Patterns of Change: Reading the history of Queen Anne schools

West Queen Anne School
West Queen Anne School

Local historians focus on individual achievements, buildings or events while often ignoring patterns of change or the relationship of those patterns to international and regional circumstances.  Interestingly, an overview of public school history in our neighborhood reveals some of those patterns.

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Five Corners Hardware – 305 W McGraw St

Five Corners Hardware, 2015
Five Corners Hardware, June 27, 2015

75 Years & Going Strong!

Five Corners Hardware, Marilyn Monroe, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition and your author all share a June 1 ‘birthday.’  The hardware store celebrated a 75th birthday in 2015with cake and special sales. Open every day of the week at the five corners of Third West, W. McGraw and W. McGraw Place, Five Corners Hardware is surely one of few Seattle businesses still operated by the same family.

The Queen Anne Historical Society’s book Queen Anne: Community on the Hill erroneously notes (p. 163) that “Uncle Sam, Jr.” began business here with a $500 in insurance money.  According to family lore, Sam collected only $200 for losing a finger in an on-the-job accident during an epileptic seizure when he lost control of his saw.  It turns out Sam’s employer was his dad, building contractor Samuel F. Jensen, Sr.  It must have been workers‘ compensation that paid the money, but it was enough to go into business at the five corners.  Queen Anne: Community on the Hill makes no mention of Sam’s epilepsy, the saw, or his finger.  It also got the meager sum wrong.  With the slowdown of the construction business during World War II, Sam, Sr. went to work with his son.  After the war, Sam Jr.’s brother John became the third person in the family working at the store.  Another son, Gordon, never worked there, but he did own the building.  Gordon was a driver for bakeries and later became a leader in the local Teamsters union.  It is important to the story of this family business that Samuel F. Jensen, Sr., the patriarch and his wife Marie had five children:  three sons (Sam, John, and Gordon whom we’ve already noted) and two daughters, Violet and Mary Ellen.

One night towards the end of the World War II, probably in 1945, one of the Jensen sons invited his buddy Jim Forkey home for dinner with the family.  Jim and the Jensen boy were stationed together at Fort Lewis.  Forkey was a Spokane native who had trained at the Art Institute in Chicago.  As a newsletter posted in the store recounts, after dinner on that fated day Jim espied Violet Jensen.  They married in 1946 and eventually had two daughters, Janice and Jean.  In 1961, Jim bought the store and ran it until his retirement on June 1, 1985, the 35th anniversary of the store’s opening.   On that day, Violet and Jim’s daughter Jean Forkey Shook bought the business from her father.  A bit later in 1987, Jean inherited the building from her Uncle Gordon.

Jean ran the day-to-day business until 2005 while her husband Larry Shook, who never set foot in the door, managed the finances.  In 2005, Jean passed ownership to her son Brian who is in charge today.

When the building first went up in 1910 and as late as 1940 when the store first opened, it sported a brick veneer over a wooden frame.  In 1983, vinyl siding hid the building’s brick veneer, and aluminum windows replaced the historic wooden windows.  (The City issued a permit for the work on September 9, 1983 and a Certificate of Occupancy later that year.)  Not unlike many Seattle two-story commercial buildings of the time, the ground floor retail space wraps around a central single-run staircase that reaches up from the street to service four second-story apartments.  When the building was constructed, there was a store on both sides of the stair.

In 1940 Samuel F. Jensen Jr. bought the building from Stella E. Herren and Joseph A. Meyer, who operated two separate stores there.   According to the 1940 Polk’s Seattle City Directory (p. 541), the Five Corners Grocery occupied 301 W. McGraw while the Five Corners Paint Store filled the space on the west side of the stairs at 305.  The next time you pay for your spackle, paint, light bulbs or garden supplies look up.  You’ll see the beam that replaced the dividing wall between the two shops.

From Macrina to Top Pot Doughnuts or the old post office just east of the alley on Boston, there are one- and two-story buildings just like Five Corners Hardware all along the ring of streetcar tracks that once encircled the top of the hill.   In fact, the #3 line that now terminates at Rodgers Park on W. Raye used to run in front of the hardware store, turned north on W. McGraw Place, and end at the Mount Pleasant Cemetery.   When Seattle Transit took over the streetcar lines in 1940 and replaced them with electric trolleys, they changed the route numbers, extended the #2 to the cemetery, and terminated the #3 at the park.  Fortunately for the store’s well-being, it remains on the routes of the #13 and the #29.

The survival of the Five Corners Hardware store is quite amazing in this age of Lowe’s and Home Depot.  It proves that DIY is deeply ingrained in the blood of Queen Anne homeowners and that the store meets a really important community need.   Thelma Wilkes, a post-World War II Queen Anne Park resident, reports that she and her husband Vince had an account at Five Corners Hardware and bought much of the building material there for the house they built in 1950.  Like many early- and mid-20th century Queen Anne residents, the Wilkeses were a working-class couple.  Vince was a driver for Seattle Transit/Metro, and Thelma worked as an office manager.  Thelma lived in the house until 2010 when she sold it and moved to a retirement community.

The memory of two top-of-the-hill hardware stores by old-time residents of Queen Anne such as 75-year-old John Gessner, who grew up on Newton St. and graduated from Queen Anne High School, proves that the neighborhood’s love of just stepping out for a nut, a bolt or utility knife goes deep.  Much as we miss not having two hardware stores on Queen Anne, the Five Corners Hardware store probably does as much as any other local business to win the neighborhood’s outstanding 89 out of 100 walkability score.

The Queen Anne Historical Society wishes Five Corners Hardware a very Happy 75th Birthday and many happy returns!

Sources: Interview with Mary Ellen Seim, Sam Jensen, Jr.’s sole surviving sibling and his niece Jean Shook on April 27, 2015; & John Gessner interview on April 24, 2015

Polson House: All in the (almost one) Family

Perry and Kate Polson’s house at 103 Highland Drive is simply exceptional.  The Polsons and their descendants owned and occupied the house that hovers high over Highland Drive’s intersection with First Avenue North from 1908 to 2004.  In those 96 years, the family loved the house, and however they altered it, they never jeopardized the views to the city, Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains. Consequently, they left us one of the best preserved residences in the city whose new owners, Rosemary and Ken Willman, have done a major and meticulous restoration since buying the house in 2011.

It is rare to have a building stay practically unaltered and almost forever in the hands of the same family.  The Stimson-Green Mansion at Seneca and Minor on Capitol Hill is similarly untouched.  It changed hands only three times.  Joshua and Laura Green, its third owners, lived there from 1915 to 1975, totally disinterested in making any improvements, while the fourth one was the caring granddaughter of the first.  There is a sweet coincidence between the Polson and Stimson-Green houses, since the Polsons bought their plot of land in 1906 from the Stimson Land Company.  The nearly intact preservation of these two houses makes one wonder how many other Queen Anne residences remain in the family that built or first owned them.

Perry Polson’s father Olaf came from Sweden in 1868, settling in Iowa before coming to Whatcom County.  He became a prominent farmer in La Conner and his two sons, Perry and John, established a hardware store there.  He moved to Seattle in 1893.  During 1897-98, he sold picks, shovels, and other equipment to gold miners headed up to the Klondike as well as selling farm equipment.  His name is associated with the Polson Building on Western Avenue and Columbia Street.  Perry Polson’s (1854-1923) story is quintessential Seattle: Swedish background, started his own businesses:  Polson Implement Company, the Polson Logging Company and the Polson Realty Company and made a subsequent fortune that sustained at least three future generations.  Only the Nordstroms parlayed their Gold Rush money better, for we never hear much about the descendants of Andrew and Joseph Chilberg,  Perry’s Iowa pals with whom he founded the Scandinavian-American Bank and led the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, our first world’s fair.

Following her father’s death in 1870, Kate Hinckley Polson (1858-1933) moved to Seattle from Shasta City, California when her mother married her uncle.  Kate was 21 when she married Perry and bore four children, Minnie, Helen, Olaf and Harold.  Harold’s grandson, Robert Polson Kummer, sold the house in 2004.

The house was constructed in 1904–1906.  The city-wide historic resources survey of the 1970’s attributed the design to Kerr and Rogers, although it also been attributed by the Polson family to being designed by Josenhans and Allan.  The house has seen few changes.  An adjacent concrete garage, designed by prominent architects Saunders and Lawton, was added in 1913.

The house is prominently sited at a high point above Highland Drive.  It sits on approximately 1/3 acre and because of its elevation, has unobstructed views of Elliott Bay and downtown Seattle.  It is set back from the street with a driveway in front; the garage is at the northeast corner of the lot.  The house has a side-gable form with complex massing, including a projecting hip-roofed bay on the front, a gabled rear wing and a turret on the south (rear) elevation.

Inside and out, the house reflects the transition from Victorian to Craftsman design.  The turret on the southwest corner repeats a feature of the Queen Anne style that nearly every large house on the hill sported up until that time.  By 1908, the turret was definitely an anachronism, but its three stories of curved double-hung windows captured the phenomenal southern and western views.  The Moorish pointed arches of the wrap-around porch and the Arts and Crafts influence in the carvings on the white oak newel posts add to the assortment of styles used by architects Timotheus Josenhans (1853-1929) and Norris Allan (1867-1932).  Even the gable ends are stylistically different from one another with the flush ‘timbering’ of the west gable contrasting with the stick style of the north and south gables.  The combination of a basement with concrete scored to resemble brick, a first story clad in brick and upper story shingles set off by light colored wood trim create a picturesque ensemble.

The Polson house contains approximately 5,400 sq. ft. of interior living area: 2,000 on the first floor, 2,280 on the second floor, and 1,120 in the attic.  The basement has an additional 1,750 sq. ft.  The elaborate interior, including carved wood, painted ceilings and extensive hardware, is intact. Its elevator, installed in 1906, may be the first in a Seattle residence.  The foyer and the principal entertaining rooms on the main floor are finished in white oak, with particularly fine box beams in the dining room.  Canvas hung ceilings were decorated by painter Franz Zallinger who later worked for B. Marcus Priteca in the decoration of the Pantages Theater and Coliseum Theater.  They range from traditional English and French florals in the drawing room and heraldry in the library to Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts borders and trim in rear parlor, dining room, and stair hall.

The interior of the house is cleverly divided east and west between more formal family spaces on the western side with those fantastic views and servant or guest spaces on the eastern side.  The formal side of first floor is separated by pocket doors into four equal spaces: entry hall and stair, parlor, dining room and library.  The fireplace in the parlor is distinguished by beautiful tiles hand-crafted in Pasadena by Ernest Batchelder, while a projecting curved bay is the most prominent feature of the library.  The ceilings of all the formal spaces on the first floor are intact, with original lighting fixtures and hand-painted or stenciled ornament in realistic floral and conventionalized Arts and Crafts designs. The dining room is unusually well preserved with a clever warming oven topping the steam heated radiator.  The less formal portion of the first floor includes the kitchen and a south-facing office or den that now forms a breakfast room integrated into the recently updated kitchen.

Upstairs the same west/east division prevails.  On the west side, four bedrooms belonged to the owning family while on the east end a bedroom and bath may have been set aside for guests or the servants who kept up the 8,000 square foot house.  The master suite faces the great western view and has absorbed the sleeping porch and the northwest bedroom, now a bathroom and closet. In the northwest corner of the house a coat closet on the first floor and the master suite shower room on the second eventually concealed what may have been Seattle’s first residential elevator.  Kate Perry needed it as a result of rheumatoid arthritis that confined her to a wheelchair.

The top floor has seen many uses. The east end holds a servant’s bedroom and bath while the rest of the space may have been divided at different times into sleeping spaces or even a living room for some of Perry and Kate’s grandchildren.  Photographs taken in June 1943 at Laura Polson and Lt. George Scholfield’s wedding reception show the open space as it is today. The basement lay undisturbed until 2004 when the second owner finished it into an apartment with city views.

Marvin Anderson Architects oversaw Rosemary and Ken Willman’s recent renovation and restoration of the house. We are lucky to have such an untouched jewel preserved at an incredibly prominent spot in our neighborhood.

1920's Intercom
1920’s Intercom

The home’s detailing is primarily Craftsman, although the turret shows a Queen Anne influence. Cladding is brick on the first floor with shingles above. The roof has deep open eaves and brackets. The entry porch on the north has a shallow gabled roof supported by square posts. To the east is a three-sided bay, with a 16-over-one sash in the center, with leaded beveled glass. Above the entry is a striking tripartite window with stained glass. Other windows are predominantly one-over-one double hung sash, with some arched windows with transoms. The decorative gabled dormer on the front has four small casement windows, stickwork in the gable end and flared bargeboards. Above the entry is a section with dentils and pairs of decorative brackets. A veranda with round Tuscan columns extends along the west and south elevations. The south elevation has a gabled wing with a gable over the porch, three large arched transomed windows on the second floor and four one-over-one windows in the gable end. The conical turret at the southeast corner rises two floors up from the first floor base; it has five-over-one windows on each floor. The east elevation has a gabled dormer with four one-over-one windows, stickwork and flared bargeboards; below is a lattice porch and a secondary entry.

Sources: The Polson Residence, City of Seattle Historic Site Survey and The Polson House:  A History  by Marvin Anderson and Megan Meulemans published by Marvin Anderson Architects, PLLC.

For Further Reading

View a November 2003 article in The Seattle Times about the Polson family seeking a new owner who will value its historical significance.