A Beautiful American Foursquare on our North Slope (Revised)

(Subsequent to publishing this article, super sleuth and passionate historic preservationist, Leanne Olson, provided answers to some of the questions I posed. They are reported in the Follow Up added below. Leanne chairs the society’s Landmark Preservation Committee.) 

“Look Up” is an old dictum bandied about by architectural historians like Jane Jacobs. The dictum still applies, but it assumed folks were walking around historic buildings with their eyes glued to the sidewalk. In this new post-automobile era where walking and biking are replacing fossil fueled outings, I am adopting a new dictum. It is quite simple, “Just Walk.”

Eastern façade 2925 Warren Ave. N.

Walking up to the top of Queen Anne from Fremont along Warren Ave. N., I stumbled on this absolutely gorgeous American Foursquare half a block south of Florentia at 2925 Warren. Even though I’ve driven that block a million times since moving here in 1985, and even though I ride my bicycle down Warren at least twice a week, I’ve never walked the block before. The whole block is a bundle of lovely early 20th-c. houses, I would never appreciate on wheels, so let’s all get out and Just Walk. We’ll love Queen Anne even more and be in better health.

This house is unique as the sole building on the street for which the city’s side sewer card gives no date of connection. I have no doubt that it was built prior to 1910 (see Follow Up below). Spectacularly perched on a very steep and narrow slope, the house has projecting bays on brackets at each corner of the second story. The sweet diamond shaped window between the two projecting bays is capped with delightful decorative scrollwork (hardly visible in the photos) that the contractor either bought at a local lumber yard or copied from a pattern book.

If the tipped square window is true to style, it lights a walk-in closet serving one of the bedrooms behind the corner bays. Those bays plus the hip roofs on each corner bay and the central portion of the house are typical American Four Square. At the top of the house and centered above those characteristic corner bays is an exquisite dormer with what is for Seattle a rare tripartite Palladian window. As with so many houses of the period, whatever their apparent style, this one has a projecting bay on the rear of the first floor whose windows must light the dining room. As with so many houses of this style and period, the entire body is sheathed in beveled siding (we called it narrow board clapboard in the east).

The house looking northwest (darn pole)

 As often the case with American Foursquares, a wraparound front porch leads to a front door on the north side of the house. The porch, which sports neatly turned posts, is unusually wide to accommodate, I am guessing, what were great views to the north and east before trees grew up and before 1932 when Seattle sprouted the George Washington Memorial Bridge that may block some views now. Truth to tell, the view to the north is still spectacular. The porch also hides a bay window which probably lights the living room and serves as the final touch on a superb, well balanced set of windows and decorative features that make this house so special. I am especially fond of the vertical panes that form a transom above all the large windows, and I can’t resist those small panes in the upper portion of the Palladian.

2925 Warren Ave. N. looking northwest

It would be great to know who built this house (see Follow Up below) and why all the houses on the block are scrunched so close together. I’ve made up stories about houses on the northern slope of Queen Anne. One of them claims that they are later with a smaller footprint than those on the top of the hill, because facing north with so few hours of sun, they had to wait for the sunny lots elsewhere on Queen Anne to run out. The date of this house and several others on the block which were constructed in the first or second decade of the 20th c. disproves that theory. It is more likely that the narrow lots and smaller houses reflect marketing to working class folks who labored in nearby mills or downtown factories. A short walk down to Nickerson made it easy to catch a streetcar going downtown.

Follow Up:

As I guessed, the house was built before 1910. In fact, according to the Seattle Daily Times of October 11, 1908,  the city had just issued a building permit to W. D. Arnot for a two-story frame residence to be 22′ by 35′ and costing $2,500.  We don’t know if Arnot actually occupied the house, and we don’t know when he broke ground. We can be pretty confident that the first occupants moved in over the course of 1909.  They may been Mr. and Mrs. Wiley Chapman noted below.

On December 8, 1912, on page 62, the Seattle Sunday Times  reported  the marriage of Olacile Winnifred Chapman to John Alexander McDonald who were wed at St. Anne’s on November 28.  According to the Times, the wedding reception was held at 2925 Warren Ave. N., the home of the bride’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wiley Chapman. The Times noted that , “Mrs. W. Cathey sang a solo, If I Could Live a Thousand Years, I ‘d Live Them  All With You,” and that , “Music was provided by the Ross Seminary Quartet, composed of Mr. and Mrs. William Cathey and Mr. and Mrs. Earl Newton.” 

Now that is amazing! Mr. and Mrs. William Cathey were the parents of my one time next door neighbor Bob Cathey. Like his parents, Bob was a musician. He taught in Seattle’s Public Schools and attended the Free Methodist Church where he was in charge of music. Ross, we remember, was  the name of the neighborhood at the foot of Third Ave. W. where  the Free Methodist Church and Seattle Pacific University, an affiliate of the church, are located.  The church actually founded Seattle Pacific University, naming it Seattle Seminary.

Finally, it is pleasant to learn that the city’s survey of Historical Buildings completed in 2005 included this house. You can find the survey report here.

Our House Is A Very Nice House

Built in 1907, this simple Craftsman bungalow is characteristic of a popular West Coast style that continues to spark local enthusiasm. The style is marked by a low profile with a ridge parallel to the street and wide overhanging eaves on bulky brackets. First story clapboard (called beveled siding in the west) cladding paired with shingles on the second story marks just about all bungalows. Large plate glass windows hidden under a porch that protects living spaces from the hot summer sun are another distinctive feature. Our house looms over the street on a low rise created for sure by the grading of the street early on.

1918 1st N. viewed from the southwest.

With a 1937 photograph to confirm it, the exterior of the house is nearly unaltered from its original condition. We acknowledge having enclosed the back porch, built the bench and bookcase there, added a deck, two bathroom windows (and bathrooms), constructed the pergola over the garage (designed by The Johnson Partnership, c. 1992), added the cheek walls to the front porch, installed the garage door (a decent imitation of the 1907 look) and replaced the roof. The removal of the shingles in 1985 broke hearts. Economic realities and big leaks drove the decision.

Only 33 by 33, the home’s footprint accommodates a delightfully open plan on the first floor and four modest bedrooms on the second. The first-floor plan obliterates the boxy rooms and wasteful corridors of Victorian designs and proves that plans emerging simultaneously from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park studio were not revolutionary.

On the ground floor the woodwork is original, but since buying the house in 1985, we’ve acquired all the downstairs period light fixtures, including the dining room fixture with its Granite pattern Kokomo (Indiana) glass. The dining room retains its typical fir board and batten paneling, box beams, multi-paned window near the ceiling, and cantilevered bay window and built-in bench so characteristic of the time. The dining room sports an original built-in cupboard with leaded glass and cames and a great plate rail. The swinging door between the dining room and the butler’s pantry no longer swings on its own, but it is original. The kitchen, pantry, back porch and peek-a-boo toilet room display almost no visible signs of the original house.  The living room fireplace and mantel can be found in myriad Queen Anne homes of the period along with the small multi-paned windows that flank it. The windows of the front door, stairwell and dining room repeat the complex glazing.

1918 1st N. viewed from east.

Upstairs, refinished fir flooring looks good after we sanded out the painted floors that may have dated from 1907. The narrow corridor between rooms once terminated in a linen closet whose surviving doors have been adapted to hide linen in the closet in the main bathroom. A library ladder rises in place of the original linen closet to the sleeping loft, an architectural folly that has followed us from a number of previously owned homes. You can’t stand up there, and a futon is the only possible sleeping surface, but pleasant noise of rain on the (new) skylights and the summer light make it a great hiding place. The closets in the southern bedrooms are recent additions. They were required by the conversion of two walk-in closets into a second upstairs bath. The built-in bench in the southwest bedroom is part of that project. It mirrors the design of the one in the dining room. Have a look at the medicine cabinet in the main bathroom. It slipped down a few inches, so short owners could see their reflection in the mirror. The shelves behind the mirror are now totally out of whack.

1918 1st N. viewed from south. Bathroom window is new.

All plumbing  and heating systems in the house have been renovated since we moved here in 1985. Only the claw foot bathtub and the knob and tube wiring in first floor ceilings and floor survive from 1907. Gas lines hidden in the hall, living room and dining room ceilings are the only vestige of the gas and electric fixtures that dangerously illuminated those spaces, A library has been fashioned in the basement. The antique five-panel doors in the basement hall are new to the house.

1918 1st N. viewed from north

1918 First North has had relatively few owners; we know of only three since WWII. If you drive by, continue to the south on First North and check out the near twin house at 1513 First North, also built in 1907. It differs a bit from ours with cement block construction of the porch foundation which mirrors the wall at the sidewalk at our house, an additional room east of the dining room and slightly different fenestration patterns both upstairs and down. Both designs are surely from the same pattern book, architectural studio or contractor’s cheat sheet. Side sewer cards confirm the same construction date and contractor.

Every old house needs friends who value its preservation! We done our best to preserve the integrity of 1918 at least when viewed from the street.

Work Begins on Bleitz

It has been over two years since the Landmarks Preservation Board protected  the  Bleitz Funeral Home at 316 Florentia St. with landmark designation.  We wrote about the history of that business and building about the same time. You can find that article here.  ‘Today’ in the caption below referred to the building at the time of nomination.

 Since 2017, the building has stood empty and lonely in the embrace of a menacing chain link fence.  We’ve worried that nothing was ever going to happen and that we might lose the Bleitz entirely.

Well we are delighted to report that following the sale of the site to a second developer, work  began this week (August 12-16, 2019) with the demolition of the 1989 addition on the west side of the original 1921 building and the removal of the surface parking lot to its west.

After demolition of 1989 Addition. Photo: Author, 8/14/19.

The old parking lot will see the construction of a small office building while the original building will be converted into addtional office spaces.  The recently exposed western wall of the building will remain visible following construction of the new office structure. All of this work has been approved by the Landmarks Preservation Board.