Evolution of a Building in Pioneer Square: The Furuya Building

Images: left – Furuya Building in January 2010 / Photo: Eugenia Woo; right – Furuya Building in 2007 / Photo: Artifacts Consulting.

The Furuya Building, located on the northeast corner of Second Avenue South and South Main Street in Pioneer Square, is the Cinderella of historic structures in Seattle. The recent removal of scaffolding that had masked the building for much of 2009 has revealed a beautiful Romanesque Revival style building. A once homely but solid masonry edifice has been transformed into an architectural gem in Seattle’s first commercial district. But its appearance in 2010 is much like it was in the early 1900s because the building has undergone a substantial rehabilitation. Originally constructed in 1900 as a two-story plus basement substation, three stories were added in ca. 1905. The upper two stories were removed after the April 13, 1949 earthquake struck Puget Sound. The two upper stories have now been reconstructed. 

Images: left – Furuya Building as a substation, ca. 1901; right – substation interior, ca. 1901. Photos: UW Special Collections, UW27025Z & UW270242Z.

The Rehabilitation Project

Most people today remember the building as the long-time home of Masin’s Furniture, a Seattle institution. The Masin family owned the building from 1948 until early 2007, serving as an excellent steward of the building for almost 60 years. The family sold the building to Rob Brewster, a local developer who has a long track record of rehabilitating historic buildings in Spokane and successfully restoring Seattle’s Arctic Building. The Furuya Building has undergone a challenging rehabilitation project, including reconstructing the upper two stories based on historic photo documentation.  The reconstructed stories are clad in GFRC (Glassfiber Reinforced Concrete). Architectural Castings of Portland, Oregon created molds from several original sandstone blocks on the first three stories and used the molds to fabricate the new cladding. The new cornice, a replica of the original in design, is constructed of PGRG (Polymer-modified Glassfiber Reinforced Gypsum). Typical cornice materials in 1900 were either sheet metal or cast stone. The Furuya Building is also now connected in the interior (through shared stairs and an elevator) with the adjacent Corgiat Building to the east (originally the Main Hotel). The Corgiat, also built in 1900, contained vacant single room occupancy units on the upper floors; offices and Swannie’s bar on the first floor; and The Comedy Underground in the basement. Rehabilitation is almost complete. Both the Furuya and Corgiat Buildings provide new offices on the upper floors and retail on the ground and basement levels. As a contributing building to the Pioneer Square Preservation District, the project’s scope of work was approved by the Pioneer Square Preservation Board and the National Park Service. The owner worked with Weaver Architects to design a project that meets today’s office and retail needs while retaining both the Furuya and Corgiat Buildings’ historic character.

Images: Furuya and Corgiat Buildings in 2009 with steel framework for new upper stories of the Furuya Building going up. Photos: Weaver Architects.

The Building’s History

The Furuya Building represents fascinating layers of Pioneer Square’s history. The two-story substation was built by Charles H. Baker of the Seattle Cataract Company for the Snoqualmie Falls Power Company. From the beginning, the building also housed the M. Furuya Co., the Pacific Northwest’s most successful Japanese import/export business.  Baker converted the building into a business block when he realized that the substation was not adequate for the needs of the Snoqualmie Falls Power Company.  Originally named the Baker Building, three stories were added in ca. 1905 during a decade of great population growth and economic growth in Seattle.

What is not evident when looking at the building today or since World War II for that matter, is the structure’s significant association with Seattle’s Japanese American heritage. The building is associated with Masajiro Furuya, often cited as the most successful and prominent businessman of Japanese ancestry in the Pacific Northwest. In 1907, Furuya opened the Japanese Commercial Bank in the back of his store. The bank would later occupy a more prominent space on the first floor, evidence of which can be seen today in the form of the ornamental plaster work on the interior and the bank vault doors. The bank experienced several mergers and was last known as Pacific Commercial Bank, which closed its doors in 1931. Furuya died in Japan in 1938.

Images: left – Furuya Building in 1937, three stories ca. 1905; right – building in 1956, upper two stories removed after 1949 earthquake. Photos: Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Regional Branch, KC Assessor Photographs.

The Furuya Building represents commercial enterprise and growth in Seattle since the turn of the twentieth century. With its renewed spatial prominence and restored/reconstructed facade, the building once again anchors the corner of Second and Main. As we begin a new decade in these challenging economic times, the Furuya and Corgiat Buildings can help represent a rebirth in Pioneer Square. It seems every few decades, the neighborhood struggles with revitalization.  But that’s a whole other blog post!

Rehabilitation Project Team

  • Pacific Commercial Development, LLC
  • Weaver Architects
  • Chinn Construction
  • Artifacts Consulting, Inc.
  • BTL Engineering
  • Bellevue Mechanical (Design/build)
  • Pride Electric (Design/build)
  • SJS Mechanical (Design/Build)
  • Architectural Castings (cladding manufacturer)

Related information:

Scott Edward Harrison wrote about Masajiro Furuya and the Furuya Building in the International Examiner (includes links to other articles about Furuya).

Note: Much research has been conducted by Scott Edward Harrison, John R. Lutz, Irene Shigaki, Gary Iwamoto, and Flo Lentz regarding the life of Masajiro Furuya and the history of the M. Furuya Co. Their work helped bring to light the importance of the Furuya Building’s social and architectural history.