Seattle Now & Then: The Wilhelmina/Winona Apartments
(click to enlarge photos)
This shapely subject was uncovered long ago in a collection of unidentified negatives. Only recently I discovered that finding its place was easy for the name of this apartment house is signed on the glass front door. This is – or was in this early 20th century record of it – the Wilhelmina Apartments at 1413 Queen Anne Avenue. It was then the tallest structure this high on the avenue with views to the city and the bay. And it was conveniently set at the top of the “Queen Anne Counterbalance,” that exceptional tunnel machinery that helped pull trollies up the steep avenue and also safely govern their descent.
Historic preservationist Diana James, with her recent book “Shared Walls” our local authority on apartment houses, thinks it likely that the Wilhelmina first took in renters in 1908, the first year classified ads appear in The Times describing its attractions. “Very choice 2-room apartment, nice, view, modern, high class, no children.” In a dozen years or so more the name was changed to Winona. Rhyming with Wilhelmina it was equally euphonious. Able by now to intuit the origins of place names, the scholar James jests, “Perhaps it was renamed for the wife of a new owner.”
The Winona first indicates “no objection to children” in the 1920s. A Times classified for 1928 reads “Clean and cozy 2-room completely furnished apartments, situated in good district at the very low rental of $37.50.” Following the market crash of 1929, the monthly rate was soon lowered to $25. By 1955 it had doubled to a mere $52, but by then it had no musical name, only an address.
While Diana James doubts one published claim for the Wilhelmina/Winona, that it was the first apartment on the hill, she admits that she has as yet found no older flat that has kept its footprint on the hill. She adds, “I like it because it is what it is – its elegant symmetry with bay windows for light and centered balconies for fresh air visits. I could tell you that it is 12 units, with four to a floor, and probably two more in the daylight basement.” What James could not surmise from the street, the present owner – since the mid 1970s – reveals. There’s a detached 15th unit in the rear. Most likely, it was once a garage.
Anything to add, Paul?
Yes Jean if the reader clicks through they will first meet the 1887 Morford panorama of North Seattle taken from the back porch of the Bell Hotel at the southeast corner of Battery and First Avenue (Front St. then). We will point out the easily detected location of the then far-future Wilhelmina. After that we will keep to images that are on or very near to the Queen Anne Counterbalance.
NEXT – or “Here Follows” – eight clips concerning the WILHELMINA pulled with the Seattle Public Library’s key-word search service for The Seattle Times, 1900 to 1984. They offered the potatoes for the feature. The photo itself is the meat. The Whilhelmina’s part is ordinarily highlighted in yellow. This group of clips has some “star” appeal, too – if you read to the end of them.
QUEEN ANNE COUNTERBALANCE
(First appeared in Pacific, Sept. 18, 1983)
Seattle got out of the cable car business on Queen Anne Avenue (then called Temperance Street) by the late 1890s. But the one part of cable it could not abandon for many years was under the most precipitous part of the hill, that lightheaded 20 percent which became known as the counterbalance.
Since cable cars were particularly good at climbing hills, the firm operating public transportation on the hill used it in tandem with the new electric cars. It worked like this:
The streetcars were linked via the underground cable with a truck that ran on narrow gauge tracks through a tunnel. While the subterranean vehicle weighed 16 tons, the ones above ground were a heavier 18 to 24 tons. When the truck ran down hill it helped pull the streetcar uphill. And, working the other way, the electric streetcar’s descent was restrained by the counterweight’s ascent.
The progress both ways was slow – about 8 miles an hour – but still steady enough to remain in service for more than 40 years,
The “lead” or primary historic photo shown here far above was taken in 1902 by Asahel Curtis and records the counterbalance at its muddy beginning. The rough dirt scar that runs up the western side of the street marks the beginnings of the second tunnel. Within a year, work would begin on resurfacing this entire stretch with sandstone. (Only the right hand track is in place in the photograph.)
On the evening of March 5, 1937, the Seattle Municipal Railway staged a counterbalance contest between a streetcar and a trackless trolley. The future of the counterbalance was evident by the results: The modem coach embarrassed the streetcar by climbing the hill in less than half the time.
Regular trackless coach service began on the hill Sept. 2. 1940. In the now scene, practically everything else in our earlier photo is gone except for what was always hidden, the two counterbalance tunnels that still run up Queen Anne Avenue.
AWAY TO NIGHTYBEARS!!! There is more to post on this – including the Kinnear mansion pixs – but I must seek the pillow and happily toss the night in this rare heat. The
rest of it will be added later in the week as an “addendum,” of some of it, perhaps, simply added later in the morning. Meanwhile here is a detail from that 1902 record above that shows the Kinnear mansion – in anticipation.
===== Back at NOON on Sunday, June 5th
THE KINNEAR MANSION
(First appeared in Pacific, Jan. 4, 1987)
In 1885 George Kinnear decided to build his home in the sticks, but not of them. For two years 24 carpenters fashioned and then polished the walnut, cherry and mahogany shipped here from Syracuse, N.Y., into what was, for more than 70 years, lower Queen Anne’s most distinguished landmark. The mansion’s distinction was enhanced by its placement, just far enough up the hill to both be seen and to see over the homes below. The colored view directly above looks northwest across the home’s front lawn.
George Kinnear bought this property while on an 1874 visit here from his Ohio home. He purchased it with his earnings as a Civil War soldier. In 1878, he moved here with his wife and three boys and was soon one of the city’s big movers and shakers. He is best remembered today for donating 14 acres adjacent to his home for a city park. Kinnear’s gift to the city was a mix of altruism and self-interest. Neighborhood parks were often privately landscaped to attract buyers to the city’s suburban areas reach by trollies, such as Leschi, Madison, Madrona and Ravenna.
George Kinnear died quietly and quickly on a summer morning in 1912 after watering the flowers on the front porch of “The Cottage” behind the mansion, where he and his wife Angie had moved after giving their newly wedded son Charles the larger home. With many regrets the mansion was razed in 1958 and today is the site of Bayview Manor retirement home. A fine feature on the mansion’s history by Jan Hadley can be found on the Queen Historical Society’s web page. I have copied it out so . . . http://www.qahistory.org/kinnear-house.html
THREE MORE APARTMENTS on QUEEN ANNE AVENUE and the COUNTERBALANCE
LAWTON GOWEY as RAIL FAN
Lawton was old enough to remember the trolleys that kept to tracks, and with his dad pursued them and trains of all sorts first and then later buses too with cameras as snapping rail fans. After his sudden death Lawton’s family donated his large collection of negatives and prints to the University of Washington Northwest Collection. His smaller collection of Queen Anne slides came to me, and I am now arranging with the Queen Anne Historical Society to have them scanned by them – and me – and donated to them. Here are three examples of Lawton’s pursuit of moments in Counterbalance transportation history that may excite any student-fan of common carriers.
2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Wilhelmina/Winona Apartments”
Thank you for your hard work in compiling the photos and history. I really enjoyed them. I lived with my mom in the Marqueen Apts in the early 80’s
Growing up I lived at 916 Queen Anne Ave. Seeing the apartment building picture (Thanks for posting!) made me nostalgic about that time. I wish I had more photos of the apartment itself. It was very spacious and even had an old dumbwaiter that wasn’t working at the time but was still accesible. Living room, Dining room etc. We were acquainted with other residents and the landlords that I can remember were great.