This article traces the life and work of architect Kirtland Cutter, whose early career transformed Spokane. The article is the work of Georgi Krom, a member of the Board of the Queen Anne Historical Society and a Spokane native. Although Kirtland Cutter did no work in our Queen Anne neighborhood, two of his important clients — C. D. and Harriet Stimson — moved from Queen Anne to the house he designed for them at the intersection of Terry Avenue and Spring Street, today called the Stimson Green Mansion. The Rainier Club, also Cutter’s work, probably influenced many design choices among its wealthy members, many of whom lived in Queen Anne.
The Arts and Crafts movement was a powerful, worldwide force in art and architecture. Historian Lawrence Kreisman showcases this era in his Oct 13, 2020 lecture for the Queen Anne Historical Society. You can hear his talk by clicking HERE. His book, The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Pacific Northwest, also describes this fascinating time period.
Beautifully designed furniture, decorative arts, and homes were in high demand from consumers in booming new cities. Local, natural materials of logs, shingles and stone were plentiful in the west and creative architects were needed. One of them was Kirtland Kelsey Cutter, who worked in Spokane, Seattle, and California. His imagination reflected the artistic values of that era — from rustic chapels and distinctive homes to glorious public spaces of great beauty. He was one of the most important architects in our state.
Cutter was born in Cleveland in 1860, the grandson of a distinguished naturalist. A love of nature was an essential part of Kirtland’s work and he integrated garden design and natural, local materials into his plans. He studied painting and sculpture in New York and spent several years traveling and studying in Europe. This exposure to art and culture abroad influenced his taste and the style of his architecture. The rural buildings of Europe inspired him throughout his career.
One style associated with Cutter is the Swiss chalet, which he used for his own home in Spokane. Inspired by the homes of the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland, it featured deep eaves that extended out from the roofline. The inside was pure Arts and Crafts, with a rustic, tiled stone fireplace, stained glass windows and elegant woodwork. Its simplicity contrasted with the grand homes many of his clients requested.
The railroads brought people to the Northwest looking for opportunities in mining, logging and real estate. My great grandfather, Victor Dessert, came from France and settled in Spokane in the 1880s. Cutter designed a downtown hotel for him in 1888 but it only lasted a year before it burned in the Great Spokane fire of 1889. For Cutter, this fire that destroyed the city was a boost to his career and offered great opportunities to rebuild.
Spokane leaders in the turn of the century benefited from more than just mining. Hydroelectric power, wheat fields and timber created new capitalists who chose Cutter and his partner, Karl Gunnar Malmgren, to design their impressive homes. Cutter was the idea person with refined taste and an understanding of architectural styles. Malmgren was the skilled draftsman who could bring Cutter’s artistic sketches to completion. The team experimented with styles that ranged from half-timbered Tudors to Colonials and Mission Revivals. Cutter not only designed these homes but helped furnish them with rich interiors. He supervised every detail.
One of Cutter’s most elaborate Spokane homes was built for Patrick Clark in the Browne’s Addition neighborhood. Clark was a successful investor in Coeur d’Alene and British Columbia mines and he wanted the most impressive mansion west of the Mississippi. The exterior features warm bricks, round towers and a magnificent entrance arch. Inside, ornate staircases with Islamic arches and a pair of Tiffany stained-glass windows of peacocks showed Cutter’s ability to mix eastern influences with Art Nouveau glass.
Not all of Cutter’s work involved Gilded Age mansions. A little chapel he designed in 1890 for the Fairmount Cemetery in Spokane may have been one of the first examples of Arts and Crafts design used in a religious building in our region. Its exterior walls of local lava rock contrast with an elegant art glass window. It was featured in architectural magazines as an excellent example of the Craftsman style, using simple construction and natural materials.
In his personal life Cutter married Mary Corbin, the daughter of a businessman who had opened up the Coeur d’Alene mining area to railroads and steamship lines. Mary was attracted to the charming, well dressed and elegant young architect. But Mary grew tired of Spokane and of him, moving away to England with their three-year-old son after a contentious divorce.
In 1893 Cutter and his partner Karl Malmgren worked together on the Idaho building at the World’s Fair Exposition in Chicago, using the Swiss chalet style for their inspiration. The outer design featured massive logs and wide eaves while the inside displayed the frontier life of miners and trappers. Its rustic appearance stood out from exhibits using classical styles and was a great success.
Cutter also built the Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier Park. Its exterior is a European, Swiss style. The lobby features soaring, 25-foot-high tree trunks and an inviting stone fireplace with depictions of Native Americans. These Cutter designs influenced other lodges in national parks that were becoming hugely popular at that time in the United States.
His great work in Spokane was the Davenport Hotel, started in 1900. It began as a restaurant with a second floor suite of rooms with custom wood and metal work for his client Louis Davenport, inspired by the Austrian secession. The exterior of the restaurant was a lively Spanish Mission hacienda with arched windows, tile roofs and stepped gables. Mission architecture first appeared in a San Francisco Exposition in 1894 and was popular in the Arts and Crafts era. It was used in churches, schools and libraries throughout the Northwest at that time.
Cutter later expanded the Davenport Hotel to the entire block in an Italian Renaissance style. The large lobby featured an Italian marble fountain and enormous bronze column lamps decorated with grapevines and alabaster shells. A walkway mezzanine above overlooks this expansive public space.
Visitors enjoyed banquets in the Davenport’s Marie Antoinette and Isabella rooms, or in the unique ballroom, The Hall of Doges. Dancing there, under its crystal chandeliers and painted ceilings, would feel like a quick trip to Venice. These elaborate rooms were a wide departure from the Arts and Crafts ideal of the simple life, but they illustrate how Cutter found beauty and inspiration from Europe.
Unfortunately, by the time I attended my senior prom at the Davenport in 1971, garish red carpeting covered the floors and the walls were painted a ghostly white. The Spokane hotel closed in 1974 and went into bankruptcy reorganization. When plans for demolition came in 1986, a committee was formed to save it. Over 4,000 people took action and the property was spared and eventually renovated by Walt and Karen Worthy.
Many changes were needed to update the 111 year old hotel. The exterior Mission style section had to be completely rebuilt, losing much of its original character. Fortunately, the main lobby was beautifully restored and richly painted details of carved figures emerged on its decorative wood beams. The 30-ton Hall of Doges ballroom was hoisted into the air by two cranes and moved to another section of the hotel, to be saved for future admirers. You can visit all these areas today when you tour the hotel.
Returning to 1900, Cutter also had important clients in Seattle. His best known work here is the English manor house he built for C.D. Stimson on First Hill, similar in floor plan to another Tudor house in Spokane. The main room was designed as a library with a stage for evening musicals and plays performed by the children. Many other English Tudor homes were built in Seattle because of the influence of this building. The Stimson Green Mansion today is preserved as a historic landmark and makes a dramatic setting for weddings and other social events.
Other Cutter projects in Seattle included the Rainier Club on Fourth Ave. The exclusive men’s club had been founded in 1888 and needed to expand. Cutter designed it with exterior curved Dutch gables of clinker brick, a local material often used in Seattle. The design was inspired by Aston Hall in Warwickshire, England and the interior rooms were also interpretations of an Old English theme.
While working on the Rainier Club, Cutter met Judge Thomas Burke, a future chief justice of the Washington Supreme Court. Burke asked Cutter to design a room in his Madison home for his extensive collection of Native American artifacts. This Northwest art was the foundation of the Native American art collection at the Burke Museum.
Judge Burke was also one of the first presidents of the Seattle Golf and Country Club in the Highlands, which Cutter designed in 1908. The Swiss chalet clubhouse used a more horizontal roof, perhaps influenced by the Prairie style.
Cutter also featured a broader roof in this Capitol Hill home on Harvard Avenue, built in 1908 for L.B. Peeples. These current photos show that Cutter used the similar Swiss style that he loved in his personal residence in Spokane.
World War I changed the economic climate in Spokane and there was much more competition for architectural projects. Cutter liked to entertain and travel in luxury and his lifestyle caught up with him. He needed to look elsewhere for new clients and fresh inspiration.
He moved to southern California in 1923 with his second wife to work for oil executives and Hollywood figures who wanted impressive villas, and a public needing colleges and elementary schools. Cutter became the consulting architect for the new city of Palos Verdes, creating Mediterranean buildings with low-pitched, red tiled roofs and archways that evoked a Spanish influence. This style was well suited to the climate of southern California, and Cutter integrated his buildings beautifully into their natural landscapes. Some of his later works had a modern sensibility, but Cutter never embraced the more radical International Style.
According to Henry C. Matthews in his book, Kirtland Cutter, Architect in the Land of Promise , Cutter found personal happiness in his second marriage with Katharine Williams. He also reconnected with his adult son Corbin from his estranged first wife, Mary. But the conditions of Mary’s will may have discouraged contact with future grandchildren. The identities of Cutter and his wife Katharine were kept a secret when their grandson visited them. The child only knew them as a friendly older couple.
After Katharine’s death in 1933, Cutter turned to nature and built an aviary in his apartment. One visitor wrote that he had around 60 birds flying around, perched on his hair, shoulders and papers. Devoted to nature and architecture, he served as a mentor to others until his death at age 79 in 1939.
Today we have moved quite far from the Cutter aesthetic. Someone decided that modern boxes plunked onto lots was the new ideal in architecture. It may be a more economical approach but, in my opinion, our modern cities are losing the soul and character that Cutter brought into his world. Perhaps future architects and city planners will allow for more beauty, elegance and a little romance to amaze us once again.
Credits: Spokane & the Inland Empire, An Interior Pacific Northwest Anthology, edited by David H. Stratton, Washington State University Press; Kirtland Cutter, Architect in the Land of Promise, Henry C. Matthews; Spokane’s Legendary Davenport Hotel, Tony Bamonte and Suzanne Schaeffer Bamonte; The Stimson Legacy, Architecture in the Urban West, Lawrence Kreisman; and The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Pacific Northwest, Lawrence Kreisman and Glenn Mason.
Cutter personal residence, Spokane.
Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture/Eastern Washington State Historical Society, Spokane, Washington, L87-1.43548-30, Charles Libby photographer.
Pacific Hotel, Spokane, 1888.
Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture/Eastern Washington State Historical Society, Spokane, Washington.
Pacific Hotel after the Great Fire of 1889, Spokane.
Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture/Eastern Washington State Historical Society.
Patrick Clark house, built in 1889.
Photos courtesy of Eric Tucker, John L. Scott Realty, Spokane.
Fairmount Cemetery Chapel, Spokane, 2012.
Photographer Leanne Olson, All rights reserved.
Lake McDonald Lodge, Glacier Park, Montana, 2019.
Photograph by the author.
Davenport Hotel/Restaurant, Spokane, 1939.
Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture/Eastern Washington State Historical Society, Spokane, Washington, L87-1.16145A-39, Charles Libby photographer.
Davenport Hotel Hall of Doges, Spokane, 2020.
Photographer Fred Williams.
Davenport Hotel Lobby, Spokane, 2020.
Photographer Fred Williams.
Stimson Green Mansion, Seattle.
Photograph courtesy Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.
Stimson Green Mansion, Seattle, 2019.
Photograph by the author.
Peeples Capitol Hill House, Seattle, 2020.
Photos courtesy of Bennion Deville Home, photographer Matthew Gallant.
Kirtland Cutter photograph.
Northwest Museum of Arts &
Culture/Eastern Washington State Historical Society,
Spokane, Washington, L85-174.5.