Many Queen Anne residents mourn the loss of this neighborhood landmark that has quietly sat on the southeast corner of Crockett and Queen Anne Avenue since its completion 100 years ago.
In 1910, the city issued the building permit for the Elfrieda, and it first appears in city directories in 1913. The permit was issued to Louis S. Nunnemacher who with his wife Elfrieda lived in and managed the building from at least 1915 until 1922. It doesn’t take much to guess for whom the building is named, but there is no record of the Elfrieda’s designer. Mr. Nunnemacher is listed in the city directories of the time as a builder and contractor, so we can assume that he was the building’s contractor and may have been personally responsible for much of the finish work. It was not uncommon at this time for developers to actually live in the buildings they constructed. One might wonder if this were still a common practice, whether the design of contemporary apartments and condominiums might be greatly improved.
City directories show that the Elfrieda’s small two-bedroom units traditionally sheltered couples without children who favored the easy access to work downtown by the streetcar and later electric trolleybus on the corner.
The loss of the Elfrieda marks very important transformations to the upper Queen Anne neighborhood. Nearly all the single family houses on the stretch of Queen Anne Avenue from Galer to McGraw have either been replaced recently by multi-unit apartment buildings (e.g.: Queen Anne Space, Sweetbrier, Eden Hills) or had been converted to non-residential uses (e.g.: Le Rêve, Emmer and Rye, Stuhlberg’s). Many of the single family residences on the avenue were lost when the Safeway and Thriftway stores (with their big parking lots) were built.
The neighborhood changes are not only in building types, but also in neighborhood demographics. Upper Queen Anne has been gentrified. Before World War II, Elfrieda’s residents were traditionally employed by service and retail businesses, people who couldn’t aspire to large houses on the crest of the hill. If they eventually owned a single family dwelling, their homes probably looked like the two small structures just east of the Elfrieda which were also torn down. In the last 30 years, similar simple abodes nearby have been sold by their working and middle class owners to an upwardly mobile population.
Architecturally, the Eflrieda is, in fact, similar to many small single use small apartment houses that dotted Queen Anne Avenue. They shared flat roofs, were two or three stories tall and located on street corners. Most of the buildings favored brick veneers (brick over wood), simple decorative patterns or banding, wooden cornices on decorative brackets and simple standard sized double-hung windows. A good example is the small apartment house on the southwest corner of Blaine Street and Queen Anne Avenue that now houses ZAW. Unusually, the Elfrieda sports distinctive entrance porticos with classical or colonial revival detailing on both its Queen Anne Avenue and Crockett Street façades.
In a strange twist of architectural history, the Elfrieda belongs to the tradition of buildings with a (pretty) Queen Anne front and a (plain) Mary Ann behind. Having a Queen Anne front on Queen Anne Avenue may have encouraged the developers of the half-block between Howe and Crockett to save the Elfrieda’s fancy brick and partially reconstruct both of its street facing façades as part of their new building. Although two stories of the new building loom over Elfrieda, the developers have been sensitive to the neighborhood’s affection for what is one of the last vestiges of a very different time.
Sadly, the city’s landmark law makes no provision for preserving those vernacular buildings that define neighborhood character. We are lucky then that the block’s developers have found a partial solution to the flaw in our landmark law. We will be glad to have some of Elfrieda return after demolition. In the meantime, we lament Elfrieda’s passing and regret this change in the fabric of our neighborhood.
The best bricks of the Elfrieda were salvaged during the construction of the Towne Apartments in 2013 and reused as a veneer over the concrete frame of the northwest corner of the new development. The massing and fenestration of the first two stories of the destroyed apartment dwelling were generally respected but a two story penthouse sits on top of it and many brand new bricks were included in the reapplied veneer.
Source: Most of the historical and architectural facts in this story come from an unpublished paper, The Elfrieda Apartment Building dated April 19, 2002 and submitted to the City of Seattle’s Landmark Preservation Board as part of a landmark nomination by BOLA Architecture + Planning. The Elfrieda failed to be nominated for landmark status.