(click to enlarge photos)
This quintet of front doors, beneath a central tower shaped like a bell and a mansard roof that billows like a skirt in a breeze, was long claimed to be Seattle’s first apartment house. (It might, however, be better to call these row houses, each with its own front door.) The group was built at the northeast corner of Second Avenue and Marion Street in 1883*, a busy year in which Seattle also acquired street numbers and fifty-nine new neighborhood additions. It was also easily the largest city in the territory, with a census count that year of 6645 over Tacoma’s 3108, Port Townsend’s 1300 and the 1169 living in Spokane.
* We have learned in the first hour of posting this blog that it also slogs. The date of construction is off. First Dennis Andersen, the regional authority on architectural history, sends from Portland this letter to me here in my Wallingford basement. Dennis writes “Great image of the Stetson-Post townhouse row! But perhaps a small edit for the date, from the Seattle PI. ‘July 30, 1881, p.3 col 1: ‘Moving in. The resident block of Stetson and Post, on Second Street, is now ready for occupancy. Mr. Post’s family have moved into the building on the south. Governor Ferry’s family have got the carpets down and are preparing to move into the one selected by them. The finishing touches are being put on the other three, and they will be occupied soon’.” Thanks again, Dennis. Next, Ron Edge (who also put up the links below, most of them on row housing ) found another PI citation in the National Archives, this one from September 29, 1880, and we attach it directly below. Thanks again, Ron.
Both “Stetson & Post Block” and “French Row Dwellings” are hand-written across the structure’s footprint in the 1884 Sanborn real estate map. It is named for its builders, George W. Stetson and John J. Post. Renting a shed on Henry Yesler’s wharf in 1875, and using Yesler’s hand-me-down boiler, the partners first constructed a gristmill for grinding grain into feed and flour, but soon switched to
making doors and window sashes. By 1883 they had the largest lumber mill over the tideflats then still south of King Street. The Stetson & Post mill was equipped for shaping wood into the well-ornamented landmark that was their then new terrace here at Third and Marion.
The Seattle city directory for 1884 has the partners living in their stately building, along with Thomas Burke, perhaps the most outstanding among the city’s “second wave” of pioneers. Other tenants were the dry goods and clothing merchants Jacob and Joseph Frauenthal, who had their own business block near Pioneer Square. The lawyer and future Judge Thomas Burke had his office in the Frauenthal Block.
Following the city’s Great Fire of 1889, which the wooden row houses escaped, the city rapidly rebuilt in brick and stone, expanding in every direction, including up. The Stetson & Post Block, which started as an elegant landmark visible from Elliott Bay, was soon hiding in the shadow of a seven-story business block, which was directly across Second Avenue, and named for Thomas Burke. The
row houses then added commerce. In place of the five grand stairways to the five apartments, five uniformly designed storefronts were built facing the sidewalk on Second. And the city’s first row house or apartments (you choose) also changed it’s name to the New York Kitchen Block, after the restaurant that was its principal tenant.
As noted by now far above, the 1884 Sanborn real estate map calls these attached homes “French Row Dwellings.” The Brits called them terraced housing. The many brownstones of New York are similarly arranged, and both San Francisco and Baltimore have rows of their architectural cousins – attached or semi-detached houses that are variations on a theme or several themes. Perhaps the most distinguished of the French rows is in Paris, the Place des Vosges, a 17th century creation.
In 1919 the seventy-five-year-old George Stetson succumbed, as did his and John Post’s wooden block. A dozen years earlier, the critic F. M. Foulser, writing a nearly full-page essay on “How Apartment Houses are Absorbing Seattle’s Increasing Population,” in The Seattle Times for December 8, 1907, imagined the Rainier Block (the last of Stetson & Post Block’s three names) as “some aristocratic little lady of by-gone days, who has been compelled to remain among the influx of vulgarly new associates . . . and drawing her skirts about her, remains in solitary retrospection.” Some day, the essayist mused, “when the owner of the land on which ‘The Terrace of Past Memories’ stands, decides to accept the fabulous sum which is bound to be offered him, the old building will give way to a modern skyscraper.” It took some time. While the first replacement of 1919 gleamed behind terracotta tiles, it was, even when discounting the lost tower, still shorter than the row house. The forty-seven floors of the First Interstate Center followed in 1983.
A survivor, the Stetson and Post Mill Company began promoting a “new plan” of delivering a “home from the forest to you.” It was a success. The company explained, because of its “ability to furnish the materials at prices well within reach” This, they explained, was possible because “the company owns its own timber, windows, doors, frames etc., employs no solicitors and sells for cash direct from the forest.” In 1926 Stetson and Post published a pattern book to encourage locals to build a variety of homes that were named, for the most part, after Seattle’s neighborhoods. Below are two examples. None of the forty-five or more “carefully devised plans” featured row-houses.
Anything to add, Paul? Yes Jean Ron and I though it most appropriate to feature a few past contributions that include some row houses. The last feature picked is the first we did on subjects included in Diana James recent history of Seattle’s apartment houses. It is titled, you will remember, SHARED WALLS.
And now we are going to climb the stairs to join the bears, so we will proof this after a good – we hope – night’s sleep.