H Ambrose Kiehl House – 421 W Galer St

The Kiehl Family

Two generations of Kiehls owned and occupied the house built by H. Ambrose Kiehl  (1865-1942) at 421 West Galer Street in 1905.

Their lives were captured in the many photographs taken by Ambrose from 1890 to 1917 and preserved by his daughter Laura Adele Keihl over the succeeding decades. These photographs record the family life of the Kiehls and the work of Ambrose as a civil engineer employed by the U.S. Army at Fort Lawton and other Western locations.

H. Ambrose Kiehl was born in 1865 in Dayton, Ohio and trained as a civil engineer at Ohio State University.  In the 1880s, he moved to Port Townsend where he opened an engineering office and met and married his wife, Louisa Jean Stockland, the daughter of Scottish immigrants.  Their daughter Laura was born in Port Townsend on November 15, 1892.  When it became clear that Port Townsend would not become a major Pacific Coast port, he moved to Seattle.  There, in 1896, he met W.W. Robinson, a Captain in the U.S. Army and the quartermaster charged with assembling the land and resources for construction of a military fort on Magnolia Bluff.  At that time, the area was still a forested wilderness. Robinson appointed Ambrose Civil Engineer for the project, responsible for surveying, clearing, grading, and platting the fort.  Ambrose also supervised the construction of the fort, which was named after a Spanish American War hero.

The site was selected by the Army for its strategic location and as a result of the lobbying of Seattle’s political and economic elite, who were anxious about keeping the peace in Seattle.  They had experienced the mob violence that sparked the 1885-1886 anti-Chinese riots and were grateful for the role the Army had played in restoring law and order.  They believed that the fort would benefit the Seattle economy.

The Kiehl family had by this time grown to four with the addition of a second daughter, Lorena Miriam Kiehl, born in Seattle in 1895. In 1896, the family moved from their home at 105 Republican Street into a rustic board and batten shack on the grounds of the fort, a structure that served as their temporary residence and Ambrose’s office. Three years later, the Kiehls relocated to completed officers’ quarters, staying for several years until the Army occupied Fort Lawton. It was from this comfortable residence that Ambrose purchased the land at 421 West Galer Street and planned the construction of his house on Queen Anne.

Fort Lawton tents, 1900
Fort Lawton tents, 1900

Ambrose’s artistry as a photographer is evident in the photograph to the left, taken on June 27, 1900 on the Fort Lawton property.  His work took him on foot, horseback, and by horse or donkey cart around the 700 acres donated by Seattle citizens for the base.  Later, after the completion of Fort Lawton, he was employed as a civil engineer at Forts Flagler, Worden, Casey, Canby, and Columbia in Washington; Fort Stevens in Oregon; Fort Seward in Haines, Alaska; and Fort Warren in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Outside of family and career, his lifelong passions were photography and music.  As a photographer, Ambrose used both gelatin dry plates (glass) and Eastman Flexible roll film, introduced in 1886.  Ambrose probably had a number of cameras, and he processed most of the images himself.  He kept a detailed notebook of about 950 of his photographs, recording the subject, location, and date of each photograph. His last entry in this notebook was in 1937.

Ambrose was also a renowned musician.  He paid his way through college playing the pipe organ. Later, at the Queen Anne churches he and his family attended, he played the organ and directed the choir.  From 1903 through 1917, there were numerous announcements inThe Seattle Times of his musical offerings.  Typical was the following, which appeared on April 6, 1912:  “At Queen Anne Methodist Episcopal Church, the choir tomorrow morning will render Manney’s cantata, ‘The Resurrection’…  H. Ambrose Kiehl will preside at the organ.”

After an eventful and productive life, Ambrose passed away in September 1942 at age 77.  His wife Louisa had died much earlier, in 1917, when Laura was 25.

Daughter Laura Kiehl – Washington’s First Woman Stockbroker

Laura had a happy childhood spent first at Fort Lawton, as it was cleared and graded for construction, and then at the family home on Queen Anne.  There were picnics in the park and on the beach, excursions in her father’s first car, purchased in 1915, and motoring on the family’s boat, the Loulamir, all documented in her father’s prolific photographs.  She graduated from the University of Washington in 1916, where she was a member of Alpha Gamma Delta sorority and served on the art staff of the University’s yearbook, the Tyee.  For many years after graduation, she remained active in Alpha Gamma Delta social and philanthropic activities.  The photo below, taken by Ambrose on December 12, 1915, shows Laura in formal attire at an Alpha Gamma Delta dance.

Laura wanted to become a stockbroker, but none of the Seattle brokerage firms would hire a woman.  Not one to give up, in 1923 she opened her own office in the Smith Tower.  Beginning in 1923, Washington required registration and licensing of stockbrokers.  Laura applied for a license in 1923 or 1924.  Based upon the contemporary annual Polk’s Seattle City Directories, it appears that she officially became a stockbroker in 1924, when for the first time she is listed in Polk’s as a broker.  She was very likely the first woman in the State of Washington to be licensed as a stockbroker.1

After receiving her license and for unknown reasons, Laura’s career as a broker was temporarily interrupted.  The 1925 and 1926 editions of Polk’s list Laura’s occupation as “grocer” with a business address of 1501 Queen Anne Avenue.  During these years, she apparently owned and operated a grocery store with the assistance of her younger sister Miriam.

She resumed her career as a stockbroker in 1927 or 1928, first as assistant manager of a firm called General Finance Corporation at 4432 White Henry Stuart Building, and then, in 1929, 1930, and 1931, at the same address, as owner of a brokerage firm in her own name.  She described her business in the following announcement which appeared in a contemporary edition of Securities Dealers of North America:

Kiehl, Miss Laura A. White Henry Stuart Building. Distributor of Own Originations and Dealer in Mining & Industrial Issues & Real Estate Bonds.

According to the announcement, she was not only a broker, but also a dealer in mining and industrial stocks.  This means that she was likely acting as a principal or underwriter for these types of issues. This was a freewheeling era of economic expansion, an era which was probably good for her business.  There was little regulation of securities sales and trading.  It was prior to the passage of the Securities Act of 1933 and Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which imposed strict federal requirements on securities markets and broker dealers.

Laura’s career was no doubt profoundly affected first by the stock market crash of 1929 and then by the Great Depression.  The 1932 through 1935 editions of Polk’s contain no listing for Laura; in the Polk’s 1936 edition, she is listed simply as “householder 421 West Galer Street,” occupation, “insurance”; and in the Polk’s 1937 edition, she is listed as assistant buyer for MacDougall & Southwick, a retail purveyor of apparel and dry goods located at Second and Pike Streets.  In 1939, according to Polk’s and a May 19, 1939 article in the The Seattle Times , she became the resident manager of the Queen Anne Community Clubhouse at 1523 Queen Anne Avenue after foreclosure on the building by its lender.  In subsequent volumes of Polk’s, her occupation is unclear or unlisted, but she remains listed through 1965 as householder of 421 West Galer Street.  She never married.  In 1975, she sold her house at 421 West Galer Street and returned to Port Townsend, where she passed away on January 10, 1982 at age 89.  Her obituary in the Port Townsend Leader, published on January 20, 1982, states, “Miss Kiehl spent most of her working life in the Seattle area dealing in real estate and stocks and bonds.”

The Kiehl Photographic Collection

In the 1970s, the Kiehl collection of photographs came to the attention of Frederick and Mia Mann, preservationists who were actively involved in the effort to preserve Fort Lawton as Discovery Park.  Prior to her death, after consultation with the Manns, Laura generously donated the historic collection to Discovery Park and to the Special Collections Libraries of the University of Washington.  In 1995, Sara W. Smith, a granddaughter of the Manns, obtained a grant from the King County Landmarks and Heritage Commission to organize the collection, copy negatives, and create prints.  These are now housed at Discovery Park and with the City Archivist.  The Allen Library at the University of Washington retains all originals, including the negatives and photo albums.  A selection of the photographs and Sara’s informative Introduction to the collection can be viewed online at the University of Washington H. Ambrose Kiehl Photograph Collection.

The Kiehl House and the Neighborhood

Studying the 1905 Kiehl House on Queen Anne’s West Galer St. reveals stories and images not only of the family that built the house, but also of the history of the neighborhood’s growth at the turn of the twentieth century.  Facing north on a prominent corner across the street from the Queen Anne School (later West Queen Anne Elementary School), the Kiehl house was built three short years after the completion of the tracks of the #33 streetcar line.  This is the line that ran from downtown to the Counterbalance on Queen Anne Ave., turned west on Galer and then north on Sixth Ave. West to McGraw. In those days, the line did not go all the way to the Mount Pleasant Cemetery.  The #26 (now the #3 electric trolley line), which ran on Taylor, did that.

Kiehl daughters, 1908
Kiehl daughters, 1908

H. Ambrose Kiehl may have been an exceptional Seattle immigrant, for he came here from Port Townsend (and not from the East Coast or the mid-west) well before the discovery of Gold in the Yukon.  When he chose a neighborhood for his home, he did just what real estate developers wanted him to do.  He followed the streetcar tracks to an empty lot.

Many of Seattle’s neighborhoods would be developed as streetcar suburbs mirroring the same dynamics that produced New York City’s Westchester County or the cities near Boston like Brookline, Medford and Watertown.  It is no coincidence that Stone & Webster, a Boston company, built many of Seattle’s streetcar lines or that places such as Ravenna and Phinney Ridge were actually developed by realtors who first built street railways to lure people to the sites they had for sale.

As Walt Crowley put it in a HistoryLink.org article published in October 2000:

Beginning in 1884, Seattle’s street railway system had been built up incrementally by private entrepreneurs and real estate developers. In 1898, agents of the national Stone & Webster utility cartel began buying up all of the city’s 22 independent streetcar lines. Despite fears of monopoly control, in 1900 the City of Seattle granted Stone & Webster’s Seattle Electric Railway a 40-year franchise.

Located on a prominent corner opposite the West Queen Anne Elementary School and just down the street from a growing commercial district, the lot H. Ambrose Kiehl selected for his family probably didn’t cost him much.

Streetcars Influence the Development of Homes and Businesses

Although streetcar lines didn’t favor fancy homes, they did draw shops and schools including almost all the schools on Queen Anne: Coe, Queen Anne High School, West Queen Anne Elementary, the original (and coincidentally the new) John Hay.  A ride around the neighborhood today’s #2, 3 or 4 electric trolley routes confirms the impact of the street railways on the quality of housing and kind of buildings they drew.

At the turn of the century after the consolidation Seattle’s street railway lines most people got around town on Stone & Webster streetcars.  Only the very rich had access to horse drawn carriages, and most folks did their shopping on foot or by using the streetcars.  Consequently, all kinds of small stores popped up along the lines.  The mix of residential and commercial uses was not controlled.  In fact, Seattle got its first zoning ordinance on June 28, 1923 (Ordinance 45382), well after most the little mom and pop shops were built.

The ring of small shops along the crown of Queen Anne along the streetcar lines dramatically contributes to the special quality of the neighborhood.  The pattern is not unique to Queen Anne Hill nor to the rest of Seattle or other cities around the country.  Even if the many grocery and hardware stores have been replaced by doughnut, ice cream and pizza shops, the list of their locations is surprisingly long:

  • McGraw St. at 6th and 7th Ave. W.
  • McGraw St. at 3rd Ave. W.
  • McGraw St. at Queen Anne Ave.
  • 3rd Ave. N. and Hayes St.
  • W. Crockett, Howe and Blaine streets at 6th Ave. W.
  • All along Galer from Queen Anne Ave. to 4th Ave. W. just before the Kiehl house
  • Queen Anne Ave. from Galer to Boston and then west on Boston for a block
  • Boston at Nob Hill opposite the old brick John Hay Elementary School
  • 10th Ave. W. and W. Howe

Browse additional historic photos of some of the small businesses on Queen Anne.  All of these businesses were located on streetcar lines.

Kiehl House, 1916
Kiehl House, 1916

The Kiehl House at 421 W. McGraw Street

Like most of the houses along the street railway, the Kiehl house is relatively plain and functional.  The closest of the fancy houses constructed about the same time by Seattle’s rich and famous on the ridge on Queen Anne’s south slope are located about a block south of Galer Street.

Not unlike many of the simple houses built on the hill around the turn of the 20th century, the Kiehl house is clad with narrow board clapboard on the first story and cedar shakes on the second.  The gable ends are distinguished by simple returns to which curved verge boards add a kick.

The front porch with its crisp turned columns is reminiscent of the porches the Kiehl family may have liked at Fort Lawton during its early residence there.  When the house was constructed, people exited straight out the front door to the curb.

Like many period houses, the dining room bumps out, in this case to catch a possible view of Elliott Bay.

Early photographs reveal a sleeping porch on the southern exposure protected from the sun by striped canvas awnings.  Today that porch, fitted with newer windows, still offers great views to Elliott Bay and Mount Rainier.

The thin decorative features over windows and in gable ends sported on the north and west sides along West Galer Street and 5th Avenue West are recent modifications, as are the decks on the south facing façade.

Photographs of the interior show conventional period furniture and a very simple design with no frills.

Co-authored by Jan Hadley & Michael Herschensohn

1 Lane Morgan, Murray Morgan, Paul Dorpat (1982). Seattle: A Pictorial History (p. 157). Virginia Beach, VA: Donning Company.

Additional Resources

Read an article about Ambroise Kiehl’s work at Fort Lawton at Paul Dorpat’s website.

Read about H. Ambrose Kiehl’s engineering work at Fort Lawton at the Magnolia Historical Society website.