Queen Anne Yesterday & Today

Looking west: W. Olympic Place, May 4, 1903. Seattle Municipal Archives: Item#172604 

This historic view along West Olympic Place at 7th Avenue West was captured on May 4, 1903 during field work for a city-commissioned parks report by John Charles Olmsted (1852-1920) who, with his brother Frederick Jr. (1870-1957), was a partner in the office founded by their father, famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903).  This was the first of several visits by Olmsted, whose recommendations served as a blueprint for Seattle’s parks-and-boulevard system maintenance and expansion in the early 20th century.  Olmsted’s impression of the park was largely positive, recommending minor improvements.  But some vocal Queen Anne women would force the plans for Olympic Place to be scaled back a bit — 18 inches, to be exact.

The split-rail fence on the left of the 1903 image marked the upper edge of 14-acre Kinnear Park, one of Seattle’s earliest public parks.  Across the street from the park, Olympic Place was lined with stately mansions, including the home of Dr. Frederick A. Churchill (1856-1937) and his family, whose 1889 home at 608 W Olympic Place was among the first constructed on Queen Anne.  Dr. Churchill called himself the “Father of Kinnear Park” in a 1936 Seattle Daily Times interview, saying that he urged George Kinnear to donate the land for the park and then pushed the city to fund its development.

In 1906, the Olmsted Brothers were again engaged to design the grounds for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYP), and the city was moving quickly to implement their previously recommended boulevard improvements ahead of the exposition, including at Olympic Place.   Meanwhile, developers constructed luxury apartments near streetcar lines through the city to be used as hotels during the AYP.  These apartments  included the Chelsea Apartments at 620 West Olympic Place and The Kinnear at 905 West Olympic Place, both built in 1907.

Per plans drawn up by the Olmsted Brothers, the grade of Olympic Place in front of the park was to be lowered as much as eight feet, necessitating a concrete retaining wall that was proposed to rise four-and one-half feet along the roadway.  The wall proposal proved problematic to the residents of homes in the vicinity of the park, including Dr. and Mrs. Churchill.

Olmsted Brothers Section drawing of proposed boundary wall, dated March 22, 1909. Seattle Municipal Archives. Archives:#2372

On April 28, 1909, The Seattle Daily Times reported that 40 women led by Mrs. Churchill “besieged” the Park Board superintendent when he arrived to oversee construction of the wall, which they felt would destroy the scenic beauty of the entire street. Their protest immediately halted construction while the Board of Park commissioners considered their demands for a gentle sloping of the park property from the street rather than a wall.  On May 4, 1909, six years to the day from when the historic image was taken, The Seattle Daily Times reported that in response to “strenuous objections” the Park Board compromised that the wall will be no more than three feet high.  This concession satisfied the protesters, and the work was completed in time for the June 1st opening of the AYP — but perhaps more importantly for the Churchills, it was done in time for their niece’s wedding, which took place at their home on May 31, 1909.

The construction of the Chelsea and The Kinnear Apartments marked an early shift toward the multi-family housing that continued throughout the 20th century and that characterizes West Olympic Place today.  As for the Churchill’s house, Dr. Churchill lived there until his death in 1937; it was torn down in the 1950s for construction of the Skyline House apartments (1956).

W. Olympic Place. May 2021. Photo: Maureen Elenga

Reference:  Dorpat & Sherrard, The Seattle Times 6/21/2014:  Seattle Now & Then:  Kinnear Park

WHO IS LIANE? Our Embedded Street Names

Typo at W. Blaine & 7th W. The B has disappeared.

Try as I may, I haven’t found a good source explaining when or even why Seattle began marking intersections with metal letter street names embedded in concrete sidewalks.  It has been suggested that the practice developed before there were street names posted on telephone poles.  It has also been suggested that developers who platted our streets were required to insert the names in the sidewalks.  So much for urban myths!  On Queen Anne almost all the platting took place before the advent of concrete sidewalks.  Also, the consistent size and font across all of Queen Anne and elsewhere in the city suggests that even after we started having concrete sidewalks, it may not have been the developers who installed the names.  My guess is that once the wooden sidewalks began to rot, the city laid up sidewalks and had a store of those matching letters that it used at every intersection.

My guess is practically confirmed by what we know of the history of street paving.

According to A Narrative History of the Engineering Department, the first concrete pavement in Seattle was laid in 1919 (p. 105).  The word pavement apparently related to the roadway.  The earliest, and truth be told, only reference to concrete sidewalks that I’ve been able to locate in the Seattle Municipal Archives relates to a petition submitted on November 14, 1902 by August C. Anderson protesting a payment of $844.95 that he paid for the construction of a concrete sidewalk on both sides of Eastlake Avenue between Howell Street and Mercer Street, under Ordinance 7928 creating Local Improvement District 578 (SMA 990027 transcript).

UPDATE to all the guessing which it turns out was much closer to the truth than I imagined.  David Williams, the prolific author of articles and books about the geology, geography and history of Seattle including the 2017 Seattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City, knew all along.  In a  July 2015 post, David identify City Resolution 387, passed on October 20, 1902 as the reason for the embedded names.  It reads: 

A Resolution declaring that all concrete sidewalks laid in the City of Seattle shall have the names of the streets countersunk in plain letters at the street intersections, and instructing the Board of Public Works to provide for this being done in all contracts and permits for such sidewalks; also directing the Board of Public Works to procure samples of durable and suitable street signs, together with prices, and to transmit them to the City Council with a cost estimate.

Mr. Anderson would be shocked to see what happened to the east side of the street around 1962 when I-5 ploughed through the neighborhood, but his petition gives a vague sense of when the city gave up wooden sidewalks for the more durable concrete ones and when it may have begun insisting on the metal names at intersections.

H. Ambrose Kiehl took this 1895 photo (UW Special Collections) of his family’s house on Republican St. when he worked as the Army’s photographer at Fort Lawton and before the family moved up the hill to Fifth W. and W. Galer.  Note the wooden sidewalks and unpaved surface of the roadway.

Recently, Julia Herschensohn photographed some of the interesting metal names she’s located on her morning walks around the hill.  The misspellings such as Liane St. above make me chortle, so do Julia’s shoes.

Epler Place now W. Olympic Place and 7th Ave W.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is one set of embedded letters at the intersection of Galer and Second W. that makes it a real stumper.

Missing teeth at Galer and Second N.

Adding an H and an I to the beginning of the first word and a D at the end along with a C to make ‘place,’ transforms this mysterious set of letters into HIGHLAND PLACE. It is a street name that has changed!

The metal street names embedded at all the intersections on the 2018 Mercer Street rebuild show the city and its traffic engineers tipping their hats to a Seattle tradition.  It may be that the huge size of these newer street names reflects an aging population, a decline in visual acuity in the general population or the traffic engineers’ desire to tease us with a font size that reflects the massiveness of the roadway they’ve built in our 21st century automobile age.   In any case, there is no need to tell you where I took this photograph.

 

It would be lovely to learn for sure how, when and why the city started identifying streets in this delightful way.  In the meantime, here are the letters which got me interested in this problem.  They are on my street corner and remain my favorites.

Photo: M. Herschensohn
Letters at First Ave N and Howe

 

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

Unreliable Safeway and Thriftway memories prove you don’t always get what you wish for!

Metropolitan Market Goodbye Sign

Memoirs retell important experiences in human lives, but I think they are unreliable history.  This story is my memory of efforts to stop the construction of an expanded Queen Anne Thriftway in 1990 and to block a new Safeway megastore on its nearly full block site in 1993.  As sure as I am that these events actually took place, I worry about the details.

First a couple of facts:  I live a bit east of both sites on First Avenue North.  In 1990, I was the director of the Seattle Children’s Museum, and the Queen Anne Thriftway was a major donor.  Talk about conflicts of interest!  During this period, the state passed the Growth Management Act which prompted the city’s first 35-year master plan.  That plan encouraged new zoning requirements and created urban villages including one on upper Queen Anne that runs west on Galer and stretches alley-to-alley on either side of Queen Anne Ave. N. except at Safeway where it extends to my street.  I love the master plan.  It called for increased density in the ‘village’ while protecting the surrounding single-family housing we cherish.  The property owners of both the Thriftway and Safeway sites may have been trying end runs around the master plan before it became law in 1993.

Looking northeast at The Towne across the old parking lot

In about 1990, the Cox family, who owned the Thriftway site, collaborated with Dick Rhodes, the store’s owner, to replace the building with a low-rise structure covering the entire site.  The idea to build a store with underground parking and a much bigger footprint on the land provoked neighbors who, while loving the Thriftway, had no desire for a larger store with apartments plunked on top of it.  Ours was an anti-density push that reeked of nimby-ism and an unwillingness to see the neighborhood change.


Queen Anne Thriftway, 1964
I was among the people who prevailed at public and design review meetings.  I was also among those who cheered when the ownership abandoned the project.  Seattle’s up-and-down economy, along with national busts in both 2001 and 2008, helped preserve the existing fabric of the neighborhood.  At that time, we didn’t worry about preserving the Elfrieda Apartments at Crockett and Queen Anne Ave. or either bungalow on Crockett which shared the same ownership.   Later the Cox family working with Kroger tried again to redevelop the site for a big QFC.  That idea failed, mainly because Kroger didn’t have the resources to buy into the massive undertaking.  Ultimately developer Joe Geivett of Emerald Bay Equity acquired the site along with the Elfrieda and the bungalows.  Tearing down everything on the half-block for a multitude of shops below and 140 apartment units above, Joe tried to lease the store in his new building to Thriftway under its new Metropolitan Market banner, but the numbers didn’t work.  After closing its doors in 2012, Met Market abandoned the top of the hill, focusing on the new store down the hill where it had taken over the bankrupt Larry’s Market.  No laggard, Trader Joe’s snapped up a part of the space.

Looking east at what’s left of Elfrieda

The Safeway’s 1993 redevelopment ideas struck me as even worse than those for Thriftway.  Safeway touted the construction of a megastore which would attract shoppers from around the region.  I don’t remember how many floors of apartments Safeway and its architect Val Thomas proposed, but we hated it too.  The idea of a massive influx of automobiles choking our pleasant hilltop neighborhood appalled us.  We didn’t look at the quality of Val Thomas’s design, perhaps because we were conflicted.  We all knew Val as the architect of the marvelous preservation project at West Queen Elementary.  Indeed, Val lived there in a fantastic condo he converted from the gym.  Val also impressed us with his work at Capitol Hill’s Broadway Market.  In the end, Safeway relented, adopting an addition by Thomas that obscured its historic rainbow roof (it is still there) and the under-scaled clock tower at Crockett and Queen Anne Ave.

Safeway Bell Tower looking northeast

Alas, when you try to protect the fabric of your neighborhood, you never know what you are wishing for.  Now I see that our hostility may have been a mistake.  If Metropolitan Market had built a modest building on Queen Anne Ave. N., we’d have been spared the huge development that sits there now, and we might still have our cherished supermarket and Elfrieda with her two bungalow sisters on Crockett.  Now comes Safeway this year with a scheme to build out and up.  We don’t know what it will look like, but our success in 1993 left the parking lot fallow ground awaiting Seattle’s next big boom and Val Thomas’ sensitive design unbuilt.

My tale is a cautionary one.  Think big when you oppose increased density or up-zoning, and don’t forget you don’t always get what you wish for.

Now you have my memories and the opinions they shape.  They may be false.  I sort of hope they are, for the errors will prove the unreliability of memoirs.   I promise to follow up with new information from folks who correctly remember these grocery store battles.  Better yet, I could research the facts!