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 early years it seemed that carpenters were everywhere and today we can still see examples of carpenter-built wood-frame houses.  The Pioneer Houses on Ballard Ave NW are an example of construction dating from the 1870s.  To preserve the houses, in 1976 they were moved from their original downtown Seattle location, to Ballard Ave NW.

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 1870s, were in Seattle’s International District at the corner of 7th & Dearborn Streets.

The International District is one of the oldest areas of Seattle, located east of Pioneer Square and the central downtown business district.  The two houses, visible in an 1871 photo, were still there more than one hundred years later.

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 and find a place to put the relocated 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.

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

After restoration, the Pioneer Houses at 5341 Ballard Ave NW were sold with a preservation easement requiring the owners to maintain the exterior appearance.  Until recently the Pioneer Houses were the offices of an attorney.  The new owner as of the year 2015 plans to remove the interior sheet rock to expose the plank construction, and open a restaurant.

Vertical Plank wall section graphic by Kate Krafft, architectural historian

Vertical Plank wall section graphic by Kate Krafft, architectural historian

On Saturday, May 23rd, 2015 at the Ballard Branch Library local architectural historian and preservation consultant Kate Krafft presented 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, such as movable housing in mining camps, though VPC was also used for small permanent dwellings. Following Kate Krafft’s presentation at the library, everyone walked down to Ballard Ave NW for a tour of the Pioneer Houses.

UPDATE:  It took over a year of remodelling but finally all the interior upgrades and exterior painting of the Pioneer Houses was finished.  The Pioneer Houses re-opened on May 16, 2016 as the San Fermo restaurant.  Named for a monastery near Venice, San Fermo features Italian food.   The house exteriors have been painted white and a new outdoor patio created in the side-yard.

san-fermo-restaurant-opened-may-16-2016

San Fermo at 5341 Ballard Ave NW, in a historic district.

About Wedgwood in Seattle History

Valarie is a volunteer history writer for neighborhood history in Seattle, Washington.
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