John Hay Schools – 4th Ave N & Boston St

John Hay School, undated
John Hay School, undated

With two John Hay Elementary Schools on Queen Anne, there is bound to be some confusion when we talk about them.  There may even be reason to say that there are three John Hay schools on Queen Anne.  Surely three buildings share the name.

Architect James Stephen designed the oldest building which open for the 1905-1906 school year. The building faces west in the middle of the two-acre block bought by the school district in 1903 for $4,500.  At that time, Crockett Street still ran straight through from 4th Avenue N. to Bigelow.  In 1905 the district paid contractor Peter P. Gjande $23,756 to construct the eight-room school that served grades one to seven.  Today, the building sits south of the Crockett Street right of way and north of Newton Street between 4th Avenue N. and Bigelow Avenue N.

In the early 1920s, the school district paid $45,424 for the 3.01-acre block to the north, and built a brick building that faces Boston Street for $99,971.  This second John Hay opened in September of 1922.  It is the second building with the John Hay name and is the work of architect Floyd Naramore.   The land it sits on, between the Crockett Street right-of-way and Boston Street, is said to have been part of a ravine.  In 2010, the historic buildings, both of which are designated city of Seattle landmarks, became the home of the Queen Anne Elementary School.

The third and most recent John Hay on the hill is located at 201 Garfield Street on the site of the Luther Playfield that once served Queen Anne High School.  Our latest John Hay opened in 1989 and was designed by architects Cardwell-Thomas Associates.

1905 John Hay School Building

Queen Anne’s 1905 John Hay is one of many similar schools designed by James Stephen and constructed in the decade following the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush boom when Seattle’s population grew from a mere 80,000 people to nearly 300,000 by 1910.  The Seattle School District hired Stephen in 1899 to prepare plans and specifications for several schools, which were adopted as the “Model School Plan“ for later elementary schools in the district.

Stephen’s model provided the basis for a flexible and economical approach to school construction. The wood construction system, truncated hip roof and standard floor plan facilitated a phased construction process in which an  8-, 12-,  or 20-room school could be constructed and later expanded. The side walls of his buildings, while asymmetrical1, have a bank of three windows at each end of a central hallway.  The hallway windows are flanked by window-free walls that facilitate additions without complicated redesigns.  In plan, the buildings are cleverly organized with a central stairway on the front and symmetrical stairways in each of the rear corners.  Consequently, the classrooms are all the same size, but they are located in different places front to back.  In the front, there is one at each end of the building separated by stairs, offices and toilet facilities.  In the rear they occupy the middle.  Although standard floor plans and interior finish materials were used, the exterior elevations and details of these schools varied greatly and exhibited wood detailing indicative of Stephen’s background as a carpenter and cabinetmaker.2   John Hay’s twin octagonal towers and their pyramidal roofs flank a projecting entrance bay with scroll saw cut porch brackets. Each floor of the central bay is graced by a set of Palladian style windows.  Those details, along with decorative stucco and wood panels in the spandrels between first- and second-story windows and the purely ornamental widow’s walk on the roof, reflect Stephen’s woodworking experience.

Stephen’s first modern school design permitted easy expansion as enrollments increased. Some records say that Edgar Blair, Stephen’s successor as School Architect, designed an addition to the wooden John Hay building in 1914; however, there is no evidence of it. The city’s landmark nomination for the wooden John Hay building contends that Queen Anne’s John Hay Elementary School is the only unaltered Stephen school in Seattle.3

Stephen became a School District employee in 1901 and continued in this capacity as the official School Architect until late 1910. During this period, he was responsible for the design of over 50 schools.4  Among Stephen-designed schools that are similar to the 1905 John Hay and still standing in 2012 are the Allen School wooden building (1904, now the Phinney Neighborhood Center), Interlake (1904, now the Wallingford Center), Summit (1905, now the Northwest School), Seward (1905, now TOPS @ Seward), Stevens (1906) and Latona (1906, altered, now the John Stanford International School), originally John Hay’s identical twin.

Stephen was a busy man.  In 1908, he prepared a report on modern school design, construction, and equipment.  This report led to the creation and adoption of the second model plan that incorporated fireproof materials including concrete, masonry and terra cotta.  These new school plans also incorporated modern lavatory equipment.5

By the time burgeoning enrollments called for adding yet again to John Hay, the school board had adopted rules requiring fireproof designs of brick, terra cotta and concrete construction.  There would be no wooden schools built after Stephen’s work in the first decade of the 20th C.

1922 John Hay School Building

The 1922 brick John Hay building facing Boston Street had nine rooms, all on one floor and an open air gym facility that was enclosed in 2012.  The school was the work of architect Floyd A. Naramore who served as the district’s School Architect from 1919 to 1932.  In 1943, he became a founding partner of NBBJ, which in 2012 is the fifth largest architectural firm in the United States.

Most of Naramore’s school designs show a Georgian style, and John Hay is no exception.  White terra cotta decorations enhanced by beige speckles brighten the simple English bond (alternating rows of headers and stretchers) brick building.  Each of the corners has unfluted Ionic pilasters capped by simple entablatures embracing urns filled with fruit.  Pairs of unfluted pilasters flank the pedimented entrance and support a simple entablature in which the urn motif reappears.  John Hay’s didactic terra cotta panels are unique to this school.  One set features a team of oxen pulling a wagon under cloudy skies.  Another set shows a ship sailing toward a lighthouse.  Nice as all the terra cotta decorations may be, they seem to have been ordered from a catalog.  James Stephen’s woodwork on the 1905 building feels equally simple, but definitely more creative than Naramore’s store-bought details.

Naramore studied engineering at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and earned an architectural degree at MIT in 1907.  After a brief stint in Chicago, he moved to Portland, Oregon, where he worked for Northwest Bridgeworks from 1909 to 1912 as a cost estimator.  In 1919, the Seattle School Board hired him as its third School Architect.  He served until 1931.6

Among his many school designs are:

  • Highland Park Elementary School (1919-1920)
  • John Hay Elementary School Addition (1920-1921)
  • Roosevelt High School (1921-1922)
  • Montlake Elementary School (1923-1924)
  • Magnolia Elementary School (1926-1927)
  • Alexander Hamilton Junior High School (1926-1927)
  • John Marshall Junior High School (1926-1927)
  • Grover Cleveland High School (1926-1927)
  • Laurelhurst Elementary School (1928-1929)
  • Loyal Heights Elementary School (1931)7

Recent Renovations to the John Hay Schools

In 2004-2005, the school district renovated the historic John Hay school buildings, focusing on the 1905 wooden structure.  New cedar lap siding replaced the original wood siding, and historic wooden windows were removed, refurbished, and reinstalled.  The district used the original paint scheme for the exterior, a light gray with white trim and burgundy accents.  Other repairs to the wooden John Hay included reconstructing the wooden parapet on the roof and recreating the wood and stucco spandrel decorations on the western façade.  At this time, the brick building lost its large concrete chimney.

The work was funded by the voters in the February, 2004 School Capital Levy.  Volunteers from Friends of Old Hay, relying on support from the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, created garden spaces, a giant chess board and a basketball court on the school grounds.

In spite of early fears, the 1905 John Hay building hasn’t burned and remains the only historic wooden school building in Queen Anne or Magnolia still in active use.  Unlike many of Naramore’s surviving brick buildings which have been mothballed, the halls of the 1922 brick addition to John Hay still echo with the oft happy voices of little learners and the tap of their fingers on what seems to be an infinite number of computer keyboards.

More Renovations to the John Hay Schools

In the Spring of 2017, the school district submitted plans to expand the brick building and redesign the entire 5-acre site.  The siting of new buildings on the historic Queen Anne Boulevard as well as plans for using the boulevard for school bus access have been resisted.

For Further Reading

A document on the history of the John Hay schools is located at the Seattle School District website

1 The portion of John Hay to the east of the hallway windows is slightly wider than the western portion.
2 ibid.
3 Landmark nomination files for John Hay Elementary School, City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. Consulted December 3, 2012.  No author is mentioned.
4 Adapted from John B. Allen School NR nomination — by Sonja Sokol Furesz for the Washington State Department of Archeology and Preservation Planning.  Cited on November 30, 2012.
5 ibid.
6 Heather J. MacIntosh:  Naramore, Floyd A. (1879-1970).  Retrieved from
7 ibid.
8 Histories of the Seattle Public Schools, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle. 1915