Our Sweet Queen Anne Cottages

“At First Avenue West and West Garfield Street, these Craftsman bungalows are of minor significance individually.  As a group, they provide a rhythm and consistency of scale.” Steinbrueck and Nyberg

No one understood better than Victor Steinbrueck and his colleague Folke Nyberg how much Seattle or Queen Anne’s historic working-class housing defined the city. The six identical working-class Craftsman bungalows they referred to in their 1975 poster still stand on West Garfield Street between the alley and First Ave. W. Four of them face north on Garfield; one sits on First Avenue W. while the sixth one backs up to it from the alley. As Steinbrueck and Nyberg suggest, the historic value of buildings often lies more in the urban patterns they create than in their individual distinctiveness.

The pattern Steinbrueck and Folke captured.

In 1975, Victor Steinbrueck embarked on a project with Folke Nyberg and Historic Seattle to identify and publish a series of ten posters inventorying Seattle’s outstanding historic buildings. Queen Anne was lucky to get one of them. In fact, the Queen Anne Historical Society and its volunteers, some of whom are still active today (6/2018), worked on the project. Completing their survey in the early days of the American historic preservation movement, Steinbrueck and Nyberg were hell bent on recognizing that along with the high style buildings often favored by the movement, the vernacular ones were those that really defined a neighborhood’s historic character. The poster authors understood profoundly how a sense of place can give meaning to a community like ours. As Historic Seattle notes on its website, “Each inventory includes photographs and brief descriptions of common building types, significant buildings, and urban design elements.”

Steinbrueck, an architect and University of Washington professor, had already secured an important place in Seattle’s architectural history as the primary designer of the Space Needle and as the leader of the movement to save the Pike Place Market. Steinbrueck especially valued creating and protecting public spaces. For him, the Space Needle’s importance lay as much in the sexy hour-glass figure he had imagined as in the incredible visual access it gave visitors to the mountains, lakes and sound that make our city such a wonderful place to live. Steinbrueck’s ironic white male fisherman on a totem pole looking out from the Pike Place Market to Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains in Steinbrueck Park (posthumously named for him) makes sure we never forget the importance of Seattle’s captured landscapes. In fact, Steinbrueck’s design (with landscape architect Richard Haag) of Betty Bowen Viewpoint (see https://qahistory.org/betty-bowen/) at the western end of Highland Drive repeats the captured landscape spirit right here on Queen Anne.

In the Queen Anne inventory, Steinbrueck and Nyberg noted that like many Seattle neighborhoods with great views, Queen Anne hosted many large houses for the very rich. They also took care to report a variety of buildings that characterized the different ethnic and economic groups that once lived here and acknowledged the many working-class structures that peppered Queen Anne between 1902 and our modern gentrification era.

From the street, the six cottages, which you can find just west of the Gilbert apartment building on Queen Anne Avenue, are amazingly intact. The one at 1548 First West has been altered, appearing now with a second story and vinyl siding, a sad feature it shares with its neighbor on the corner. Each cottage has a recessed porch. Each cottage had two bay windows, one on the street facing façade protected by a shed roof and one under the eaves on the side away from the porch. The remodeled ones have lost theirs.

Bay window Shed roof. Palladian order. Leaded glass in transom windows.

The street facing bays serve as the most prominent decorative features with a three-part Palladian window capped by transom windows of leaded glass. Alternating the plan from cottage to cottage as evidenced by the location of recessed porch protected tenant privacy. Wood shingles sheathed the first stories while the gable ends sported imitation beams dividing stucco panels spread on fir lathe.

In 1910, the 940 square foot cottages had five rooms and five fixtures: tub, toilet, basin, sink and a hot water tank. Initially heated by stoves, they were inside and out simple but functional modern places to which working class folks retreated after a hard day on the job. All six lookalike structures are of post and beam construction with apparently one concrete wall helping to hold them up. To be clear, that meant they stood directly on posts resting on the ground and that they had no concrete foundations. In 1910, it was common to build inexpensive houses like that. Seattle’s Side Sewer records indicate that all six were attached to the sewer on February 2, 1910. Owned by H.J. Collins, they were constructed by J. Johnson, the building’s contractor. As late as 1923, the six cottages remained in the ownership of the Collins family.

Steinbrueck and Nyberg never would have labeled the cottages as ‘Cheap,’ but that’s the way they are described on the 1937 King County Assessor records I consulted at the Puget Sound Regional Archives at Bellevue College. Truth to tell, they must have always appeared cheap. Certainly, Joseph B. O’Hearon who bought the one on the alley in February 1959 for $4,000 must have thought so. Today, the $12,000 price tag on the bungalow at 23 W. Garfield in 1963, strikes me as a bargain.

One of six identical houses at Garfield and 1st W.
The alley house at Garfield and 1st W.

In the end, calling these miraculously preserved buildings cheap may not be an insult. In fact, the adjective leads nicely to a deep appreciation of the “rhythm and consistency of scale” that made them important for Steinbrueck and Nyberg. It is also a good reason we would do well to protect and preserve them as a sweet reminder of simpler times when workers first took Counterbalance streetcars to the top of the hill.