While strolling by the Willcox Walls, enjoying the dramatic views of Puget Sound, the Olympics, and boat traffic, have you ever wondered about the history of this iconic Queen Anne landmark?
The Willcox Walls are the retaining walls made of reinforced concrete and decorative brick that run along Eighth Place West and Eighth Avenue West. They begin at Marshall Viewpoint, at the intersection of West Highland Drive, Seventh Avenue West, and Eighth Place West. A second section of the Willcox Walls is located along Seventh Avenue West. The walls separate the upper and lower portions of Seventh and Eighth avenues.
Construction of the Willcox Walls began in 1913, and they substantially completed that year with plants and other final touches along both sides of the street finished by January 1916. The Walls have withstood earthquakes, flooding, and other forces of nature, and still stand, adding beauty to Queen Anne Boulevard.
The Willcox Walls, including the design of their ornamental balustrades, lighting, and public stairways, are the work of Walter Ross Baume (W.R.B.) Willcox. Willcox was born in Burlington, Vermont, and studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Pennsylvania, and Drexel University. He worked in Vermont and elsewhere in the East before moving to Seattle in 1907. He was personally acquainted with Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, and their philosophies influenced his designs and thinking. At his office in Seattle, he worked on more than 60 projects, including the design of the Firm Michel Beef Corporation Casino at the Alaska Yukon-Pacific Exposition (no longer standing) and the design of the Arboretum Aqueduct. In 1910, he was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, one of the first architects in Washington State to achieve this distinction. He left Seattle in 1922 to become head of the architecture curriculum in the School of Architecture and Allied Arts at the University of Oregon. He remained in Eugene, Oregon until his death in 1947.
The Arboretum Aqueduct in Washington Park, designed by Willcox in 1911, is also made of reinforced concrete with decorative brickwork. “Seattle, Now & Then,” published by Paul Dorpat, called the Arboretum Aqueduct, “one sturdy bridge” when in 2008 it took a direct hit from a bus traveling though its arch. While the top of the bus, which was almost three feet taller than the 9-foot high arch, was sheered off, the arch itself was barely chipped.
The Willcox Walls were designated a City Landmark in 1976, recognized for their structural detail, brick work, exterior appearance, and lighting fixtures.
In 1989, after nearby residents complained of deterioration and damaged and missing light fixtures, the city began renovations and repairs to the Eighth West section of the Walls. The cost of repairs was funded by a Parks levy approved by Seattle voters. The work included replacing missing, broken, or cracked bricks; removing rust from reinforcing bar; patching mortar; and replicating the more than 60 light standards along the Walls. Cast aluminum reproductions were made matching as closely as possible, the original design, ornamentation, and detail. Unfortunately, the original light green color was no longer available, and the replicas are dark green.
The Willcox Walls are a treasured Queen Anne landmark. With this architectural gem, W.R.B. Willcox left a legacy that we can enjoy for years to come.
For Further Reading
Find out more about the Willcox Walls at HistoryLink.org.