Seattle Now & Then: The Stetson and Post Block

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN:
THEN: The photographer David Judkins arrived here in 1883 and recorded this portrait of “Seattle’s first apartment house” sometime soon after. (Courtesy MOHAI)
NOW: The First Interstate Center, renamed the Wells Fargo Center, was completed in 1983, the centennial for Seattle’s first apartment house.
NOW: The First Interstate Center, renamed the Wells Fargo Center, was completed in 1983, the centennial for Seattle’s first apartment house.

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.

An entrance into the construction of the Stetson-Post "town-house row" clipped from the September 29, 1880 issue of the Post-Intelligencer.
An entrance into the construction of the Stetson-Post “town-house row” clipped from the September 29, 1880 issue of the Post-Intelligencer.
The Stetson-Post row is easily distinguished in this 1882 photo by Watkins about one-fourth of the way in (to the right) of the left border.  Watkins took his panorama - this is but one part - from the King Street Coal Wharf.  The new Ocean Dock is under construction in the foreground.
The Stetson-Post row is easily distinguished in this 1882 photo by Watkins about one-fourth of the way in (to the right) of the left border. Watkins took his panorama (this is but one part of many) from the King Street Coal Wharf. The new City Dock is under construction in the foreground.
1884 Sanborn map with the Stetson-Post row lower-left.
1884 Sanborn map with the Stetson-Post row lower-left.

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

Early intelligence of the partners Stetson and Post published in the Post-Intelligencer for February 8, 1878.
Early intelligence of the partners Stetson and Post published in the Post-Intelligencer for February 8, 1878.
Stetson and Post Mill photographed from the King Street Coal Wharf.
Stetson and Post Mill photographed from the King Street Coal Wharf.

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.

It seems like this view of the row was photographed from about the same time as the featured photo on top - but what year?  Our approximation 1884.
It seems like this view of the row was photographed from about the same time as the featured photo on top – but what year? Our approximation: 1884.  Note the home far left at the northeast corner of Madison Street and Second Ave, the home first of Dr. and Mayor Weed and later of John Leary, who moved from Stetson-Post with Weed moved out – most likely to his home at the northwest corner of Union and First Ave., or Front Street as it was then still called.
The Weed-Leary home at the northeast corner of Madison and Second.  Compare the bay window here on the Madison Street side, with that in the same home showing on the left of the photograph printed above this one.  It has been "elaborated" - extended up to enclose the top floor too.
The Weed-Leary home at the northeast corner of Madison and Second. Compare the bay window here on the Madison Street side, with that in the same home showing on the left of the photograph printed above this one. It has been “elaborated” – extended up to enclose the top floor too.

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.

If memory serves, that is Caroline Burke coming down the long stairway for her ride, perhaps.
If memory serves, that is Caroline Burke coming down the long stairway for her ride, perhaps.
Here from about 1887 (I'm growing increasingly anxious about dates) the Stetson-Post appears to the right of the grand mansard-roofed Frye Opera House.  Central School at 6th and Madison, appears on the far-right horizon (it burned down in 1888), and the dome of the Territorial University appears on the far left horizon.  The city's "Great Fire" of June 6, 1889 started in the joined buildings on the left with ten windows showing on the second floor. Budlongs Boat House in the forground was saved - being towed off-shore.
Here from about 1887 (I’m growing increasingly anxious about dates) the Stetson-Post appears to the right of the grand mansard-roofed Frye Opera House. Central School at 6th and Madison, appears on the far-right horizon (it burned down in 1888), and the dome of the Territorial University appears on the far left horizon. The city’s “Great Fire” of June 6, 1889 started in the joined buildings on the left with ten windows showing on the second floor. Budlongs Boat House in the foreground was saved by being towed off-shore. [CLICK to ENLARGE]
The south facade of Stetson-Post appears on the left in this late-1880s parade scene photographed from Peiser's "Art Studio."
The south facade of Stetson-Post appears on the left in this late-1880s parade scene photographed from Peiser’s “Art Studio.”
A Sherrard repeat of the Peiser.
A Sherrard repeat of the Peiser.
Looking back over Second Avenue at Peiser's Art Studio on the second lot south of Marion Street.  Note te tent roof rigged for lighting.
Looking back over Second Avenue at Peiser’s Art Studio on the second lot south of Marion Street. Note te tent roof rigged for lighting.

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

The Burke Building northwest corner of Marion and Second, with a corner of Stetson-Post at the bottom-right corner. A. Wilse photographed this most likely in the late 1890s.  He returned to Norway in 1900.
The Burke Building northwest corner of Marion and Second, with a corner of Stetson-Post at the bottom-right corner. A. Wilse photographed this most likely in the late 1890s. He returned to Norway in 1900.

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.

The Stetson-Post with the commercial conversion of its stairs to shops.  This dates from 1906 when the Empire Building behind it here at the southeast corner of Madison and Second, was still under construction. [Courtesy, Michael Maslan)
The Stetson-Post with the commercial conversion of its stairs to shops. This dates from 1906 when the Empire Building behind it here at the southeast corner of Madison and Second, was still under construction. [Courtesy, Michael Maslan)
A look north on Second Ave. from the roof of the then new Hoge Building, with the Burke Building here on the left, and both the Stetson-Post and the Empire Building filling the block on its east side between Marion and Madison.
A look north on Second Ave. from the roof of the then new Hoge Building, with the Burke Building here on the left, and both the Stetson-Post and the Empire Building filling the block on its east side between Marion and Madison. [CLICK to ENLARGE]

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.

The Burke and Stetson-Post looking across Second Ave at each other, cira 1903.  The Empire is still four years in the future.
The Burke and Stetson-Post looking across Second Ave at each other, cira 1903. The Empire is still four years in the future.
The Golden Potlatch Parade of 1913, the "Dad's Day" floats are in the foreground.
The Golden Potlatch Parade of 1913, the “Dad’s Day” floats are in the foreground.
Two years earlier for the 1911 Golden Potlatch parade, the Afro-American float passed in front of the Stetson-Post.
Two years earlier for the 1911 Golden Potlatch parade, the Afro-American float passed in front of the Stetson-Post.
The Stetson-Post and the Empire Bldg made a background for Uncle Sam appearing also in the 1911 Potlatch parade. [Courtesy Michael Maslan]
The Stetson-Post and the Empire Bldg made a background for Uncle Sam appearing also in the 1911 Potlatch parade. [Courtesy Michael Maslan]

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.

However hard to read, even with double mouse clicks perhaps, here's the full
However hard to read, even with double mouse clicks perhaps, here’s the full Foulser feature from the Seattle Times for December 8, 1907.
A fine if modest two-story (or three) terra cotta adorned Watson Moore Stockbrokers home succeeding the Stetson-Post aka N.Y. Kitchen Block  aka Rainier, here left-of-center.  The Empire Bldg is far left.
A fine if modest two-story (or three) terra cotta adorned Watson Moore Stockbrokers home succeeding the Stetson-Post aka N.Y. Kitchen Block aka Rainier, here left-of-center. The Empire Bldg is far left.
The First Interstate Bank was the last occupant of the corner, serving from a modern remodel of the ornate tile cover.  Lawton Gowey took this on July 26, 1981.
The First Interstate Bank was the last occupant of the corner, serving from a modern remodel of the ornate tile cover. Lawton Gowey took this on July 26, 1981.   And he recorded its wreckage below on February 2, 1982.
Looking east on Marion with the barely surviving south facade of the Interstate Bank at the center.  (Lawton Gowey, 2/5/1982)
Looking east on Marion with the barely surviving south facade of the Interstate Bank at the center. (Lawton Gowey, 2/5/1982)
In the fall of 1974 Frank Shaw framed the front door of the Pacific National Bank, precursor of the Interstate Bank at the northeast corner of Second Ave. and Marion Street.
In the fall of 1974 Frank Shaw framed the front door of the Pacific National Bank, precursor of the Interstate Bank at the northeast corner of Second Ave. and Marion Street, with the arch saved from the front entrance of the Burke Building with the construction of the Federal Building.

Z [The-Stetsonand-Post-Idea-build-practical-homes-WEB

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.

Z Stetson-and-Post-pattern-book-page-for-The-Greenwood-WEB

z Stetson-and-Post-pattern-book-page-for-The-Montlake-WEB

WEB EXTRAS

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.

THEN:  Louis Rowe’s row of storefronts at the southwest corner of First Ave. (then still named Front Street) and Bell Street appear in both the 1884 Sanborn real estate map and the city’s 1884 birdseye sketch.  Most likely this view dates from 1888-89.  (Courtesy: Ron Edge)

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2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Stetson and Post Block”

  1. Paul and Jean,
    Many thanks for the splendid article on the Stetson-Post/NY Kitchen/Rainier Block. I well remember the old First Interstate building which preceded the current highrise, but had always wondered what had stood there before.
    Best,
    John Siscoe

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