(click to enlarge photos)
I have lost the adolescent expertise in the names and models of Detroit-born post-war cars. Our “then” displays a Jacobean-style brick, terra-cotta tile and concrete beauty rising above five somewhat gaudy motorcars, most of them “bodies by Fisher,” the latest of which I am told is a 1958 Plymouth, parked near the now-vanished intersection of Atlantic Street and 24th Avenue South.
This is – or rather was – the Charles Colman School. (Last year we featured a Marion Street scene showing another family namesake, the Colman Building (below), soon after its completion in 1905.)
This is one of the surviving schools designed and built by James Stephen, the official and prolific architect for Seattle Public Schools in the early 20th century. The Canadian arrived in Seattle at its most opportunistic time for an architect-builder, after the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889, had destroyed more than 30 city blocks.
Authorized in 1909, the 17-room, three-story Colman Primary School opened in 1910. There were, on average, 500 pupils and 15 teachers. The second principal, Miss Anna B. Kane, served from 1912 to 1940. Enrollment swelled during World War II when the feds built a large housing project nearby. With peace, enrollment dropped. Still, in the late 1940s the city bought the entire block for the school. Eventually, Atlantic and 24th were vacated to extend the school’s lawn.
Like Queen Anne High School, another Stephen creation, Colman is a fine example of how Seattle can recycle its landmarks largely intact. Though its primary program ended in 1979 and an alternative school there closed in 1985, the building survived a long-planned but scuttled north-south freeway, the ravages of a fire and next-door construction of the Mount Baker lid and tunnel for Interstate 90. This year, inside Colman, the Northwest African American Museum – with its upper floors’ 36 lower-income apartments – is experiencing a 10th anniversary.
This means, and many of us remember it, that the powers that be took a long time to support conversion of the abandoned school to a cultural center for groups that best represent the diverse community reaching from Beacon Hill to Lake Washington. This is where Seattle best shows its “unity in diversity.”
The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (till 7 p.m. Thursdays). While visiting and celebrating its birthday, you also may wish to give attention to the Jacobean brick.
I’ve added in a lovely shot taken on the schoolhouse steps:
Anything to add, fellahs? Surely Jean. First a hide-and-seek quiz. Can you find the Colman School on the first photo below? (More than a clue: it is on the far right horizon about a quarter of the way in from the right border. )
5 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: From School To Museum”
Here’s my post about the occupation from my Seattle history blog. Enjoy!
Cool photo of the Atlantic Street car dealership! Thanks to the photographer who shared it. Grandchildren of its owner, Sam Savidge, still live in Seattle.
I always enjoy all your quality photos, research, and entertaining commentary from other NW history buffs! Thank you for also making your historical columns available. That’s lots of good history to share. I often see modern guidebooks with sloppy “research” and misreporting of the facts. It’s good to have the information recorded correctly by conscientious researchers and old-timers who lived in the era of posted photos. I’ve been a devoted fan for decades!
Love the background on the namesake of Colman School. As for the Web Extra hide-and-seek quiz, I don’t think that’s Colman, but rather Hawthorne Elementary just north of Genesee Street. Colman would be quite a bit farther north in the valley than this photo of the WPA woodpile. JMHO.
The alternative school was in that building from 1980 to 1985 did not close, but was forced to move in 1985 because Seattle wanted to demolish it. I’m so glad the community managed to save it.