When the Queen Anne High School was built, America was conflicted over the purpose of high school. Public education was seen as a possible cure for America’s social ills. Some believed there should be an emphasis on liberal arts, while others wanted to use the system to assimilate a surging immigration population, and another push was for vocational training.
In Queen Anne, the demand for a high school came from Seattle’s rapid population growth during the years following the Alaska Gold Rush. Between 1902 and 1910, Seattle’s total high school enrollment leapt from approximately 700 students to 4,500 students. Several elementary schools were constructed on Queen Anne Hill, and it was evident that a new high school would be needed.
James Stephen, the architect of Queen Anne High School, was hired by the Seattle’s Board of Education in 1901. Stephen prepared a first model school plan and the resulting schools were designed in wood frame and included the Summit School of 1904/5 and the John Hay School of 1905. A second model school plan, adopted in 1908, used fireproof materials, such as brick, terra cotta and cast stone. Adopted by the School District in 1908, the second model produced school buildings designed in Gothic Revival or late Jacobean styles. In 1908, Frederick Bennett Stephen, James Stephen’s son, returned to Seattle, after receiving a B.Arch. from the University of Pennsylvania. The architectural partnership of Stephen and Stephen was founded. The new firm widened its influence and designed schools all over Washington State. One of the most striking examples is the Everett High School, influenced by the Beaux Arts style and completed in 1910.
Construction of the Queen Anne High School began in 1908 and classes began the following autumn with 613 students and 33 teachers. Originally the school was named Jefferson High School but the local community protested to the Seattle School Board, and the school was renamed Queen Anne High School.
School board President John Schram remarked that students would receive a “higher sense of self-respect if the building and its surroundings and equipment command their admiration.” Therefore, the new high school was designed in a classic style reminiscent of English late-Renaissance palaces, complete with terra cotta ornamentation. The design of the school intentionally celebrated education by creating a grand and imposing environment. The new high school included laboratories and rooms for manual training and domestic science. “Surely there is no school in the United States that has such a breathtaking setting…The marvelous building on top of the hill became an architectural landmark visible throughout the city.”
A School Board Report claimed this Neo-classical building, situated atop the crest of Queen Anne Hill, “marked the summit of achievement thus far in Seattle school architecture.” Edgar Blair, a school board member and later the School District architect, noted “it is the most modern and costly building in Seattle…. [Providing] spacious corridors, ample exits, abundant light and fresh air . . . and toilet facilities on every floor.”
In 1928, with rising enrollment and overcrowding, construction was launched to expand the facility with 10 additional classrooms, a boys’ gymnasium, a botany laboratory and greenhouse, and an auditorium. The addition carried on the structure and ornamentation of the original building. The new auditorium was considered the finest in Seattle’s schools.
During World War II the priority of a high school education changed, “[t]here was a whole group taking extra classes so we could graduate early and join the service,” a graduate explained. Queen Anne’s enrollment dropped from 1,872 in 1942-43 to 1,426 the following year. To take advantage of the extra space, in September 1943 an 8th grade center was established to relieve overcrowding in Lawton and Magnolia schools.
After World War II, a second major addition was needed. A 1955 addition included an Industrial Arts Building and connected to the 1929 addition by a breezeway. A freestanding cafeteria and music building was also built. Using funds that were raised for student activities, a pipe organ from a theater in Everett was relocated to the existing auditorium. In 1958, a new athletic field named after Otto L. Luther was built across the street to the north, taking the place of the old Grizzly Inn, which closed in 1954.
In 1961, a new 2,200-seat gymnasium was constructed on 2nd Ave, on the site of the old Beanery. The Beanery had provided students with penny candy, popsicles, pencils, paper, and hamburgers.
Beginning in the early 1960s, the school was known as Queen Anne Junior-Senior High School, and enrollment reached 2,850 students in grades 7-12. Younger students left the school with the opening of nearby McClure Junior High in September 1964.
With only 850 students in 1980-81, the decision was made to close the school at the end of the school year. Declining enrollment and the deteriorating condition of the building were the reasons given for the closure. Despite protests from some students and staff, the closure proceeded and the students were transferred to Franklin, along with the historic pipe organ.
In 1984, the Seattle School District in cooperation with Historic Seattle Preservation and Development Authority, chose a local development company to lease the site and convert it for residential use while preserving its historic character. Classroom space was transformed into 139 apartments. Lorig Associates was the developer and Historic Seattle provided some financial assistance. The project also used the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program to unlock $1.6 million in tax credits.
During the adaptive reuse process, the building was designated a Seattle Landmark and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
During the renovation, the boiler room was adapted into a party room. The 1929 auditorium-gymnasium was demolished to create a circular driveway and entrance. Much of the interior of the building was altered. But some features, such as the Galer Street entrance, the tall windows, and blackboards survived.
Excluded from the reuse and lease was the playing field. Luther Athletic Field became the site for John Hay, which opened in 1989.
In 2006, Legacy Partners converted the apartments to high-end condos. The project architect, Johnson Architecture & Planning of Seattle, worked with the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board to obtain approval for any changes and renovations to the building’s exterior. Susan Upton was the project lead. The masonry was restored, the terra-cotta was repaired, and the exterior was cleaned. During the condo conversion, Legacy Partners clad a 1980’s addition with light-gray brick.