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The Capitol Hill neighborhood landmark, the Littlefield Apartments at the corner of 19th Avenue East and East John Street was timed as 58 years-old in a Times story about its 1968 sale to Arthur Kneifel. For his $120,000 Kneifel got a classic brick apartment house with twenty-eight units. Less than a year later, Kneifel got his cash back and $38,000 more when he sold the Littlefield to B. A. Nuetzmann.
Through the Littlefield’s early years of enticing renters, its classifieds in The Times used many of the stock descriptions for such a distinguished residence. When West and Wheeler, one of the real estate gorillas of the time, announced in 1916 that “this pleasantly located, new brick veneer building has just been placed in our charge,” the unfurnished two-and three-room apartments rented for $18 to $27.50 a month. And in 1916 it was possible to see some light because of the neighborhood’s turn-of-the-century clear-cutting. One could then still rent a Littlefield unit with a “view of Lake Washington,” a gift from the sawyers.
Through the 1920s, West and Wheeler described this property as “quiet and homelike,” “beautifully furnished,” in “perfect condition,” “modern,” and “reasonable” to rent. In the mid-20s the realtors promoted “overstuffed furniture” with coil springs in the apartment’s furnished flats. In late 1931 a modern and “completely refinished” 3-room front corner apartment was offered for $37 a month. It was a depression-time bargain – for the still employed.
The Littlefield’s more steadfast residents aged with it, and increasingly following World War Two. their names started appearing in The Times death notices. For instance, on May 6, 1947, the Times noted that Mrs. Laura Price, 86 years old and a member of First Baptist Church, had died. Four years later Littlefield residents Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Leighton celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.
The Littlefield, of course, had its run of managers. Perhaps the most unlucky among them was Robert Milender. Twice in 1972 – in June and in July – visitors on the pretense of wanting to rent a unit, instead robbed and pummeled Milender in the manager’s, his own, apartment.
Anything to add, Paul? Yes Jean with your help and a link to our feature on Capitol Hill’s Gable Apartments, which includes several additions – of its own – that will resonate with the Littlefield Apts. as well.
THANK YOU DEAR READERS
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The Lombardy Poplars that once lined much of Madison Street from Fourth Avenue to Broadway made First Hill’s favorite arterial “the most attractive place in town.” That is on the pioneer authority of Sophie Frye Bass, found in her delightful book of reminiscences, “Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle.” Here the photographer A. Curtis looks west-southwest, through the intersection of Madison Street and Seventh Avenue to Central School, on the left, and the Knickerbocker Hotel, on the right. Central School opened in 1889
with Seattle’s first high school installed on its third floor. Sixty years later the school’s landmark towers were prudently removed after Seattle’s 1949 earthquake.
This ordinarily busy intersection is oddly vacant in the feature subject, crossed by neither motorcar nor team. However, the pavement bricks – no doubt slippery – are layered with clues. A combined mess of auto oil, horse droppings – and what else? – marks them.
Above and below, looking east on Madison Street from Sixth Avenue. Rising high at the center, the Knickerbocher is nearly new in the ca. 1909 photograph above by Arthur Churchill Warner. The poplars are long since stripped away in Lawton Gowey’s recording from June 19, 1961. Knowing Lawton, I’d say that he was capturing a last look thru the block before it was razed for the Seattle Freeway.
The Knickerbocker was built in time for Seattle’s first world’s fair, the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific-Exposition, held on the UW campus. Advertised as “strictly modern,” the hotel’s ninety rooms were for the most part taken as apartments. In 1911 weekly rents were three dollars and up. Included among its more sensationally newsworthy residents in the half-century before the hotel was razed for the Seattle Freeway, were a forger, a three-and-one-half year old boy deserted by his parents, and a Knickerbocker manager who – it seems – murdered his wife. And the hotel’s visitors featured more than one robber.
On the brighter side, in a letter to the Times editor, Knickerbocker resident Carol Cornish expressed her thanks that living at 616 Madison put her “close-in” to downtown opera and concerts. In her letter from Oct. 28 1940, Ms. Cornish also included a culture-conscious complaint about concert audience behavior. “I hate to be stuffy, but the shallow, careless frivolities of the so-called smart set often fill us unaspiring social plebeians with a definite distaste.” During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Times, awarded the Knickerbocker Hotel by including it in its “Business and Professional Ledger.” After the Second World War some hotel rooms were outfitted with dark rooms for rent to amateur photographers. And through much of the 1950s, the Knickerbocker was home to the Seattle Chess Club.
Writing her little classic “Pig-Tail Days” in 1937, Sophie Frye Bass, granddaughter of Arthur and Mary Denny, mourned the loss of both the poplars and the First Hill neighborhood of her childhood. “The fine residences and stately poplars have given way protestingly to business.”
Anything to add, Paul? Sure Jean. Between the two of us, Ron Edge and I have collected seven links to earlier features that relate to this subject with Central School and the Knickerbocher. They may also include subjects in their own “Web Extras” that are far afield of Seventh and Madison, and there may be some repetitions between them. But all are placed with good will while remembering still my own mother’s encouragement that “repetition is the mother of all learning.”
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Built in 1887 by Sarah and Dr. Thomas Minor, it was one the earliest grand homes built on First Hill. Painted a green so dark it was “almost black,” the red trim contrasted nicely. Interrupted by tragedy, the Minors’ stay there was brief. Less than three years after the family moved into their mansion, the doctor drowned off Whidbey Island while hunting with two friends, who also perished.
In 1891 when John and Angela Collins became the new residents, it was still addressed 702 12th Avenue, but the street was soon renamed Minor Avenue. Both Thomas Minor and John Collins served as Seattle mayors: Collins first in 1873 as a dedicated Democrat, and Minor in 1887, a resolute Republican. Earlier Minor had moved his family to Seattle from Port Townsend where he was also once mayor.
If one’s attentions were devoted to this big home’s pioneer origins, then one may still wish to call it the Minor Home. If, however, one concentrates on the roll of significant events that occurred here, then it is the Collins home, and perhaps even the Angela Collins home. Angela was the second wife of the bold Irishman John Collins. They were married in 1877, after the locally famous widower of forty-two courted and won eighteen-year-old Angela Burdett Jackling.
Widowed in 1903, Angela Collins gave her remaining forty-four years to nourishing Seattle society, the “higher” parts of it here on the summit of First Hill. Her work was distinguished by programs and parties, some in the garden. To name a few, Angela was a leader in the Garden Club, the Music and Art Foundation, and the Sunset Club, of which she and, later, her younger daughter Catherine, served as presidents. Angela was an effective campaigner, raising funds for the Children’s Orthopedic Hospital and the Junior League. The League’s first meetings were held in the Collins home.
John and Angela had four children and all of them excelled. For example, Bertrand, the younger son, was a popular novelist famous here for his exploring wit. In 1946, daughter Catherine was given the title “Seattle’s First Lady of the Year,” mostly for her work with charities. Within a year, her mother Angela died after eighty-eight productive years, most of them at this corner. Her obituary, which appeared in the Seattle Times for September 21,1947, concluded, “From her childhood, Mrs. Collins was a brilliant figure in the social history of the city.”
Anything to add, Paul? JEAN, First below with Ron Edge’s attentions are two links to related features that we return to again. Following that a few local reminders of the Minor and Collins names. Other extras were included above within this feature’s primary text.
ON MINOR AVENUE
COLLINS’ CLOSE-CALL AT HOME
An EDGE CLIPPING
the Daily Intelligencer
Nov. 13, 1878