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.
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.
“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”).
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.
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.
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.
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.
4 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Italian villa, 1930s”
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.
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!!!
What a wonderful story! I hope this home is protected and remains a part of Seattle history.
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 https://tessafloreanowritings.substack.com/p/intrepid-italians-in-the-west
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.