Seattle Now & Then: The Old Colony Apartments

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: First Hill’s distinguished Old Colony Apartments at 615 Boren Avenue, 1910.
THEN: First Hill’s distinguished Old Colony Apartments at 615 Boren Avenue, 1910.
NOW: After an 1990s restoration the Old Colony was made “like new.”
NOW: After an 1990s restoration the Old Colony was made “like new.”
As it was used in the Times for Jan 2, 1910.
As it was used in the Times for Jan 2, 1910.  Photo-reproduction on uncoated pulp was thenstill splotchy.

When new in 1910, the Old Colony Apartments on First Hill at Boren and Cherry were touted in a Times classified as the “finest apartments in Seattle.”  They were certainly the dearest.  Of the 100-plus flats, apartments, cottages, and houses then listed by the agent John Davis, the $75 monthly rent for one of the Old Colony’s twenty-five 5-room apartments was tops.  Inside, at 9&1/2 feet high the coved ceilings were also hovering.

A Times classified for Old Colony on Feb. 13, 1910
A Times classified for Old Colony on Feb. 13, 1910

From The Times classifieds for Sept. 12, 1909.

Seattle Times, Oct. 3, 1909

The view above of the Old Colony across Boren Ave. appeared in The Times for Jan. 2, 1910.  It is described there as “handsome” and one month later in another classified as “the ideal home for those who know and appreciate the best.”  A look into an elegantly appointed Old Colony apartment is printed on page 122 of Diana James book Shared Walls, the history of Seattle Apartment Houses that Jean and I both admire and lean on.  By now we have made note of it three times or four in this column.

Hallway in the Old Colony
Hallway in the Old Colony

Preservationist James notes that Frank B. Allen, the Old Colony’s architect, was inordinately busy. Described as “the man behind the fair,” his firm was in charge of the “grouping and construction of the temporary buildings” at the 1909 Alaska Yukon & Pacific Exposition on the UW Campus.  Perhaps in that administrative work the Architect first met the gregarious celebrity-politician, William Rupert Forrest.  A former city auditor, city clerk and state senator, Forrest served as “special ambassador for the AYP to European countries.

William Rupert and Amelia Forrest are the first tenants of the Old Colony to make it on to the Times Society Page with Amelia’s hosting luncheons and formal dinners in their stately apartment.  However, the couple’s life together at the Old Colony lasted little more than a year.  William Rupert died of heart disease in their apartment on March 5, 1911.  His lengthy obituary in the Times was often as playful as he, making note, for instance, of his extraordinary penmanship, a skill hardly valued now.  Forrest could sign his name equally well with either hand, or using two pens with both hands at the same time – for the show of it.

[Click the Clipping below TWICE to Enlarge for Reading.]

The obituary for William Rupert Forest in The Seattle Times on March 6, 1911.
The obituary for William Rupert Forest in The Seattle Times on March 6, 1911.

1. Pacific-Aerial-First-Hill-Aug-11,-1950-fm-EdgeWEB

HIDE & SEEK:  The OLD COLONY may be found in both the aerial above, dated Aug. 11, 1950, and the one below, with a circa date about the same.   (Thanks to Ron Edge for sharing these.)

1. First-Hill-aerial-detail-ca.1950-web

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, Paul?
Yes Jean – more of the same, nearly.   Five pictured links below of past features (some fairly recent ones) begin with a link to local sculpture with many examples, most of them photographed by Frank Shaw.  Following that are four links that cover the First Hill neighborhood principally or apartment living.  Following the links we will continue with a few more appropriate features. Again and again we treat these postings something like musical scoring, that is, we don’t mind repeating some motifs in different contexts.

tsutakawa-1967-then

THEN:

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Two views from 1937 and 1941 show big changes to the home at 609Boren.  At the time asphalt siding was popular, a modern cosmetic. [Courtesy, Washington State Archive]
Two views from 1937 and 1941 show big changes to the home at 609Boren. At the time asphalt siding was popular, a modern cosmetic. [Courtesy, Washington State Archive]
The old First Hill residence was razed in the late 1960s for a parking lot.  The Old Colony Apartments at the southwest corner of Boren and Cherry survive on the right. [Jean Sherrard]
The old First Hill residence was razed in the late 1960s for a parking lot. Next door the Old Colony Apartments at the southwest corner of Boren and Cherry endure. [Jean Sherrard] 

WAR BRICK ON BOREN 

            Sometime between King County’s tax photographer visiting the modest Victorian at 609 Boren in 1937, and the second tax photo of the same home recorded in 1947, a siding salesman (sometimes in blue suede shoes) succeeded again in wrapping a depression-time home in “insulbrick” or Sears “Honor Built Brick Roll- Type Siding.”

            Faux brick was the “aluminum siding” of the 1930s and continued to be sold in the 1950s especially in lower income neighborhoods crowded with modest workers homes whose strapped owners could not keep up with the demands of their fragile late Victorian clapboards.

            The home at 609 Boren was built in 1895 on a brick foundation.  In 1938 it was still a single frame residence for a Mrs. Augusta Sundell.  By 1947 it had been converted into a rooming house, the Mary Ellen Annex Apartment.  Probably the extreme housing shortage of the Second World War had something to do with the change.  And the asphalt siding helped make it possible.  Promising “no maintenance” it was a relatively cheap camouflage for the “home front.”  Appropriately, it was then popularly called “War brick.”

            Is it sobering to reflect that there was then a kind of siding hysteria for this imitation brick, and that, perhaps, the owner of the Mary Ellen Annex would sometimes stand at the sidewalk and compare the apartment with satisfaction to the “other brick” here on Boren, the Old Colony Apartments, next door to the south.

2. Gowey-Q.A.-Now-then-Unident-THEN-WEB-500x355

Above and below: another example of war brick at work, this one on

Lower Queen Anne. The repeat below was recorded by Queen Anne historian

Lawton Gowey.

2. GOWEY-Q.A.-now-then-unident-NOW-WEB-500x357

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3. ASSAY-office-detailweb

ASSAY OFFICE

(First appeared in Pacific, 2006)

If I have counted correctly there are here nineteen men posing before the U.S. Assay Office.   Most likely they are all federal employees.  Those in aprons had the direct and semi-sacred duty of testing the gold and silver brought then to this First Hill address from all directions.   Of course, in 1898 the year the office opened, most of it came across the waterfront.

3. Assay-Office-Then-WEB

3. Assay-Office-THEN-BW-1Bnow

After the Yukon-Alaska gold rush erupted in the summer of 1897 Seattle quickly established itself as the “outfitter” of choice.  Most of the “traveling men” bought their gear here before heading north aboard one or another vessel in the flotilla of steamers that went back and forth between Seattle and Alaska.  The importance of the Assay Office was to make sure that when the few of these “latter-day Argonauts” who returned actually burdened with gold that they would be able to readily convert it to cash here in Seattle, for by far the biggest purchaser of these minerals was the U.S. Treasury.

Frank Shaw's snap of the old Assay office on 9th  north of James.
Frank Shaw’s snap of the old Assay office on 9th north of James.
I took this from Ron Edge's car window on a recent visit with Rich Berner at his home nearby - also on 9th - in Skyline.  I did not have Shaw's earlier (above) shot either in hand or in mind.
I took this from Ron Edge’s car window on a recent visit with Rich Berner at his home nearby – also on 9th – in Skyline. I did not have Shaw’s earlier (above) shot either in hand or in mind.

In the competition with its northwest neighbors, by 1898 Seattle was getting pretty much anything it wanted it and so it also got this office and these “alchemists.”  Still the anxious Seattle lobby worked especially hard on this for locals understood that having the assayers here considerably improved the chances that the lucky few might well spend their winnings here as well.

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Doctor/Mayor T. T. Minor
Doctor/Mayor T. T. Minor

4.Minor-Mansion-det.WEB

MINOR ON MINOR

(First appeared in Pacific on May 21, 1989)

            Thomas T. Minor has a Seattle street named for him principally because he lived on it for such a short time. Thomas and his wife Sallie built their sturdy big home in the mid-1880s at the northeast corner of 12th Avenue and Cherry Street.  The mansion was designed in a style that seems (to me) a mix of Italianate and Gothic styles then used with considerable flair by carpenters with a knack for ornament.  Since there was a yet no central heating, all of the principal rooms had fireplaces.  The Minors’ color choices for their home were dark green with a red trim.

Minor/Collins home facing Minor Avenue at its northeast corner with Cherry Street.
Minor/Collins home facing Minor Avenue at its northeast corner with Cherry Street.
Thanks to Google Earth for this street repeat.
Thanks to Google Earth for this street repeat.
A page from the early-20th Century Beaux-Arts book on Seattle's then "finer homes"
A page from the early-20th Century Beau-Arts book on Seattle’s then “finer homes”

            Twice the mayor of Port Townsend, T.T. Minor was favored as an orator, and was honored with that assignment at Seattle’s 1882 Independence Day ceremony.  The following year the family moved to Seattle, and four years later the eloquent Minor became the town’s mayor.

            Minor was introduced to the Northwest in 1868 as a member of the Smithsonian expedition exploring the newly acquired Alaska for zoological and anthropological specimens. He soon returned to Port Townsend and quickly built a flourishing practice and fortune.

Looking across James Street and north on Minor Ave with Col. Haller's Castlemount on the northeast corner.  One block north on Minor a chimney of the Minor/Collins home finds the horizon.
Looking across James Street and north on Minor Ave with Col. Haller’s Castlemount on the northeast corner. One block north on Minor a chimney of the Minor/Collins home finds the horizon.

            His success came to a tragic end with an accident on a hunting trip in 1889 with two friends to Whidbey Island. They all drowned.  12th Avenue was renamed Minor.  Sallie and their two daughters, however, soon moved, and John Collins and his family moved in.  Collins had been Seattle’s mayor in 1873-74.

            The shrewd Collins was the equal of Minor in enterprise.  He came to Seattle from Port Gamble in 1868, purchased part interest in the then nearly new Occidental Hotel, the town’s best hostelry, and soon owned all of it.  The Collins family home at the southeast corner of James and Second was destroyed in the city’s “great fire” of 1889.  Collins lived in the Minor mansion until his death in 1903. 

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5.-GAINSBorough-Apts-THEN-web-500x643

5.-Gainsborough-Apt-NOW-web-500x599

The GAINSBOROUGH

(First appeared in Pacific June 22,  2008)

Built for class the high-rise apartment at 1017 Minor Avenue on First Hill was named after the English King George III’s favorite painter, Thomas Gainsborough.  As a witness to the place’s status, Colin Radford, president of the Gainsborough Investment Co. that built it, was also the new apartments’ first live-in manager. And the apartments were large, four to a floor, fifty in all including Radford’s (if I have counted correctly). What the developer-manager could not see coming when his distinguished apartment house was being built and taking applications was the “Great Depression.”

The Gainsborough was completed in 1930 a few months after the economic crash of late 1929.   This timing was almost commonplace and built on “works in progress” the building boom of the late 1920s continued well into the early 1930s.   The quality of these apartments meant that the Gainsborough’s affluent residents were not going to wind up in any 1930s  “alternative housing” like the shacks of “Hooverville” although the “up and in” residents in the new apartment’s highest floors could probably see some of those improvised homes “down and out” on the tideflats south of King Street.

Hooverville classic, looking north along the waterfront with the First Hill horizon, upper-right.
Hooverville classic, looking north along the waterfront with the First Hill horizon, upper-right.
The Hoge home in the Highlands.
The Hoge home “Sunnyscrest” in the Highlands.

Through its first 78 years the Gainsborough has been home to members of Seattle families whom might well have lived earlier in one of the many mansions on First Hill.  Two examples. Ethel Hoge moved from Sunnycrest, her home in the Highlands, to the Gainsborough after her husband, the banker James Doster Hoge died in 1929.  Before their marriage in 1894 Ethel lived with her parents on the hill near Terry and Marion.  Ten years ago the philanthropist-activist Patsy Collins summoned Walt Crowley and I to the Gainsborough.  After explaining to her our hopes for historylink.org she gave us the seed money to launch the site that year.   Patsy was instrumental in preserving the Stimson-Green mansion, also on Minor Avenue, a home that her grandparents, the C.D. Stimsons, built in 1900.

The Stimson-Green mansion at the northeast corner of Minor and Seneca.
The Stimson-Green mansion at the northeast corner of Minor and Seneca.
The three views above all look east on Cherry Street from First Avenue.  The top two variations on the "Cherry Street Canyon" circa 1912 after the construction of the Hoge Building at the northwest corner of Second and Cherry and on the left of both the top two view.  For a civic lesson in the growth of a Western American boomtown the top two are compared to the 1880 Snow scene at the bottom. (Yesler's pavilion is far-right, the city's most popular venue for public meetings and entertainment.) By the reckoning of the national census in 1880 Seattle, for the first year, shows a few more residents than were counted in Walla Walla.  Both were less the 4000.  By 1912, Seattle's population was well beyond 200 thousand.
The three views above all look east on Cherry Street from First Avenue. The top two are variations on the “Cherry Street Canyon” circa 1912 after the construction of the Hoge Building at the northwest corner of Second and Cherry on the left of both top two views. For a civic lesson in the growth of this Western American boom-town, the top two are compared to a scene from the 1880 Snow at the bottom. (Yesler’s pavilion is far-right, the city’s most popular venue then for public meetings and entertainment.) By the reckoning of the national census in 1880 Seattle, for the first time, showed a few more residents than were counted in Walla Walla. Both were less the 4000. By 1912, Seattle’s population was well beyond 200 thousand.

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: The Old Colony Apartments”

  1. My husband & I have owned and lived a unit in The Old Colony for the past 15 years, when we first walked into one of the flats it felt like a home but in an apartment building. Your article said 25 apartments were in the Old Colony, however currently there’s 32 units (8 units per floor). 7 out of the 8 units in the garden level have similar if not exact details as the 24 units above them, with the sole studio apartment in that level. The residents of Old Colony have speculated about the history of our building and wondered if the garden level flats were for maids, butlers or any type of “live in help”. We also have about 6-8 wonderful interior photographs of one of the units from the early 1900′s showing someone’s beautiful and eclectic interior decorating, if your interested in seeing these please contact me.

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