On the census of the year 1900 in Galesburg, Knox County, Illinois, seventeen-year-old Earl G. Park listed his occupation as “architect.” Two years later, Earl Park was in Seattle in the employ of a busy and successful architectural firm, Bebb & Mendel. The story of Earl Park’s arrival in Seattle and his architectural career parallels the exciting years of the growth of Seattle in the early 1900s.
From its earliest years Seattle attracted adventure-seekers from all over the USA, individuals who hoped to make their fortune in the young city. There were also many examples of entire families migrating to Seattle as the Denny Party had done. The Dennys and associated members of the group were the founders of Seattle in 1851. The family of Earl Park was from Galesburg in Knox County, Illinois, very close to the place where the Denny Party came from. It is very possible that the Parks knew the story of the Dennys who had left Knox County as an extended family to start a new city out West. In his life in Seattle, Earl Park would become a “builder” on the Denny’s foundation, as Park contributed to the growth of infrastructure of the city.
Earl Park did not arrive alone as an adventure-seeking young man in Seattle – his parents, brother and sister came, too. We can speculate on what caused Earl’s father, William Park, who was about 48 years old when he came to Seattle in 1902, to make such a drastic move for himself and his family. We know from census and city directory records that two of William Park’s brothers had been living in Seattle for almost ten years – they were married and had children who had been born in Seattle in the 1890’s. Upon arrival in Seattle William Park found a place to live on Queen Anne, not far from the homes of his two brothers. In addition to family closeness, another factor which may have eased the way was William Park’s employment. In Seattle William was able to continue working for the Northern Pacific Railroad as he had in Illinois.
Earl Park’s desire, from a young age, to be an architect may have been another factor in the family decision to come to Seattle. Although it might have been more logical to go to Chicago as the nearest big city to the Park family’s home in Illinois, Seattle may have had the allure of a frontier town where there would be greater equality and opportunity for young people. Not only was Earl Park able to obtain employment though he was only nineteen years old, but he got into one of the best and busiest architectural offices in Seattle in 1902. Charles H. Bebb and Louis L. Mendel had just formed their business partnership in 1901 but they had already been able to get important contracts.
Although we don’t know what projects Earl Park might have done in Bebb & Gould’s office, we can speculate that he first helped with the drawings for the University Heights School, on University Way at NE 55th Street, which Bebb & Mendel worked on in 1902. In the days before computer-assisted drafting, architectural drawings were all done by hand and big projects required the work of many draftsmen. Young architects apprenticed in this way by carrying out the drawings of the senior partners of the firm. It is very likely that Earl Park worked on drawings for a range of projects varying from office buildings to private homes. He may have helped with drawings for the Washington State Pavilion at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909, held on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle. It was an exciting time to be in Seattle and a great time to be an architect.
In 1902, the same year that Earl Park began working in Seattle, another native of Illinois, John R. Nevins, also came to work at the office of Bebb & Mendel. There is no indication of whether John R. Nevins and Earl G. Park knew one another in Illinois; they came from different counties. Nevins arrived in Seattle as a single man without family, and he was eight years older than Earl Park. In addition to their regular work in the architectural office, the two men formed a friendship and business relationship as they began investing in land and building houses to sell.
Nevins & Park each married in 1910 and by 1918 they had moved their families to the plat they had named for themselves, the Nevins & Park Addition in Wedgwood. The plat was on a hilltop, one long block from NE 82nd to 85th Streets, 28th to 30th Avenues NE. Nevins, Park, and three other families (all of whom were headed by architectural draftsmen) took lots in the new plat and built new houses. There was as yet no electricity or running water. With his engineering expertise, John R. Nevins constructed a water tower which could supply several houses in the new plat.
Bebb & Mendel dissolved their partnership in 1914 and Charles Bebb formed a new architectural firm with Carl F. Gould later that same year. Bebb & Gould were each well-known architects with many strong connections in Seattle. Their partnership agreement put Charles Bebb in charge of management of the office, and Bebb retained several of his employees from the Bebb & Mendel days. Earl Park, his brother John, and co-worker Bert Wait all went with Charles Bebb. Sometime during this period John R. Nevins left the employment of Bebb, went out on his own and had his own office. But it is clear that Nevins kept up his business ventures with Earl Park, culminating in the development of the Nevins & Park plat in Wedgwood in 1918.
In 1918 Earl G. Park built his home at 8225 30th Ave NE in the Nevins & Park plat. The house was simple but beautiful in its architectural details, with no elaborate ornamentation. The house was not large, totaling 1600 square feet. Earl Park’s house design seemed to reflect his character as a family-oriented person who didn’t do things just for show. In moving to the then-rural area of Wedgwood, Earl Park’s goals seemed to be for his family to be able to own their own home without financial strain, and have a healthful, countryside environment for their children. This was the Park’s first and last house. City directory listings show that Earl and his wife Lorraine had lived in apartments from their marriage in 1910 up until 1918. Lorraine Park continued to live in the house after Earl Park’s death.
At age 35 in 1918, Earl Park was in a career he enjoyed, with the recognition of having been admitted to the America Institute of Architects that year. He had his own house and he had his family around him. His brother John had moved onto the Nevins & Park block as well. Little did Earl Park know, however, that he had only ten more years to enjoy his life, family and career.
The years from 1918 to 1928 were increasingly busy at the office of Bebb & Gould. They had acquired the commission to plan the University of Washington campus, ultimately completing eighteen buildings including the grand, massive Suzzallo Library.
During this time Carl Gould founded the Department of Architecture at the UW, and he was so busy that Bebb was often left to oversee their architectural office largely on his own. In that decade the office turned out over two hundred projects, ranging from school buildings to churches, homes to commercial structures.
The crowning project of Earl Park’s career must have been the construction of the Olympic Hotel at Fourth & University Streets in downtown Seattle. It was a project which captured the hearts of Seattleites as they were asked to pitch in to make the hotel a reality. Seattle’s Chamber of Commerce felt that what Seattle needed was a first-class new hotel, and they came up with the scheme of raising the money for it by selling bonds to the public.
Begun in July 1922, the bond campaign for a new hotel was timed to coincide with the silver anniversary of the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush which had set off an economic boom in Seattle as the gateway to Alaska. The Chamber of Commerce hoped to use the anniversary to stir up “Seattle Spirit” and get people to show confidence in the forecast for the hotel’s financial success. The bond campaign was an exciting time with the newspapers reporting on daily totals. All the money was raised rapidly and public interest was further stimulated by a naming contest for the new hotel.
In June 1923 newspapers reported that a building permit for construction of the Olympic Hotel had been issued to Mr. Lind representing the New York architectural firm of George B. Post & Sons, and Earl G. Park representing Bebb & Gould, the Seattle associated architects. It was common for large projects to be worked on by two or more architectural firms in cooperation, and much of the work must have been done in Bebb & Gould’s Seattle office. Newspapers also reported that Earl Park had been taken into junior partnership at Bebb & Gould, and that “he has been head of the drafting room several years and is well known to the firm’s many clients, contractors and material men throughout the city.”
The Olympic Hotel was open and ready to host guests by December 6, 1924, but that was really only the first phase. Work began immediately on construction of another wing of the hotel. The hotel construction took several years and all during that time there would have been activity which Earl Park needed to oversee, through the completion of the work. Just after the Olympic Hotel project and at the pinnacle of his career, Earl Park died of kidney disease on January 5, 1928; he was only 45 years old. His widow Lorraine continued to live in her house until her own death in 1969.
One measure of Earl Park as a person was his steady working career with Charles Bebb. It is apparent that he was valued by his employer, and Earl Park, in turn, gave loyal service to Bebb. It is notable that Earl Park was content to work for Bebb rather than trying to go out into solo practice as an architect. It takes a lot of maturity and the character qualities of patience, cooperation and communication to work in the same office over twenty-five years with other long-time employees, including his brother John Park.
We know that in his twenty-five year association with architect Charles Bebb, Earl Park was involved in the design and execution of hundreds of buildings in Seattle. From downtown buildings such as the Olympic Hotel, to the campus of the University of Washington, Earl Park’s legacy is the gift of the beautiful buildings he helped to create.
Census and City Directory listings.
Distant Corner: Seattle Architects and the Legacy of H.H. Richardson. Jeffrey Karl Ochsner and Dennis Alan Anderson, UW Press, Seattle, WA, 2003. pages 287-288 (Charles H. Bebb.)
Interviews with Earl Park descendants.
Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA. Property records for the Nevins & Park plat.
Shaping Seattle Architecture: A Historical Guide to the Architects. Jeffrey Karl Ochsner, editor, UW Press, Seattle, WA, 1994. Essays on Bebb & Mendel; Bebb & Gould.
Washington Digital Archives: birth, death and marriage dates.
“Hotel Bonds Subscribed.” Seattle Daily Times, July 18, 1922, pages 1,2.
“Permit Issued for Seattle’s Big New Hotel.” Seattle Daily Times, June 8, 1923, page 1.
“Taken into Partnership, Earl G. Park enters firm of Bebb & Gould.” Seattle Daily Times, January 6, 1924, page 7.
Death notice, Earl Gray Park – Seattle Daily Times, January 5, 1928, page 26.
“History Related of Wedgwood Landmark,” Wedgwood Echo, July 24, 1956, page 4.