Housing through the years: From the Denny Party to the Great Depression in King and Snohomish Counties: A Slideshow

  • By John Caldbick
  • Posted 9/10/2011
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9833

Seattle's earliest white settlers had to fashion their dwellings from the raw materials nature provided. The rough log cabin shown at left was built by David Thomas Denny, who landed at what is now West Seattle in September of 1851. It is generally considered to be the first dwelling built in Seattle by white settlers.

Early the following year, most of the Denny Party relocated to the eastern shore of Elliott Bay, near the site of today's Pioneer Square. It was not until Henry Yesler arrived in 1852 and built the area's first steam-powered sawmill that these early Seattleites could construct homes using processed lumber and up-to-date "balloon frame" construction techniques, so called because its detractors thought it as insubstantial as a balloon.

One of the first things Yesler did after opening his mill was build a house, probably in the spring of 1853. Located at 1st Avenue and James Street, it had a symmetrical, front-gabled roof and, perhaps because he had as much lumber as he needed, he added a false front, a feature commonly found on commercial buildings of the day. Built out from the false front is a small, hipped roof covering a front porch that spanned the width of the house, and while it is difficult to tell from old photographs, it appears that the vertical supports for that roof had some design details. Henry lived here until 1858, when his wife, Sarah, joined him from Ohio, and the photograph was taken the following year. The simplicity of this design was left behind in later years as the Yeslers prospered and built one of the city's first and grandest mansions.

Another early home that used sawed lumber was that of Thomas Mercer. He had been drawn to Seattle by word of the opening of Yesler's mill, believing that it foretold progress and ample employment. His wife died during the journey from Illinois, but Mercer remarried in later years and was to become one of the new city's leading citizens. The home that he built in 1854 for himself and his four daughters was located at the base of Queen Anne Hill near the south shore of Lake Union. It had one and one-half stories with an asymmetrical gabled roof and was in a style known as "saltbox." As did many of Seattle's early settlers, Mercer went on to build a much grander home in later years.

Some of Seattle's very early dwellings were already displaying the workmanship of skilled builders. Charles Plummer built his home at the corner of S Jackson Street and Occidental Avenue S in 1859, and it was described as "one of the finest buildings in Seattle" by early newsman and photographer Thomas Prosch. Plummer arrived in Seattle in 1853 and opened the city's first brickyard, one of many commercial enterprises he was to establish. Despite having plenty of bricks, Plummer chose to build his home of wood, no doubt purchased from Henry Yesler's mill. His cross-gabled, one-and-one-half-story home featured a covered porch and upstairs balconies on both the front and side. The balcony railings display some of Seattle's first spindlework, a styling detail that was soon to become much more common and more elaborate. Plummer's home was destroyed in the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889.

Arthur A. Denny, a leader of the party that landed at Alki in West Seattle in 1851, was Seattle's first postmaster and would later serve as a King County commissioner and in the Washington Territorial Legislature. Denny came to be one of Seattle's wealthiest citizens, earning a fortune in merchandising, banking, railways, and real estate. His home on 1st Avenue between Union and University streets was built in either 1865 or 1866 in a style identified by some as Carpenter Gothic Victorian. It had a steep-pitched, cross-gabled roof and two imposing chimneys. The decorated vergeboards along the eaves of the peaked gables and the spindlework balustrade and scrollwork braces of the front porch may have been added later, but are early evidence of a growing trend in Seattle homes of elaborately ornate exterior detailing.

Charles C. Terry also arrived at Alki Point in 1851 and platted the short-lived town of Alki in 1853, making it the first platted town in what would become King County. He tried to open a sawmill there to compete with Henry Yesler's Seattle mill, but winds on the exposed point played havoc with the log booms and he had to relocate to Blakely Island. He hung on as a resident at Alki until 1860, when he moved to Seattle, where in 1865 he built a cross-gabled Victorian on 3rd Avenue between James and Terry streets. It bore a close mirrored resemblance to Arthur Denny's home, with ornate vergeboards and spindlework balustrades, but it also sported a wall dormer above its covered front porch. The house was demolished in 1906 to make room for commercial buildings.

Even homes in areas of Seattle that were still considered rural started to show some decorative flair in the 1870s. R. W. Pontius, an early member of Seattle's school board, owned a farm located between Elliott Bay and South Lake Union, and it was there in 1870 that he built his one-and-one-half-story Folk Victorian farmhouse. It featured a gabled roof of normal slope, with two front wall dormers and a covered porch. Although this home had no decorative scrollwork along the eaves, the tops of the porch posts feature scrollwork braces. In later years Pontius would build an elaborate mansion on Denny Way near Yale Avenue.

One early house on Queen Anne Hill, the owner unidentified, is an austere example of a steep-roofed, one-and-one-half-story Victorian. It had virtually no exterior adornment and lacked the expansive porch seen in many other homes of the day. A windowed gable dormer in the front, which may have been matched by one on the rear, provided light to the upstairs. Concrete was not in wide use yet during this era, and this house, like most, would have had no basement.

But not all homes on Queen Anne were so modest, even in this early day. In the late 1870s, Seattle pioneer and early builder John Pike moved his family from their original humble abode at 2nd Avenue and James Street to a large, two-story home on the top of Queen Anne Hill at 1621 1st Avenue N. With two cross gables extending from a central core, a shed-roof wing off the rear, a continuous bay with windows scaling both stories, and a diamond-shaped window illuminating an interior staircase, the Pike house incorporated a mix of styles.

Although the level of exterior decoration varied, a trend toward much larger homes was becoming apparent during the 1870s. Dr. G. A. Weed built his Italianate Victorian on the corner of 2nd Avenue and Madison Street in 1878. It had a low-slope roof typical of the style, and while it had Victorian-style raised panels and paint detailing beneath the bay windows, it had little or none of the scrollwork common to many Victorian houses. As with nearly all homes located in what would become downtown Seattle, Weed's was torn down, in 1908, to make way for commercial development.

During the 1870s and early 1880s, newcomers were spreading out from Seattle in every direction. Houses sprang up in Kent and Renton to the south and on both shores of Lake Washington to the east. Houses in the more rural areas remained relatively modest and looked much like the early houses in Seattle, but this too would change over the years.

In Kent to the south, J. H. Titus build a cross-gabled Victorian at the corner of Titus Street and Central Avenue in 1880. (Kent was once called "Titusville.") His one-and-one-half-story house had a single small gable dormer, and although the eaves were unadorned, the deck posts were of an unusual design, appearing to consist of two narrow parallel posts with a space in between, with decorative bases and topped with scrollwork braces. The wide deck above the front porch features an even more unusual railing treatment, with central medallions suspended by thin radiating strips from the railing above and the balusters on either side. Its delicacy perhaps indicates that wrought iron rather than wood was used in its construction.

Also in the Kent area stood the 1880s White River home of Thomas Alvord, a pioneer rancher and merchant, and it shows how builders in the West felt no pressing need to confine themselves to coherent architectural styles. This impressive home is for the most part a standard, two-story, cross-gabled Victorian, with fairly elaborate scrollwork bracing on the the supporting beams of a deck that seems to wrap around the entire house. But plunked down at the juncture of the cross gables sits a small belvedere, or lookout, not commonly associated with a house of this overall design.

There are several documented examples from the 1880s of houses that joined, in separate wings, an Italianate design with what appears to be one in Folk Victorian or even Cape Cod style. Typical of these is the home of Dorr and Eliza Forbes in Juanita. On the right is an unadorned, full two-story Italianate, while connected to it on the left is a one-and-one-half-story wing of a markedly different design having two gable dormers.

And in what is now Bellevue, in an area then called "Killarney," Albert Burroughs built a house for his family in 1883 or 1884. A relatively straightforward one-story Victorian, it does have some interesting design elements, including decorative shingling on the upper half; an intricate scrollwork vergeboard along the front gable that echoes the small, half-oval window; and door glass and upper-window lights in Queen Anne style, with clear central panes surrounded by smaller rectangular sections of stained glass.

As the population of Seattle burgeoned during the 1880s and early 1890s, many of those who had held on during the lean years were richly rewarded. Large fortunes began to accrue, and many of the area's pioneer families were quick to built imposing homes. Queen Victoria reigned over the British Empire, and many of the architectural variations that ruled the day were called "Victorian." Under that capacious category, often modified by "Queen Anne," "Italianate," "High," "Folk," or some other adjective, houses large and small, ornate and unadorned, wood, stone, brick, or all three, were lumped. Their differences often overwhelmed their similarities, and many early Northwest houses displayed features of several different architectural types, making precise classification virtually impossible.

Henry Yesler came to town in 1852, started the area's first steam-powered sawmill, and made a fortune at this and other ventures. When it was time for him and his wife Sarah to move up in society, they built a multi-gabled 40-room mansion at 3rd Avenue and James Street. Yesler chose to build entirely with wood, the material that had made him his first fortune, and the result is a stunning example of an ornately detailed Queen Anne Victorian. It features at least six gables above the second full story, each of a different size and design, and above them is a partial fourth story with a mansard roof interrupted by a small dormer window facing the front. A final touch, a spire on the mansion's southwest corner, towers over all. As the second photo at right indicates, the Yesler mansion was even deeper than it was wide, extending the full block between 3rd and 4th avenues. Despite being made entirely of wood, it survived the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 and by 1899, after both Yeslers had passed away, it housed the Seattle Public Library. Two years later, however, flames finally found it, and one of Seattle's first and most spectacular mansions was destroyed.

The second great mansion of 1883 was built not by one of the town's founding fathers, but by James McNaught (1842-1919), who arrived in Washington Territory in the late 1860s, did exceptionally well practicing law in Olympia and Seattle, and then became the Northern Pacific Railroad's legal counsel for the West Coast. His mansion at 4th Avenue and Spring Street, just a few blocks north of the Yeslers', looked as imposing from the front, but could boast only 22 rooms and had a much smaller footprint. From contemporary photos, it appears to have been constructed of either stone or stucco, with some wood detailing around the porches and balustrades. Architecturally, it differed from the Yesler mansion in having a mansard roof, with two peaked front gables sheltering small balconies atop the second-floor bay windows. Its tower was front and center, rather than on a corner like that of the Yeslers, and was also more elaborate, featuring dormer windows on all four sides of its pyramidal spire. McNaught enjoyed his mansion for only a few years, and it served as the first home of Seattle's Rainier Club from 1888 until 1892. It too survived the 1889 fire, but fell to the wrecking ball some years later.

There were to be many more mansions built in Seattle over the ensuing decades, but few if any would match the size and grandeur of these first two entries.

Not many were as wealthy as the Yeslers and McNaughts, of course, but homes were attainable for a broad section of society in the late 1800s. Although the 1889 Seattle fire and the nationwide financial Panic of 1893 posed temporary roadblocks, home ownership flourished during the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Variations of Victorian styles dominated the design of homes in every price range, and architectural plan books and mail-order plans were being relied upon to the apparent exclusion of actual architects.

Those who were rich, but not as rich as the Yeslers, often went for smaller versions of the huge Queen Anne Victorians found downtown. The home of George Kinnear (1833-1912), a Seattle latecomer of 1878, stood for almost 80 years at the foot of Queen Anne Hill on Olympic Place. It is a straightforward example of the Victorian sub-style from which the hill took its name, although it is notable for the unusual onion-shaped dome topping its central tower and the bas-relief decorations on its gable fronts. Kinnear built his home in 1885 and lived there for the rest of his life. After housing more generations of Kinnears, it was left to a religious organization, which eventually razed it and in the 1960s built a retirement home called Bayview Manor on the site.

David Denny was a true Seattle pioneer, the first member of the Denny Party to arrive in Seattle in 1851, and it was he who built the first cabin on Alki Point. In 1888 or 1889, after earning a substantial fortune through a variety of business ventures, he built his Victorian Queen Anne mansion at the foot of Queen Anne Hill on Mercer Street. Denny lost everything in the financial Panic of 1893, and he and his pioneer wife, Louisa Boren Denny, had to move to a small house in Fremont. Their mansion was later moved a few blocks away and converted to apartments. It was yet another outstanding example of Queen Anne architecture with, of course, a few little quirks and variations.

Those who were merely prosperous and not outright wealthy were doing pretty well in the region too, at least up until the 1893 economic meltdown. In Ballard, the full two-story home of John and Anna Brygger was built near today's Chittenden Locks in 1886 or 1887. Among its features were scrollwork porch-post braces and a decorative round window opening into the attic space. John Brygger operated one of the first salmon canneries on Puget Sound. He harvested the trees on his property, towed the logs to a sawmill, perhaps Yesler's, then towed the lumber back to build the house. A portion of the Brygger home was later moved a short distance and today (2011) is part of the Lock Spot Tavern, where the round attic window can still be seen.

Even more humble abodes did not entirely forego the decorative touches of the day. In 1898, at 3026 Western Avenue in the relatively low-rent area adjacent to Seattle's waterfront, there stood a neat little bungalow with some mild pretensions toward the ubiquitous Victorian style. Although not much bigger than a shotgun shack, it sports decorative finials along the length of it roof ridges, post braces with modest scrollwork, decorative shingling on the gable fronts, and a most unusual window to the left of the porch.

But in some areas of Seattle and in rural places, many houses remained steadfastly basic and utilitarian. The Adam and Elizabeth Tosh family, seen pictured in 1887 on their Redmond farm, did fine with a simple salt-box home that was a close cousin to Thomas Mercer's Seattle dwelling of 35 year earlier. But the Tosh home is almost a mirror image of Mercer's, with the extended long span of roof which typified salt-box design extending over the front porch, rather than the far more traditional practice of having it at the rear of the house. It's impossible to know what considerations dictated the choice of one form over the other, but it is one small example of how early builders would tinker with established styles to suit their purposes, or perhaps just their tastes

No glance at the history of residential architecture in the area would be complete without at least a few examples of the quirky. The style of homes over the the years went through definite phases that could be broadly characterized by a dominant form. Victorian architecture in its many manifestations had its two or three decades in the sun, followed by the various revivals, the offshoots of the Art & Craft movement, and a scattering of other forms. But there were always outliers, and in the era before the adoption of building codes there were few limitations, other than the law of gravity, on what one could build. This freedom led to some unusual-looking homes, just a few of which are shown here.

In approximately 1892, on the southwest corner of Densmore Avenue N and Northlake Way near the shore of Seattle's Lake Union, the Downs family built a home that, while displaying just about every ornate design detail of the high Victorian style, managed to look distinctly odd. The towering center section of the house is replete with the scrollwork, spindlework, roof finials, and other characteristics of the fussiest Victorian, while to the left there appears to be attached half of an entirely different structure, one featuring a single decorative round window in an otherwise blank and nearly featureless expanse of wall. The overall effect is of a comically skinny Victorian sandwiched between two afterthoughts.

Another mixture is seen in the home of the Arthur C. Warner family, built in 1900 at 18th Avenue and Yesler. Traces of Victorian are evident in the brackets supporting the small upstairs dormer and in the porch railings, while the half-timbering on the two roof gables, the upper one of which appears to be entirely gratuitous, is from the Tudor style book. The arched entryway also is more Tudor than Victorian. But what most marks the house as unusual are the rounded protuberances on either side of the small upstairs bay window, which seem to have no function whatsoever. The overall effect is strangely modern, and this is a house that would not appear entirely out of place in some of the suburban housing developments of a much later era.

Of the house pictured next little is known, other than that it was located in Edmonds north of Seattle, was owned by a family named Hyner, and was probably built in the late 1880s. Its symmetry anticipated the foursquare style, but the covered porch that appears to wrap around the entire house has no parallel in that design. The low-pitched roof and heavy roof brackets are evocative of both Italianate and foursquare style, but the scrollwork brackets of the porch posts are of clear Victorian origin. A final touch, the crowning belvedere in the center of the roof, seems disproportionately tall, and gives the entire structure a slight resemblance to a small lighthouse. Whether the whole represents an intentional mix of styles or is truly sui generis is difficult to say.

At 4926 Leary way in Ballard there once stood a full two-story home of unknown ownership that had several unusual features. The gently sloped roof could mark it as Italianate, while the alternating vertical and diagonal siding in the space between the first and second stories, and the spindlework and scrollwork on the upper and lower porches, are of clear Victorian influence. What really marks it as different is that it was private residence, which only rarely had false fronts, and this false front was particularly unusual. It has an outward-sloping, diamond-pattern shingled top, an inward-sloping bottom half with what appear to be decorative knobs, finials on the corners, and no apparent function other than the purely decorative, if it can be considered such. The photo was taken in 1910, but given the well-developed neighborhood and the well-weathered exterior, the house probably was built several years earlier.

The last picture shows the home of a world-famous clarinetist, Nicholas Oeconomacos (1864-1945), who fell upon hard times at a time when many others did as well, and the housing industry ground to a virtual halt. Although the pictures is from 1945, the house was built some years earlier, and it is unmistakeably one of a kind. Oeconomacos had lost his job with the local symphony, gone broke, and made ends meet, with undiminished dignity, by playing for coins on the streets of downtown Seattle while clad in a flowing black cape. He built this house at 1175 E Roy Street during the depths of the Depression, using mostly salvaged materials, and called it The House of the Terrestrial Globe. Among its many odd features were a fence and gateways made entirely of cast-off brass bedsteads. It was rumored, falsely, after this death in 1945, that a small fortune was concealed within, and fortune hunters virtually gutted the place in the ensuing months.

Oeconomacos's house was one of relatively few that were built in the years between the onset of the Great Depression and the end of World War II. By the time the industry came to life again in the late 1940s, society and tastes had changed dramatically, and these changes would be reflected in a range of new architectural styles, made possible not only by new ideas, but also by new materials and methods.

Row houses were popular in Seattle in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but surprisingly little photographic documentation exists. Since they were almost all of wood construction, very few survived past the middle decades of the twentieth century. Another housing choice, apartments, made their first appearance in the region in the early 1890s, and were a welcome alternative to boarding houses and residential hotels.

Seattle row houses for the most part followed the dominant architectural style of the single-family dwellings of the time. A fine example of a Victorian Gothic row house was located in the 2300 block of Western Avenue and dated back to at least 1891. It had features common to many Victorian homes of the era, including roof-peak finials, patterned shingles, extensive scrollwork braces, spindlework balustrades, and decorative raised panels below the lower bay windows. As lovely and well-maintained as it appears here, it was gone without a trace by 1937, a victim of either fire or the wrecking ball. It is not known if the alert-looking dog posing in the foreground was a resident.

Further uptown, at 5th Avenue and Madison Street, another fine example of Victorian row houses was photographed on December 4, 1909, although these were in all likelihood built in the 1890s. Although they bear obvious similarities to the Western Avenue row houses, the roof was mansard style, rather than gabled, and a series of decorative finials ran along its entire perimeter. The bay windows are not as prominent as the Western Avenue row house, but the roofs over the central front porches are of an unusual, wing-like design. A horse-drawn ice-delivery wagon from the Pacific Ice Company is visible on the street to the right.

And in Everett to the north, there appeared what must have been one of the region's first middle-class planned developments. On Chestnut Street between Hewitt and California avenues, a row of virtually identical "tract" homes was photographed on March 9, 1892. Unlike the Seattle row houses, each simple, cross-gabled Victorian cottage occupied its own small lot, an early harbinger of the housing developments of much later years. The unfinished condition of the street and sidewalks would indicate that this photo was taken shortly after the houses were built, but three of the four appear to already be occupied, with proud owners posing on their front porches.

One of the first Seattle apartment buildings for which photographic evidence has survived was the Lyndherst, located at 1408 3rd Avenue and pictured as it appeared in 1902. It was a two-story wooden structure with street-level stores and apartments upstairs, a common configuration then and one that is still widely used. The architectural style is predominantly Italianate, which had been popular for private homes in Seattle before being largely displaced by the more ornate Queen Anne Victorian style. The front eave of the flat roof is adorned with and supported by multiple braces, or corbels, and a central parapet that is both decorative and informative, bearing the name "The Lyndherst." The street-level storefronts housed, left to right, a feed and grain store, a bakery, and Colson's Restaurant.

Several of Seattle's early Victorian mansions, including that of David and Louisa (Boren) Denny, were later converted to use as apartments, but the mixed-use building at 12th Avenue E and E Pike Street, owned by the Gittleschon family, was purpose-built in the early 1900s for residential and retail use. The corner turret, gable-roofed balconies, and bay windows mark the three-story building's style as primarily Queen Anne Victorian. The front doors of the apartment units opened onto the roof of the ground-floor commercial spaces, with residents gaining access through the last door on the right at street level, which led to a staircase. A grocery store occupied the corner commercial space, but interestingly, the other three storefronts were taken up by three different motorcycle shops. It is unclear when this building was first erected, but the photograph dates from 1912.

Seattle's African American population grew from barely 400 in 1900 to nearly 2,300 by 1910, and was already concentrated in what would become known as the Central Area. The first apartment building in the city for African Americans was the Woodson Apartments, located at 1820 24th Avenue. It was built by Zacharias and Irene Woodson in 1908 in anticipation of the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, and during the fair they owned these apartments and a rooming house. This building still exists today (2011) as the Cascade View Apartments, but it has been long-since shorn of its Neo-Classical detail, including the pillared balcony and front stoop.

One of George Kinnear's many real-estate ventures was the construction in 1909 of the luxurious Del a Mar Apartments (also reported as "De La Mar") at 115 W Olympic Place, just a stone's throw from his lower Queen Anne Hill mansion. Just as his own home was a wonderful example of Queen Anne Victorian style, the Del a Mar was a beautifully designed and constructed brick and marble, Neo-Classical building. The long arms of its U-shape bracket a central courtyard featuring a rectangular pool and fountain, and among the amenities offered was a ballroom. Still beautiful over 100 years later, the Del a Mar is both a Seattle and national landmark building.

No glimpse of Seattle apartment buildings would be complete without mention of Frederick William Anhalt (1896-1996). During the 1920s and early 1930s, Anhalt designed and built some of the city's most visually pleasing and enduring apartment buildings. He freely mixed Tudor, Norman, Elizabethan, and other North European styles, and was known for exquisite interior details. His buildings often featured semi-enclosed, carefully landscaped courtyards, as in the Tudor Manor Apartments shown at right. Although lacking formal training in architecture, Anhalt's buildings in 1993 won him, at the age of 97, honorary membership in the Seattle Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

The combined population of King and Snohomish counties more than doubled between 1900 and 1910, growing from just over 134,000 to almost 300,000, and this created a huge demand for new housing in almost all income classes and a need for detailed building plans in an era in which the use of professional architects for residential structures was still rare.  Certainly by the 1880s, and probably much earlier, books offering detailed drawings and plans for a variety of home styles were readily available in the region, and would be relied upon, albeit with diminishing frequency, up to the present day. Besides books featuring many different designs, individual plan sets could be purchased by mail order or found in mass-circulation periodicals and even in local newspapers.

Among the earliest homes whose design origins can be traced directly to such ready-made plans was David T. Denny's Queen-Anne style Victorian residence (pictured in Frame 6), which was clearly taken from drawings for "A Suburban Residence" published by Scientific American Architects and Builders Edition in the spring of 1888. It was to be far from the last home built from standardized plans, although by 1900 the trend in home design was moving away from the intricate Victorian ornamentation of Denny's day and toward simplification and increased functionality.

Perhaps nowhere was this more evident than in the wide use of the foursquare style, which became so common that it was soon known as the Seattle Box. (Its popularity was not limited to the Northwest; in its many manifestations it was also known as the "Denver Box," "Prairie Box," and several other regional appellations.) Another very popular style was the Arts and Crafts bungalow, which was generally a smaller dwelling than the large and imposing foursquares.

The sources of canned plans for these and other housing styles ranged from mail-order pioneer Sears Roebuck, to national architectural firms,  to magazines and plan books. Among local and regional producers of such building guides were Seattle's Victor Voorhees (1876-1970)  Jud (sometimes "Judd") Yoho and Edward Merritt (1881-1950); the husband-and-wife team of Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Delong; and Elmer E. Green, whose main office was in Victoria, B.C. By 1906 more than 5,000 homes, many of them taken from plan books, had been built in Seattle’s Central Area, Eastlake, First Hill, Leschi, Madison Park, Madrona, Queen Anne, and North Capitol Hill neighborhoods, and more than 2,200 of them still survive.

The classic Seattle Box design, which is still a common sight on Seattle's Queen Anne Hill and Capitol Hill, was a simple, usually square design that typically had four rooms on the main floor and four on a full second floor, with a loft or attic space illuminated by at least one dormer. As with all other designs, however, considerable variability is to be found.

At right are photos of planbook covers and plans from Victor Voorhees, Jud Yoho, and Edward Merritt, and Sears Roebuck. The Seattle Box is from Victor Voorhees' 1908 Western Plan Book, a widely-used source in the early decades of the twentieth century. It is a fairly prototypical foursquare, although the second-floor bay windows were not a universal detail of the basic design. These homes proved particularly popular for families, hundreds if not thousands were built in the region, and similar dwellings can still be found in abundance in the Seattle area.

Voorhees also designed bungalows, but the more-remembered purveyors of that style in the Northwest were Judd Yoho and Edward Merritt (1880-1975). In 1912 Yoho, a Texas transplant, took over the California-based Bungalow Magazine, a publication that circulated nationally. Like many builders working in Seattle during this period, Yoho sometimes played the role of developer, designer, builder, and resale agent, but he was not a trained architect. Edward Merritt, who was, joined with Yoho and provided the cachet of a professional degree. Together they published multiple versions of a well-known plan book, Craftsman Bungalows, updating it each year for several years running. The plans shown at left were from the 1916 edition, as was the cover illustration.

Sears Roebuck, which had been publishing its famous mail-order catalog since 1888, put out its first planbook in 1908. Sears' design for what it called a "Prairie Box," is perhaps a  more pure example of the foursquare form that that of Voorhees, eschewing the popped-out, corbel-supported bay windows of Vorhees' version and having a more traditional and symmetrical floor plan of four down and four plus bathroom upstairs. Both feature multiple attic dormers, the exception rather than the rule for foursquares, which more commonly had a single front dormer

Although increasingly common, the Seattle Box and the bungalow were not the only designs to come to the fore in the new century. Other styles began to appear with more frequency as well, largely displacing the variations on Victorian that had dominated in the nineteenth century.

The architectural pot in Seattle began to bubble anew in the first decades of the twentieth century. The 1909 Alaska-Yukon- Pacific Exposition put the Puget Sound region on display to the world. Academically trained architects began arriving in numbers; the outskirts of Seattle and Everett continued the outward creep that would eventually populate the eastern shores of Puget Sound from Everett to Tacoma; and the rise of industry and organized labor led to higher wages and increased home ownership. Many factors facilitated wider architectural choice: new building methods and materials; electricity, central heating, and indoor plumbing; widespread use of concrete for foundations and basements -- all contributed to an expansion of the region's architectural vocabulary.

Although the foursquare Seattle Box and the Craftsman bungalow represented new styles and a degree of separation from the past, there was also a return of pre-Victorian forms. Three common types were Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, and Classical Revival. Modern influences also made their way to the Northwest, with the Prairie Style of Frank Lloyd Wright and his acolytes appearing with increasing frequency. As in earlier years, many dwellings embodied a mix of styles, making them impossible to place into a single, discrete category. Some of the best examples of all these styles and mixes of styles were to be found on Seattle's Capitol Hill and several homes pictured in this frame are from there.

A fine example of the Neoclassical is the mansion of entrepreneur Sam Hill, designed by the Washington D.C., architectural firm of Hornblower & Marshall and still standing at 814 E Highland Drive in Seattle's Harvard-Belmont Landmark District. Built in 1909, it was made of concrete block, a relatively new material that was rapidly gaining acceptance. In 1899, the Polk City Directory for Seattle listed only four companies specializing in cement or concrete, but by 1909 when this mansion was built, there were 54 such companies. Hill was clearly enamored of it; a few years later he started construction on a larger neo-classical mansion (nearly identical in style to this one and also designed by Hornblower & Marshall) in Klickitat County, overlooking the Columbia River. It sat unfinished for years until 1926, when it was repurposed to become the Maryhill Museum of Art. At his own expense, Hill built a reinforced-concrete war memorial fashioned after Stonehenge in Klickitat County (started in 1918 but not completed until 1930). And in 1921 he funded construction of the Peace Arch that marks the American-Canadian border at Blaine in Whatcom County, which was also built using reinforced concrete.

The large mansion of Seattle banker Charles J. Smith, located at 803 Summit and dating to approximately 1902, has clear Colonial Revival origins, but also bears a strong if somewhat oversized resemblance to the foursquare, Seattle-Box style that was becoming popular at around the same time. The columned porches and the second-floor balconies with their heavy balustrades are clear marks of the Colonial style, while the hipped roof and relatively wide dormers are more typical features of the foursquare. In about 1911, Dr. Edmund M. Rininger purchased this home and began converting it to hospital use. After his death in an automobile accident in 1912, the newly formed Swedish Hospital took it over.

A more pure example of Colonial Revival architecture was built for sale by Seattle developer Charles P. Dose, his son and business partner, architect Charles C. Dose, in the Mount Baker district in 1912. This fine house is still in place, well-maintained and substantially unchanged. An advertisement of the day touted its features, including a built-in vacuum system: "Lot 70 x 85. Street Paved with brick. Colonial Residence, 12 rooms, including Billiard and chauffeurs rooms in basement and servants room with bath in attic and garage to match-also electric fixtures and stationary vacum (sic) cleaner. Price $15,000. Will take $12,500 without above mentioned additional improvements, having 9 rooms completed."

A quite striking example of Tudor Revival architecture was the William Hainsworth residence, built in West Seattle on 37th Street SW in 1901 and still standing today. It featured a clinker-brick first floor and the typical stucco-and-beam half-timbering on the second. The large cross-gabled extension on the far end was apparently added later, and although it features large, multi-paned windows that carry on the Tudor style, it appears to be constructed either from a lighter-colored brick or to have been shingle-clad. Architect John Graham Sr., who designed the home with David Myers, went on to establish a two-generation architectural dynasty in Seattle that was to be responsible for many fine homes and commercial buildings.

Another house designed by Charles C. Dose, also located in Mount Baker in what was one of Seattle's first planned developments, is an example of a primarily Tudor Revival residence mixed with borrowings from other styles. The second-floor half-timbering is pure Tudor, and the multi-paned upper lights of the windows are also common to that style. However, the square pillars of the front porch and on the gabled and open dormer balcony are very typical of the Craftsman style, which was also coming into vogue. This house was built in 1909, when the Tudor Revival vogue was already well under way.

Another style of Tudor became popular in Seattle in the 1920s, featuring steep and swooping roof-lines, arched doorways, and, often, ribbon-style windows. A lovely example is the house located on a bluff on Sunset Avenue in West Seattle and built in the mid-1920s.

The new twentieth-century architecture was not limited to Seattle. To the north in Everett, one neighborhood had, side by side, examples of three of the new or revived styles that were gaining favor. At far left in the last picture in this frame is a Colonial Revival home, with its porch columns, single gabled roof, and exterior chimney. Next to that is a very pure Arts and Crafts Bungalow. Its gently sloping roofs end in deep overhangs, and a wide shed-roofed dormer provides light to the partial second floor. Last in the line are two very good examples of the foursquare Seattle-Box design, with their moderately sloped, hipped pyramidal roofs and perfectly square footprints. The mix of houses along this street would indicate that this was a neighborhood that was growing organically, and not with the higher degree of regimentation common to planned developments.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), one of America's foremost architects, opened a studio in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1898 that became a training ground for many architects, including a few who left their mark on the Northwest. A popular style that was developed and popularized by Wright and others became known as Prairie Style, and it is considered by many to be the first fully original American architectural form. It, together with the sturdy foursquare and the Craftsman bungalow, all developed out of the Arts and Crafts movement and were very popular in the Northwest in the first two or three decades of the twentieth century.

Three prominent architects who settled in Seattle in the early 1900s had either worked directly under Wright or were strongly influenced by his teachings. Between them, they designed several houses in the area that were refreshingly different from anything that had come before.

Ellsworth Storey (1879-1960) was born into privilege in Chicago and traveled to Europe as a young man, where he was quite taken by the architecture of Swiss chalets. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1903 with a bachelor's degree in architecture and moved to Seattle. Although he never worked directly with Wright, he was in Chicago during Wright's tenure and was clearly influenced by the Prairie School, although many of his projects reflected more traditional styles, including Georgian Revival and Elizabethan. Storey did both residential and commercial work, and among other projects designed the Hoo Hoo House Lumberman's Fraternity building for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909, which served as the University of Washington Faculty Club before being demolished in 1959.

As prolific and popular as he was, relatively few photographs exist of Storey's residential projects. One that does is that of the home of Robert M. Dyer in Seattle's Mount Baker district, which Storey designed in 1908. The Prairie Style influences are clear -- the deep overhang of the eaves, the low-hipped roof, and the use of natural materials native to the region. There also can be seen in the Dyer home echoes of the four-square style that was popular at the time.

Andrew Christian Peter Willatsen (1876-1974) and Francis Barry Byrne (1883-1967) both had trained under Wright in Oak Park, and they practiced together as architects in Seattle from 1909 to 1913. The residence of Charles H. Clarke in Seattle's exclusive Highlands was built in 1909 and is a fine example of Prairie School architecture, with its strong horizontal lines, low-pitch roof, deep eaves, and use of natural materials. The interiors of Prairie Style homes also marked a departure from previous forms, with open, flowing spaces replacing the many small, compartmentalized format that had dominated the Victorians and other earlier styles.

In 1911, Willatsen and Byrne designed another home in the Highlands, this time as a "country house" for the Albert S. Kerry family. Although markedly different from the Clarke residence, the Kerry house also has clear Prairie influences, including the low-pitched roof and rows of tightly spaced windows on the second story. The striking visual variation between the Clarke and Kerry homes demonstrate the flexibility of Prairie Style architecture and its ability to absorb elements of other schools while remaining clearly identifiable as something new.

Willatsen, now practicing without Byrne, moved from the Highlands to Highland Drive with his 1914 design for the J. C. Black home on Queen Anne Hill. Located directly across from Kerry Park on the hill's south slope, this home also carried strong influences of the Prairie Style, including the deep, overhanging eaves and the ribbon of windows along the front of the second story. Sadly, the Black home was demolished in January 2008 to make way for luxury townhouses.

The history of non-Native housing in what would become King and Snohomish counties started with log cabins and tents and has perhaps reached its apotheosis in the mega-mansions of the region's tech billionaires. In the progression from the raw-log, dirt-floored shacks of Alki Point to the lakeside estates of Medina and Mercer Island, the region has seen a number of housing styles come in and go out of fashion, from the simple boxes of the earliest days, through the improbably ornate High Victorian mansions of the late nineteenth century, to the sometimes spare and brutal-looking structures of the Modernist schools. The Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties sponsors this slide show to illustrate the contributions that housing professionals have made to the area's economy and to its people's comfort. It is a large topic, and what is presented here provides a look at regional housing from the earliest settlers to the dawn of the Great Depression, when the hammers and saws largely fell silent, not to resume until the end of World War II. This is by no means an exhaustive review, but rather just a sampling of some of the more common and popular designs, and a few of the more peculiar, that the region saw in its first eight decades.

An Architectural Melting Pot

The Northwest's early-day remoteness ensured that established architectural styles did not arrive intact from the East Coast. Settlers and builders in the Northwest during the last half of the nineteenth century were not fettered by the dictates of scholarly architecture; in fact, although there were many self-styled "professional" architects practicing in Seattle in the 1880s and 1890s, they most often had come from the building trades, and the first academically trained architect did not arrive until the early 1900s. Housing styles that existed in relatively pure form on the East Coast passed through many hands on the way west, some skilled and some less so. The absence of pristine architectural exemplars in the new territories freed early builders from the constraints of established forms. Many of the region's homes in the late nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries, humble or fine, incorporated features from different architectural styles and periods, making straightforward classification virtually impossible.

But the impulse to categorize is strong, and the attempts to do so with early regional architecture have led to some strained and confusing nomenclature. Seattle's Department of Neighborhood's historical-building listings include such compound classifications as "Arts & Crafts, Craftsman, Queen Anne, Cottage, Various" -- all this an attempt to describe in architectural terms a very small house built in Wallingford in 1907. And one of the largest single categories used by the department to pigeonhole historic buildings is "Vernacular," which takes in everything that cannot be comfortably forced into one or a combination of the other 78 classifications it uses, which include "None" and "Other." In contrast, most published academic accounts of early Seattle architecture lump several diverse styles, including Italianate and Queen Anne, under the rubric "Victorian," a word that does not even appear in the Department of Neighborhoods' architectural vocabulary. There clearly is a strong element of subjectivity in these attempts to apply architectural terms of precise meaning to the products of builders who did not play by accepted rules, and there may be disagreements with some of the classifications made herein.

This slideshow does not aspire to be a scholarly guide to architectural styles.The homes pictured in the slides are described by their predominant style, where possible, with mention made of obvious influences borrowed from other designs. It is but a small sampling of some of the more common and popular designs of the first 80 years, leavened with a few examples of the more peculiar.

From Logs to Lumber

The building of permanent homes in what were to become King and Snohomish counties can be dated to March 1853, when Henry Yesler (1810-1892) sawed the first logs at his steam-powered mill at the foot of today's Yesler Way. For the first time lumber, as opposed to raw logs, became readily available, and it must have seemed an inexhaustible resource at the time. Almost exactly two months after Yesler opened his mill, Arthur Denny (1822-1899), Carson Boren (1824-1912), and Dr. David S. "Doc" Maynard (1808-1873) filed the first plats for the Town of Seattle, establishing a street grid from Pioneer Square north into today's downtown. The table seemed set for rapid growth, but it was to be slow in coming.

By 1862, 11 years after the pioneering Denny Party landed on Alki Point, Seattle's population stood at only 182, and the countryside around it was inhabited almost exclusively by Native Americans. White men of great ambition and sometimes flexible ethics stood ready to build a great city, but the population necessary to allow their businesses to thrive simply did not exist. There was little money and less commerce, and the dwellings that housed these first few souls were generally of a type --  one- or one-and-one-half-story wood boxes with gabled roofs, entrances centered on either the long or short side, few windows, and no external ornamentation. The only deviation from strict utility could be found along Front Street (today's 1st Avenue), where some buildings used for business, and often for housing as well, had false fronts, giving them a somewhat more imposing appearance, but adding nothing in the way of substance.

The  1860s were dominated by the lead up to, the fighting of, and the recovery from the nation's Civil War, and migration to the Northwest temporarily slowed. By the time of the 1870 federal census, Seattle's population had indeed grown, but only to a little more than 1,100. This was surely a disappointment to the town's founding families, but it was enough to give commerce a little traction. The seeds of what would become great fortunes were planted in this era, but they would not fully mature until the city's population caught up with its potential.

There were no formally trained architects in Seattle during these early years. Houses were built by local or itinerant contractors and builders, often with no plans other than those they carried in their heads. Dwellings were spartan and largely unadorned. If a house was painted at all, it was painted white. One singular exception to these early utilitarian boxes was Washington Territorial University, an optimistic and imposing pile of Classical Revival pomp built at 4th Avenue and University Street in 1861.

Houses in outlying areas were generally even less refined than those clustered around the city's small central core. In many nearby places that are now part of Seattle proper, but were then not even worthy of the name "suburbs," raw-log cabins still prevailed. It was far cheaper to hew and build with what you had on your land than to purchase sawed lumber from Henry Yesler's mill and drag it to where it was needed.

Arthur Doyle, a native of Ireland, opened what he termed an architectural office in Seattle in 1871, but apparently lacked academic training. He designed only commercial buildings and left no mark on housing styles. In 1881, William Boone came to town fresh from a successful contracting business in San Francisco, and he would make his presence known with a number of extravagant buildings, commercial and residential, that demonstrated his fondness for ornate, High Victorian architecture. But even with the finest homes from the last decades of the 1800s, an identified "architect" appears to be the exception, and the first academically trained architects would not arrive until the new century. However, plan books and mail-order plans were widely used by builders, who did not hesitate to mix style elements, sometimes to good effect. The word "eclectic" often appears in later descriptions of buildings from this era, not always as a compliment.

An Explosion of Growth

Seattle started to hit its stride in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Its population boomed during the 1880s, and by 1890 reached nearly 43,000, an astounding increase of approximately 1,100 percent above the 1880 count of barely more than 3,500. The Great Seattle Fire of June 1889 could have crippled the city's progress, but in fact it created a clean palette in the downtown area, and this attracted more architects, more builders, and the introduction of new building methods and materials.

As more and more people arrived, new areas were opened for settlement and some of the first planned housing "developments" began to appear. The financial Panic of 1893 slowed things down, but not for long. The first apartment buildings came along in the 1890s, largely supplanting the traditional boarding houses and residential hotels. Seattle's population continued to grow, nearly doubling by 1900 to more than 80,000, then nearly tripling over the next decade, to more than 237,000 by 1910. All these people had to have places to call home, and over the years the region's builders have given the public what it needed, in a variety of styles and at a range of prices.

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