(click and click again to enlarge photos)
(Published in the Seattle Times online on Dec. 5, 2019
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on Dec. 8, 2019)
From parties to puns to pies, a Capitol Hill home’s story emerges
By Clay Eals
When I broke into professional newspapering in 1973, the time had long passed when dailies printed details of every party, dance and wedding submitted by high society. Such notices were deemed a frivolous use of precious space needed to cover serious issues.
However, digging today into The Seattle Times’ online archive, I find that social squibs often help reveal the story of a vintage edifice. Case in point: the three-story 1902 Queen Anne that stands at 1421 E. Valley St., one of hundreds of houses anchoring what many consider residential nirvana on the north end of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.
It’s clear the abode of Harding and Emma Allan hosted grand gatherings for family and friends. “Miss Mabel Allen entertained at bridge yesterday afternoon,” intoned one item on July 6, 1911. “Six tables were arranged in rooms decorated with a profusion of summer flowers.” The affair was “complimentary to” Mrs. Joseph Hamilton Hillsman, visiting from Atlanta. Eight years later, 40 attended a dance there to honor Miss Ruth Dovell of Berkeley.
From the same address, the Allans made news for other reasons, consequential and otherwise. They lost a son, age 10, in 1909. Helen Allan won 25 cents in 1911 by sending the Times a “Daffydill” pun: “If Lem-on Friday beet tomato’s head lettuce squash his cocoanut.” Five years later, Robert Allan joined 59 others on a grand jury, “the first sitting of an inquisitorial body” since Seattle’s passage of liquor prohibition.
Harding Allan, a contractor for 26 years, died at age 70 in 1928 while erecting the Exeter Apartments at Eighth and Seneca. His widow, Emma, who won third prize in the Times’ 1931 one-crust pie contest, died in 1948 at age 87.
Meanwhile, grandson John Fenton, a naval aviation cadet, merited six blurbs during World War II, including taking “a course in England designed to bridge the gap between training in the States and soldiering in an active theatre of war.” Later residents of the house were involved in a motorcycle wreck in 1952 and a car-bicycle crash in 1956.
These pieces depict a puzzle that is far from complete, but they summon a time when physical addresses were part of public identity. Many such episodes surface in the present day only on Facebook, sans addresses.
Today, the Allan home remains largely the same, which relieves Jackie Williams, author of The Hill With a Future: Seattle’s Capitol Hill 1900-1946. Her engaging book includes our “Then” image among its 100 photos and keen insights.
“Capitol Hill has not torn down these lovely old houses and built new, modern buildings,” she says. “It’s retained the integrity. It looks just like it would have looked 50 years ago.”
Besides the Dec. 8, 2019, (re)launch party for Jackie Williams’ book (see “Now” caption above), the Capitol Hill Historical Society also invites the public to its third annual Holiday Party at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019, at Monique Lofts, 1505 11th Ave. The event is free with $10 suggested donation. To RSVP and learn more details, visit here.
At this event, Tom Heuser and Rob Ketcherside, the organization’s president and vice-president, respectively, will present “Wind of Change: A Photo at the Edge and Beginning of Capitol Hill,” featuring the history of the Allan house at 1421 E. Valley St. with a focus on the structures in the background, particularly the windmill and water tower.
To see Jean Sherrard’s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!
Below are three photos of the Allan family from the Capitol Hill Historical Society, two videos and 43 clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that, among others, were helpful in the preparation of this column. Enjoy!