Isn’t It Time to Landmark the Coliseum?

Supporters at the Seattle Center Coliseum
Supporters celebrating a “HeartBomb” at Seattle Center’s Coliseum last Valentine’s Day
(courtesy of the author)

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Four years ago Michael Herschensohn was published on asking the same question I am asking today.

A landmark designation for the Coliseum, or Key Arena as newcomers might call it, is a certainty.  But as a relative Seattle newcomer myself, I beg the question, why wasn’t it landmarked before?  My guess is the recession, plus a dash of politics, had something to do with it.

Let’s hypothesize for a minute, that the Coliseum is landmarked this year – now what?  Seattle Center is motivated to keep the Coliseum as an entertainment venue and ideally attract a professional basketball team and unrealistically attract a professional hockey team.  Seattle Center is inclined to keep their revenue stream alive and well for themselves.  I understand Seattle Center’s intentions, but I view them as solely self-serving.

Are Seattle Center’s self-serving intentions justified?  As a subset of the City of Seattle shouldn’t they do what is best for the city as a whole?  For those who are hell-bent on attracting professional sports teams and building an arena, one that is supposedly paid for with private funds, SODO is an obvious option.  Although at a recent QAHS board meeting my fellow QAHS board member Leanne Olson also reminded Seattle Center that no action is also an option.  Leanne’s “no action is an option” also holds true for the City of Seattle.

Continuing to hypothesize, if an arena is built in SODO, then what should the Coliseum become?  Seattle Center has responded by stating that they would investigate other entertainment attractions to stave off loss of revenue.

For a second, I propose we ignore the driver of revenue and ask what does the city need?  Does it need more classroom space? Does it need more affordable housing?  Does it need temporary housing for the homeless?…  Does it need another entertainment venue?

It turns out the greater Seattle community is currently discussing all of these questions, except that last question.  Only private investors, who have everything to gain and nothing to lose, are asking for a new arena.

After asking myself these questions, I have come up with a proposal:  landmark the Coliseum, consider an arena in SODO if you must, and discuss with the Queen Anne community (not just Uptown) what the future of the Coliseum should be.

More Infomation: 3rd Annual HeartBomb–at the Coliseum

Trusting History: The Kerry House at 421 W. Highland Drive


Above:  the 1913 photo from Homes and Gardens of the Pacific Coast
In 1975 with altered roof and before second story addition over the garage. Courtesy Paul Dorpat

April 6, 2022: north elevation with second-story garage addition and reconstructed dormers. Photo: Author

April 6, 2022: south elevation seen from Prospect St. Note the three dormers. Photo: author

In 1938 the third story of the home was destroyed by a fire and a roof was put over the second floor rather than replacing it.  A second story addition was added to the garage at the same time.

Bruce Jones, West Highland Drive, p. 16

 This is a cautionary tale about architectural history and a learning moment that encourages us to be clear thinking critical readers of local history.  These four photographs trace the evolution of the A. S. Kerry Residence at 421 W. Highland Drive from 1902 to today.  The second image shows the house 37 years after a fire burned the attic and the replacement of the original roof.  Exploring that second roof and its replacement took me on a wild ride down the rabbit hole of revisionism where, as both a victim and a happy survivor, I explored fixing the incorrect building history.

A few weeks ago, in anticipation of a neighborhood tour, I consulted Bruce Jones’s 2009 guide to West Highland Drive A Historical Walking Tour of Seattle’s Queen Anne Neighborhood and discovered disquieting errors.  West Highland Drive is the chichi street at the crest of Queen Anne Hill with fantastic views to Mount Rainier, Elliott Bay, Puget Sound, West Seattle and the Olympic Mountains.  The street is dotted with massive early 20th century homes constructed largely for people made wealthy in hardware, lumber and real estate following the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush.

In 2009, at the time of publication, Jones served on the board of the Queen Anne Historical Society which he had joined to assist with the creation of the inaugural version of  Working in sales for IBM, he had an easy time with the early internet and probably mastered HTML, the code language of websites.  That put him in a trusted position.  Initially I relied on the information in the book because another long-serving member of the board is credited with proofreading a draft for accuracy.

As I prepared for my tag-along historian role on the tour of the neighborhood, I flipped through the 28 buildings and sites documented in the guide.  On the very first page of text, I noted that the misspelling of the name of the Willcox Walls along 8th Avenue W.  The guide calls them the Wilcox (with one l) Walls.  On the same page, Jones calls Walter Ross Baume Willcox, the wall’s architect and namesake, Harvey.  He then misspells the name of the Olmsted Brothers, the firm that designed Seattle’s park plan.  These errors happen frequently in informal papers and presentations about Seattle’s history and should be forgiven, but Jones pretends to lay out verifiable facts.  His mistakes set me up to be skeptical.

By the time I landed on the squib about the 1902 A. S. Kerry residence on p. 16, my antennae were up. Jones reports there that, “In 1938 the third story of the home was destroyed by fire and a roof was put over the second story rather than replacing it.”  The implication here is of a full third story that was removed, but the photo taken in 1913 shows a two-story house with three attic dormers but lacking a fully articulated third story.  I also found it odd that the 1905 photograph of the Stimson-Griffiths residence on page 18 of the very same guide shows the Kerry residence in the background with a roofline that almost matches the architectural drawings at the UW and what one sees from the street today.

Drawing of the attic plan (UW Special Collections)

On the website of the UW libraries, I found the original Bebb and Mendel 1902 drawings.  The house as built diverged a bit from the drawing, for neither of the two central dormers appears on them.

Drawing of the north elevation (UW Special Collections)

Confusing me a bit more, neither dormer lit a livable space.  The large dormer provided light to the unfinished attic.  The smaller one to the east lights a hallway.  As one might expect on a site with such phenomenal views to the south, the dominant living spaces of this house actually face away from the street.  The kitchen faces the street while the two south-facing bedrooms on the third floor provided smashing views to Elliott Bay and Mount Rainier through large dormer windows.

With all this evidence to the contrary, I had proof that Jones had no evidence of the fire and that the house obviously never had a third floor!  You can imagine my great surprise when I discovered that I was wrong, at least partially.

Sure, it is easy to quibble with an author’s choice of words when describing a ‘third story’ hidden in the low-slung roof, but as research revealed, on October 23, 1938, the roof and some of the third floor of the Kerry Residence did indeed burn.  The images on page 3 of the October 24, 1938, issue of the Seattle Daily Times show the house after the fire was put out and reveal that most of the roof actually survived the fire.

K. W. Rumsey, who lived across the street at 501 W. Highland Drive in the former Clise family home,[1] had purchased the Kerry Residence in June of 1938 as an investment property.  The fire happened as Rumsey and his son burned some trash in a fireplace while preparing the house for a Halloween party.  In the Seattle Daily Times article, Rumsey said the fire didn’t do enough damage to cancel the party!

Wanting to protect his investment, Rumsey expeditiously rebuilt the roof without dormers, essentially condemning the spaces on the third floor.  Based on the photographs from the Seattle Daily Times, I’m speculating that Rumsey abandoned the third floor.  Without access to the city’s microfilm permit record and without photographic evidence, I couldn’t be sure that Rumsey kept the dormers to the bedrooms on the south elevation since I couldn’t imagine him discarding the great views to Elliott Bay and Mount Rainier.  The photograph of the rear shown above that I took on April 6, 2022, from Prospect Street appears to prove me right.  The dormers are there, but as it turned out they too are reconstructions like the ones on the street side of the house.

My additional research using the online files of the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections turned up a weird coincidence.  Alissa Rupp, FAIA, one of my former employees and now a friend of 30 years, signed the 1995 building permit for New York firm of Paul Segal Associates Architecture.  She put me back in touch with Peter Rees, AIA, who ran the firm’s Seattle office.  Rees oversaw the addition of the second story over the garage where guest suite was created for the family of Gerard Schwarz, the musical director of the Seattle Symphony from 1985 to 2011.  The permit and Paul Dorpat’s photograph from 1975 proved me unexpectedly right to be critical of Jones’s guide.  Rumsey did not add the second story to the garage in 1938.  Gerry and Jody Schwarz did in 1995!

In email exchanges with Peter Rees in April 2022, I learned that “Gerry and Jody (Schwarz)’s 1995 addition replaced space over garage with guest suite (bed, bath, terrace), too costly to replace original roof shape and dormers, new owners, ca. 2013/14 renovation to current condition.”  Suggesting that his memory might not be entirely accurate, he was sure the dormers on the south side were gone and that the attic was pretty much a large open space.  He speculated that the third floor may have been designed as a ballroom.  I am guessing that Rumsey probably just gutted the whole thing when he put the new roof on in 1938.

The Robert Rosenstock family were the new owners Rees mentions.  Rosenstock, a retired Wall Street financier, moved here with his wife Ann and twin daughters who were in their early twenties.  One of the daughters interned with the Queen Anne Historical Society.  I never got to meet her mother, but our intern assured me that the restoration project was her mother’s work.

Permit history[2] indicates that the restoration of the dormers and the attic actually took place in 2012.  The online record does not clarify the extent of the work, but with Rees’s insights and the similarity of the fenestration, we can be pretty sure the Rosenstock family restored the dormers on both sides of the house.  Since they appear to have restored the entire roof structure, they probably recreated the dormer on the east end of the house at the same time.

Dormer on the east end is seen behind the chimney. Photo: author.

In all fairness to Jones, he and his proofreader could have been easily misled by the City of Seattle’s Historic Resources Survey inventory record of 2003 where consultant Mimi Sheridan, hired by the Queen Anne Historical society and assisted by volunteers, noted, “This story was not rebuilt after being destroyed in a fire in 1938; instead, at that time, a second story was added above the flat-roofed garage.”  The photo appended to the  survey record and shown below, doesn’t make it easy to conclude otherwise.

The house in the city’s 2003 Historic Building Survey.  Photo source here.

Revising architectural history isn’t easy, but it can be fun.  It is hard to know when you should distrust a source.  The overriding lesson here is that, however painful, when you are doing historical research, it is best to beware of secondary sources and to rely on primary materials such as newspaper articles, historic photographs or the architects of record if they happen to be alive and still your friends!

[1] Coincidentally, that house suffered serious damage from a fire in its roof in early 2022!

[2] Permit history also reveals that the house served as the home of the Japanese consul in 1975.

Seattle’s Sacred Wall

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.

Civic Field ca. 1928. Looking towards Lake Union

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.

Memorial Stadium ca. 1947. Courtesy MOHAI

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.

North Stand looking east –2022

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.

Marianne Hanson in 1952

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.

Horiuchi Mural Restoration

Written by Leanne Olson

The restoration of the Horiuchi Mural at the Seattle Center was completed during the summer of 2011, thanks to grants from 4Culture and Puget Sound Partners in Preservation/National Trust for Historic Preservation, combined with funding from Seattle Center and the City’s Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs.

The Horiuchi Mural, 1962 by Paul Horiuchi. Photo courtesy of Seattle Center

The mural, located just west of the Space Needle, is a city-owned designated Landmark that is best known as the backdrop for the Seattle Center Mural Amphitheatre.  The Horiuchi Mural, originally named Seattle Mural, was commissioned for the 1962 World’s Fair; at that time, a reflecting pond stood where the stage is now located, as well as a dahlia garden.  The concrete backside of the mural was designed by Paul Thiry, who was the supervising architect for the Fair.  Paul Horiuchi spent approximately nine months in Italy working on the design for the mural, which was constructed of Murano glass.  The 17-by-60-foot mural was shipped to Seattle in 54 square panels and pieced together onsite.  The disassembled mural arrived only 10 days prior to the opening of the Fair.   According to reports, the installation was complete just moments before the gates opened.

Over the years, the mortar substrate holding the glass in place remained in good condition.   However, much of the glass was badly deteriorated, essentially disintegrating from within.  Some of the colors were more susceptible to this deterioration than others.  In 2006, a pilot treatment study was undertaken on a small section of the mural during which some missing and deteriorated pieces were replaced.  Because glass was no longer being manufactured in Italy using the original technique, the replacement glass was sourced locally.  The difference cannot be noted from a distance.

The goal of the project was to preserve as much of the original mural as possible, while replacing only the missing and badly deteriorated pieces.  The timeline for the restoration was very tight.  The majority of the work had to be completed over just two weeks in July to avoid conflicting with the busy summer event schedule at the Center.  Restorers made a full map of the panels in 22 sections, each of which was mapped in detail to precisely document the restored elements.  Patricia Leavengood of Art Conservation Services oversaw the restoration.

*September 2021, The Seattle Times Pacific NW:  “In celebration out of darkness, Paul Horiuchi’s Seattle Center mural inspires a reunion
*September 2021, Clay Eals/Paul Dorpat Now & Then:  ” Horiuchi Mural, 1965