Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight Hiram M. Chittenden Patsy Collins Gordon Hirabayashi Home William Boeing
Search Encyclopedia
Facebook
Advanced Search
tickets
Home About Us Contact Us Education Bookstore Tourism Advanced Search
7073 HistoryLink.org essays now available      
Donation system not supported by Safari     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 >

Housebuilding in Seattle: A History

HistoryLink.org Essay 9116 : Printer-Friendly Format

Housebuilding in Seattle and the surrounding region has progressed from the communal longhouses of Native Americans through the log cabins of the first settlers to simple, balloon-framed houses. Wood was plentiful and became the natural building material of choice. The newly wealthy poured money first into ornate Victorian mansions and later into a variety of other styles imported from Europe. A boom around the turn of the twentieth century brought a spate of building for the ordinary citizens as well as the wealthy, and two iconic Seattle housing styles -- the Craftsman bungalow and houseboats -- were introduced. So-called "modern" architecture also made its appearance and it would come to dominate the industry. Governments from federal to local began playing more intrusive roles in the housing industry, starting in the Great Depression of the 1930s, and those roles would continue to expand. After World War II, Seattle's population continued to grow, except for a brief period in the late 1970s. As buildable land became more costly and hard to find, the city kept amending its building codes and permit requirements to squeeze more dwellings onto the finite stock of space, and builders sought cheaper land and fewer restrictions in the suburbs.

Houses Made of Wood

Housebuilding in the Seattle area for some millennia was limited to Native American longhouses -- rectangular structures of about 1,700 to 7,500 square feet. They were communal dwellings for several families, clustered near the mouths of the bountiful rivers, built with durable, weather-resistant cedar poles and beams, with lapped cedar planks for siding.

Wood was plentiful and would remain the Pacific Northwest’s favorite building material. “For a while," says architectural historian Caroline Swope, "Ballard was the shingle capital of the United States. By default, you find a lot of houses clad in cheap shingles” (Swope interview).

The first white settlers arrived in September 1851, debarking at Alki Point and a few months later moving across Elliott Bay, where they built log cabins. Henry Yesler (1810-1892) built a sawmill in the area of what is now Pioneer Square in March 1853 and the homesteaders were able to build houses using sawn, standard-sized lumber and balloon framing.

Most were small, one-room dwellings with fir clapboards, battens, and gabled, cedar-shingled roofs. They were generally painted white. They lacked basements since concrete was not used for foundations until after the turn of the century. 

A Slow-Growing Town

During the Indian War in the winter of 1855-1856, most of the cabins outside the settlement around Yesler’s sawmill were burned. Growth was slow and sporadic for a couple of decades, curbed by Seattle’s isolation, lack of transportation other than water, the Civil War (1861-1865), and a depression starting in 1873. 

But the oldest surviving structure in Seattle exists from this period. In 1858 or 1859 David Maynard (1808-1873) constructed a house at Alki Point, a portion of which is still standing. However, as historian Paul Dorpat notes, although the structure was built on property that Maynard -- known as "Doc" -- owned, it can only be assumed that he actually built it. 

When Seattle obtained its city charter on December 2, 1869, “The town existed as a mere aggregation of houses, comingled with stumps, before the first survey was made for fixing the street grades,” in the words of early chronicler Cornelius Hanford  (Hanford, p. 158).

By 1870, there were more than 1,100 citizens in Seattle, and with the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad, first to Tacoma in 1873 and to Seattle in 1884, Seattle began to boom. The town spread north to Belltown and lower Queen Anne, east to Lake Washington, and south to Beacon Hill. Streetcar lines sped the dispersal and Northern Pacific fueled the growth by advertising the region’s glories back East and in Europe.

Construction, Ornamentation, Decoration 

The nouveau riche -- and there were no old rich in Seattle -- the Yeslers, Dennys, Borens, and Blaines displayed their wealth “in the complicated forms and lavish ornamentation of Victorian Gothic and Queen Anne” styles (Steinbrueck, P. 15).

A housebuilding industry began to take shape -- speculators, developers, builders, contractors -- but architects were rare. Instead, architectural plan and pattern books were popular on the frontier. These evolved into more complex and more prescriptive pattern books commonly used by builders and architects through the mid- and late-nineteenth century. In their article on pattern books, Andersen and Krafft note that Seattle architect William Boone "clearly referred to drawings in William T. Comstock’s Modern Architectural Design and Details" in designing the 1887 L. C. Denny residence.(Andersen and Krafft, p. 150).

Local newspapers also published floor plans and articles on home construction and decoration to serve a building boom that developed during the 1880s. Greg Lange writes:

“To get a sense of the developers and speculators frenzy, it took 34 years (1853 to 1887) for developers to create 168 subdivisions in King County (almost all in the vicinity of Seattle). In 1888, developers filed 75 plats; in 1889, 151 plats; in 1890, 201 plats; and in 1891, 70 plats; nearly 500 subdivisions in just four years. In 1891, Seattle annexed residential areas reached by the new streetcar lines, increasing the land area of the city from 13 to 30 square miles” (Lange).

City Rebuilds After Great Fire

The building boom was interrupted by the Great Fire on June 6, 1889, which wiped out 60 blocks of mostly wood-built downtown Seattle. But the commercial district was quickly rebuilt, this time with fireproof materials, and streets were widened and regraded.

The city hired a building inspector and on July 19, 1889, he started issuing building permits. By the end of 1891, he had issued 4,130 building permits. They were for one-to-two story frame buildings, mostly for single-family homes.

Trolley lines were expanded and the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad Company (SLS&E), which ran from Seattle to the north end of Lake Washington by October 1887, helped push residential neighborhoods still farther out. But another depression in 1893 brought a temporary end to the boom, and most of the trolley lines went bankrupt. According to Greg Lange, "in 1900, many subdivisions created a decade ago, were still waiting for their first residences” (Lange).

But the discovery of gold in the Yukon in 1896 triggered another boom, as Seattle merchants became the major outfitters for gold seekers headed north.

From Romanesque to Foursquare 

A Washington state chapter of the American Institute of Architects had been granted a charter on August, 8, 1894, and the next decade saw a profusion of construction in a variety of styles including Romanesque, Gothic, French, Georgian, and Italian Renaissance. By the early twentieth century, as Caroline Swopes writes, “Seattle had an amazing collection of high-style (elaborate, highly detailed interpretations of style) and vernacular (simple, folk) residences. Booster publications indicate that the city took great pride in its houses” (Swope, p. 9). She notes that because Seattle's growth was concentrated into the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, “you’re going to see a more balanced representation of styles” (Swope interview).

The 1900 census found 80,671 people and 11,872 dwellings in Seattle. “Beginning about 1900 there was a renewed interest in traditional house styles ... Colonial Revival, Classic Revival, and Tudor Revival” (Lange). The Foursquare style also became popular in Seattle after 1900, and the Seattle version, known as the Classic Box or Seattle Box, included corner bay windows, usually on the second floor.

Utilities Included

Seattle was developing some character: the “Avenue of Mansions” on Capitol Hill for example -- the two blocks on 14th Avenue E south of Volunteer Park, from Galer to Roy. In 1900, James Moore (1861-1929) starting developing 160 acres on the hill, complete with paved streets and sewer and water lines. The Avenue of Mansions was its centerpiece. People promptly bought these dwellings and moved into the neighborhood. The high-quality infrastructure, convenient transportation, and nearby schools made the neighborhood popular.

But although more mansions were appearing on the hills -- Queen Anne, First, and Capitol -- middle-class families lived in more ordinary structures, called “vernacular” in the industry.

The classic vernacular, and a signature manifestation of this turn-of-the-century housebuilding boom, was the Craftsman bungalow style. It appeared all over the country, but “The one thing that definitely would mark Seattle from other cities would be the high concentration of Craftsman … although Portland has a slightly better mix, maybe because it was settled earlier” (Swope interview).

The Craftsman was considered a small summer cottage at first, but by 1906 was being sold as a permanent dwelling. It had a wide, low-pitched gable or hipped roof with wide eaves and triangular brackets. A porch usually featured massive columns at the entrance, with stone porch supports. It featured simpler forms and a flexible, open floor plan with built-in bookcases and window seats. The style had emerged from the British Arts and Crafts movement, a late-nineteenth-century reaction to the Industrial Revolution.

Houseboats: Rags to Riches

Another iconic Seattle housing style -- the houseboat -- also blossomed in the early years of the twentieth century. They were rickety shanties at first, built in the 1880s by mill workers on Lake Washington and Lake Union and secured to any piling or other moorage available.

The colony would fester and flourish over the years, surviving wars, booms, busts, and decades-long efforts to ban them. As they morphed over the years into summer getaways, students’ and artists’ pads, then into permanent homes, they gained respectability.

There were about 2,500 in the 1920s but the numbers began to decline. In 1965, the city’s houseboat community -- now limited to Lake Union and Portage Bay -- was guaranteed permanence when a sewer system was built around Lake Union. The old bow-roof houseboat, usually about 600 to 700 square feet, is considered the colony’s architectural classic. Seattle’s 500 or so houseboats -- usually advertised as floating homes -- are now among the city’s choicest properties, ranging in value from a few hundred thousand to $2 million plus, in 2009 prices.

Modern and Mail-order

So-called modern architecture also emerged around the turn of the century, and Louis Sullivan (1856-1924), considered the “father of modernism,” preached a creed that “form follows function.” He wanted to move beyond styles imported from Europe and create a more indigenous, American style of architecture. His onetime pupil Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) carried on his work, which evolved into what is known as the Prairie School. It featured natural, indigenous materials, flat or hipped roofs, horizontal planes, and open floor plans.

One unusual contribution to the housebuilding industry was the more than 70,000 mail-order homes sold nationwide by Sears, Roebuck and Co. from 1908 until World War II. Sears offered more than 400 styles, from mini-mansions to vacation homes.  The complete home arrived by rail, from precut 2 x 4s to the paint.

Booming and Segmenting

Seattle’s turn-of-the-century boom also was attracting national attention. A laudatory lead article in the July 1912 Architectural Record, “The Building of Seattle: A City of Great Architectural Promise,” recounted Seattle’s “phenomenally rapid” growth, and noted that “Its enthusiasm partakes almost of the character of a religion.” But the author called the city’s homes “disappointing”(Croly).

As it boomed, however, Seattle’s housebuilding industry segmented, becoming more complex, more stratified, more contentious, as builders, contractors, tradesmen, developers, speculators, real estate agents, and the city government wrestled over the rapid development. Between 1912 and 1914, the middle of the boom, some 29,000 building permits worth about $30 million were issued, and the opportunity for conflict grew as well. Various industry interests began to coalesce.

In 1908, the National Association of Real Estate Exchanges was founded in Chicago and a Seattle group received a charter at the same time. Its goal: "to unite the real estate men of America for the purpose of effectively exerting a combined influence upon matters affecting real estate interests" (NAR history). It changed its name to the National Association of Realtors in 1973 and is now the largest trade organization in the country.

Organizing and Professionalizing

In 1913, in another acknowledgment of the industry’s evolution, the University of Washington created a Department of Architecture within the College of Fine Arts. The name was changed in 2009 to the College of Built Environments, which offers programs in construction management, landscape architecture, and urban development and planning, as well as architecture.

In 1909, five unknown builders gathered to create a builders’ association, but it was not until 1914 that a Seattle Master Builders Association (SMBA) was formally organized. It functioned as a negotiator with various trades groups, as a lobby, and as a liaison with other entities. In 1918, for example, during a housing shortage, it met with Chamber of Commerce and government officials and organized a free rental agency to help resolve the crisis. And, along with the rest of the industry, it promoted home ownership. 

Through the 1920s, according to Victor Steinbrueck, “there was a large-scale growth of domestic architecture in the middle and lower income levels, through builder-developer projects, extending the original gridiron city pattern without regard for the many hills and waterways” (Steinbrueck, p. 17).

And during the 1920s, “Seattle architecture … was initially dominated by academic eclecticism and the application of historical revival styles.”  The Arts and Crafts, Craftsman, Tudor Revival and Prairie school styles were waning and landscape architecture was taking root. (Ochsner, p. xxix).

Depression Takes a Toll

The Great Depression, which started in 1929 and lasted until World War II, had a profound effect on the industry. In 1928, nearly $35 million worth of building permits were issued in the city, but by 1933 that number had shrunk to less than $2 million. By 1932, Seattle residential construction had dropped 95 percent.

The nation’s unemployment rate would reach 25 percent and thousands of jobless men and women were forced into shantytowns called “Hoovervilles,” a sarcastic tribute to former President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964), under whose administration the Depression started. Seattle’s Hooverville appeared in 1931 on vacant Port of Seattle property south of Pioneer Square, and there were other similar colonies scattered around the south end. The city torched Hooverville twice, but the residents rebuilt and it survived until the outbreak of World War II. A census of Hooverville was taken in March 1934. There were 632 men and seven women living in 479 shanties. Their ages ranged from 15 to 73.

And it may have been the first fully integrated neighborhood in Seattle. “Included were 292 Caucasians foreign born, 186 Caucasians born in the United States, 120 Filipinos, 29 Negroes (African Americans), three Costa Ricans, two Mexicans, two Indians, two Eskimos, and one Chilean” (HistoryLink, Lange).

And, for the first time, housing became a national instrument used by the federal government in efforts to control or manipulate the economy.

Government Steps In

In 1932, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) created the Federal Home Loan Bank to keep banks afloat, as part of his New Deal. A year later he created the Home Owners Loan Corporation to refinance housing loans and in 1934 he launched the Federal Housing Administration, which revolutionized the industry. It liberalized home financing to make ownership and remodeling more readily available, streamlined payments, guaranteed mortgages, and set construction and engineering standards. It later became the Federal Housing Administration, which was folded into the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1965.

In 1937, another controversial New Deal housing program was launched to clear slums, improve housing, and create jobs. More than half the country’s dwellings lacked adequate plumbing and the Depression had left its housing stock in bad shape. The United States Housing Act of 1937, also known as the Wagner-Steagall Housing Act, provided subsidies to local housing authorities to build low-income housing.

The Seattle City Council established the Seattle Housing Authority in March 1939, the first public-housing authority in the state, and two months later it received $3 million to develop Yesler Terrace on First Hill, a landmark in the development of public housing. World War II interrupted the program, however, and public-housing funds were diverted to provide housing for war workers. In Seattle, the Holly Park and High Point projects were developed under that program. By 2009 the Seattle Housing Authority was providing housing for more than 26,000 citizens at more than 400 sites throughout the city.

Home Show Debuts

In 1939, The Seattle Master Builders Association (SMBA) and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer sponsored the first Seattle Home Show, to promote the housebuilding and related industries. It has been held annually since except for the World War II years and is the oldest and largest such promotional effort in the country. The show is a major source of non-dues income for the association, now known as the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.

Housebuilding virtually stopped during World War II, except for war-related construction, but in the postwar boom, the still-undeveloped areas of the city were filled in, mostly by ranch-style homes. Lots grew scarce in the city and the suburbs boomed as developers threw up inexpensive housing for the returning veterans. These minimalist dwellings were spoofed by folk singer-songwriter Malvina Reynolds in her 1962 hit, “Little Boxes:” “And they're all made out of ticky tacky.”

But it was not all ticky tacky.

After the war, architect Ellsworth Storey (1879-1960) developed a Craftsman-influenced style that would be called Northwest Regional, using native Northwest materials such as stained wood and shingles, and river stone. Of him historian Grant Hildebrand writes, “Few architects have engendered greater local affection. ... In his most original and best-known designs, he drew chalet, Arts and Crafts, and Prairie School predilections into the milieu of the region, and found in that metamorphosis a restrained but original style which still seems marvelously appropriate to the genius of the place he loved” (Grant Hildebrand).

Thiry Makes A Mark

Another influential postwar architect was Paul Thiry (1904-1993), who introduced the International style to Seattle. Thiry, a 1928 graduate of the University of Washington architecture school, toured Europe during the Depression. Among those he met was Charles-Edouard le Corbusier (1887-1966), the most influential avant garde architect on the continent. When he returned to Seattle, he redesigned his own house in modern style. “Its white stuccoed rectilinear surfaces, multi-pane continuous window, and strong horizontal axis stood in stark contrast to contemporary Seattle houses” (MacIntosh).

Thiry was interested in advances in building technology and “experimented with prefab, plywood paneling, precast, prestressed concrete” (Meredith L. Clausen).

In his master's thesis on Northwest architecture, Michael Cunningham writes of Thiry: “In regard to indigenous characteristics of the northwest, he feels that the terrain, orientation, vistas and prevailing winds all have an influence in what one does” (Cunningham).

Thiry served on the Seattle Planning Commission and was the principal architect for the 1962 Seattle Worlds Fair.

National Recognition

Seattle’s influence on modern architecture, in fact, was the focus of Architectural Record’s April 1953 issue, with commentaries by Thiry, Victor Steinbrueck and other Seattle architects.

In a preface, “Architecture in the Northwest,” managing editor Emerson Goble said, “A significant fact is that ‘modern’ architecture was quickly accepted in the Northwest.  Freedom to build to the conditions at hand, lack of obeisance to styles of the past, relating of indoor to outdoor space, natural use of materials -- these had strong appeal. The people of the Northwest take a genuine hobby interest in their homes ... . They accept new ideas more readily than people in regions already steeped in styles ...” (Goble).

This trend did not escape academia. At the University of Washington the architectural program grew rapidly and, according to historian Drew Rocker, "was influenced by the postwar emphasis on operational efficiency, expediency, and strict ‘functionality’” (Drew Rocker).

From World War II until 1970, Seattle and the Pacific Northwest enjoyed mostly boom times, along with the rest of the country, and the suburbs flourished as cities continued to fill. In Seattle, the trend toward suburbanization was assisted by major transportation projects: the Mercer Island floating bridge (1940) and the Evergreen Point floating bridge (1963), which opened the east side of Lake Washington to commuters; and the construction of I-5 through Seattle in the 1960s.

The nation’s population in 1930 was about 123 million and would double to 246 million by 1989. Governments at all levels, from federal to local, were playing bigger and more intrusive roles in the housing industry, from financing to insulation standards.

“Bipartisan Obsession” 

In a Forbes magazine article subtitled “America's bipartisan obsession with homeownership,” writer John Tamny said, “Despite housing being an asset class that has needed no help, politicians have regularly sought to subsidize it” (Tamny).

In 1944, VA loans (or loan guarantees) were part of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act – the GI Bill.

The Housing Act of 1961 provided $4.88 billion in loans and grants to cities, towns and rural areas for urban renewal, public housing, home improvement, housing for moderate-income families, a liberalized FHA home mortgage insurance program, and other housing and transportation.

Between 1968 and 1970, Congress chartered the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac), and the Government National Mortgage Association (Ginny Mae), all designed to facilitate the mortgage and housebuilding industries.

Presidents from Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973) to George W. Bush (b. 1946) signed on to legislation that benefited the housing industry.

Problems With Progress

But the good times and growth also created environmental and energy concerns. On January 1, 1970, President Richard Nixon (1919-1994) signed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), sponsored by Washington State Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (1912-1983). In 1971, Washington passed its own State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).  It required that governmental agencies consider the environmental impacts of public or private land development. If adverse environmental impacts were possible, a detailed environmental impact statement (EIS) was required.

In 1972, Washington state voters approved the state Shoreline Management Act (SMA) passed by the state Legislature in 1971 “to prevent the inherent harm in an uncoordinated and piecemeal development of the state’s shorelines.” Permits were required for development from the Pacific shore to wetlands.

On the local level, land-use, building-code, and permit regulations multiplied.

“Boeing Bust” Intrudes

For the Seattle area, the good times ended with the “Boeing bust” of 1970-1972, when the company laid off nearly half its 80,400-member work force. The local economy, including the housing market, plummeted and a three-bedroom house on Queen Anne Hill with a view of Puget Sound and the Olympics could be purchased for $20,000.

In July 1970, John Nord, president of the Seattle Master Builders Association (SMBA), said the region’s residential construction industry was "in the midst of an economic famine” (SMBA Timeline).

The early 1970s also were dire nationally, with a recession and an oil crisis throttling the economy. In 1974, the Federal Reserve Board further handicapped the housing industry by squeezing funds available to banks for loans, in an effort to rein in spending and lower prices. The market rebounded in the late 1970s, but slipped again with a recession in the early 1980s.

Seattle’s population began to shrink in the 1970s, driven by increasing popularity of the suburbs and by so-called “white flight” after the city began desegregating its schools in 1972. By 1980, Seattle’s population had dropped to 493,846, a loss of more than 63,000 in 20 years. Seattle’s mandatory-busing social experiment ended   in 1999.

Population Rebound

The city’s slide ended in the 1980s. It grew by 22,000 residents in a decade, bringing its 1990 population to about 515,000, and the squeeze was on. By 2009, Seattle’s population would be about 602,000, with an increasing proportion single, further altering the city’s housing needs.

For the Pacific Northwest housing industry, one of the most onerous pieces of legislation was the Northwest Regional Power Act of 1980. Among other provisions, it required strict conservation standards for housing, which the SMBA and other segments of the industry vociferously opposed as excessive and unwarranted. A legal battle lasted five years and reached the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which would reject the challenge.

In 1990, the state passed a Growth Management Act (GMA) in response to concerns over uncontrolled development in the Puget Sound area. “That was the key change, the Growth Management Act,” said Russell Hokanson, CEO of the Seattle King County Association of Realtors. “Development began to be planned at that point. Housing was less and less affordable and they were seeking more affordable alternatives to single-family homes.”

Focusing Growth

The GMA -- revised regularly since -- required King County and other rapidly developing counties to concentrate growth in built-up urban areas in order to protect the remaining less-developed environment. King and other counties instituted their own growth-management plans.

The Seattle Master Builders and other segments of the building industry lobbied vigorously against this rising tide of restrictions, with limited success. In 1984, however, after heavy lobbying by the SMBA, Seattle’s Department of Construction and Land Use adopted a one-day permit-processing service.

Condominiums and townhouses began appearing in the early 1970s, joining other multi-family dwellings that were encroaching upon Seattle’s cherished neighborhoods. From 1984 until 2008 Seattle issued 18,016 building permits for single-family dwellings, but issued 73,775 permits for multi-family units -- four times as many. The single-family-house permits ranged from 480 in 1984, to 1,504 in 2006.

When Norm Rice (b. 1943) became mayor in 1990, he inherited a city where the downtown core was in danger of collapsing, the home-less were an escalating problem, and a solution to the housing crunch was needed. Rice was able to help revive downtown, but his growth-management plan -- channeling growth into “urban villages,” in about 30 communities to control urban sprawl and provide “affordable” housing -- ran into trouble in the neighborhoods. The City Council finally passed a watered-down version.

Scaling Down

Other land-management devices included short-platting -- dividing a property into four or fewer parcels -- “skinny houses,” and “cluster housing” -- allowing developers to build on smaller-than-normal lots.  And in the wake of the 1980 Regional Power Act, Seattle and adjacent communities began encouraging more energy- and resource-efficient homes, using more sustainable and less toxic building materials -- the “green” movement. The building industry also came around. Another phenomenon affecting Seattle’s housing stock during this period was "gentrification," a nationwide movement in which affluent young couples bought “fixer-uppers” in aging, low-rent neighborhoods and helped bolster a remodeling subindustry.

Meanwhile, the building industry’s work force was changing as well. Latinos -- both legal and undocumented -- began dominating construction sites. A Seattle Times article reported:

“Locally, many inspectors, construction foremen and union organizers estimate that in the last few years they have come to represent anywhere from half to 90 percent of the work force at residential job sites in the Puget Sound region. They dominate unskilled-labor crews and are prevalent among drywallers, framers, roofers and other semiskilled trades.

“And it's an open secret that many of these workers are here illegally” (Bhatt).

Creativity Takes A Hit

As the city and developers attempted to squeeze in more affordable dwellings, however, design suffered. The lack of vision in what was once an architecturally vibrant community was criticized in 1975 by architects Folke Nyberg and Victor Steinbrueck:  “There has been little original creative work except in the Northwest Regional Style and perhaps in some contemporary architecture ... . Other more powerful forces are economic, technological and cultural conditions as well as such mundane factors as building code, and government financial controls and institutions” (Nyberg and Steinbrueck).

Architectural writer William Dietrich elaborated the problem in 2009: “To try to keep housing within reach, developers have been allowed to squeeze four town homes on what used to be a single-family, 50-by-100-foot lot. Regulatory requirements to shoehorn in amenities once taken for granted -- such as off-street garage parking, driveways, a scrap of yard and a privacy fence -- are so prescriptive and inflexible that they have resulted in cook-cutter vertical design ... . In an attempt to make town houses blend in with Craftsman bungalows, Seattle codes created a hybrid, half house and half high-rise, that satisfies no one” (Dietrich).

The 1990s and early 2000s saw a housing boom of historic proportions, nationally and internationally. It was fueled by a healthy economy, low mortgage rates, and, in the United States, adjustable rate mortgages and lax federal oversight of financial institutions, including its own. But the bubble began to lose air in 2006, and the collapse hit Seattle in 2007. From 2008 to 2009, Seattle house values declined 15 percent.

Sources:
Frank Chesley interview with Caroline T. Swope, June 2, 2009; Shaping Seattle Architecture ed. by Jeffrey Karl Ochsner (Seattle: University of Washington Press), 1994; Grant Hildebrand, ""Ellsworth Storey," in Shaping Seattle Architecture ed. by Jeffrey Karl Ochsner; Meredith L. Clausen, "Paul Thiry" in Shaping Seattle Architecture ed. by Jeffrey Karl Ochsner; Drew Rocker, "Lionel H. Pries," in Shaping Seattle Architecture ed. by Jeffrey Karl Ochsner; Greg Lange, "Historic Resources Survey," City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods website accessed June 3, 2009 (http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/preservation/historicresources.htm); City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods historical sites database, "1007 14th Avenue E," (http://web1.seattle.gov/dpd/historicalsite); C. H. Hanford, Seattle and Environs, Vol. 1 (Chicago and Seattle: Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, 1924); Caroline T. Swope, Classic Houses of Seattle: High Style to Vernacular, 1870-1950 (Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, Inc., 2005); Victor Steinbrueck, Seattle Architecture, 1850-1953, (New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation, 1953); Dennis A. Anderson and Katheryn Krafft, “Plan and Pattern Books,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly, October 1994; Herbert Croly, “The Building of Seattle: A City of Great Architectural Promise,” Architectural Record, July 1912; "Field Guide to the History of the National Association of Realtors," NAR website accessed June 20, 2009 (http://www.realtor.org/library/library/fg002); Paul Dorpat, Seattle Now & Then, Vol. 3, p. 24 (Seattle: Tartu Publications, 1989): HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “Hooverville: Shantytown of Seattle's Great Depression,” (by Greg Lange), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed June 25, 2009); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “Thiry, Paul Albert (1904-1993)” (by Heather MacIntosh), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed June 26, 2009); Michael Cunningham, “A Photographic Comparison of Selected Northwest Residential Architecture of the 1940s and 1950s” (master's thesis, University of Washington, 1976), p. 8; Emerson Goble, Architectural Record, April 1953, p. 55; John Tamny, “The Unfortunate Reality of Housing Subsidies,” Forbes website, January 5, 2009 (http://www.forbes.com/2009/01/02/housing-subsidies-migration-oped-cx);  “SMBA Timeline,” 2009, in possession of Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties; Sanjay Bhatt, “Home-building Boom Relies on Illegal Workers,” The Seattle Times, September 19, 2006 (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com); Folke Nyberg and Victor Steinbrueck, An Urban Resource Inventory for Seattle (Seattle: Historic Seattle Preservation and Development Authority, 1975); William Dietrich, “Designing Our Destiny,”  Pacific Northwest Magazine, p. 12, The Seattle Times, July 22, 2009.


< Browse to Previous Essay | Browse to Next Essay >

Related Topics: Business | Government & Politics | Industry | Seattle Neighborhoods |

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


This essay made possible by:
Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties


Duwamish Westcoast Canoe with traditional longhouse in background, Cedar River, 1893
Courtesy University of Oregon Special Collections


Sketch of a traditional Puget Sound Native American shed-roof long house
Courtesy Smithsonian Institution


Henry Yesler's first sawmill, Seattle
Courtesy Bagley, History of King County


Doc Maynard residence, oldest extant structure in Seattle, 3045 64th SW, West Seattle, 1860s
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. UW13777)


Felker House, first finished lumber house built in Seattle, King Street one half block W of Commercial Street (1st Avenue), Seattle, ca. 1868



The Seattle Public Library, formerly Yesler mansion (William Boone, 1884), Seattle, ca. 1899
Photo by Anders Beere Wilse, Courtesy MOHAI (Image No. 1988.33.1)


Quaale Log House, Carnation vicinity
Courtesy John Stamets


David Denny's residence, 512 Queen Anne Avenue, Seattle, ca. 1900
Courtesy UW Special Collections


Home of Herman and Katherine Bagley (built 1880s, razed 1903), northeast corner of Spring Street and 4th Avenue, Seattle
Courtesy MOHAI


Butler-Jackson House (August Heide, 1910), Everett, ca. 1910
Courtesy Everett Public Library (Rude family collection)


Meeker Mansion (Farrell and Darmer, 1890), Puyallup, March 22, 2006
Photo by Paula Becker


Early suburb, with typical building stock, First Hill, Seattle, ca. 1900
Courtesy MOHAI


"Avenue of Mansions," 14th Avenue N, Capitol Hill, Seattle, 1906
Courtesy Lawton Gowey


Clise Mansion, later home of the Marymoor Museum of Eastside History, 1930s
Courtesy Marymoor Museum


Olson House, 1991
Courtesy Mary Randlett


Interior of Brace/Moriarty home (Kerr & Rogers, 1904), Seattle, ca. 1913
Courtesy John and Marta Brace


Brace/Moriarty House, Queen Anne Hill, Seattle, 2001
Photo by David Wilma


Hilmar and Selma Steen House, Vashon Island
Courtesy Mary Randlett


Craftsman bungalow, 3619 Densmore Avenue (Gardner J. Gwinn, 1916), Seattle
Courtesy Seattle Department of Neighborhoods


Houseboats on Lake Washington near Madison Park, 1910s
Postcard


Women posing on Lake Washington houseboat, 1912
Courtesy UW Special Collections, Lee 20036


Westlake neighborhood and houseboats, Lake Union, Seattle, 1966
Photo by Bob Miller, Courtesy MOHAI (Neg. PI 1986.5.9756)


Stimson House (Bebb and Gould, 1910), 410 W Highland Drive, Queen Anne Hill, Seattle, 2002
Photo by David Wilma


Ellsworth Storey Houses, n.d.
Illustration by Victor Steinbrueck, Courtesy Seattle Department of Neighborhoods


Winters House, 2102 Bellevue Way SE, Bellevue, 1999
Courtesy Alan Stein


 
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