Seattle Now & Then: University National Bank, 1925

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: In 1925, streetcar tracks gracefully inscribe brick-lined curves in the paved intersection before the renamed University National Bank, which anchors the northeast corner of 45th and University Way. (courtesy MOHAI)
NOW: Michael Oaksmith, President of Development for Hunters Capital stands with the Beezer brothers’ creation across the street. The city-landmarked building has been lovingly remodeled, with a restoration of much of its early elegance. After 108 years as a bank, most recently a Wells Fargo branch, the structure is repurposed for shops and offices. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in The Seattle Times online on Sept. 9, 2021
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Sept. 12, 2021)

Twin architects banked on a legacy of faith plus finance

By Jean Sherrard

Keen to serve both God and Mammon, Louis and Michael Beezer defied scriptural maxims to the contrary. Twins whose architectural firm produced edifices for faith and finance, they skillfully negotiated the two worlds.

Born on July 6, 1869, in Bellefont, Pennsylvania, the Beezers arrived in Seattle in 1907. Different from competing firms, they were hands-on designers, overseeing every step of the construction process.

In 1908, their vision for a new “mosquito fleet” terminal at Colman Dock, with its Italianate clock tower and dome, drew acclaim, Thereafter, the industrious pair enjoyed commissions from Alaska to California.

The Beezers were devout Roman Catholics whose extensive work for the Archdiocese of Seattle included the Immaculate Conception School (1909), Dominican Priory of the Blessed Sacrament (1909–25) and Edward J. O’Dea High School (1923). After the St. James Cathedral dome collapsed beneath a 1916 record snow, a trusted Louis Beezer helped rebuild the destroyed sanctuary while improving its abysmal acoustics.

Financial institutions provided bread to match the ecclesiastical butter. The Beezers’ neo-classic banks throughout the West include the focus of this week’s column.

Having relocated from downtown digs in 1895, the University of Washington was booming — in both enrollment and revenue. Its beleaguered comptroller regularly ferried cash and checks to central-city repositories, spending a half-day or more in weary commute.

Providing a sober solution was the University District’s first financial institution, Washington State Bank, founded in 1906 by professors, administrators and business leaders — and we do mean sober. By state law, the sale of alcohol was banned within two miles of campus.

By 1913, the bank, expanding with the university, commissioned the Beezers to erect a stately, two-story structure at 45th and University Way. It was such a calm, rural intersection that neighbors described choruses of frogs serenading from nearby ponds and swamps.

The establishment’s ground floor and basement offered opulence and security, while a lofty, second-floor ballroom and concert hall welcomed fraternity and community dances.

Our “Then” photo depicts a livelier U-District, packed with shops and businesses catering to students. A banner stretched across 45th Street publicizing a “University Legion Frolic” accurately dates the photo to 1925. In late September that year, the new American Legion Hall on the southwest corner of 10th Avenue and 50th Street hosted the affair, which promised dancing, “free vaudeville” and a “Young Woman’s Popularity Contest.”

We offer a fiery footnote: In 1976, the legion sold its hall to Randy Finley, who converted it to the Seven Gables Theater. Shuttered in 2017, the charming moviehouse burned down last Christmas Eve.

WEB EXTRAS

We visit 45th and University Way for a 360 degree video featuring the column. To watch, click here.

Mike Oaksmith and Noah Macia admire the downstairs vault of the University National Bank.
The spacious second floor was once used as a ballroom.

 

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: University National Bank, 1925”

  1. What a great old building, One can only imagine the gold and other valuables, and the stories behind them, that went in and out of that vault over the years, and the dances, parties and social events that took place upstairs in the early years of the U district. Great job of renovating and saving a classy part of Seattle history.

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