Seattle Now & Then: Gothic Row on Western

(click on photos to enlarge)

THEN: This row of Victorian homes on Western Avenue did not make it to the 1937 inventory of King County's taxable structures. They were, for some unrecorded reason, destroyed earlier.
NOW: The Battery Street subway extension of the Alaskan Way Viaduct opened July 24, 1954, a little more than one year after the viaduct above the waterfront first accepted traffic in the spring of 1953. Here, the access to the tunnel cuts through the block that once held the Belltown Victorians.

Victorian row houses like these were once wonderfully commonplace in San Francisco, but not so much here. Our few examples have nearly all been destroyed, even the beauties among them like these.

I know practically nothing about this Belltown row, but I would venture that it was constructed either in the early or late 1890s, prosperous years for a booming town that was being steadily enlarged by new residents. (Since writing the above Ron Edge has reminded me to search the 1891 birdseye.  I did and the row is shown.  In place of the line “constructed either in the early or late 1890s,” imagine that I had done my research and written “constructed around 1890.” A relevant detail from the ’91 birdseye in included in the “extras” below, as well as other maps.)

The print I copied has “Western” penciled on the back, and an early-20th-century pan of Belltown shows this row sitting snugly just downhill and west of its principal business block — on First Avenue between Bell and Battery streets — facing Western Avenue.  (I have momentarily lost track of the pan just noted or I would have put it up.  Later.)

Who lived in any of these six ornate flats, beneath their blooming finials, and with their scrolling corbels, box bays, carved panels and playful latticework? I don’t know. (See the comment from Cathy Wickwire who found by searching the newly released Seattle Times database several sitations for the address nailed to this row.) I have a 1903 City Directory and considered running my finger down its pages through about 30,000 home listings looking for any of them between 2306 and 2316 Western Avenue. I have done searching like that in the past and find it relaxing — like knitting, I imagine — but this time I declined.

Those big bay windows with splendid views of Elliott Bay were needed because there were, of course, no windows along the sides of at least four of these flats. Families living here were steps away from many services. They were conveniently close to Denny School at Fifth Avenue and Battery Street, and only two blocks from the waterfront.

Finally, we will give thanks for the resident dog that seems to welcome us at the bottom of the photograph.


Jean here. In a Viaduct-covered triangle between Western Avenue and the Battery Street tunnel access road just north of the Market, one may find these familiar if now-deserted concrete protuberances, now enclosed in chain link fencing.

Sculptures across Western
Closer, through the chain links

I couldn’t find any signs indicating the sculptor or the name of the sculptures, although I recall some years ago encountering both.

Anything to add, Paul?

Yes Jean, something on row houses, although not all of it tonight.  First let me note that I have never turned my head for those waves of concrete cool whip beside Western Avenue.  Do you remember another under-a-bridge moment with modern art, with the “Wall of Death” below the north end of the University Bridge?  You cannot forget the name for it is written on the art.  For years it seemed uncannily free of grafitti markings.  I imagined that the can artists were frightened by it.

I’ll add a Row House Addendum during the week, I hope.  Here I will show a few maps and birdseyes that do and/or don’t include our Gothrow on Western.   As noted above I remember one image of it that looks from the bay and has the porch crests peaking over some rooftops below them – but I cannot for the moment find it. Perhaps I will before the night is over. (I failed in this, but will keep looking a predict victory in this search.)

Victorian row houses in Seattle are neither so prolific nor resplendent as in San Francisco.  A row of these charmers climbing a San Francisco hill – often steep – is one fulfilled vision of street life for the American cityscape, which more often is a “mixed bag” or dull scatter.  In 1968 during the Helix tabloid’s grass and salad days I visited a few friends in Berkeley and San Francisco.  A Seattle “ex-patriot” Carmella S. was one of them, and she lived in a San Francisco row.  The ceiling of her living room was higher than the room was wide, and she had the walls covered with framed art like in a salon or academy show of the 18th Century (or Seattle’s first Frye Museum when it was still in an annex attached to the Frye home at 9th and Columbia.)

Except for a few churches and the Academic Gothic buildings on the U.W. Campus, Gothic is hard to find around Seattle.  It was thought too playful or naive or ornamental or irrelevant or charming by modern sensitivities and standards and its revival was almost over before it began in Seattle.  “Gothrow” houses date from the later 1890s and early 1890s for the most part.  In this Seattle neighborhood – Wallingford – there are a few Gothic touches and a few rows. On Meridian Avenue near the Guild 45 Theatre on 45th Street they join.   John Sundsten, a semi-retired U.W. Med. School lecturer on Anatomy and sometime learned contributor on similar subjects to this blog, lives in one of them when he is not

on Hood Canal watching the Olympics and his oysters.  Nearby is, by our standards, an old home, and one with Victorian touches. For years it sat empty and tilting until someone purchased it, leveled it, added a floor and had a good time retouching it. It is on Sunnyside mid-block north of 43rd Street.

Still abiding in Wallingford is a home on Corliss Avenue mid-block north of 45th Avenue and Al’s Tavern.  The builder (or more likely later the remodel artist) attached over the front door an intimation of a Gothic ornament.  It is a distinguishing gesture.  This home is one of the 400-plus subjects I tried to photograph every day  – and nearly did – over three-years-plus with the intention of animating them.  (Jean, as you know we intend to include some of these in our MOHAI show with Berangere – of this blog – when it opens next April.)  Here are four of perhaps 800 recordings of what I call “Gothic 2.”  (Here just below Gothic 2 is  Goth 1 where with its restrained garage it is watched from the side.)

A new  and almost churchly Wallingford row at 46th and Meridian (northwest corner) has been oddly overwrought with its own pasties of faux stone and fish-scale siding to add some distinction that warrants the high price of its condos for this neighborhood.  They were mid-way with putting on the roof when I started walking in July of 2006.  Three years later they had still not sold their four opportunities for living within walking distance of the QFC, Al’s Tavern, the Good Shepherd P-Patch and the Guild 45 Theatre.

One of the disturbing distractions perhaps from the sublime intentions of this well-gabled row was the abandoned APEX dry cleaners across 46th where one tenant has labored in the night to write his or her own complaint for our times with spelling impassioned enough to miss the “d” in landlord.  Here the housing bubble has met the soap (or cleaning) bubble and both have fallen.

We return now to Belltown with a Gothrow that long ago momentarily made my heart leap – the three gables above Mama’s at the southeast corner of Second Avenue and Bell Street.  When I started studying the illustrative side of local history in the mid-1970s I did a search for early evidences of the old Denny Hill razed by its namesake regrade. When I first saw these gables in a historical print that was part of a pack of Webster and Stevens studio glossies shared with me by John Hannawalt of Old Seattle Paperworks (lower level Pike Place Market) I had the stirring and uncanny feeling that I have seen these “in person.”  I thought this is a “lost place” – there was no intersection in Seattle that quite felt like this one – in the then existing Seattle.  Soon enough with the help of a street sign on the telephone pole in the print I found the place and so my first evidence of what the hill – in this part looking south on Second Avenue through its intersection with Bell Street – looked like before it was razed. I wrote a longish piece on this discovery for the old Seattle Sun and later used that writing as evidence for my weekly freelance assignment with the Times Pacific Mag 29 years ago this coming January.

Next we will search maps and/or birdseye views from 1878, 1884, ca.1890, 1912, and 1917 for the row on Western, and when included the row at the  Belltown corner of Second Ave. and Bell Street.

Their places are marked but as yet – in 1878 – no Gothrows.  A portion of the Pike Street coal wharf and bunkers appears far right.  1878 was it’s last year, supplanted by new bunkers off King Street.  This birdseye artist is either unaware of or neglected the Belltown Ravine between Blanchard and Bell Streets.

Here another artist has made a kind of mark for the Belltown Ravine – bottom-center – but it is one block too far south.  The still future location for the Belltown Gothrow is marked.  The 2nd and Bell site is not, but you can find it – by now.

Both row sites are marked, and the rows are also in place in this ca.1890-91 birdseye.

Both sites are marked in the above detail from the 1912 Baist Real Estate Map, which we will remind readers has been recently made available in all its 34 plates (in every detail) on this site and can be button-clicked to by visiting the front page.  If we move north through the Baist Map (and you can) we can derive a sense of how many row houses survived then in the neighborhood.  (Or any Seattle neighborhood)  Near the top of the detail included below at the southwest corner of 2nd Ave. and Clay street is a long row across Clay from the marked Seattle Floral Company.  I don’t remember seeing any illustration or photo of this and so don’t know how Gothic it was.  Nearby at the southeast corner of 3rd and Clay is another row, and across Third is another.  Both share the block on 3rd with the Temple Baptist Church at the northeast corner of 3rd and Cedar.  On 2nd Ave. between Cedar and Clay is a small row of three – Gothic or no we do not know.  And finally for this detail at the southeast corner of 1st and Cedar is another threesome.  (With the gift of this 1912 Baist Map on this blog if one had time and a touch of the compulsive-obsessive disorder they could do this for the entire city in 1912.)

And, indeed, having a coloration – or touch – of this condition, I’ll continue north of Denny Way with some more of the 1912 Baist, and minimal comment.  You count the rows.  One rowless comment: the red-marked First Station on the far right is the site since 1960 of the Space Needle’s foundation.  And that would put the Pacific Science Center where?

Below is  a Belltown detail from a much larger 1917 sketch that looks west by northwest over the Denny Regrade – the part completed by then west of Fifth.  The full sketch promotes the new land’s opportunities in the year the Frederick and Nelson Department Sore was getting established as its southeast anchor. Here we have marked with a red X not the Gothrow on Western but the brick building at the northwest corner of Bell and First that hides them – or does not.  We don’t know if they were still around in 1917, but I suspect that they were.  In the upper-left corner of the detail is the bridge across Railroad Avenue that leads to the Port of Seattle’s Bell Street pier.   Bottom-right is the back of the Austin Bell building, only the facade of which facing First was kept in a recent remodel.

When the Denny Hotel, AKA Washington Hotel, looked like “the scenic hotel of the west” as it advertised itself, sitting on the south summit of Denny Hill, straddling the future path of 3rd Ave. between Steward and Virginia Avenues, there were below it. left and right,two distinguished rows “falling down” the hill with the connotation of San Francisco.  The one to the east of Second Avenue was built first and is seen here far left in a pan of Denny Hill taken from First Hill probably in 1903, the year that the hotel at last opened.  Note that the cable railway that climbed to the hotel entrance the one long block from Pine Street and in line with Third Avenue is showing with its car in service above the trestle that crossed Stewart Street.  Also note that there is as yet no row on Fourth Avenue, the first street this side of the cable railway.

The row on 4th shown directly below was surely short-lived.  Styled the same as the row facing Second Ave, it was built after the view above and destroyed in 1906-7 with the razing of the front hump – or south summit – of Denny Hill.  Again, the trestle over Stewart with the posing trolley is seen on the left above the row on Fourth and at the front door to the hotel.

Standing at a prospect near or at the hotel and looking back and southeast at the neighborhood from which a photographer held to make the above prospect of the hotel looking northwest, we will search what is now much of the city’s retail neighborhood for rows of any sorts ca. 1902.

So much to point out so CLICK TWICE TO ENLARGE.  Getting settled, the single Goth spire of the Norwegian-Danish Lutheran Church climbs towards the center of the scene.  It held the northeast corner of 4th and Pine, now the Westlake Mall’s primary structure – the one with an arcade.  Note that to the right of the church on the east side of Fourth Avenue are three variations on “row.”  First at the southeast corner of Pine and 4th are two box-shaped residential structures, each home for perhaps more than one family.  It is now home to the Westlake Mall fountain. Next to the right of the boxes are three attached uniform bays – very stately.  And to the right of that and the intruding tree is another row of two, with gables and boxed bays, and bigger.  It is mid-block on the east side of 4th between Pike and Pine, and so within the spray pattern of the fountain, but pre-regrade and so really several feet above it.

The grid-cutting of Westlake Avenue  is still about four years ahead.  The brick Ranke Building is to the right of the Lutheran spire at the northwest corner of 5th and Pike.  In size and materials it was a distinguished building when constructed around the time of Seattle’s “Great Fire” of 1889, a pacesetter into the new retail neighborhood.  (Ivar “Keep Clam” Haglund’s father, a baker, was living in the Ranke at the time of the fire.  I have yet to determine if it was Ranke’s clapboard structure that preceded this brick one.) To the left of the brick Ranke is the tenement-looking rear wall of the clapboard Idaho Building at the northeast corner of 5th and Pike.  There is a good chance that there were rats in the attic.  On the far left are a few of the trolley bays or service garages of the Seattle Electric Company’s facilities at the northeast corner of 5th and Pine, not yet razed for Frederick and Nelson.

The bare patch left-of-center and below the  horizon is the steep intersection of 9th and University Streets.  It is still steep.  Much of of this is now part of Freeway Park.  Below the patch is the Unitarian Church two or three lots north of the northeast corner of 7th and Union, now part of Act Theatre’s remake of the old Eagles Auditorium (which takes me back again to the grass and salad days of the Helix.)  To the right of the patch and almost reaching the horizon is the back of Congregation Ohaveth Sholum, the first synagogue in Seattle.  It opened one lot west of the northwest corner of 8th and Seneca on Sept. 18, 1892.  Six hundred and eighty persons attended the dedication.  Now the site is filled with the Exeter House Retirement Community, which is across Seneca from Town Hall.  Directly above the Synagogue and on the horizon is the smokestack of the Union Trunk Line (cable and electric) at James and Broadway and to the left of it the tower of Castlemont, the Haller mansion at the northeast corner of James and Minor.  Both the stack and the tower are now replaced by First Hill Pill Hill services.

Three more details to point out.  Far right is the northeast corner of the old Territorial University campus south of Union Street.  Far left and just above the trolley car barn described above is a “row-like” structure at the southwest corner of Sixth and Pine, which we will visit in close-up below.   And left of center is another row – one of three box houses facing Pike on the northeast corner with 6th.  Soon after its construction this row took on the nickname “Bridal Row.”  Here follows a take from Seattle Now and Then Volume One (which can be seen in-toto on this blog.)  It was first published in Pacific on Feb. 20, 1983.  (Click TWICE to Enlarge)

With storefronts along Pine and apartments above them, this row held the southwest corner of 6th and Pine.  (We noted it too in the pan above.)  The back of Bridal Row shows left of center, still at the northeast corner of Pike and Sixth.  The recently doomed Waldorf Hotel is on the far left at the northeast corner of 7th and Pike.

Below is another section grabbed from the 1912 Baist Map.  Just above and right of center is the row shown above.  Across Pine street is the Westlake Market which took over much of the sprawling Seattle Electric block.  The look down at the row may have been taken from the trolley company’s multi-story brick administration building which faced 5th from about the third lot north of Pine.   I’ve not dated the view so there is a chance that it was taken from Frederick and Nelson, perhaps during its construction.  On the map below someone has added “Frederick”  over the Westlake Market property at the northeast corner of 5th and Pine.   The intersection of 4th and Pike is at the bottom-left corner of this detail.

Hoping to return with a mid-week Addendum with more rows, we will conclude with two pans, first another from Denny Hill, this time looking south and southeast in the mid 1880s.  (Click TWICE to enlarge.)

Without dwelling on the parts, here the Territorial University Camps and its lawns and landscape still hold Denny Knoll a decade before moving north to the Interlaken campus, where it remains.  The first Lutheran church in Seattle is directly above the bottom-center of the pan near the northeast corner of Third and Pike.  Second Ave., then, is on the right and both Fourth and Fifth still originate here left-of-center out of Union Street at the northern border of the Campus.  Beacon Hill is on the right horizon and First Hill on the left.  Haller’s mansion can be found there, and Coppins Water tower at 9th and Columbia too.  For those who hold or have learned the pleasures of row-hunting, there are several to be found here.  We conclude with another row – or several.  Rows of sheep grazing somewhere on a northwest range and photographed without any identification by Horace Sykes, most likely in the 1940s.  We used it previously for an early Our Daily Sykes.  (Courtesy, University of Washington Special Collections)

8 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Gothic Row on Western”

  1. I did a quick search in the Seattle Times historical newspapers database available through the Seattle Public Library on the Western Avenue addresses set in quotation marks (i.e. “2306 Western”). There were many results for each address, but most were classified ads offering the properties for rent. In a few cases, there were obituaries or other articles where someone is listed as having lived at that address. I didn’t go through every one, but it’s easier than looking through all the city directories. I can’t wait until those are all scanned and digitized!

  2. Cathy thanks. How about spinning a Times database based tale about some of those hinted events and persons at 2306. And is it the city directories that you cannot wait to look through. You know, most likely, that there is one directory from the mid-1920s with continuous street listings,(Sorry I forget which one, the central library will know.) and in 1938 they become a regular feature of the Polk annuals.

  3. I read your column in today’s Pacific NW magazine. is a wonderful thing, for those of us without the patience to scan the Polk Directories.

    1900 Polk
    Porter Andrew (McBeth & Porter), res 2316 Western av.
    Lancaster Wm A, stock keeper Cooper & Levy, res 2306 Western av.
    Robbins Dill A, student Acme B C, res 2314 Western av.
    Dolan Patrick H, propr Hotel Stevens bar 902 1st av, res 2312 Western.
    Dolan Cathryn, bds 2312 Western av.
    Morrison James E, driver Q C & E Baking Co, res 2310 Western av.

    1899 Polk
    Dorr Grace H, rms 2308 Western av.

    And since 1900 was a federal census year, more can be found there too. (And since it does a better count of who was living there.)

  4. This is swell Bruce. I’ve not taken a shine to geneology although my wife has. Perhaps she has a subscription. I knew but somehow forgot about access to the 1900 census. It turns out some of my readers – like you and Cathy – are doing better detail work than I, and I am tempted to put up just a picture with a general sketch of the narrative and ask readers to do most of the writing – behind buttons, say. The Times may not approve of this yearning, however, wishing to keep the impression at least of omniscience so I will have to lean on the clever attendants at the downtown library’s Seattle Room even more. I am now spending most of my time with keeping clam, which is writing-finishing the book about Ivar and Ivar’s. I’ve told them I’d be done by Sept. next. After all it has only been eleven years of research for a subject that lived to be nearly eighty.

  5. The Space Needle was originally slated for the southwest corner of 3rd & Thomas (site of the Shriner’s Club, now the Seattle Children’s Theater), until they found out a sewer line was deep under the site. Now for the first time I see this fact on a map.

  6. Paul, the best story I can find comes from the end of the life of this building. In 1935/10/27 a long story ran about Larry Paulos. He was living at 2306 in 1933 when he turned down a job opportunity as a hitman. Instead, Prosecutor Warren G. Magnuson later brought him in as a witness against mass murderer Leo Hall. Paulos’s wife had been an accomplice.

    Also, in 1922 a brewery was discovered in 2306. 550 quarts of liquor were confiscated. 2306 is referred to as the Haddon Apartments.

  7. I’m doing research on historic buildings in the international district and am looking for photos of the preserved Victorian Row Apartments on S. King Street. There seem to be few to no historic photos of them. Do you know where I could find such photos?

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