying Seattle’s outstanding historic buildings. Queen Anne was lucky to get one of them. In fact, the Queen Anne Historical Society and its volunteers, some of whom are still active today (6/2018), worked on the project. Completing their survey in the early days of the American historic preservation movement, Steinbrueck and Nyberg were hell bent on recognizing that along with the high style buildings often favored by the movement, the vernacular ones were those that really defined a neighborhood’s historic character. The poster authors understood profoundly how a sense of place can give meaning to a community like ours. As Historic Seattle notes on its website, “Each inventory includes photographs and brief descriptions of common building types, significant buildings, and urban design elements.” …Continue reading “Our Sweet Queen Anne Cottages”

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.

Little Boxes on the Hillside

The 1972 Malvina Reynolds song, “Little Boxes on the Hillside” criticized the homogenization of a culture obsessed with materialism and upward mobility that was displacing any sense of character, place or individuality, set to a self-referentially folksy tune. As much as the song is a critique of post-war American values, in my view it is perfectly well suited as a critique of post-recession residential construction on Queen Anne.

There are few blocks remaining in our historic neighborhood that are not host to a “contemporary modern” box of a house, the sole purpose of which it seems is to provide the requisite rooftop deck. Neighborhoods are living, evolving things. Not every house on Queen Anne needs to be an early 20th century bungalow, or one of the stately beauties that popped up on its south slope after the introduction of streetcar service in 1902. But every house should be a good and respectful neighbor.

One of the more architecturally eclectic parts of the hill is Queen Anne Park. The area was developed over a period that straddled the Great Depression and post-war prosperity. The majority of its homes enjoy a mutual respect based on scale, construction quality and site consumption despite the decades that separate them. This characteristic allows for a certain quality of life, the value of which is difficult to quantify. But key to that quality of life are two elements: air and sunlight. In residential neighborhoods, these elements are preserved by rooflines that angle or step back to allow light and breezes to move past, around and over them to surrounding properties; and by limiting the footprint of a home to no greater than half of its lot to preserve livable outdoor space.

A Dryvit-clad house with a rooftop-deck looms over a neighboring home in Queen Anne.

Over the past decade it has become sadly predictable that when a Queen Anne home is torn down, a characterless, three-story, box-plus-rooftop-deck will spring up in short order. And this home will be built to eat up as much of the lot as possible to maximize the size of the dwelling below deck; resulting in rooms so large that there is no need for clever, efficient design. The effect on surrounding neighbors is immediate and negative. Less natural light will shine into their homes, and fewer cool breezes will travel through their backyards during our cherished summer months. And if one is fortunate enough to enjoy a peek-a-boo view, it will likely be obstructed by 4,000 square feet of Dryvit-clad belligerence. Many are embellished with a dizzying array of surface materials; some corrugated sheet metal here and there, a few token rectangles of board siding arranged in competing directions in a feeble attempt to convey the illusion that there is something architectural going on.

But these homes are not only discourteous neighbors; they do a disservice to those who live in them as well. Sacrificing easily accessible outdoor space to accommodate a rooftop deck is problematic at best. Unless the designer of the home had the foresight to give up deck square footage for a top-floor room with a half-bath and storage for cold drinks, (or at the very least a dumbwaiter) the deck will rarely see use. Several homes with rooftop decks can be seen from my house and I have never, not once, seen anyone use them. It’s a pain to haul stuff up and down from there. It’s a pleasure to step out into a well-designed and landscaped backyard and wave to your neighbor, whose name you know, enjoying theirs. The sense of community and quality of life imparted by thoughtful design cannot be overstated.

This modern Queen Anne home features distinct façade articulation, high-quality materials and construction. The protruding steel-and-glass window arrangement wrapping the corner balances the weightiness of the brick. The absence of vertical boards at the corner of the horizontal siding shows the care in construction taken to miter the wood for perfect alignment.

 

That is not to say that all contemporary modern homes being built on Queen Anne are discourteous neighbors, even some of the boxy ones. It’s a delighted to see a modern home designed with sensitivity to scale by an architect and client who understand that modernism cannot be successfully executed with inexpensive materials, stock windows and spec-house quality construction. Lack of decorative detail in modern design is deceptive; it requires high-quality materials applied with jewel-box-precise construction to be pulled off. And with any style of architecture, a well thought out and harmonious relationship to site and surroundings allows a home to be a standout rather than a sore thumb.

This modern Queen Anne home features a curvilinear roofline, extensive glazing and Corten steel cladding. High-quality materials and construction methods like these are important factors in successful modern design.

With no enforceable design ordinances in place to discourage construction of the less courteous boxes on the hill one can only hope that this trend will subside before our streets become dark canyons and our historic sense of place is lost. Until then it appears that, for the most part, they will all be made of ticky-tacky and all look just the same

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?”