The Mostly Dead Structures that Haunt our City
The other day my pal, the splendid historian Jennifer Ott, asked me about disembodied buildings, or structures that used to be a full building but are now only skeletal remnants. One of the better known examples in Seattle is located at Pike Street and Boren Avenue—the four sandstone columns of the razed Plymouth Congregational Church. Two years after the Church was gravely wounded during the April 29, 1965, earthquake, art collector John Hauberg purchased and donated the columns.
Stealing the idea from Jen, I have put together a list of some of my favorite local zombie buildings.
In Lake City is a classic vestige of old Seattle, a facade from the building of a Seafirst Bank (a descendent of the city’s first bank, started in 1870 by Dexter (my coffee ordering name) Horton). In 1949, Seafirst built a small bank way out in the hinterlands, outside of Seattle city limits, which at the time ended at 85th Street (a major reason one finds fewer sidewalks north of 85th). The goal was to serve the growing “suburbs” of Seattle’s post WWII boom. Designed by locally-based architect John W. Maloney, the bank was leveled in 1979, several years after Seafirst built a new structure across the street.
One of the more out-of-place residual building elements stands about a mile from our house, at Green Lake. Like several other specters of bygone days, this one is an archway, formerly the entrance to the Martha Washington School for Girls, located south of Seward Park. The school provided education for girls who were wards of the Juvenile Court of King County (or those who were “misfits in the public schools”) and included lessons in skills such as serving, laundry work, and darning. Up to ninety girls could be housed in the brick two-story building, which closed as a residential school in 1965 and was destroyed in 1989. The arch had been sitting in storage until the Seattle Parks Department refurbished and erected it in 2009.
The oldest building palimpsest is on the University of Washington campus. Located in Sylvan Grove are four cedar columns. They first graced the front of the Washington Territorial University, the original university building built in 1861 where 4th Avenue (then 4th Street) and University Street (hence the street name) would have crossed. The trees came from Hood Canal and were roughed out at Yesler’s Mill (Seattle’s first start up company); Andrew P. DeLin and Oliver C. Shorey carved the columns. When builders razed that building in 1908, only the columns and some wood flooring survived. Eventually resurrected on the new campus (and named Loyalty, Industry, Faith, and Efficiency) the derelict quartet made it to their present location in 1921. It’s quite amazing to think that they are one of the oldest building elements in the city; they certainly deserve more recognition.
My favorite disembodied structure stands on 2nd Avenue between Marion and Madison. Yet another archway, this time from the Thomas Burke Building (built 1891:demolished 1971), it’s built of local sandstone (probably from Tenino). What I like about it is that if you look at the backside of the arch, which would have been hidden from public view in its first life, you see that the sandstone blocks are less finished. Why go to the extra effort of making the stone nice and tidy if no one will ever see it? I have been told that if you go to a modern building and could access the stone panels on the floors above where people can typically see, that you will also find lower quality stone than used at ground level.
Word of the Week - Coffee name - I don’t know if this is wide-spread but when I order coffee or other take out I don’t use my name—David—because it’s so common. I typically use Dexter or Dirk. I know others who also have coffee names, either because their name is common or because their name is hard to spell.