Seattle Now & Then: Italian villa, 1930s

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THEN1: In 1952, then-17-year-old Virginia Cettolin perches in what she and her five siblings called the “wonder tree” (a Magnolia) in front of her childhood home at 4022 32nd Ave. S.W. that took her father 13 years to finish, starting in 1926. “How many hours we spent in our wonderful tree,” Virginia says. “It was an airplane, a stagecoach. Even the dog went up in the tree.” (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
NOW1: Virginia Cettolin, visiting from her present home in Blaine, stands before the same tree today. Her mom and dad lived in the house until their deaths in 1966 and 1969, respectively. (Clay Eals)

Published in The Seattle Times online on Oct.20, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Oct. 23, 2022

‘A dream to do good’ inspired steelworker to build Italian villa
By Clay Eals

The phrase “hidden in plain sight” could have originated with the Cettolin house in West Seattle.

Nestled along the unpretentious, extended block of 32nd Avenue between the Fauntleroy Expressway (opened in 1965) and Nucor Steel (opened in 1905 as Seattle Steel), the dwelling, upon further examination, looks to be a villa straight from Italy.

Which was the intention. It was created by Fausto Urbano Cettolin (sett-oh-LEEN), who came to the United States in 1913 from the northern Italian town of Pianzano. In 1921, he married Erma Dina Monti, also a 1913 newcomer, arriving from Italy’s coastal city of Livorno.

THEN2: The Cettolin house in progress, without a finished front porch, in a battered late 1930s print. (Puget Sound Brnach, Washington State Archives, courtesy Marilyn Kennell)

In 1926, the industrious Fausto, who worked in the steel mill’s open hearth, began giving shape to a vision. “My father had a great love for my mother. That’s why he built the house,” says Virginia Cettolin, youngest of their six children. (Her sister Emma Dina Wislocker is the only other living sibling.) The project took 13 years.

THEN3: Fausto Cettolin works on his house’s brick foundation, a project that began in 1926. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)

“It was all in his head. He never had a plan as far as we knew,” says Virginia, an 87-year-old retired teacher and Dominican nun, visiting the three-story house from the Washington border town of Blaine. “I think it was just in him to create a family memory.”

Fausto’s pride materialized in the house’s slender stature, terrazzo floors, leaded windows and the arches and columns of its front porch, which also bears a colorful, if weathered, inlay circled by the words “Cettolin Autore” (Italian for “author”).

NOW2: Backed by the porch of her childhood home, Virginia Cettolin is flanked by owners Alan McMurray and Marilyn Kennell. (Clay Eals)

Stewarding the house are Marilyn Kennell, a former yoga teacher, and Alan McMurray, a cabinetry engineer, owners since 2014. The charm of the light-filled home brings tears to Kennell’s eyes: “It’s got such a good feeling to it.” Adds McMurray, “There’s nothing like it around.”

Welcoming Virginia Cettolin to their home is part of the couple’s dogged effort to gather data to support a Seattle landmark nomination they have commissioned.

NOW3: The Cettolin house (shaded, far right) stands on 32nd Avenue Southwest, possibly due for demolition in Sound Transit’s plan for the West Seattle light-rail extension. (Clay Eals)

While they would vouch for preserving the home in any event, the two hope landmark status would help persuade Sound Transit not to threaten their neighborhood by constructing its West Seattle light-rail extension through their street. The light-rail decision could come in 2023.

THEN4: The Cettolin house, 1944. (Puget Sound Branch, Washington State Archives, courtesy Marilyn Kennell)

In early years, the Cettolin house stood alone on three lots, with the Pigeon Point bluff, south Seattle and downtown as a stunning backdrop. Today, with subdivisions by later owners, the home is hemmed in, and the growth of greenery makes it nearly hidden and easy to miss.

NOW4: In this east-facing view, the Cettolin house stands at far right, with West Seattle’s Pigeon Point in the distance. (Clay Eals)

But not for Virginia Cettolin: “It’s the fulfillment of an immigrant, and to me, that’s why it’s very important. It truly shows from nothing to something in America. You come with a dream to do good in America.”


Special thanks to Deb Barker and especially Virginia Cettolin, Marilyn Kennell and Alan McMurray for their help with this installment!

To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.

Below are 35 additional photos and 26 historical clips from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and Washington Digital Newspapers, that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

Fausto and Erma Cettolin. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Erma and Fausto Cettolin in younger years. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Erma and Fausto Cettolin. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Fausto Cettolin. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Erma Cettolin in back garden, 1950. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Erma Cettolin in garden, 1950. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
June 5, 1953, Erma Cettolin in garden. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Virginia (Sister Cabrini) between parents Erma and Fausto Cettolin with nun, August 1960.
Monkey tree in Cettolin yard. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
August 1961 (from left): Marian (Fausto Jr.’s ex-wife), Erma and Sister Olive. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Steps at side of Cettolin house. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
(From left) Erma Cettolin with dog Blackie and friends Eugene and Kathy Gallanetti. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Cettolin children on front porch (clockwise from top left) Fausto Jr., Gloria, Norma and Ricardo. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Erma Cettolin. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Norma Cettolin next to the family home. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Fausto Cettolin at work. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Fausto Cettolin with daughters Norma (left) and Gloria. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
(From left) Gloria, Norma and Ricardo Cettolin and their house. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
The rear of the house under construction. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Erma and Fausto Cettolin. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Cettolin children (from left): Gloria, Fausto Jr., Norma and Ricardo. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Cettolin children (from left): Ricardo, Gloria and Norma.. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Erma Cettolin (third from left) and six children (from left): Norma, Erma, Virginia, Gloria, Ricardo (with violin) and Fausto Jr. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
The Cettolin lily garden. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
The rear of the Cettolin house. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Virginia Cettolin in the garden. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
The Cettolin garden. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Two girls hide in the garden at the side of the Cettolin house. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Side of Cettolin house. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
(From left) Erma and Virginia Cettolin sit in a carved shrub next to the family house. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Erma Cettolin in the back of the family home. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Cettolin lily garden. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
Erma and Fausto Cettolin with nun, August 1960.
In later years, a gathering of the Cettolin siblings (from left): Erma, Norma, Gloria, Ricardo, Virgini and Fausto Jr. (Courtesy Virginia Cettolin)
A map of the Cettolin house and property. (Virginia Cettolin)
The wooden form Fausto Cettolin used to create the house’s columns. (Courtesy Marilyn Kennell)
Fausto Cettolin’s name, with “Autore” (author) embedded in the porch. (Clay Eals)
Dec. 2, 1926, Seattle Times, p24.
Aug. 17, 1929, Seattle Times, p13.
Jan. 13, 1935, Seattle Times, p34.
Nov. 30, 1933, Seattle Times, p25.
Sept. 27, 1935, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p3.
Sept. 27, 1935, Seattle Times, p3.
July 11, 1949, Seattle Times, p13.
Feb. 1, 1951, Seattle Times, p23.
Dec. 5, 1950, Seattle Times, p6.
Oct. 29, 1951, Seattle Times, p29.
Feb. 2, 1952, Seattle Times, p32.
Sept. 11, 1952, Seattle Times, p22.
July 3, 1954, Seattle Times, p4.
March 29, 1959, Seattle Times, p47.
March 9, 1961, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p27.
April 5, 1963, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p29.
April 4, 1963, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p36.
July 12, 1966, Seattle Times, p8.
Aug. 1, 1966, Seattle Times, p26.
Aug. 1, 1966, Seattle Times, p26.
Aug. 2, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p11.
April 1, 1969, Seattle Times, p32.
April 20, 1969, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p68.
April 17, 1991, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p45.
March 29, 1992, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p87.
May 1, 1994, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p70.


4 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Italian villa, 1930s”

  1. Very nice portrait of a West Seattle family, and their home!
    While growing up in West Seattle during the ‘60s and ‘70s, I delivered the Seattle Times to, and mowed lawns at many fine older homes, and can identify with the general look of the house and gardens pictured in the photos displayed.

  2. This a fabulous article! A creative “call to action.” Clay captures the reader’s attention with the heart and soul of the house and its people, subtly leaving us with the threat of eminent domain. Time to get to take action West Seattleites!!!

  3. If anyone can connect me to the Cettolin family, I’d be most interested in including them in a history project I’m working on about early Italian settlers in the PNW

    My book covering Italian immigrants in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington during 1880-1950 will be published next fall by Arcadia Publishing as part of their IMAGES OF AMERICA series.

    I’m currently looking for stories and original high-resolution photos that I can include in both my book and the accompanying Substack site. I’d be most grateful to anyone who helps spread the word to anyone of Italian heritage who has a family and business history in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve already reached out to some folks through the Casa Italiana in Burien as well as a couple of OSDIA chapters.

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