A Plat of Modernist Architecture in Wedgwood

When World War Two ended in 1945 some American cities experienced an economic slump as wartime production ceased.  Seattle continued to prosper in the post-war period because of its industries, including production of airplanes.  After World War Two, Boeing Aircraft in Seattle continued to receive military contracts and Boeing also saw steady growth in commercial airline orders.

After 1945 Albert Balch expanded his house-building efforts over onto the east side of 35th Ave NE in Wedgwood.

The natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, its military connections and its economic opportunities attracted many newcomers after World War Two, including veterans who were ready to start new lives as civilians.  In the post-war period thousands of military veterans married, settled in Seattle and looked for housing suitable to young families.  Wedgwood’s builder, Albert Balch, was ready with new houses for them.

At the beginning of the 1950s Albert Balch, the builder whose original Wedgwood plat gave its name to the neighborhood, was still building some small, traditional-looking houses at accessible price points of about $10,000.  At the same time, Balch was moving forward, test-marketing houses in new architectural forms which might appeal to young families who wanted something more modern.  On 38th Ave NE between NE 82nd to 85th Streets we can see the two types of architectural styles, traditional and modern, which were built on the same block.

Albert Balch’s post-war home-building efforts

A typical house in the original Wedgwood plat

Albert Balch’s first Wedgwood plat had houses built from 1941 to 1945 on the west side of 35th Ave NE between NE 80th to 85th Streets.  These houses “referenced” Cape Cod and Colonial styles with their symmetrical house form, centered front door, pitched roof with a gable (the triangular roof form of the house pictured at right), and mullioned windows with ornamental shutters.

In 1945, after World War Two ended, Balch began to do more tracts of houses with various other “Wedgwood” names.  Vast amounts of vacant land were still available around northeast Seattle, and Balch expanded over onto the east side of 35th Ave NE for other plats of houses, such as Wedgwood #2 and Wedgwood Park.  Many of these houses were “minimal traditional” in style.  They had pitched roof lines but little other embellishment.

8216 38th Ave NE, built in 1947 at a price point accessible for war veterans.

Some of Balch’s first Wedgwood houses had been only two bedrooms with one bathroom, houses which were consistent with the rationing of building materials during World War Two.  After the war Balch expanded the types of houses he was building to some larger, more expensive homes, but he did not entirely abandon the smaller types of houses, either.  At right is one of the “minimal traditional” style of houses which Balch built on 38th Ave NE in the post-World-War-Two years.

It is my belief that Balch was a patriotic person and that he wanted to provide houses which would be within the reach of war veterans who were newly married and just starting out in civilian careers.

8216 38th Ave NE as it looks today. Photo by Valarie.

In 1944 Congress passed an act which extended benefits to veterans, including a loan guarantee program for house purchases.  This did not mean that the government loaned money, but that they provided a guarantee on a home loan, intended to encourage mortgage lenders to give home loans to veterans.  There were standards to be met, and this tended to mean that the houses were small and not fancy, in order for the price to come within the range that the Veterans Administration was willing to back with a loan guarantee. As pictured here, the houses which Balch built on the southern end of the 8200 block of 38th Ave NE, were in minimal traditional style.

Balch test-markets modernist-style houses

A contemporary view of the Chiarelli-Kirk-designed house at 8504 43rd Ave NE shows the single-slope roof and use of volumetric forms on the exterior. Instead of lawn there is an area of Northwest native plants.

Albert Balch was a good salesman who knew that he should try new and different things to attract consumers, and that he should also test his products to see how they would do in the marketplace.  There are several examples of model homes which were advertised as “the latest thing,” for which Balch could gauge the reaction of home buyers.

In 1948 Balch built a house at 8504 43rd Ave NE designed by modernist architects James J. Chiarelli and Paul Hayden Kirk.  The house is in a radically different form from traditional architecture, with a single slope roof instead of a pitched roof.  The house has no windows looking out over the front, and there is no obvious direct path to the front door.  There are trees and plantings instead of a front lawn.  The back of the house has a wall of glass looking out over a patio.

Balch spreads the wealth by teaming up with other developers

In a traditional-architecture house like 8216 38th Ave NE, the living-dining areas are at the front of the house. The kitchen (at left) is somewhat closed off. Photo courtesy of Windermere Real Estate.

In addition to his willingness to try new things, another of Balch’s characteristics as a home-builder was that he was a team player and a networker.  He was willing to work with a number of different architects, contractors and builders.

Perhaps hearkening back to his own struggles to get started in his real estate career, Balch would give opportunities to others, to help them get started.  In a quote for a news article, Balch said that his philosophy was to “help little companies become big companies by using their product.” (Seattle Daily Times, November 15, 1953, page 161.)

In 1947 Balch built houses in the 8200 block of 38th Ave NE in minimal-traditional style, meaning no classical references or any embellishments, and within the price strictures of home loans for veterans, $10,000 or less.  The Balch houses at the southern end of the block had peaked roof-lines and had windows on either side of an obvious, centered front door.  From the front, these traditional-architecture houses looked very approachable with a walkway leading up to the front door and with the living room windows looking out over the street.

A Paul Delany-designed house at 8241 38th Ave NE built in 1950. The house has a low pitch roof and Japanese-style plantings in front. The house opens up in a wall of glass on the back, overlooking a patio.

Balch then subdivided the northern end of the 8200 block of 38th Ave NE into a separate plat, where contractor Emmett J. McCaul built ten houses designed by modernist architect Paul W. Delaney.  The houses built there in modernist architectural design did not have a traditional gabled roof form.  The low pitch of the roof gave the modernist house a “secret” look like a person with a hat pulled low over their eyes.  In some cases it was difficult to see how to approach the house as there was no obvious walkway leading directly up to the front door.

Over time as the landscaping has grown up around these houses at the north end of 38th Ave NE, they have become even harder to see from the street.  Some modernist houses have trees and plantings at the front instead of a lawn, and there may be references to Japanese architecture such as an entry courtyard.

The back of the house at 3631 NE 85th Street, a Paul Delaney architectural design, opens out onto an Asian-style patio.  Photo courtesy of Windermere Real Estate.

The modernist architectural design of the Paul Delaney houses on 38th Ave NE was of privacy at the front of the house and openness on the back of the house.  The houses had open-floor-plan living and dining areas with expanses of glass overlooking the backyard patio and garden.

In the early 1950s these Paul Delaney-designed houses on 38th Ave NE sold for about $18,000.  In August 2018 one of the houses, 3631 NE 85th Street, sold for $855,000.

Albert Balch and his fraternity brother, Paul Delaney

The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house at 4506 17th Ave NE, built in 1925.

There were some parallels between the lives of developer Albert Balch and architect Paul W. Delaney, beginning with their birth in the same year, 1903.

Both Albert Balch and Paul Delaney attended the University of Washington and were members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.  In that era (the 1920s) the SAE fraternity did not yet have its own building at the University of Washington.  Today the SAE fraternity building is prominent with its golden lions on the front walkway.  The building is at the northeast corner of NE 45th Street and 17th Ave NE on “Greek Row” just across from the main entrance of the university.

Albert Balch and Paul Delaney were the eldest sons in their families.  After college Balch and Delaney each experienced the death of their father, and each went home to live with their widowed mother for a time.

Albert Balch’s Wedgwood plat of houses was so popular the the name caught on as the name of the neighborhood by the end of the 1940s. Map courtesy of HistoryLink.

Paul W. Delaney was born in Minnesota.  Shortly after his birth, his parents moved to Wenatchee, Washington, where two more sons were born.  Paul’s father was a carpenter and contractor who died in 1929 at age 55.  After his father’s death, Paul went back to Wenatchee, worked as a contractor and lived with his mother.  Paul’s two younger brothers also went into construction work in Wenatchee.

By 1940 Paul might have felt that he could leave his mother to be cared for by her other two sons, while Paul took advantage of the economic opportunities in Seattle in the 1940s war years, to begin full-time practice as an architect.

Albert Balch’s father, a storekeeper, died in 1932 in Blaine, Washington and Balch went back home to help his mother.  About a year later Balch was able to return to Seattle where he married, worked as a radio advertising salesman and then started his career as a real estate developer.  Both Albert Balch and Paul Delaney lived in Seattle for the rest of their lives.

McCaul & Delaney design and build modernist houses

8249 38th Ave NE, house design by architect Paul W. Delaney. Photo courtesy of the Puget Sound Regional Archives.

It would be characteristic of Albert Balch that he would try to help his fraternity brother, Paul Delaney, with some architectural commissions.  That is possibly how Balch arranged for the northern end of the block he was working on, along 38th Ave NE, to be developed by another contractor (McCaul) in different house designs done by Paul Delaney.  These houses were built 1949-1951.

The houses designed by Paul Delaney were at a higher price point than the VA-loan-accessible houses built by Balch on the southern end of the block.  By providing space for this group of ten modernist houses (five on each side of 38th Ave NE at the north end of the block) Balch could accomplish two goals:  he gave work to architect Paul Delaney and to contractor McCaul, and he also gave opportunity for test-marketing of the different, modernist, and more expensive kind of house design by Delaney.

Characteristic of a Paul Delaney design in modernist style, the living and dining areas of the house at 3631 NE 85th Street are open-plan and are at the back of the house where a wall of windows overlooks the patio. Photo courtesy of Windermere Real Estate.

Something that contractor Emmett “Jack” McCaul had in common with Albert Balch was that they both had Swedish immigrant mothers.  McCaul was the child of his mother’s second marriage, and her two oldest children were out of the house by the time that Jack was born.  Jack, born in Seattle in 1909, graduated from Broadway High School and then worked the rest of his life in Seattle as a contractor and builder.  He never married; his mother lived with him and kept house for him.

The group of Delaney-designed modernist houses on 38th Ave NE was built in 1949-1951.  McCaul and Delaney then went on to do a similar group of houses in a plat on NE 70th Street near View Ridge Park.  A “plat” means any area of land for which there is a map of streets with lots marked for houses or other buildings.  McCaul bought the land in 1950 and named the plat for his mother, Anna.

The Anna McCaul plat of modernist houses

The Anna McCaul plat of only seventeen houses designed by modernist architect Paul W. Delaney and built by contractor Emmett J. McCaul. The plat’s southern border is NE 70th Street. To the west across 45th Ave NE is View Ridge Park. To the north is View Ridge School, and to the east is the Sand Point Community Church.  Plat map from the King County Parcel Viewer.

4515 NE 71st Street, a Paul W. Delaney-designed house in the Anna McCaul plat.  Each house has a garage entered from the basement level.

The houses in the Anna McCaul’s Addition on NE 70th Street were built in 1951-1952.  The houses were similar to the ones previously designed by Paul Delaney on 38th Ave NE, but in this development near View Ridge Park the house plans had to be modified to account for the site on a hillside.  The slope created opportunity for the houses in the Anna McCaul plat to have a garage on the lower level, with the rest of that level given to basement space.

Each house in the Anna McCaul plat was from 1,050 to 1,150 square feet on the main level.  The houses were similar in appearance to those in the group at the north end of the 8200 block on 38th Ave NE in Wedgwood, except that the Anna McCaul houses had more square footage including the basement and garage.

Balch continued the house-building frenzy into the 1950s

Probably what Balch learned from experimentation with different house forms, was that consumers cared more about the amount of space and the room layouts than they did about how the house looked from the outside.  In the post-World-War-Two period, enormous numbers of people got married and started having children, leading to what was called the Baby Boom.  These families needed houses with more bedrooms, and they wanted play space for children in a family room or a basement “rumpus room.”

8022 28th Ave NE, built 1958 in Wedgwood #3. House design by Paul Hayden Kirk.  With more than 2,000 square feet of space in the house, there are four bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms and a double garage.

Home television-viewing had not yet begun when Balch started building houses in the 1930s, but in the 1950s people wanted a dedicated space for watching TV in a den or family room separate from the main living room.  In the affluent 1950s, many more families had two cars, and they wanted a double garage.  All of these cultural and economic changes impacted the design of houses in the 1950s, and Balch’s houses kept up with the trends.

Albert Balch and his wife Edith had four children with the last born in 1940, so they were about five years ahead of the official Baby Boom which began in 1945 after World War Two ended.  Based upon his own experience of family life with children, Balch could better predict what features consumers would want in a family home.

4520 NE 71st Street, built 1952 in the Anna McCaul plat. This house designed by Paul W. Delaney originally had only two bedrooms and one bathroom.  It has been remodelled to add more space.  Barely visible behind the chimney is the popped-up roofline showing where rooms were added.   Photo by Valarie.

In contrast to the Balch family, it is interesting to note that architect Paul W. Delaney did not marry until he was forty years old, and he never had any children.  Contractor Emmett J. McCaul never married.  McCaul & Delaney’s houses in modernist architectural style had beautiful open-floor-plan living and dining areas, but the houses often had only two bedrooms and one bathroom.

Some of the Delaney-designed houses had no backyard but had a patio and plantings, which seemed to me to be inappropriate for a family with children, where a backyard might be wanted.

In the years since they were first built (circa 1950) many of the McCaul-Delaney houses at the north end of 38th Ave NE and those in the Anna McCaul plat over by View Ridge Park, have been remodelled to add more bedrooms and bathrooms.

As characteristic of Northwest Modern design, the house at 8033 28th Ave NE opens out on the “private side” to take advantage of the view and the backyard space. A family room or childrens’ play area is on the lower floor.

In response to consumer demand in the 1950s, Balch began building larger houses with more bedrooms and with a double garage.  In the 1950s Balch’s Wedgwood #3 and #5 developments had houses designed by modernist architect Paul Hayden Kirk.

Pictured at right is Paul Hayden Kirk’s design for 8033 28th Ave NE which opens out on the back of the house with expanses of windows and with rooms for the main family living areas.  Today, these houses don’t look “modern” to us, because the patterns were widely used in many plats of houses built by Balch, and became standard for family homes.

We have developer Albert Balch to thank for the Wedgwood neighborhood where the homes are still very livable.

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Sources:

Wedgwood homes advertisement emphasizing availability to veterans. Seattle Daily Times, October 6, 1946, page 20.

Census, City Directory listings and historic Seattle Times newspaper articles:  The census and newspaper can be accessed on-line via the Seattle Public Library under the tab for Genealogy Resources.

On the 9th and 10th floors of the downtown Seattle Library there are city directories which include a reverse-look-up of addresses.  I (Valarie) used these resources of census, city directories and newspaper articles to outline the lives of Emmett J. McCaul and Paul W. Delaney, and find examples of advertising for Balch houses.

House histories:  See the house-histories article on this blog for more info about how to find dates, photos, etc.

Paul Hayden Kirk:  one of the best-known of Pacific Northwest Modernist architects.  Two other designs he did in Wedgwood are the University Unitarian Church and the Northeast Veterinary Clinic.  Another contemporary architect, Paul Thiry, designed the Northeast Branch Library.

Photos of houses:  All photos by Valarie unless otherwise stated.

Undated photo (circa 1960s) of Albert Balch, developer of Wedgwood, with his secretary Ethel Madigan.

Plat maps: on-line at the King County Parcel Viewer.

Property records:  Original property tax assessors photos at the Puget Sound Regional Archives, Bellevue, WA.  Beginning in 1936, King County undertook a major property survey with photos for the purpose of more accurately assessing the taxable value of all structures.  The Puget Sound Regional Archives is the repository of the property tax records and photos of King County.

Working for Mr. Balch,” memoir of Ethel Madigan, secretary in the years 1957-1979.

“World War II Home Front on Puget Sound,” HistoryLink Essay #1664 by James R. Warren, 1999.

 

Wedgwood house advertisement of March 30, 1952, page 22, Seattle Daily Times. The houses which match this plan are at 2627 and 2615 NE 87th Street in Wedgwood #4.

 

 

 

 

About Wedgwood in Seattle History

Valarie is a volunteer writer of neighborhood history in Seattle.
This entry was posted in Architecture, Balch, Houses and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Plat of Modernist Architecture in Wedgwood

  1. What great info and a snapshot of post-war America!

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