Chief Seattle Thelma Dewitty Thomas Foley Carrie Chapman Catt Anna Louise Strong Mark Tobey Helene Madison Home
Search Encyclopedia
Facebook
Advanced Search
Featured Eassy Book Store Donate Now
Home About Us Contact Us Education Bookstore Tourism Advanced Search
6872 HistoryLink.org essays now available      
Donate Subscribe

Shortcuts

Libraries
Cyberpedias Cyberpedias
Timeline Essays Timeline Essays
People's Histories People's Histories

Selected Collections
Cities & Towns Cities & Towns
County Thumbnails Counties
Biographies Biographies
Interactive Cybertours Interactive Cybertours
Slide Shows Slideshows
Public Ports Public Ports
Audio & Video Audio & Video

Research Shortcuts

Map Searches
Alphabetical Search
Timeline Date Search
Topic Search

Features

Book of the Fortnight
Audio/Video Enhanced
History Bookshelf
Klondike Gold Rush Database
Duvall Newspaper Index
Wellington Scrapbook

More History

Washington FAQs
Washington Milestones
Honor Rolls
Columbia Basin
Everett
Olympia
Seattle
Spokane
Tacoma
Walla Walla
Roads & Rails

Cyberpedia Library

< Browse to Previous Essay | Browse to Next Essay >

Thomas, Harlan (1870-1953)

HistoryLink.org Essay 114 : Printer-Friendly Format

Architect Harlan Thomas provided Seattle with an array of well-executed designs including the Sorrento Hotel and Harborview Hospital. He also designed schools in Aberdeen, Monroe, and Enumclaw, World War II housing in Bremerton, and private homes in various Western Washington locations. His treatment of historical styles significantly contributed to the quality of Northwest architecture in the first half of the twentieth century.

Born in Iowa on January 10, 1870, Thomas came to architecture from an interest in science, mechanics, and drawing. Before entering Colorado State College, he was a carpenter, which led to drafting work for an architecture office in Denver. While in college, he designed a house and two campus buildings.

Thomas spent the next decade enhancing his technical background with extensive European travel and study. During his first sixteen-month trip, Thomas studied in a Parisian studio. After a brief return to his Denver practice, Thomas traveled around the world, sketching what he saw, compiling a library of ideas that informed his life’s work.

In 1906, after years of travel, Thomas settled down in Seattle. By 1907, he was designing two Seattle hotels, the Chelsea and the Sorrento. The Sorrento, at 900 Madison Street, is an eclectic building, illustrating a number of stylistic details uncommon in Seattle in the 1910s.

By contemporary standards, the Sorrento was unusual and fantastic. Its ell-shaped floorplan opens to the street’s corner, creating an open park-like space. Rather than a building entry through a single, central door or a streetside entrance, Thomas’s design provides a civilized, intermediate landscape, separating the public life of the street from the building’s private interior spaces. The symmetrical flanking wings draw the visitor and the eye to the central entrance.

Although the many details of the building's recessed facade enrich the exterior’s surfaces, the building’s roofline is one of its most striking features. Thomas added interest to the roof with pergolas, which are open, Italian-influenced elements, often found in garden walkways.

The Sorrento provided Seattle with its first rooftop restaurant.

In the first years of his Seattle practice, Thomas designed a number of regional schools including:

  • J. M. Weathermax High School, Aberdeen (1908-1909; altered)
  • Monroe High School, Monroe (1909-1910; destroyed)
  • The Enumclaw High School, Enumclaw (1910-1911; destroyed)

Thomas worked in partnership with several local firms throughout his career. Most of his designs were collaborative efforts. Examples of these, and associated firms are:

  • The Corner Market Building (1911-1912, with Clyde Grainger)
  • The Queen Anne Branch of the Seattle Public Library (1912-1914, with W. Marbury Somervell)
  • The Henry L. Yesler Library (1912-1914, now the Douglass-Truth Library, with W. Marbury Somervell)
  • The Seattle Chamber of Commerce Building (1923-1925; altered, with Schack, Young & Myers)
  • The Sales and Service Building (1925, as a part of Thomas, Grainger & Thomas)
  • Rhodes Department Store (1926-1927, now the Arcade Plaza Building, as a part of Thomas, Grainger & Thomas)
  • Harborview Hospital (1929-1931, altered, as a part of Thomas, Grainger & Thomas).

In addition, he designed his personal residence, a few fraternity and sorority buildings, as well as speculative housing in northeast Seattle for Albert Balch. During World War II, Thomas designed a 500-unit housing project in Bremerton with Smith, Carroll & Johanson.

Thomas also advanced the field of architecture locally as an active member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and as a faculty member with the University of Washington’s architecture department. From 1926 to 1940, he served as department chair.

Thomas retired from architectural practice in 1949, but continued expanding his experience. Late in life, he became a respected painter. He died on September 4, 1953, leaving Seattle’s architectural community a substantial legacy.

Sources:
Norman J. Johnston, "Harlan Thomas," in Shaping Seattle Architecture: A Historical Guide to the Architects ed. by Jeffrey Karl Ochsner (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994) 126-131.
Note: This essay was updated on August 15, 2004


< Browse to Previous Essay | Browse to Next Essay >

Related Topics: Biographies | Business |

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License


Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You




Sorrento Hotel (Harlan Thomas, 1909)
Courtesy Lawton Gowey


Smith-Baldwin House at Fern Cove (Harlan Thomas, 1912), Vashon Island, 2000
Courtesy King County Office of Cultural Resources


Harborview Hospital (Thomas, Grainger & Thomas, 1931), ca. 1933
Courtesy Lawton Gowey


Corner Market Building (Harlan Thomas and Clyde Grainger, 1912), Pike Place Market
Courtesy Lawton Gowey


Detail of Native Americans within frieze of Seattle Chamber of Commerce Building (Harlan Thomas, Schack, Young & Myers, 1925), 1999
Photo by Heather MacIntosh


Henry Yesler branch, later Douglass-Truth branch (Somervell and Thomas, 1914), The Seattle Public Library, Seattle, ca. 1914
Courtesy MOHAI


 
Home About Us Contact Us Education Bookstore Tourism Advanced Search

HistoryLink.org is the first online encyclopedia of local and state history created expressly for the Internet. (SM)
HistoryLink.org is a free public and educational resource produced by History Ink, a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt corporation.
Contact us by phone at 206.447.8140, by mail at Historylink, 1411 4th Ave. Suite 803, Seattle WA 98101 or email admin@historylink.org