Some neighborhoods of Seattle are characterized by a certain style of house, because the majority of their houses were built during that style’s period of popularity. Wallingford, for example, is known for its blocks of Craftsman houses built in a relatively short period of time, from 1905 to 1925 when the neighborhood was growing rapidly.
Wedgwood does have some Craftsman houses as the style was very popular throughout Seattle in the 1920s. The northwest quadrant of Wedgwood from NE 90th to 95th Streets was the first section of the (future) Wedgwood to be promoted by a real estate company, and for that reason it still has many houses built in the 1920s.
The Wedgwood neighborhood developed slowly in the period from 1900 to 1940 and has fewer houses in Craftsman style, representative of early years.
By the 1930s “revival” styles such as Spanish Colonial and English Tudor became popular in Seattle, and these houses used the building materials of brick and stucco. There are just a few examples of these in Wedgwood.
A Craftsman wood-frame house is one which has a strong foursquare appearance, often with a wide front porch, heavy porch posts, and a low-pitched roof with wide eaves. If the house is small (one to one-and-one-half stories) then it is called a bungalow. The style originated in California in the early 1900s with the work of two brothers, the Greenes. One of the influences on the design was the Arts and Crafts movement, for Craftsman houses to have beautifully designed built-ins such as bookcases and fireplace surrounds.
The popularity of Craftsman houses in Seattle had a lot to do with the rise of magazines such as House Beautiful and Ladies’ Home Journal, and of pattern books of house plans. Jud Yoho and Victor Vorhees were among local builders who advertised their pattern books. Local Seattle real estate developers began giving away sets of Craftsman house plans with lot sales, as was done in the Morningside Heights Addition in Wedgwood in the 1920s.
Craftsman houses began to wane in popularity in Seattle by the end of the 1920s. Like all kinds of trends, whether in fashion or in housing, it is hard to say exactly why something is popular and then loses its popularity. Styles will run their course and as the decade of the 1920s ended, two other architectural styles began to appear in Seattle: brick English Tudor or stucco Spanish/Mission.
The economic crash of October 29, 1929 started an era called the Great Depression, and the catastrophic economic downturn affected all of the USA for the next ten years. As a result, there was financial insecurity and fewer people had money to buy a house. Perhaps for this reason, in the 1930s in Seattle brick and stucco houses had appeal as representing solidity and security.
Stucco as a building style
Stucco can be considered a building material in the same category as brick because it is sturdy, has insulation value and has a slightly higher building cost than a simple wood-frame house. Stucco is a kind of finishing plaster mixed from lime or cement, sand, and water. It is applied wet as a paste over a wire screen or over bricks on the exterior walls of a house, where the stucco will dry and harden. Stucco houses are often associated with the southwestern USA, where there were Spanish missions and haciendas.
How “Spanish” a stucco house looks can depend upon decorative details such as a red tile roof or black metal grillwork on windows or fence railings.
Stucco houses are rare in the Wedgwood neighborhood
Because relatively few houses were built in Wedgwood during the 1930s era of the popularity of stucco, they are rare in Wedgwood and there are not any with strong Spanish detailing.
One of the stucco houses in Wedgwood is at 3202 NE 75th Street. The house was built in 1925 but property tax assessor’s records show that Charlie and Charlotte Schultz had lived on the site from about 1905. It is possible that they finally were able to build their new stucco house by enclosing and expanding the original house. The tell-tale evidence is the small brick chimney protruding from the center of the roof. The chimney indicates that the Schultz’s house was once heated by a centrally-located wood stove, prior to the 1920s when electricity became available in Wedgwood to run other kinds of heating systems.
The Schultz house is made of stucco but doesn’t have any Spanish detailing. A recent owner planted a palm tree in the yard which does give a Spanish or Californian accent. Charlie Schultz was a first-generation German American and his wife Charlotte was a Swedish immigrant, so it might have seemed incongruous if their house had been rendered in Spanish motifs!
Another stucco house in Wedgwood with no Spanish detailing was lived in by Danish immigrants, the Thuesens, at 7727 38th Ave NE. Their story is told on this blog as the possible “mystery tree-planters” of the scarlet oak on 38th Ave NE.
In the 1920s the Thuesens had a nursery business along 38th Ave NE called Lily of the Valley Gardens. There is now a “monkey tree,” native to South America, at their house, which adds the flavor of some Spanish-style landscaping.
Brick houses in English Tudor style
Brick houses in English style are sometimes called “builders houses” because there is often a whole row of them built by a developer. Neighborhoods near to Wedgwood, such as Bryant, Maple Leaf, and Roosevelt have many brick Tudor houses built circa 1930.
An area near to Wedgwood which has a number of Tudor style brick houses, is the Roosevelt Heights plat near the Northeast Branch Library. The Roosevelt Heights plat is from NE 65th to 70th Streets and began to be developed in the late 1920s to early 1930s, at the height of the popularity of the brick Tudor style.
The Tudor style is loosely based on ideas of an old English house with a steeply pitched, front-facing gable. The sharp triangular gable formed by the steep roof may be softened by rounded entryways or windows. An English Tudor house may be small and cottage-like, or tall with a castle motif, having medieval detailing such as a turret or leaded windows.
One brick English Tudor-style house in Wedgwood was built in 1932 by first-generation Italian Americans, Ray Giusti and his wife Laura Rosaia.
Ray’s father, Italian immigrant Pio Giusti, had been a bricklayer and contractor. Build records for the house at 2700 NE 91st Street show that it was started and not finished over a couple of years’ time. This may indicate that Pio was going to help build the house for Ray and Laura, but Pio died in 1930. This Tudor-style house pattern was likely one that Ray’s father had built in other locations as well. We may speculate that Ray & Laura had another contractor finish the house, possibly even with the help of Ray’s brother Charles who was a contractor.
The house at 2700 NE 91st Street has the characteristic Tudor sharp triangular gable roof form, a dormer with decorative half-timbering like a medieval house, and a rounded arch over the front entry.
The house at 2700 NE 91st Street was well-built and might have been more than a young married couple could afford in the 1930s, but they may have had the help of Ray’s father, and both Ray and Laura worked in the prosperous Rosaia family floral business. Ray Giusti began working at the Rosaia Florist company in 1922. Ray married into the business that year, and he became the Rosaia company president in the 1950s.
The few number of 1930s stucco or brick houses in Wedgwood shows that Wedgwood was not an upscale neighborhood of costly building projects during the Great Depression years. In the 1930s some people came to Wedgwood because they were trying to live as cheaply as possible, and they built simple wood-frame houses.
There are many examples of brick and stucco houses in older neighborhoods near to Wedgwood. Near the southern end of Ravenna Park, NE Park Road has brick Tudor houses built in 1929-30. Their distinctive Tudor characteristics such as steeply peaked roofs, recessed doorways and castle-like appearance easily lends to transformation into a holiday village. Yearly in December, the residents of NE Park Road turn their street into a celebration of the season, called Candy Cane Lane with lights and decorations.
It was not until the 1940s that there was a pronounced increase in the number of houses built in Wedgwood, so that Wedgwood is often referred to as a post-World-War-Two neighborhood. By that time, English Tudor brick and Spanish stucco had had their day and were no longer popular in Seattle as a building type.
In the 1940s the first Albert Balch development which gave its name to the Wedgwood neighborhood, had houses designed in early-American styles called Colonial and Cape Cod. The popularity of these styles reflecting early-American motifs was part of the 1940s/World War Two era of patriotism when Americans felt “under attack” by clouds of war.
The Colonial-style small houses built by Balch were well-suited to the post-war era of young couples starting out with their first home, having married after World War Two. Balch’s work set the precedent for what Wedgwood should look like, in housing styles in the coming decades.
I’ve often wondered why we have so many brick and stucco houses here, since Seattle has such strong ties to the timber industry. Do brick houses last longer than wood houses?
Nothing lasts forever, but it seems to me that brick houses built in 1930 are still looking good after 80+ years. Some are brick on all four sides and some are not, and a brick house is built over a wood frame. The timber industry won’t be going out of business any time soon!
Oh, and I forgot to say: Great post!