Queen Anne Yesterday & Today

Looking west: W. Olympic Place, May 4, 1903. Seattle Municipal Archives: Item#172604 

This historic view along West Olympic Place at 7th Avenue West was captured on May 4, 1903 during field work for a city-commissioned parks report by John Charles Olmsted (1852-1920) who, with his brother Frederick Jr. (1870-1957), was a partner in the office founded by their father, famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903).  This was the first of several visits by Olmsted, whose recommendations served as a blueprint for Seattle’s parks-and-boulevard system maintenance and expansion in the early 20th century.  Olmsted’s impression of the park was largely positive, recommending minor improvements.  But some vocal Queen Anne women would force the plans for Olympic Place to be scaled back a bit — 18 inches, to be exact.

The split-rail fence on the left of the 1903 image marked the upper edge of 14-acre Kinnear Park, one of Seattle’s earliest public parks.  Across the street from the park, Olympic Place was lined with stately mansions, including the home of Dr. Frederick A. Churchill (1856-1937) and his family, whose 1889 home at 608 W Olympic Place was among the first constructed on Queen Anne.  Dr. Churchill called himself the “Father of Kinnear Park” in a 1936 Seattle Daily Times interview, saying that he urged George Kinnear to donate the land for the park and then pushed the city to fund its development.

In 1906, the Olmsted Brothers were again engaged to design the grounds for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYP), and the city was moving quickly to implement their previously recommended boulevard improvements ahead of the exposition, including at Olympic Place.   Meanwhile, developers constructed luxury apartments near streetcar lines through the city to be used as hotels during the AYP.  These apartments  included the Chelsea Apartments at 620 West Olympic Place and The Kinnear at 905 West Olympic Place, both built in 1907.

Per plans drawn up by the Olmsted Brothers, the grade of Olympic Place in front of the park was to be lowered as much as eight feet, necessitating a concrete retaining wall that was proposed to rise four-and one-half feet along the roadway.  The wall proposal proved problematic to the residents of homes in the vicinity of the park, including Dr. and Mrs. Churchill.

Olmsted Brothers Section drawing of proposed boundary wall, dated March 22, 1909. Seattle Municipal Archives. Archives:#2372

On April 28, 1909, The Seattle Daily Times reported that 40 women led by Mrs. Churchill “besieged” the Park Board superintendent when he arrived to oversee construction of the wall, which they felt would destroy the scenic beauty of the entire street. Their protest immediately halted construction while the Board of Park commissioners considered their demands for a gentle sloping of the park property from the street rather than a wall.  On May 4, 1909, six years to the day from when the historic image was taken, The Seattle Daily Times reported that in response to “strenuous objections” the Park Board compromised that the wall will be no more than three feet high.  This concession satisfied the protesters, and the work was completed in time for the June 1st opening of the AYP — but perhaps more importantly for the Churchills, it was done in time for their niece’s wedding, which took place at their home on May 31, 1909.

The construction of the Chelsea and The Kinnear Apartments marked an early shift toward the multi-family housing that continued throughout the 20th century and that characterizes West Olympic Place today.  As for the Churchill’s house, Dr. Churchill lived there until his death in 1937; it was torn down in the 1950s for construction of the Skyline House apartments (1956).

W. Olympic Place. May 2021. Photo: Maureen Elenga

Reference:  Dorpat & Sherrard, The Seattle Times 6/21/2014:  Seattle Now & Then:  Kinnear Park