The Seattle Children’s Home site on 10th Ave West has been sold and is slated for massive redevelopment with 61 townhouses to occupy the largest undeveloped bit of real estaste on Queen Anne. Lobbying by preservationists may have saved the one historic building on the plot, a building that tells an important story about orphaned and troubled youth has been saved.
McGraw Cottage is the 1905 Colonial Revival style building of the Seattle Children’s Home at the southwest corner of W. McGraw and 10th Ave. W. Although some neighbors rallied around the idea of designating the entire 2.5 acre site and its lush vegetation a city landmark, McGraw Cottage is the only building that survives to document how Seattle has cared for children in need for well over 100 years and the history of women in modern society.
During the American Renaissance the period that followed the centennial of the American Revolution and ended with World War I, wealthy well-connected women and their clubs were largely responsible for the country’s charity work. This period in American history is also marked by an increasing awareness of the huge gap between the wealthy and the poor.
The creation of the Seattle Historical Society (MOHAI), the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Children’s Orthopedic Hospital and Seattle Children’s Home remind us of this “women’s work. The Ladies Relief Society, Seattle’s very first charity, was founded on May 3, 1884 by a group of women dedicated to “united systematic benevolent work” on behalf of Seattle’s increasing disadvantaged population. “They were particularly interested in the children left destitute by the death of one or both parents.”
The family names of the women who started The Ladies Relief Society read like a Seattle street map. Yesler, Minor, Ferry, Fulton and Leary are among them. Gatzert and Furth are other last names that still resonate.
The Ladies Relief Society opened the Seattle Children’s Home as an orphanage in 1886 in a house constructed for the purpose on two lots donated by David and Louisa Denny on their homestead which constituted much of today’s Seattle Center. The northeast corner of The Armory (Center House) at Harrison St. and Nob Hill marks the spot.
After the orphanage burned down, the Seattle Children’s Home opened in 1905 at 10th Avenue W. and W. McGraw Streets. The home accepted not only orphaned children, but also those whose parents were not able to provide for them. Many children stayed only a few months, and it was not unusual for more than 100 youngsters to live at the home during any single year. The infirmary (later to become McGraw Cottage) and laundry cottage was constructed at the same time. Funds were raised from a variety of sources, including surplus relief funds from Seattle’s 1889 fire.
The big wooden building pictured above was replaced twice: once in 1932 by a brick fireproof edifice and then again in the 1960’s by smaller buildings. McGraw Cottage, the sole survivor from 1905, took that name in 1940 when it became a home for girls.
Over the course of its 130 year history, the Seattle Children’s Home mirrored evolving ideas about what’s best for disadvantaged children.
As early as the 1930’s, people had concluded that children isolated in large institutional settings did not thrive. Foster care and accelerated adoption provided environments that kids need to flourish and largely ended 200 years of putting children without families in orphanages.
The availability of birth control and the steep decline in unwanted pregnancies in the 20th c. which marked women’s liberation also saw a decrease in the number of children in need.
In the 1930s, the home shifted its emphasis from orphans to troubled children. For those children too, institutionalization did not meet their needs, and outpatient care made residential buildings underused. In the charity’s second century, it provided comprehensive treatment and services to troubled youth.
By the time of the Seattle Children’s Home merged with Navos in 2012, it had become a comprehensive mental health facility for children and young adults and no longer required the Queen Anne buildings to meet its mission goals.
Deserving of Preservation
Toll Brothers, the East Coast developer that recently acquired the site, originally planned to scrape it clean. In response to neighborhood protests, they have agreed to retain McGraw Cottage incorporating two residential units in the building for which they sought and failed to receive city landmark designation. The cottage will buffer the site’s northwestern edge and the 59 residential units in 11 three-story structures.
McGraw Cottage is one of the oldest surviving institutional building on Queen Anne. Its massing, pyramidal roof and the pretty frieze that runs under the edge of the roof on all sides show signs of the neo-classical Colonial Revival style of architecture. In spite of the unusual width of the metopes, the trigylphs and the traditional guttae below them playfully interrupt the run of the frieze and also point to the neo-classical Colonial Revival style.
There are probably no other extant buildings in Seattle that document clearly one hundred years of changes in women’s lives and how society views orphanages and child and mental health care. The cottage is exceptional, however, not because it was founded by newly rich pioneer women, but because it is a singular reminder of the struggles in American society to address the needs of the victims of the huge and sadly growing gap between the rich and the poor.
View of slideshow of the history of the Seattle Children’s Home at their website.