On June 17, 2009, the (former) Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist located at 2555 8th Avenue West, designed by Harlan Thomas (Thomas & Grainger) in 1926, was designated a City of Seattle Landmark by unanimous vote of the Landmarks Board at their semi-monthly meeting. The landmark report was prepared and presented by Larry Johnson AIA, principal of The Johnson Partnership, with the assistance of Queen Anne Historical Society Landmarks Preservation Committee members Char Eggleston and Leanne Olson. Also in attendance were two granddaughters of architect Harlan Thomas — Koque Thomas Todd and Edith Williams Shuman — as well as Jay Kelly, Minister of the Seattle Church of Christ (current owners of the property). All ten board members present voted unanimously to approve the designation based on the building’s meeting three of the six designation criteria specified by the City of Seattle Landmarks ordinance. …Continue reading “Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist – 2555 8th Ave W”→
Just the other day, I celebrated my granddaughter’s birthday at the former Nile Temple Building watching a delightful play in the Eve Alvord Theatre. The outing reminded me of the building’s interesting history. Now folded into the Seattle Children’s Theatre, the L-shaped building located at the former intersection of Third Ave. N. and Thomas St. tells stories about the evolution of Seattle Center that are fun to remember and best not forgotten.
Constructed in 1956 to serve as the headquarters of the Seattle Shriners, the Nile Temple Building is the work of Samuel G. Morrison & Associates. Morrison (1915-1992) designed office buildings in Seattle. Since the Nile Temple had over 11,000 members when they selected this site, I am guessing he too was a Shriner. The Shriners are a fraternal Masonic order, founded in New York City in 1872, and as its name suggests (Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine for North America), to introduced fun into the sometimes-stiff rites of Masonic lodges. Dedicated to fun, fellowship and philanthropy (three mission goals that all start with the same letter), the Shriners are well known for the hat or ‘fez’ members wear and for the hospitals they began building in 1922 to address the needs of children handicapped by polio. Seattle Shriners founded the Nile Temple in 1909. By 1956, they were the largest Shriner temple in the world. The big draw of the Thomas St. location was its proximity to the Civic Auditorium (now McCaw Hall) where the Shriners held conventions twice a year following large parades. Seattle’s chapter invested their resources in the golf course just over the county line at 205th St. at Lake Ballinger.
Originally, single family homes surrounded the site of the Nile Temple. They are visible in the background of the 1957 photographs and give a sense of what Seattle Center looked like before the 1962 fair. The simple two-story concrete block building sports a waving concrete roof line, which may suggest the ‘fun’ in the Shriners’ mission. It may be going too far, but the sign over the main entrance to the building read ‘Smile with Nile,’ and the curved line of the roof might just be a smile. Indeed, the thin shell concrete slabs of the roof line are the building’s must distinctive architectural features. The entrance pavilion to the auditorium/dining facility repeats that happy wavy line which may presage the feats achieved through daring concrete construction by the structural engineers of the Century 21 Exposition, aka the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. The Space Needle, the United States Science Pavilion (Pacific Science Center) and the Washington State Coliseum (Climate Pledge Arena) are examples of the exciting concrete structures developed for the fair.
In 1957, the planners of the Century 21 Exposition intended to take the brand-new Nile Temple, the Warren Avenue Elementary school and the full block of the Sacred Heart Parish buildings west of Second Avenue N. by eminent domain. In fact, the Seattle, World’s Fair Commission condemned much of the surrounding land as far south as Denny Way and as far west as First Ave. N. Sixteen property owners, including the Shriners, the school district and the Archdiocese of Seattle which owned Sacred Heart appealed to the state Supreme Court a King County Superior Court decision allowing the condemnation. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of July 8, 1958, the World Fair Commission decided to drop the condemnation suits. Anecdotal though the information may be, the archbishop threatened to unleash countless influential members of the Catholic Church against the plans for the fair, and with 7,000 of its 11,000 members living in Seattle, there were just too many powerful Shriners to confront as well. (Carla Becker and Alan Stein, The Future Remembered, p. 24). The truth seems to be that the commission’s funds were dwindling more quickly than expected as land values had gone up since making the initial plans for the fair. Reducing the physical size of the grounds to about seventy-three acres saved money that would fund required buildings instead. In the end, the fair commission omitted the four blocks that included Sacred Heart, bought and demolished the Warren Avenue Elementary School to make room for the Washington State Coliseum and leased the Nile Temple Building for the duration of the fair.
During the fair, the Nile Temple Building served as the 21 Club for wealthy Seattleites and high-ranking fair visitors and exhibitors. According to Alan Stein and Carla Becker in The Future Remembered, “Members enjoyed dining facilities, meeting rooms, showers and barbershop; switchboard, paging, and stenographic services; and nightly entertainment (p. 243).” The 21 Club capitalized on the 700-seat auditorium, which could accommodate five hundred diners as a banquet facility. That facility, the blocky structure on the building’s northeast corner, is now the Eve Alvord Theatre.
Over the summer of 1962, the Christian Witness Building & Child Care Center filled the former parking lot along Third Ave. N. It was demolished after the fair; however, the city continued to lease the Nile Temple Building until 1979, when it bought the building from the Shriners and leased half to the Seattle Children’s Theatre that was being squeezed out of its site at the Zoo. The other half of the building was leased to the Pacific Arts Center to provide afterschool and weekend art classes for children. Founded in the 1950s by Ruth Lease as the Creative Activities Center, at Seattle Center, it fell under the direction of board members Anne Gould Hauberg and Virginia Wyman, both fierce “believers that creativity is an important and empowering part of all of our lives.”
During the decades of the 1970s and 80s, Seattle Center struggled to define its purpose. The civic center imagined for the fair site had a tough time, for it depended on the city’s annual budget which naturally put the need for new fire engines above more frivolous activities at Seattle Center. Mayors came and went without solving the problem of how to attract organizations and people to Seattle Center. One strategy focused on providing cheap rent to children’s organizations.
The Pacific Arts Center relocated as a result to the Nile Temple Building and managed to operate through the early 1990’s when, unable to pay the rent, the city forced it out. The Seattle Children’s Theatre began moving from the Woodland Park Zoo to the Nile Temple Building in 1987 and started producing plays in the former auditorium/dining hall while conducting classes and setting up offices in converted classrooms. With the addition of the Charlotte Martin Theatre in 1993 and Allen Family Technical Pavilion for rehearsal space, classrooms and shops in 1995, the Nile Temple Building lost its prominent place on the block.
Today, even though the two new buildings overshadow the Nile Temple Building, it continues after sixty-six years to bring adults and children together sometimes to appreciate the value of the arts as they did at the Pacific Arts Center and sometimes just to have fun as they “Smile at the Nile!”
Becker, Paula and Alan Stein, The Future Remembered The 1062 World’s Fair and its Legacy, Seattle Center Foundation 2011.
Seattle Public Library, Special Collections Online, Digital Photograph Collection. Century 21 Digital Collection. Werner Leggenhager photographer of Nile Temple Building.
Seattle Public Library, Magazines & Newspapers Online: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1901-Present. Editions of July 2, 5, and 8, 1958.
Seattle.gov. Department of Neighborhoods, Seattle Historical Sites, Summary for 201 Thomas ST / Parcel ID 1985200185 / Inv # CTR014
Cathy Wickwire, Survey Report: Comprehensive Inventory of City-Owned Historic Resources, Seattle, Washington, 2001, pp. 19-22.
In a levy vote conducted in early February 2022, Seattle Public Schools secured $65,500,000 to upgrade Seattle High School Memorial Stadium at Seattle Center. In anticipation of the vote, the City of Seattle (Seattle Center) and Seattle Public Schools signed a letter of intent (LOI) in October 2021, according to which the schools would relinquish control of the parking lot and the stadium while continuing to use the rebuilt stadium for games and graduation ceremonies. According to the LOI, the city would take control of the site, add funds to the levy, and build a new stadium integrated into the Seattle Center landscape. The city also agreed to pay the school district for the revenue lost from the 5th Avenue North parking lot and to give it land for a new high school at the former entrance to the Battery Street tunnel. Now that the levy passed, the city and school district will iron out a final agreement.
The new stadium will be the third one at this location. The first, Civic Field (aka Civic Stadium), occupied the site from 1928 to 1947, when it was demolished. Civic Field replaced an open pasture located between Republican St. and Harrison St. and 5th Ave. N. and 3rd Ave. N. Home plate was in the southwestern corner. The field had an extremely hard dirt surface (no grass) and wooden stands on its western and southern sides. Civic Stadium is reputed to have been the most hated place to play baseball in the Pacific Coast League.
The Queen Anne Historical Society recently toured the site in order to take an informed position about whether or not the stadium merits landmark preservation and to assess the potential infringement of a new building on other landmarks at Seattle Center: the Space Needle, the Armory, the Monorail Station, two Monorail cars, and the recently renovated Coliseum (now called Climate Pledge Arena).
Actually, the self-guided tour was limited to the exterior of the huge field and included only one person, me. My stadium experience includes innumerable high school soccer games in the early 1990s during which I was frequently chastised for not attending all of my son’s games. My visits also involved the odd Bumbershoot concert over Labor Day weekends since 1971. Unlike real Queen Anne old-timers, my tour included no memories of the 1962 World’s Fair such as the water-skiing show held four times a day in a special 100,000-gallon tank or the Fair’s opening and closing ceremonies in April and October. I was definitely not one of the 20,000 people who attended Billy Graham’s Revival there on July 8.
Built in 1947 to be the centrally located ‘home field’ for the city’s high school football teams, the site now reads as two primary zones which are in fact separately owned by the school district. The large parking lot on 5th Ave. N. between Harrison and Republican streets is one lot while the stadium with its facing stands and cantilevered roofs and enhanced grassy area on the west end is the other.
The stadium is the work of architect George W. Stoddard (1896-1967), a prolific Seattle designer remembered for his 1950 work on the south stands of Husky Stadium. Its dramatic cantilevered roof may have been inspired by the ones at Memorial Stadium. The western segment is enclosed by a wall dating from the Fair and is probably Paul Thiry’s design.
The east, west, and southern sides of the field are significantly lower than most of Seattle Center. In the early 2000s. This change in elevation inspired community activists led by David Brewster to suggest a large subterranean garage here. It would have replaced all the public parking structures surrounding Seattle Center and created vast opportunities for new open spaces! I still like this idea and welcome a new stadium as long as it isn’t fenced like the old one is today.
There is little chance Brewster’s fantasy will be realized, but it does suggest that protecting the landmarks surrounding Memorial Stadium requires locating any new building on the parking lot along 5th Avenue. Harmonizing with the Gates Foundation buildings and Frank Gehry’s MoPOP (the old EMP) will be a trick, but Seattle architects are surely up to that challenge.
The most important design element at the stadium is the memorial wall along the western edge of the parking lot. It lists the names Seattle public school graduates who died in World War II and is the 1949 design of Marianne Hanson (1932-2015), then a student in her senior year at Garfield High School.
The Seattle Daily Times reported on October 7, 1949 that the school board had accepted Hanson’s design. The paper noted that she competed against 59 other entrants and that construction would begin immediately. The newspaper article begins with a call for the 57 names of Broadway High School students or alumni. Their names had apparently been lost when the high school closed and the building served another purpose. In 1949, only the names of the 700 known dead were to be inscribed. The school board planned to pay for the memorial with funds raised at upcoming 1949 Seattle All-State football championship game on Thanksgiving Day and those raised at the game in 1947 and 1948.
The names on the wall include graduates of Ballard (85), Cleveland (28), Franklin (102), Garfield (63), Lincoln (108), Queen Anne (98), Roosevelt (99) and West Seattle (60) high schools. It is unclear if the names of the 57 Broadway High School graduates who died in the war were included on the wall. According to a (renamed) Seattle Times article describing the dedication of the wall by Hanson on May 29, 1951, it was now inscribed with the names of 762 men. Above the list of names, the wall is inscribed with “Youth Hold High Your Torch of Truth and Tolerance Lest their Sacrifice Be Forgotten.”
Wall Dedication noted in Seattle Times, May 30, 1951.
Standing in the gruesome parking lot as you look west, Hanson’s name appears on the wall’s lower right-hand corner. At 17, Hanson understood that a simple design is the best way to honor the men who had died defending our nation.
By the time the wall was dedicated by Marianne Hanson on May 29, 1951 the list of names later became an important owner of art galleries, first in Seattle, then in San Francisco.
The wall at Memorial Stadium is simply a sacred place. As someone whose father served in WWII and who has close friends whose fathers died in that war, I am adamant that the wall be protected. The new stadium must preserve the wall. A new design would eliminate the rows of automobiles that conceal it, restore the fountains and fluted concave walls that frame them, and eliminate the hedge in front of it that makes in nearly impossible to read all the names.
Landmarking is the best way to honor the memory of the Seattle high school graduates who sacrificed their lives during WWII and to protect Hanson’s work. It creates a rare opportunity to protect a work that documents the female influence in design which in Hanson’s instance lasted until her death in 2015.