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Archive for the ‘Adaptive Reuse’ Category

Giving a New Life to a 1909 Schoolhouse

By Bassetti Architects

Located at the heart of the Beacon Hill neighborhood and designed by Seattle renowned architect Edgar Blaire, the Original Van Asselt School building was constructed in 1909 as one of the first elementary grade schools in south Seattle. Four classrooms organized around a central stair comprised the original two-story, wood-framed structure. The Original Van Asselt building has been described as a “free interpretation of the Tudor Style”, with a heavy timber porch and decorative half-timbering at the central gabled bay.

Subsequent major additions included the 1940s basement classroom additions and a 2002 elevator addition. Both additions were built to the west – what is viewed today as the back side of the building. In 1950, a sprawling, one-story mid-century modern high school with a flat roof and brick veneer siding was constructed adjacent to the original 1909 school, largely obstructing its view from Beacon Avenue S.

In 2019, 110 years after the school saw its first cohort of students, Seattle Public Schools hired Bassetti Architects to renovate the 1909 school building as part of a master plan to add capacity to the campus. This site was identified by Seattle Public Schools to be used as a swing site for several schools during their own renovation or replacement construction period.

Vacant and boarded up since 2016, the building was in disarray, but the design team could see its potential. In May 2019, the building was designated a City of Seattle Landmark, and both the exterior and interior of the original 1909 construction were considered significant contributing elements.

As part of the restoration, the classrooms will keep their original plaster walls and black slate chalkboards, while new mechanical, electrical, fire safety, and technology systems will be thoughtfully integrated to bring those spaces up to 21st century learning environment standards.

The main central stair will see its original plaster restored and the space will be brought up to code compliance on several fronts: the guardrail height will be increased while maintaining original elements, a new automatic sprinkler system will be installed, new light fixtures will be added, seismic upgrades will be completed, and fire separations will be provided. The building’s exterior wood and stucco siding will be repaired and painted, and its original wood window sashes and frames will be restored, reviving this community landmark’s historic character and integrity.

What is particularly unique about this project, is the successful revitalization of an abandoned centenary schoolhouse into a contemporary learning environment. Historic schoolhouses are often repurposed into apartments, museums, retails, or offices.

Because 21st century classrooms and other school resources require spaces and systems that are difficult to fit into smaller and older structures, the reuse of historic schoolhouses as modern teaching environments can be challenging. Thus, it’s no surprises that restoring the Van Asselt schoolhouse to its original purpose and protecting this part of Beacon Hill’s history while developing the site to best respond to the school district’s needs is an effort that was praised by the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board, the School District staff, and the neighboring community alike. The schoolhouse’s new lease on life is an opportunity to make Original Van Asselt the shining jewel of the site once again and an integral part of the campus life.

To accommodate the swing site capacity need, Bassetti designed a new two-story classroom and gymnasium addition to provide space for an additional 650 students on campus. This new structure is designed with sustainable structural system of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and will adjoin the Original Van Asselt school in a way that maintains the prominence of the original schoolhouse entry and provides a backdrop against which the landmark structure is featured. A formal courtyard, designed to accentuate the symmetry of the 1909 façade, further elevates the architecture and the neighborhood presence of the landmarked building.  

The color palette of the 1909 building was selected to accentuate the different architectural features while the exterior finishes of the new addition will complement the original schoolhouse, thus the buildings will read as a comprehensive composition within the larger campus. Bassetti focused on maintaining a level of simplicity in the design of the new addition. In doing so, the restored 1909 building is clearly established as the focal point of the site and remains the tallest and most ornate structure.

A true testament to the Landmark review process, the Original Van Asselt project is a shining example of a historic schoolhouse rehabilitation that will be celebrated and enjoyed by many more future generations of students, teachers, and community members.

Bassetti Architects is a generous sponsor of Historic Seattle’s 2022 Community Education & Advocacy Programming. This post is part of a series of guest blogs submitted by members of the Historic Seattle community.  The views and opinions expressed in guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Historic Seattle.

Photos:
1: 1909; 2: 1950; 3: 2022; 4: original classroom; 5: classroom remodel rendering; 6: hallway perspective; 7: site perspective (all courtesy of Bassetti Architects)

EmBracing Retrofits: Gridiron Condominiums

By the Gridiron team

This month Historic Seattle is embracing retrofits and HeartBombing unreinforced masonry buildings (URMs).

One URM that has already been retrofitted is Gridiron Condominiums located in Pioneer Square. The century-old Seattle Plumbing Building was a four-story unreinforced masonry warehouse. It is the only triangular historic building in Pioneer Square and sits at the southern gateway of the historic district and the rising waterfront park.

Daniels Real Estate turned the four-story masonry building into condominium homes by adding seven levels of housing plus rooftop amenities, blending historic and contemporary architecture.

It took over a year to retrofit the masonry building before the glass-sheathed residences could be built on top.  The first-floor commercial space still retains the warm brick and rustic beams original to the building.

And this year, we are celebrating that the first floor will soon come back to life as office space and some type of food and beverage venue, giving us all an opportunity to enjoy this unique building.

Daniels purposefully reimagined the historic building as commercial with condominiums on top given its proximity to the Stadium District and the new waterfront.

Railroad Way, named after the railroad track that formerly ran in front of the warehouse, will be one of four pedestrian gateways that will reunite Pioneer Square to the waterfront promenade, perfect for the new retail.

For homeowners, it’s a front row seat to over 20 acres of programmed open spaces, running and walking paths, vendors, entertainment, restaurants, and much more.  In addition to living in Pioneer Square, a National Historic Register & local historic District, you’re just minutes from Light Rail with access to anywhere north, south, east, and west.

Established in 1903 and reinvented in 2018, Gridiron is a model for repurposing unreinforced masonry buildings to meet a community need, and we are very excited that the commercial spaces are soon going to be adding to the vibrancy of Pioneer Square, our city’s sweetheart neighborhood for historic masonry buildings.

Learn more about owning a piece of history.

Gridiron is a generous sponsor of Historic Seattle’s 2022 Community Education & Advocacy Programming. This post is part of a series of guest blogs submitted by members of the Historic Seattle community.  The views and opinions expressed in guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Historic Seattle.

Our Favorite People of Preservation in 2021

What better way to end this challenging year than by celebrating the people who we’ve seen doing great work in preservation throughout 2021?

We’ve worked with many incredible people throughout the past year, but here are the standouts our staff chose as their favorite People of Preservation in 2021.

Eugenia Woo (Director of Preservation Services)
For over a year, I’ve been inspired by the residents and neighbors of the La Quinta Apartments, a Frederick Anhalt-developed, 1920s, courtyard apartment building in Capitol Hill. The long-time owner had passed away; community advocates sounded the alarm about the future of the property early enough so that Historic Seattle could help by sponsoring the landmark nomination prepared by Northwest Vernacular. This place is important not just for its architecture but also for the stories connected to the people associated with the La Quinta for many decades. The advocacy group, called ¡Viva La Quinta!, succeeded in its efforts! The Landmarks Preservation Board designated the La Quinta Apartments and placed controls on the property in 2021. Residents brought their skills to the table by creating a website, designing cool graphics used for effective messaging, tapping their networks to build support for landmarking, and sharing their passion to fight for saving this historic place. Their commitment to save the La Quinta was inspiring.  

Photo credit: Jean Sherrard for Now & Then

Jeff Murdock (Preservation Advocacy Manager)
Not knowing exactly what they were getting into, in late 2019 Justin Lemma and his wife Victoria Pinheiro purchased one of the Victorian-era (1893) vernacular houses perched in a row along the east side of the 800 block of 23rd Avenue. Historic Seattle holds a preservation easement on four of the houses, and they are also designated Seattle Landmarks. As such, Historic Seattle and the City weigh in on proposed alterations to ensure the historic character of the buildings is maintained. Justin, an alum of the U.W. College of Built Environments and a Project Designer with Build LLC, was excited to get started on making repairs to the house and only slightly intimidated by the approval process. The ensuing pandemic provided Justin plenty of time at home to do the work. He made repairs to the rotting entry porch, cleaned up the overgrown yard, installed a new paver driveway and replaced the scraggly chain link with a trim cedar fence. They converted the tiny garage at the back of the property into a living space, complete with a bar and small loft, providing space for the couple to work from home in separate spaces. Justin even installed historic windows salvaged from another old house being torn down in the neighborhood. Recently, Justin convinced two more architects from his U.W. Architecture cohort to purchase the house next door, so there is now a community of preservationist architects on this block of 23rd Ave!

Simon Wright (Facilities & Maintenance Manager)

The collective ownership and operation of the Good Arts Building. I’d long admired Cherry Street Coffee’s immaculately painted and maintained façade. Meeting Steve, Jane, Ali, Greg, and Armondo showed me that work was not done just for curb appeal and that the collective ownership has been amazingly successful in collectively restoring, operating and maintaining a historic building for a contemporary use!

Taelore Rhoden (Community Events Manager)

I give all of my flowers to Dorothy Cordova, Cynthia Mejia-Giudici, and Pio De Cano II. These three have been preserving Filipino American history for decades! It was an honor to partner with them and the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) to share the legacy and impact of Seattle’s Filipino American community with hundreds of people (and counting!) this year. Their leadership, camaraderie, and genuine love of people is deeply inspiring and worthy of all of the gold stars.

Cindy Hughes (Council Assistant & GSC Rental Coordinator)

Leanne Olson
is not a newcomer to historic preservation, having received Historic Seattle’s Beth Chave Award for being a “Preservation Champion” in 2018, but she has continued to work tirelessly throughout the pandemic for the preservation of Queen Anne Hill’s historic legacy.  The longtime Board member of the Queen Anne Historical Society and the chair of its Landmarks Preservation Committee, Leanne provides an example of a highly effective advocacy approach to preservation through her steady participation in meetings of the City of Seattle’s Landmarks Preservation Board. Additionally, she is my neighbor, and I enjoy running into her on the streets of Queen Anne and chatting about what’s happening on the Hill!

Jane Davies (Director of Finance & Administration)

Hats off to Beneficial State Bank, especially Cynthia Weaver and Stacey Krynsky.  They are responsive and personable and truly make banking fun.  Their creativity in solving our financial puzzles allows us to nimbly engage in preservation projects.  Additionally, they understand our mission of saving meaningful places to foster lively communities by connecting our organization with other groups, creating a preservation-minded network in Seattle.

Danielle Quenell (Office Administrator)

This spring, my partner and I bought a home in the historic Fort Ward district of Bainbridge Island. We quickly realized our new neighborhood was teeming with preservationists, including district commissioner Sarah Lee and the non-profit organization Friends of Fort Ward. Together, they managed to save the historic Fort Ward Parade Grounds in 2002 and have them dedicated as a public park, and most recently restored the 1910 bread bakery into a beautiful community hall.

Naomi West (Director of Philanthropy & Engagement)

This year, I’ve been awestruck by Stephanie Johnson-Toliver! In 2021 alone, she joined Historic Seattle’s council; became a new HS donor; attended several virtual & in-person programs, our gala, and tours of properties; was a panelist for our Central District History Collective; moderated our conversation with Candacy Taylor; and began working with us to plan a partnership with
Black Heritage Society of Washington State. Are you tired just reading that? Reflecting on this year, I recall her concern about her ability to commit enough time to being a part of our leadership. That’s because when she’s in, she’s all in. Her dedication, commitment, and generosity of spirit are remarkable. Thank you for all you are giving to the preservation community, Stephanie!

Kji Kelly (Executive Director)

I have so many favorite individuals and organizations within the preservation community. One individual who has stood out to me, frankly for his entire career, b
ut particularly over the past year is Kevin Daniels. The completion of The Lodge at St. Edward Park is an unbelievable achievement, a terrific example of creativity and sheer determination. 

An exciting future for the Georgetown Steam Plant

Last month, Seattle City Light announced “a long-term lease and operating agreement with the newly formed Georgetown Steam Plant Community Development Authority (GTSPCDA), a non-profit organization dedicated to continued public use and restoration of the building. The agreement allows the GTSPCDA to assume programming and operations of the Georgetown Steam Plant, a nationally recognized and historically significant landmark in Seattle’s historic Georgetown neighborhood in the heart of the Duwamish Valley.”

In addition to being the recipient of Historic Seattle 2019 Best in Neighborhood Preservation Award, Sam Farrazaino, as described in the City Light article, “is the lead of the GTSPCDA team and is building on his past successes of redeveloping industrial properties for arts and cultural uses. As founder of Equinox Studios, Sam has championed affordable space for artists and artisans and fostered an engaged relationship with the Georgetown community and beyond.” In this month’s feature, we talked with Sam about plans for this exciting community-centric preservation project

Can you speak to the process of forming the GTSPCDA? What challenges were there in establishing the CDA?

Well, the CDA is intentionally not fully formed yet. The committee that is in place now is only meant to provide the framework for the community to come into, to form, and actually be the CDA. We haven’t formalized bylaws, or the board, or any of those pieces because we want the community to come in and be a part of that process. When we start the community engagement process, we will go through the steps of sort of distilling the large community first, into what we’re calling a Community Programming Team. This group will consist of folks that want to throw their voice into what this building will become. Next, will be the Community Advisory Team, which will consist of people with expertise in certain areas that we can call on and collaborate with for specific things. The final step of that process will be to build the board out of those layers of community. Once we build that board, and have good representation from the community, then we will leave it to the board to write the bylaws and apply for federal status.

What aspects of the GTSCDA’s proposal do you think resulted in the project’s selection during Seattle City Lights request for proposals?
I think the collaborative approach, the fact that we want to partner with City Light and the community, the comprehensive community aspect of things is what really shined and ‘won the bid,’ if you will.

What does your experience developing Equinox bring to plans for the Steam Plant?

Equinox was born and bred little by little, it’s been an organic process that has been shaped in large part by the people that have come to it. Whether its new people coming to the building, or us reaching out to the public, whether its people throwing their ideas in, their space in, or their money in, all of that engagement informs the evolution of Equinox. It’s in fact why Equinox has evolved. The Steam Plant is interesting because without the community, it is just sitting there, it’s static. Being able to partner with a lot of organizations and enabling them to come in and program there, that will bring the dynamic nature to it, that will bring the life into it. As was the case with Equinox, we first need to make the Steam Plant building safe (stabilizing, fire, seismic, etc.), and get it accessible to as many people as we can with elevators, ADA exits, etc. and then our hope is that over the next 100 years or more the community will really live into the building. It is a National Historic Landmark, and the community here will be the stewards of it, but it is really a national resource, and we really want it to live up to that expectation.

Do you feel personally connected to the Steam Plant’s history or to Georgetown’s (industrial) history in general?

I don’t have a personal history here other than the 26 years or so that I have been coming and going and playing and working in Georgetown. I’m not from here, and I didn’t grow up in a steam plant (haha), but all my life I’ve been drawn to spaces like this. I really love the sculptural, creative, elements of function — the mechanics of industry, gears, turbines, the noise. Mechanical collaboration, this idea of all of the parts and pieces coming together to create whatever you’re creating, is super inspiring to me.

I would LOVE to somehow have a window into when this plant was operating. In fact, we’ve actually been talking to Arts Corps, who is on our team, about creating VR tours where you could step into what it may have been like, maybe feel the heat, hear the noise, and smell the smells. That, to me, would be so awesome!

What are some of the big challenges this project is facing?

Getting it right. The biggest challenge is making sure that we have truly authentic community engagement and that we’re being equitable and inclusive in everything that we do — in all of the processes. From selecting contractors and consultants, right down to the day-to-day use of the plant. We are not just trying to check boxes, we are actually trying to get as deep down into the community as we can and that takes time, energy, space, and money. One of our team member’s mantras is “moving at the speed of trust.” This means getting the community to that level where they trust the organization, trust the project, and really feel like they are an authentic part of it. It’s about making sure that this is really a community-driven and community-used resource and asset. Our goal is really getting that right.

The second biggest challenge is probably the money. Getting to the $20M we need (this is our working figure) will be a huge lift financially.

The last part is figuring out the actual details of things. Like, ‘how do we incorporate seismic bracing, fire sprinklers, elevators, and life safety things into the building? How do we weave that into the structure in a way that honors its history and makes sense?’ It’s a big puzzle and a matter of figuring out how to fit the pieces together.

What are you looking forward to (in terms of the project) within the next year?

The pandemic is definitely a factor in that, how do we actually do the community engagement part in the midst of all of this. We are in the process of reaching out to the organizations we are involved with to determine how we outreach. How do we ensure we reach enough of the community? We have started seeking bids and permitting, etc., for some of the necessary physical upgrades, so that is exciting. Hopefully by February we’ll have enough of the other parts (life safety, etc.) in place so that when we launch community engagement piece, we have this vessel (the plant) and the framework ready.  The question then becomes, “what do we (the community) want to do with this?”

Historic Seattle’s mission is to save meaningful places that foster lively communities. Place and community are at the center of our work. How do you envision this project/place fostering community?

From the actual day-to-day-ness of it. What the team has envisioned is for the plant to be open to the public every day, for people to experience it in that museum sense, dig into some of its history, and be inspired by it. Another part of the vision of the plant is as a daily educational facility, where people can learn in and from an inspiring space, and where people and partner organizations can bring kids of all ages in and program there. On the event side of it, it’s about bringing the community in in different ways. Whether it’s centered around celebration – like a wedding or a nonprofit gala — or it’s a community meeting, having the community really see themselves in this space is what we want to create. It’s about that invitation to have the community own this, to really hold it, and then activate it.

 

Local Small Business Spotlight: Risa Blythe, Proprietor of Girlie Press

Numerous articles and studies have been published citing the critical role that small businesses play in the vitality of cities and towns of all sizes. For example, small businesses help foster community, add to the unique character of a place, provide distinctive opportunities for entrepreneurism, and contribute to economic health. Beyond these significant contributions, there is also an important relationship between small businesses and historic neighborhoods and old buildings. In short, preservation relies on small businesses, and small businesses often rely on historic spaces — a relationship you can read more about in this recently published article by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

Girlie Press is a woman-owned small business located in an adaptive reuse space in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Read on to hear what the print shop’s proprietor, Risa Blythe, has to say about owning small business, preservation, and more:

After eight years and only two other jobs as an offset press operator, Girlie Press was originally founded in 1995 in the back of a building in Belltown and then moved into a historic Anne Michelson building on 10th Avenue. “I shared a space as an offset printer with BSK, a screen-printing company that did much of the printing for Sub Pop and the grunge music scene. That was fun and insane, and I worked, and worked, and I put money away,” said Risa.

Inside Girlie Press

In 2000, when Risa acquired the building where Girlie Press is now located, it had been subleased to a stone cutting artist and sculptor who essentially fled in the middle of the night – leaving behind a warehouse full of massive, heavy, stone cutting equipment. “One of the companies I did a lot of work for was the Seattle Men’s Choir. Doug Exworthy was on the choir and owned the rights to the building where the shop is now. He knew I did a lot of work for the queer community, and he contacted me and said, ‘you need your own building.’ He became my mentor, guiding me through the whole process. It was adventurous, but I pulled it off! This was back in the day when you could put on a suit and go into a bank and talk things through…with people,” Risa explained.

All of the items left behind were sold off to put money back into the building and to make way for printing equipment. With her penchant and passion for machinery, Risa was just the woman for the task. Her keenness for mechanics, a trait she recalls recognizing early in life, has continued to prove valuable throughout her career. For example, when it came to acquiring her own 10,000-pound press, she was able to purchase a broken machine for a low price and repair it herself.

“I remember at one point, I applied to be a certified woman-owned business,” explained Risa. “A guy called me to ask for clarification about some parts of my application, and he just couldn’t seem to comprehend that a woman was capable of fixing a machine like this! That he believed that this was beyond my…realm, that’s when I knew why it was important to get the certification. There aren’t a lot of women in print, but I grew up in a feminist, entrepreneurial household and I’m thick-skinned. So, I have been able to shoulder discrimination I’ve encountered in the field. I started my own business because I wanted to work with people who had a sense of humor and didn’t mind working for a woman in a male-dominated field. Nobody — no guy — who’s got a lot of issues can work here and go home at the end of the day and say, ‘yeah, I work at Girlie Press!’”

When asked if she considers herself a preservationist, Risa made a surprising connection between her love of machinery and historic preservation. “The part of me that is a preservationist is that I really like a well-built machine. I really like function. Newer things are more disposable, they are meant to have an end of life, whereas with an older machine  its gearbox can be rebuilt again and again and its function is to last long term. I also like new things that are super fancy and have lots of bells and whistles, but I like them to be built on an older mechanical premise,” said Risa.

This historic assessor’s photo shows a building which formerly stood on the site where Girlie Press is now located.

Risa enjoys the location of her current shop at 1658 21st Avenue. While she is attracted to industrial and gritty places like Georgetown (one of her favorite places in Seattle), she appreciates that the shop is not in a strictly industrial area, but is instead nestled within a neighborhood with a commercial and residential mix. “There’s a German philosopher — someone who I can’t recall — who presented the idea that something went wrong when people started working in places that were far away from where they lived. It allows for more tolerable levels of pollution, longer workdays, and less family interaction. I live less than a mile away in Madrona, in a simple 1902 Victorian. Another favorite place is my backyard because my wife is such a great gardener! And I like that I can work in a trade, but still work in an area where people are living too,” said Risa.

The community is very important to Risa. In addition to the long list of organizations Girlie Press supports, she uses her business to promote causes she cares about: “There aren’t a lot of print shops that care about the same things I care about so I have a unique opportunity to use what I do, and do well, to support those things. I like the idea of using the power of the press to help organizations make money or do good things. We’ve printed over 1,000 posters since the most recent events of the Black Lives Matter movement have been unfolding. A lot of times people will ask us to print something for them and we’ll ask, ‘Do you want us to print a bunch more of these and just give them out?’ It’s cool to be part of this ancient history of activism through art.”

Risa in the shop’s new mezzanine space

Lately, the effects of the pandemic have been felt at Girlie Press. At one point, Risa sheltered at the shop and ran the whole press herself in order to execute print jobs (including Historic Seattle’s emergency appeal) for grocery stores and other essential businesses. Many of her staff have recently returned to the shop after many weeks working remotely. Upon their return, staff were able to spread out further, occupying space in the mezzanine that was fortunately recently built in the warehouse.

In the previously referenced Washington Trust for Historic Preservation article, Breanne Durham wrote, “There has never been a more poignant time to reflect on the value small businesses have in our lives and in our work. The onslaught of COVID-19 has taken our local economies by storm…Small businesses employ about half of the private workforce in the United States. And without them, our historic commercial districts lack the activity and commerce that creates healthy, socially cohesive, and economically viable communities. If the preservation field is looking for its place within the COVID-19 crisis, here it is.”

Looking for other ways to support small businesses? Intentionalist.com allows you to search for Asian-owned, Black-owned, disability-owned, family-owned, Latino-owned, LGBTQ-owned, Native-owned, veteran-owned, and woman-owned businesses and social enterprises in select cities, including Seattle.

Stimson-Green Carriage House Lives On As Birch Road Cellar

By Ryan Donaldson

The following is the sixth in a series of guest blog posts submitted by members of the Historic Seattle community. The views and opinions expressed in guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Historic Seattle.

If you have an idea for a future post, please send a draft to info@historicseattle.org. You can review the guidelines here.

Collectively I’d walked by the Stimson-Green Carriage House hundreds of times, never stepping foot inside.The neighboring namesake mansion’s signature English Tudor Revival-style high-pitched roof, pronounced chimneys, dramatic gables, stained glass windows, and half-timbering overshadowed the smaller matching carriage house tucked behind it. Scaling up and down First Hill for my high school commute to O’Dea, the building blended in with the more substantial landmark next door.

As a teenager in 1990s Seattle, there was little chance of getting a peek inside the imposing mansion or carriage house unless you were invited to a wedding or special event. Located at the corner of Minor Avenue and Seneca Street, the mansion served as home to lumber magnate C.D. (Charles Douglas) Stimson’s family at the turn of the century when First Hill was known as an exclusive enclave for the city’s “first families.” The crest of the hill where the Stimson-Green Mansion stands was in the company of over 40 prominent homes that dominated the steep slope, including the Dearborn House (1907, Historic Seattle’s home today) and the W.D. Hofius House (1902, until recently the home of the Roman Catholic Archbishop).

A hundred years prior, the multitude of mansions lining First Hill were the result of fortunes made from timber resources, real estate, and other emerging industries, which led to the commissioning and creation of fashionable residences in a variety of eclectic architectural styles. As noted on a period postcard, First Hill was known as Seattle’s “[f]ine residence section” offering widescreen views of Elliott Bay and within walking distance from Seattle’s bustling downtown. A public exhibit, “The First Hill Exhibit: Seattle’s Boom Years, 1880-1925,” permanently on display in Swedish Hospital’s lobby at the corner of Boren Avenue and Madison Street (incidentally also the site of the former 1884 Carkeek Mansion), vividly illustrates what the neighborhood was like, replete with cable cars and ornate residential architecture.

Panorama of First Hill, n.d. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, SEA1910.

Stimson himself had come to Seattle in 1888, drawn by the abundant natural timber resources that had already been depleted in Michigan where his father had first attained the family’s legacy in lumber milling businesses in the mid-nineteenth century. Setting up operations in Ballard to take advantage of the increased demand for lumber after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, Stimson quickly came to city prominence, also serving as director of the Metropolitan Building Company, Metropolitan Bank, General Insurance Company of America, and the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. It took two years for Spokane-based architect Kirtland Cutter to complete the building, which the family moved into in 1901. Stimson, his wife Harriet Overton Stimson and their two children Thomas Stimson and Dorothy Stimson Bullitt, began living in the stately residence before any landscaping or tree cover, the land having only recently been cleared of its original growth Douglas fir trees.

Stimson’s mansion included a two-story standalone carriage house just north of the main estate, a common form of outbuilding purpose-built for horses and carriage equipment. In one particular historic photo, we can see Stimson’s young daughter Dorothy with her pony, Doctor, on Minor Avenue.

Dorothy Stimson Bullitt on her pony cart with Doctor. Courtesy the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

Later, when horses gave way to automobiles, the Stimsons expanded the carriage house to its present 2,000 square foot size for their fleet. “Doctor had one corner [of the carriage house] and a little red Autocar (model 1900) had another,” recalled Dorothy. “Over the ensuing years, the car models changed, but not the pony. We had a cow, too. There’s a little back door in the garage that opens onto the alley and that’s where the cow lived.” 1

C.D. Stimson (on far left) greets an unidentified group in front of his carriage house, ca. 1910. Image courtesy Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

In 1915, a year after the Stimson family moved to a larger home in The Highlands, Joshua and Laura (Turner) Green acquired the property. Joshua Green’s business was in the steamboat and ferry industry, which evolved into the Washington State Ferry System. What is remarkable was how little of the mansion and carriage house was changed or altered during the Greens’ 60 years of ownership. In contrast, the surrounding neighborhood was quickly transforming. Apartment buildings and medical facilities rapidly replaced the mansions as the “first” families moved away. For the Greens’ carriage house, rather than be torn down or radically remodeled as was the fate of other carriage homes, the building remained as an automobile garage, even retaining its original back alley door, though the cow was long gone.

View of the carriage house in 1969 which includes a car facing out from the garage door. Image courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, Identifier: 78250.

In 1975, following Joshua Green’s death at 105 years old, the Historic Seattle Preservation and Development Authority purchased the property, which included both the mansion and the adjoining carriage house. The site was then acquired by Priscilla (Patsy) Collins (C.D. and Harriet Stimson’s granddaughter), and the mansion was reopened for the public to enjoy.2 No longer a private residence, mansion programming in the following years included behind-the-scenes tours, weddings catered by in-house staff, theatre performances, and other special events. In the late 1970s, the carriage house was converted to offices and housed a series of tenants, including the Bullitt Foundation – the nonprofit conservation organization founded by the adult Dorothy Stimson Bullitt.

Since 2001, the site has been owned and managed by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2016, the Trust oversaw the carriage house’s renovation, which included polishing the concrete floors and exposing the open beam ceiling and brick walls. Soon thereafter, the Chicago-based Birch Road Cellar leased the carriage house with a vision to build community through providing space for members to entertain guests outside of their homes, securely store spirits and wine in a climate-controlled cellar in a self-service environment, as well as utilize co-working space (members pay a monthly fee for the opportunity to work and host guests in the well-appointed space). Opened in May 2019, the major tenant improvements to the carriage house transformed the raw space into the stunning interiors that can be seen today.

View of remodeled self-service bar. Image courtesy Birch Road Cellar.

When I first heard about this new chapter for the carriage house, I happened to be seeking a new co-working space and quickly scheduled a visit. Several decades after those walks past the landmark in my high school days, I finally stepped foot inside. I was not disappointed: Upon walking in the door and being warmly greeted by co-founder Sharon Provins, I immediately knew this was the right place for me. I admired the historical elements and the adaptive reuse of the space, providing inspiration for my working environment. There was no question the building was once a carriage house. In the upstairs bathroom you can still see the hay door next to the toilet (don’t worry, the door is now welded shut).

After becoming a member and enjoying the space as if it were my own, what surprised me was how quickly I felt connected to the Birch Road community. I recall the photo of C.D. Stimson over 100 years ago, cigar in hand, sharing a mirthful moment with visitors outside in front of the carriage house – and it occurred to me that one of my favorite things was welcoming guests for the first time too. I was not expecting to make friends and form bonds with other members, but have since been delighted to meet both newcomers to the area (like the Stimsons once were) to those who had grown up in Seattle like myself. We all had something in common because we were drawn to the same storied space.

Upstairs meeting & dining room with view overlooking First Hill Park, currently under renovation. Reservations for the room can be made by members online. Image courtesy Birch Road Cellar.

As Washington State’s “Stay At Home, Stay Healthy” order remains in place, Birch Road Cellar will begin a pilot reopening program in June. To keep the members engaged, the club has offered virtual events, such as trivia nights, cooking classes and wine tastings, though I can’t wait to visit again in person. The Stimson-Green Mansion and Carriage House share the opportunity to be accessible to new audiences and to be recognized as places that matter, especially to those like myself who ventured by many times in the past and wondered what was inside. First Hill has other examples of creative collaborations that have helped to preserve the quality of our historic spaces, including the Museum of Museums, the Sorrento Hotel, and St. James Cathedral. It is a tradition that I hope will continue, as innovative partnerships between historical preservationists and private capital will become increasingly necessary approaches in the bid to honor and cherish our city’s past.

Ryan Anthony Donaldson is a cultural heritage strategist, digital asset manager, and archives consultant. Ryan currently works as Senior Consultant with The Winthrop Group and Collections Strategy Manager & Archivist with the Washington State Jewish Historical Society

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