Old Houses in Seattle History

Around Seattle’s neighborhoods there are old houses which embody the history of the city’s development and growth.  In Seattle’s fast-growing years of the 1880’s it seemed that carpenters were everywhere and today we can still see examples of early, carpenter-built wood-frame houses.

House in its original location at 7th & Dearborn Streets.  Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Regional Archives tax assessment property cards.

House in its original location at 7th & Dearborn Streets. Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Regional Archives tax assessment property card of 1938.

In 1975, two of the city’s oldest houses were threatened with demolition. These small vertical-plank wooden houses, typical of the 1880’s, were in Seattle’s International District at the corner of 7th & Dearborn Streets.  This is one of the oldest areas of the city, located east of Pioneer Square and the central downtown business district.

A bank which wanted to expand into the site at 7th & Dearborn (today’s KeyBank) offered to donate the houses and help cover the cost of moving the structures if the Historic Seattle organization could make arrangements to relocate the houses.

The Pioneer House now at 5341 Ballard Ave NW in the Ballard Avenue Landmark District.

The Pioneer House now at 5341 Ballard Ave NW in the Ballard Avenue Landmark District.

Historic Seattle moved the houses to the then-newly created Ballard Avenue Landmark District in 1976, where the houses were compatible with early Ballard dwellings. After relocation, the exteriors were restored and the interiors remodeled for adaptive reuse.

The Pioneer Houses at 5341 Ballard Ave NW were sold with a preservation easement requiring the owners to maintain the exterior appearance of the houses, which are now used as professional offices.

Vertical Plank wall section graphic by Kate Krafft, architectural historian

Vertical Plank wall section graphic by Kate Krafft, architectural historian

On Saturday, May 23rd, local architecture historian and preservation consultant Kate Krafft will give a presentation detailing her research findings about the house building method called Vertical Plank Construction (VPC). This method was used for the Pioneer Houses which were moved to Ballard.

VPC is a relatively fast, easy and cheap construction method, often used for temporary buildings that could easily be dismantled and occasionally for small permanent dwellings. The presentation will be followed by a tour of the nearby Pioneer Houses.

Saturday, May 23rd, 1 to 2 PM, followed by a tour of the Pioneer Houses.
Ballard Branch, Seattle Public Library
5614 22nd Avenue NW, Seattle, WA 98107

 

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The Little Free Library

Walking along a sidewalk in the Wedgwood neighborhood one day, I saw what appeared to be a fancy front-yard mailbox…or was it a birdhouse?  Upon closer examination I saw that the structure had a door with books visible inside.  Over the book box door was a plaque which said, “Little Free Library.”

The first Little Free Library was built in 2009 as a model of a one-room schoolhouse.

The first Little Free Library was built in 2009 as a model of a one-room schoolhouse.

In 2009 Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin wanted to create a tribute to his mother, a former school teacher who had instilled in him a love of reading.  He built a dollhouse-size model of a one-room schoolhouse, with a bookshelf inside.  He mounted this book box on a post in his front yard, with a sign that said FREE BOOKS.  Before long Todd Bol’s neighbors and friends wanted to join in on the fun so they asked him to build more book boxes for them, which came to be called Little Free Libraries.

The Little Free Library movement grew rapidly and has established a LittleFreeLibrary.org webpage.  As of January 2015 there are at least 25,000 Little Free Libraries world-wide.  Little Free Libraries which are listed on the website receive a registration plaque and can give info such as what their Library is made of, or if it is made in honor of someone.

A Little Free Library model of a British telephone box is one of the kits sold on the website.

A Little Free Library model of a British telephone box is one of the kits sold on the website.

What does a Little Free Library do?  The Library creates a presence in the neighborhood to share as a community in the promotion of reading.  The “take a book” sign on the Little Free Library encourages participants to borrow a book and read it.  The Library is a get-to-know-your neighbors way to share your favorite books, provide others with interesting and helpful books, and generate good feeling in the neighborhood.

Some Little Free Libraries include a notepad for readers to jot down what they read and why they liked the book.  Promotion of reading and community participation including children, can help connect neighbors with one another.  Some Little Free Libraries are built at child-accessible height or in a storybook style to indicate that the Library contains children’s books.  The presence of a Little Free Library along a neighborhood sidewalk sends the message, “we are here, and we care.”

A garden setting enhances the appeal of this Little Free Library in the Wedgwood neighborhood.

A garden setting enhances the appeal of this Little Free Library in Wedgwood.

Use of Little Free Libraries by schools and neighborhoods can help prevent “summer slide,” the loss of proficiency in reading and language skills which occurs when students do not read during their summer vacation.  Little Free Library currently has a Kickstarter campaign to plant books in communities where children lack books in their homes.  The Little Free Library Big Book Access Kickstarter Campaign will help teachers set up Little Free Libraries for students to use during the summer.  Little Free Libraries can be utilized by police departments, as well, to help at-risk young people feel supported by their community and have access to books which will challenge them to build a brighter future.

Little Free Library garden setting at 7309 Ravenna Ave NE

What’s inside? This Little Free Library has translucent doors to entice a closer look.

Books can change a person’s life with inspiration, create bridges of understanding between generations, and bring communities together to share wisdom and promote positive values.  The Little Free Library Big Book Access Kickstarter Campaign seeks to contribute to this effort.

For a family or neighborhood project, consider setting up your own Little Free Library this summer.  You can order a kit from the website or get creative and build your own model.

Little Free Library samples

The Seattle Times book editor has written this humorous observation of how her neighbors interact with the Little Free Library.

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House Histories of the Fremont Neighborhood in Seattle

Fremont is easily reached from downtown Seattle by traveling along the west shore of Lake Union.

Fremont is easily reached from downtown Seattle by traveling along the west shore of Lake Union.

Fremont in Seattle was one of the city’s first neighborhoods with its own identity.  It was founded as a land development, like a suburb, with the name of Fremont taken from the home city of two investors who came out from Nebraska.  In 1888 these men formed a business partnership with local investors to develop the site in a very advantageous location, reachable from downtown Seattle via a streetcar line along the west side of Lake Union (Westlake Avenue).

Information about Seattle’s historic neighborhoods like Fremont can be found on the Department of Neighborhood’s Historic Preservation page.  There is a database of historic properties by address, or you can put in the neighborhood name such as Fremont, and see all of the buildings which have been “surveyed” (reviewed for historic info).

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How Birds Fly

Birds exhibit at Museum of FlightFrom earliest times, people have been fascinated by how birds fly.  Seattle’s Museum of Flight is presenting a special exhibit on the “mechanics” of flight (bird anatomy) and the inspiration which birds have given to man’s efforts to become airborne.  The How Birds Fly exhibit is at the Museum of Flight now through September 4, 2015.  Check the museum website for open hours, parking info and admission prices.

How Birds Fly is presented in partnership with the Burke Museum and a bird photographer, Dr. Peter Cavanaugh of the University of Washington in Seattle.  The photographs of birds in flight are alongside anatomy which highlights “how they do it,” and placed in the exhibit together with man’s best efforts at imitation of bird flight via mechanical means.

God created the birds, and we can admire and enjoy His creation along with the assurance that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31.)

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Pacific Northwest Regional Architecture

In the Pacific Northwest, modern architecture has been described as Northwest Regionalism.  From the 1930’s to the 1970’s the University of Washington in Seattle was the incubator of architects and a modernist movement.  In their work these architects expressed the Pacific Northwest love of natural materials such as wood, and careful thought in the placement of a building to show its relationship to natural settings of trees and terraces.

Dr. Jeffrey Karl Ochsner, University of Washington.

Dr. Jeffrey Karl Ochsner

On Saturday, April 25, the downtown Seattle Public Library will host a lecture by University of Washington professor and architectural historian Dr. Jeffrey Karl Ochsner on the topic of regional modern architecture.  Dr. Ochsner’s lecture will focus primarily on single-family residential buildings in Seattle and some small institutional buildings such as medical clinics, as buildings where Regional Modernism was most often expressed.

The downtown Seattle Public Library is located at 4th and Spring Streets.

The downtown Seattle Public Library is located at 4th and Spring Streets.

Update:  

Past architecture lectures by Dr. Ochsner are available in podcast from the website of the Seattle Public Library.

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The Mock Family and Maple Leaf School

A 1938 Seattle Engineering Dept. map of the city, showing the annexation dates of different neighborhoods.  A "jog" can be seen at the northeast corner, where the city limits were at NE 65th Street.   Northeast Seattle was outside the Seattle City Limits until the 1940's. Image courtesy of UW Special Collections.

A 1938 Seattle Engineering Dept. map of the city, showing the annexation dates of different neighborhoods. A “jog” can be seen at the northeast corner, where the city limits were at NE 65th Street. Northeast Seattle was outside the Seattle City Limits until the 1940’s. Image courtesy of UW Special Collections.

During the hot-weather week of August 12, 1910, The Seattle Daily Times newspaper carried reports of fires across the State of Washington, and one fire which struck closer to home, to the northeast outside of the Seattle City limits.

The news article reported that Lores L. Goodwin, described as living in the McLaughlin Tract, drove his car to downtown Seattle to request aid in fighting the fire.  That is how the newspaper became aware that residents of the remote northeast district, today’s Wedgwood and Meadowbrook, had been able to beat back the flames of the night before.

The August 12, 1910 news article reported that two other fire-fighting neighbors were C.E. Thorpe who owned forty acres of timbered property along 35th Ave NE at NE 80th, and William Mock at NE 95th and 35th Ave NE.  It was believed that a brush fire had gotten started in the Maple Leaf Valley (the route of Lake City Way NE at about NE 85th Street.)  The fire burned in a northeasterly direction across the logged-off area which later became the Morningside Heights plat.  The fire jumped the road northward across NE 95th Street, onto what is now the site of the Northeast Veterinary Clinic.  The Mock’s house on the east side of 35th Ave NE seemed threatened but as of the night of August 11th, the men were able to stop the fire there at the intersection, and the Mock house was saved.

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Wilson’s Exposition Heights

The pergola in Pioneer Square, downtown Seattle, was constructed in 1909 as a shelter for streetcar riders.

The pergola in Pioneer Square, downtown Seattle, was constructed in 1909 as a shelter for people waiting to ride the streetcar out to the AYP Exposition on the campus of the University of Washington.

The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, a world’s-fair event, attracted people to Seattle even before the fair’s opening date of June 1, 1909.  When news of the Exposition plans became known in 1906, people from all over the USA began coming to Seattle to get in on job opportunities and real estate development schemes, in hopes of capitalizing on the AYP Exposition’s publicity and attendance.

This blog post will tell about some families who came to Seattle in the years leading up to the AYP Exposition and how they became part of the growth of northeast Seattle.

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