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.

Changing times, changing looks: The Wooden Stores at Sixth W. and W. Howe

1834 6th W. in 2017; southern window hidden.

The impact of Seattle’s streetcar lines on Queen Anne’s commercial development continues to be part of our daily lives.  Even today, following the historic #24 streetcar route — the one that ran up the Counterbalance around a couple of corners and down Sixth to its terminus at W. McGraw — finds us still shopping in historic buildings all along the way.  The active stores like Macrina Bakery, Top Pot Doughnuts, or Molly Moon delight us still, but the abandoned ones, like the three at 1828, 1834 and 1900 6th Ave. W. at of W. Howe, draw my eye every day.

All three stores are on the east side of the wider street and were obviously built in response to the 1902 completion of the streetcar line.  According to the city’s historic side sewer cards, the shop at 1828 connected to the sewer in 1909 while the one at 1834 on the southeastern corner of W. Howe tied up in 1910.  The oldest of the three, at 1900 6th Ave., connected in 1904 barely two years after the streetcar arrived.  Oddly, we don’t learn the name of the shop owner until 1907.  Unlike the great majority of the brick-clad stores that survive today, these three are two-story wooden structures with at least one apartment over the shops.  Fortunately, we have photographs of all three in 1937 and the early 1950s. The 1937 photos were snapped by an under-employed designer working for the Depression-era Works Progress Administration. …Continue reading “Changing times, changing looks: The Wooden Stores at Sixth W. and W. Howe”

Remembering Queen Anne’s Neighborhood Grocery Stores:
Mulholland’s Cash Grocery

By Alicia Arter and Jan Hadley

 

Owner Esther Mulholland and daughter Shirley in front of the Mulholland Cash Grocery, courtesy of Leslie Pannell Stockdale

 

Mulholland’s Cash Grocery was in the Uptown area of lower Queen Anne Hill, between Harrison and Thomas Streets, near the old Aasten Grocery, and a block from the Key Arena.

The store was purchased in 1939 from local grocer Rae Nakamura for $1,000 when Esther Mulholland’s husband John was dying of cancer, leaving her to raise three children.  Oldest son Bob was 14, and her daughter Shirley and youngest son Jack were still in elementary school.  They worked together as a family at the store, with each having a job to do.

It was located at 335 Queen Anne Avenue N. and had been operated as a grocery store since 1910, according to Polk’s city directories.  When she bought it, Esther Mulholland paid $15.00 a month for rent.  The first year she replaced the linoleum, and purchased a cash register for $51.00, a Burroughs adding machine for $35.70, and vegetable and fruit stands for $3.20 — according to her carefully kept store ledger.

How hard was it to run a business in 1940?  Given that the rent was $15.00, and total salaries were $4.00 a month, the “bad” customer accounts that were long overdue were $12.78.  By the end of the year the unpaid customer accounts had grown to $23.12.  That is nearly six times the amount spent on monthly salaries.

The store sold fresh produce from the Pike Place Market, and bread and baked goods from Hanson Sunbeam Bakery.  Beer came from Olympia, Rainer, and Lucky Lager because it was cheaper than the big Eastern brands.  They also carried all the basic canned staples for customers’ convenience.

Page from Mulholland Cash Grocery journal courtesy of Leslie Pannell Stockdale

Oldest son Bob was allowed to miss a lot of class in high school so he could run the register for his mom.  Eventually he was drafted into World War II and fought in the Pacific for two years.  At that point Shirley was in high school and picked up the slack while Bob went to war.

The youngest son Jack went to Queen Anne High School, and the store became a hangout “for young well-behaved boys,” according to the family.  Soda pop and candy was very popular.  Jack’s job was to sweep out the store inside and out each day.

The Mulholland family lived in a duplex home at 532 – 1st Ave West, and because Esther didn’t drive, each night after closing they would all walk home.

According to granddaughter Leslie Pannell Stockdale, “the grocery store enabled the Mulholland family to survive at a very tough time losing their husband, father, and breadwinner to cancer in 1940.  It was their livelihood and glued them together as a family.  It was a lot of hard work but was always seen as a fun and social center for the family.”

The Mulholland family ran the store until the early 50’s when it was sold.  Leslie Stockdale finds it a pleasant coincidence that at the same time the  Mulhollands started welcoming grandchildren to the family.

IS THIS ANOTHER MID-CENTURY LANDMARK?

Could the Century Building at 10 Harrison be Queen Anne’s next city landmark?  The Queen Anne Historical Society believes it has both architectural and historical significance.  Designed by Arne Bystrom and James Greco, the building is one of several distinctive lower Queen Anne mid-century modern buildings.  With the Power Control Center at 157 Roy Street and perhaps all the surviving buildings of the 1962 Century 21 World’s Fair, the Century Building documents the resistance of Pacific Northwest architects after World War II to the International Style and to the ahistorical purism its forms represent.  The Seafirst Building opposite the Seattle Public Library on 4th Avenue by the Seattle architectural firm NBBJ, is a good local example of the minimalist International Style.

Century Building southern elevation. Note freestanding elevator tower and garage.

Hidden by trees, the Century Building shows the influence of the World’s Fair designers and underscores the strong spirit of Pacific Northwest regionalism.  Like 157 Roy St. and the Post Office building at Republican and First North, the Century Building gives up a significant portion of its site to parking. This sacrifice of rentable space to the car documents the apparently resolved tension between urban and suburban design and the impact of the automobile on mid-twentieth-century architecture.

After World War II, Seattle designers worked to avoid falling totally under the influence of the International Style.  It is as if the tobacco-leaf capitals of columns at the U. S. Capitol Building in D.C. or the exquisitely delicate American floral patterns of Louis Sullivan’s late 19th c. skyscrapers somehow grew deeper roots in Seattle than elsewhere.  It made no difference to Seattle’s renegades Yamasaki, Lovett, Steinbrueck, Anderson or Bystrom that Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer were Bauhaus refugees from Nazism or that Philip Johnson had welcomed their work on the East Coast as the cutting edge of modern architecture.

Architectural historians Grant Hildebrand and T. William Booth in their book about Arne Bystrom and Wendell Lovett entitled A Thriving Modernism point out that Seattle architects were paying close attention to influential American architects who were also rejecting the International Style canon.  They see in the Century Building the influence of Louis Kahn and Paul Rudolph who are known for the creative use of pre- and post-stressed concrete and for the original massing that their experiments with concrete gave them.  Hildebrand and Booth also tie the building to the massing of the 1903 Larkin Building in Buffalo by Frank Lloyd Wright, the quintessential American designer.

Larkin Administration Building Buffalo 1903 Frank Lloyd Wright

The Century Building’s notable hallway bridge and freestanding stair and elevator tower between the offices and the garage along with the projecting concrete beams acknowledge Louis Kahn’s Richards Building at the University of Pennsylvania while the heavy concrete posts supporting them reflect the brutalism for which Rudolph is known.  It is the relationship between the low rising garage and the high-rise office tied together though the elevator and stair structure that recall the Larkin Building.  It is also the separate expression of the office block and the elevator/stair tower that echo the service/servant relationship of Kahn’s work at Penn.

Louis Kahn’s Richards Building at U. of Pennsylvania 1960

The Century Building is a narrow four-story structure with nine bays on Queen Anne and four on Harrison.  A driveway on the northern edge of the property accesses the upper floor of the two-story 50-car garage that fills the eastern half of the property.  Pre-stressed poured in place concrete beams figure prominently in the building’s distinctive façade that projects about three feet beyond the plane of the hollow yellow brick infill between relatively narrow windows that rise unbroken through four stories. Each bay of the building is marked by a projecting concrete panel.

A Thriving Modernism nearly skips the Century Building.   Rather, they document Bystrom’s phenomenal creations that borrowed the complicated designs of Norwegian stave churches to create modern buildings and wonder why he never did a commercial building.

The Century Building belongs to ArtsFund an organization that raises money from corporations to support the operating costs of local arts organizations.  Ownership of the building was transferred in 1997 by the Bank of America acting on behalf of the Kreielsheimer Foundation.  That change in ownership, along with the eventual relocation of Classic KING radio station to the building, tells a tale of Pacific Northwest philanthropy that adds to the building’s cultural significance.  The Century Building bears the stamp of the philanthropic heritage of the Kreielsheimer Foundation managed by trustee/attorney Donald L. Johnson, the Bullitt family and Artsfund, the charity led by Peter Donnelly and Dwight Gee, all of which reshaped how Seattle funds the arts.

The Kreielsheimer Foundation was established in the late 1975 upon the death of Leo T. Kreielsheimer (d. 1975) who left his estate to the arts and education in the Pacific Northwest.  His wife Greye McCormick Kreielsheimer (d. 1980) also left her estate to the Foundation.  The Kreielsheimer family had made their money in liquor and real estate.  Following Prohibition, salmon canning in Alaska replaced the liquor. In the 1960’s, the Kreielsheimers sold their canneries and invested in local real estate.  In creating the Foundation, the Kreielsheimers appointed their attorney Charles F. Osborn to serve as the individual trustee of the Foundation and Seafirst Bank– later the Bank of America — the institutional trustee.  Assets were held by the bank.  If the two trustees ever disagreed, the individual trustee prevailed.  When Osborn died unexpectedly in 1992, his law partner Donald L. Johnson, a Queen Anne High grad, managed the Foundation until it closed in 2000.  By then it had distributed over $100 million to arts and education in Washington and Alaska.  Johnson and Osborn favored gifts to endowments that ensure the long-time survival of arts organizations.  The Foundation’s large gifts set precedents that encouraged other groups to fill the breach left when it shut down.

In 1992, the Bullitt family sold KING Broadcasting Company.  The bulk of the money from the sale funded the Bullitt Foundation which is dedicated to environmental conservation. The Bullitts honored their grandmother Harriet Overton Simpson (founder of the Seattle Symphony) and their mother Dorothy Simpson Bullitt (founder in 1948 of KING Broadcasting) by retaining Classical KING from the sale and transferring its ownership to Beethoven, a non-profit owned by the Seattle Opera, the Seattle Symphony, and ArtsFund.  Before becoming a publicly funded station in 2011, KING continued as a commercial business whose profits, if any, were shared by the owning organizations.  Then on June 30, 1999, Johnson transferred the ownership of the Century Building to ArtsFund.  In 2001, KING got a permanent home on the building’s street-level floor.

Consequently, there are architectural and historical reasons for designating this distinctive building a city landmark.

Stripped of sunshades, the Century Building has a bare look. Photo: QAHS March 21, 2007.

UPDATE MARCH 21, 2017:  Over the last two weeks those distinctive sunshades protecting the windows have been removed. The issue is said by the owners to be a seismic emergency caused, we guess, by the failure of the metal brackets attaching the panels to the building.  Left as is, this alteration represents a serious challenge to our efforts to designate this building a Seattle landmark.