Below is the most famous picture of landscape change in Seattle. Taken during the 4th Regrade of Denny Hill, which moved 5.5 million cubic yards of sediment between 1908 and 1911, it’s a stunning illustration of Seattleites’ drive to create a world class city. During the five regrades, workers lowered the hill by 100 feet, dumped nearly 11 million cubic yards of material in Elliott Bay, and displaced more than 400 homes and apartments, and those who dwelt within.
Over the years I have heard a variety of stories about houses that survived the Denny Regrade, including ones on Capitol Hill and in Ballard. They were false. I do know of one house that was moved during the 4th Regrade and again in the 5th because it was in the way but that house is long gone. As far as I have been able to determine, only two buildings formerly on Denny Hill still exist.
The older of the two is Belltown Funky Studios, which was built circa 1890 as apartments. It was left atop a small mound following the second Denny Regrade (1903). In 1911, the owners replaced the mound with the three-space storefront still under the apartments. Known for decades as the Wayne Apartments, the building was landmarked by the city in 2015. Sadly, it’s not in terribly good shape and it’s now slated to be torn down.
The other pre-Regrade building is on Lopez Island. During the Regrade era someone barged a Denny Hill house to Shoal Bay near Port Stanley, on the north side of the island. No one knows why or exactly when, who owned the house, when it was built, or where it was on the hill. Despite an extensive search by some of the best researchers around (i.e. SPL librarians and City of Seattle archivists), and me, few details exist.
According to the June 12, 1974, Orcas Island Booster, a scow brought the house up to “Skinnerville,” property owned by a Mr. Skinner. (No first name given, none known.) His plan was “to buy up the whole area and chase everyone out” but he died before he could fulfill his crankiness. The next people of interest were brothers William and Welden Carle, each listed in property records as “a bachelor of San Juan County.” Over several years, beginning in 1914, they sold or rented their property to Joseph M. Clapp, a civil engineer and contractor who had been involved with construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, as well as the straightening of the Duwamish River. He owned a quarry on Shoal Bay (opened in 1911), which supplied stone for street paving, breakwaters, and docks.
Despite what the Booster report implied—that Skinner barged the house—Breton Carter, a researcher for the Lopez Island Historical Society, told me of a photo stating that Clapp purchased the house for $1.00 and shipped it to Lopez in 1913, the same year he purchased two barges that could have easily carried his new home. She also passed along the records detailing Clapp’s land acquisition. Another tidbit comes from a letter written in 1981 by a Carle-family descendent. She described how the house had been landed by barge about a half mile to the west, at what is now Oldin Beach County Park, and then “towed on skids” to its present location.
Recently, Breton was kind enough to arrange for me to meet the present owners. They have extensively remodeled the house but the bones remain, especially the upstairs with its small rooms, each with early 20th century moulding. They had heard that the house had been moved but knew little else; it’s now several owners removed from the Clapp’s.
I continue to be fascinated by stories about Denny Hill and love the idea that there may be other houses out there that were formerly in the Regrade area. It makes sense that one or two could exist. Owners of that era regularly moved houses when required; the movers were so good that people wouldn’t even take mirrors off the walls. And, many of the Denny Hill homes were quite lovely and substantial. So please let me know if you know of one, or hear rumors of one; I always like to track down such tidbits of history.
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Now that we are past the solstice, we are starting to get longer amounts of daylight. (Curiously though, the earliest sunset in Seattle occurs on December 10; sunrise keeps getting later, which is why the amount of daylight gets less.) So for Seattleites, live it up, today has nine seconds more daylight than yesterday.