A house which is one hundred years old can hold a lot of history – and some mystery. Although we have traced the ownership history of the Big Green House at 7321 35th Ave NE, researchers have not been able to answer the question of why the original owner built it. Built in about 1910-1911, the house would have been the biggest structure in the Wedgwood area at that time.
There were no house numbers in the Wedgwood area prior to 1932. To find the exact location of a house it is necessary to look for it by plat name, block and lot numbers on property records.
The Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue holds the original, hand-written property tax assessment rolls for King County. These property records show that in 1904 the block from NE 73rd to 75th Streets on the west side of 35th Ave NE was owned by Alexandrina McKinzie, a widow who derived income by buying and selling land. She platted the block with house lots and gave the plat the name Highhurst on the Hill.
In 1910 a man named William Voss bought several lots from Mrs. McKinzie. Voss’s purchase included the future site of the Big Green House at 7321 and lots on both sides, and the property tax records do not show a big house on the site at the time of his purchase. This tells us that probably William Voss is the one who built the house at 7321 35th Ave NE.
Who was William Voss?
William Voss could have started building his big house not earlier than mid-1910 when he bought the property. On the census taken on April 25, 1910, the Voss family was still living at 5610 15th Ave NE in the University District of Seattle (see line 14 on the census sheet below.)
William and Ida Voss had two teenage sons, Paul and Walter, and there were also two men in their twenties who were boarding with the Voss family. Taking in boarders was a common way of supplementing household income, and sometimes people listed as boarders were related to the host family.
One of the Voss family’s boarders, Sydney B. Hardt, was a kind of relative-by-marriage. This census listing shows that Sydney had an unusual background: he was born in Australia of an Australian mother and Hungarian father. Sydney Hardt’s father, H.B. Hardt, was a Hungarian immigrant to Australia, and later to the USA.
The Voss family and the Hardt family
At age 24 H.B. Hardt, a Hungarian immigrant to Australia, had visited the USA for the first time as part of the South Australia Commission which had an exhibit at the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876. The Centennial Exhibition of 1876 was the first World’s Fair held in the United States, and it was very successful. It was estimated that about 20% of the population of the United States at that time visited the fair. In the days before TV and Internet, world’s fairs were enormously important opportunities for the exhibition and advertising of products and places.
The Philadelphia event of 1876 had representatives from all the USA states and territories, and many foreign countries, including Australia, brought exhibits. This first experience at Philadelphia launched H.B. Hardt’s professional career in Exposition Management. He became part of an international group of experts who were hired to help organize and run world’s fairs. Hardt became a specialist in arranging exhibits, whether of a state’s or business organization’s products.
By 1910 H.B. Hardt was 58 years old and had been to 26 national and international expositions held all over the world, including Europe, South Africa, India, the USA and back in his home of Australia. Hardt’s last job before coming to Seattle was at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition of 1905 in Portland, Oregon. Hardt then came to Seattle for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909. During his time in Portland and Seattle, Hardt developed two new loves: he fell in love with the Pacific Northwest, and he took a new wife, Pauline. After all of his world travels, Hardt settled in Seattle and he brought his son Sydney here to live. Hardt spent the rest of his career as an exhibition manager for the Seattle Chamber of Commerce.
The Hardt and Voss families settle in Seattle
H.B. Hardt’s new wife, Pauline, was sister to Ida, William Voss’s wife. William & Ida Voss were German immigrants who had first settled in Illinois in the 1870s. In the 1890s they began a westward exploration which took them to California, then to Ritzville, WA, and then finally to Seattle in the early 1900s.
We can speculate that the Hardt & Voss families settled in Seattle because they loved the city, because of the desire of the two sisters, Ida & Pauline, to be together, and because their husbands were in their fifties and were in the final years of their careers; the men were transitioning into more settled, less strenuous work.
In Ritzville, WA, William Voss had been a hotel-keeper. Ritzville was a stop on the railroad line where travelers would break up their journey by staying overnight. After coming to Seattle Voss worked briefly as a hotel-keeper and also as a carpenter and cabinetmaker. We can speculate that Voss prospered in his work, because he had enough money to buy land in northeast Seattle and build the big house which became 7321 – 35th Ave NE.
The Voss family moves out to northeast Seattle
Property records show that as of 1910 there was only a small house located on one of the lots which Voss had bought. In those years it was common for a family to start with a small house which might be temporary, while building a bigger house on the site.
Voss family descendants believe that William Voss must have built the house at 7318 – 34th Ave NE because the family would retreat to that house in wintertime (the bigger 7321 house was too hard to heat.)
Since Voss had bought enough land for several lots, we know that he might have built houses on his properties to use or to sell. There are no construction permit records for early 1900s houses on that street because the area was out of the Seattle City Limits at that time, so we can only speculate on Voss’s activities by using other records.
Census records show that in the period 1910 to 1930 in the area around NE 73rd to 75th Streets near 35th Ave NE, there were quite a few German immigrant families. As a German immigrant himself, Voss might have obtained work helping to build houses for other German families in the neighborhood, including doing cabinet-making which Voss listed as his occupation in the later years of his life.
Why was the Big Green House so big?
The question that we cannot answer via research is why Voss built such a large house at 7321. Perhaps it was a “dream house” or was meant to help advertise his skill at carpentry. There is no indication that the house was intended to be a hotel, as the area was very isolated in those days and customers would have been hard to come by. His experience as a hotel-keeper in Ritzville would have taught Voss that hotels need to be near a railroad or other transportation point for the convenience of travelers. The location of 7321 was not convenient at all. There were few streets that had been put through in the Wedgwood area in the early 1900s and there was no public transportation system, such as bus or streetcar.
The last owner of the 7321 house, Dennis Matau, lived in the house more than fifty years, until his death in 2001. His wife Elizabeth died of ovarian cancer in 1959 and Matau never remarried. In the busy building years of the Wedgwood neighborhood in the 1950s, we can speculate that Matau might have received offers from developers to buy the house. If so, he declined the offers, and the house became more and more isolated with commercial buildings on either side.
Mr. Matau was an electrician, and in the 1980s Matau did his own remodeling work in the house such as putting in another kitchen on the second floor, and he began renting out rooms for income. After his death Matau’s heirs sold 7321 to a development company which continued to keep renters in the house.
With the ups and downs of the Seattle economy, plans to redevelop the site of the 7321 house, which is zoned commercial, were started and stopped several times. Notices of development plans originally filed in 2007 were re-posted for 2013 by the house owner, Sam Brace Development. Brace then sold the property to another developer, Sage.
Our thanks to Jeannette Voiland and John LaMont, librarians in the Seattle Room of the Seattle Public Library, for their guidance in history and genealogy research for this article, and thanks to Greg Lange, history and property research expert.