Tuscany Apartments (Seattle)

  • By Dotty DeCoster
  • Posted 11/07/2012
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10233
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The Tuscany Apartments, flamboyantly decorating the southwest corner of Seneca Street and Summit Avenue on First Hill in Seattle, began as the Piedmont Residential Hotel in 1926. Arthur S. Hainsworth (1900-1975) was the developer and general contractor; Daniel R. Huntington (1871-1962) the architect. The building was expanded to include the corner lots along Seneca Street and opened as the New Piedmont Apartment Hotel in 1928. Huntington was joined by Archibald N. Torbitt (1883-1958) in designing the combined buildings. In 1964, the building reopened as the Evangeline Residence, remodeled by NBBJ for the Salvation Army. During the early 1980s the Salvation Army reprioritized programs nationally and closed its Evangeline Residences on the west coast. Linda Alexander and Rome A. Ventura bought the building and in 1987 redeveloped it into apartments, renovated the lively decorations both inside and outside, and renamed it the Tuscany Apartments. Northwest Apartments purchased the building in 2005, conducted additional renovations, and based its offices in the former lobby. The building has always included a dining room, now in use by the Northwest School, located in the old Summit School building a block to the north. Decorations on the Seneca Street and Summit Avenue façades and some interiors include one of the largest installations of Malibu Potteries tile work in the northwest. 

Piedmont Residential Hotel, 1926 

The original Piedmont Residential Hotel was completed at 1109 Summit Avenue in the spring of 1926. It was three stories tall, 60 feet by 120 feet, of "mill" (wood) construction faced with brick and tile, with cast stone window sills and wrought iron door and window grills. Roofed in tar and gravel, the structure was built over a very tall daylight basement, and cost about $45,000. 

The project was a collaboration. A. S. Hainsworth was the general contractor and led the investment team called the Tallworth Investment Company. D. R. Huntington was the architect. Clara Buckley and Nina Carlston (along with their chef, who is not named in contemporary reports) brought their hotel management and dining room expertise to the project, participated in the investment and design, and managed the hotel. All agreed that the new hotel was Italian in style, with sgraffito plaster decorating the Summit Avenue façade, looping around the double-arched doorway and window in the lobby, and informing selection of color schemes and furnishings within. The dining room was the full width of the building at the front, in the daylit basement. 

(Sgraffito -- scratch graffito -- plastering is an ancient approach to decoration. A layer of plaster is colored and applied, and then a second layer is placed on top. The artisan scratches away a relief pattern in the plaster, so that the colored underlayer forms the background for the design selected. In this case, the design was likely a stencil based on Italian designs.) 

The 58-room Piedmont Residential Hotel was a success at a time when residential hotels and apartment buildings were being constructed and remodeled all over the city. The development team prepared to expand almost immediately. With the addition of A. W. Talbot to the investment team, the expansion was permitted by the City in March 1928, and the building opened on November 11, 1928 as the Piedmont Apartment Hotel. Now the decorating theme was Spanish. 

Developer and General Contractor 

Arthur S. Hainsworth was born and raised in West Seattle, in what is now the Admiral District. He attended West Seattle High School, and likely was among the first class to graduate from the "new" high school building in 1918. Later in life he was a member of the Monogram Club, a West Seattle sports alumnae club. Hainsworth went on to study at the University of Washington and remained an active UW alumnus throughout his life. 

Hainsworth was still living in West Seattle when he put together the team to build the Piedmont Residential Hotel. It appears that this was his first project, although there is a reference to a "Tuscon Apartments, 1922" in a small notebook in the University of Washington Special Collections attributed to him. Additionally, he is listed in the 1923 street directory as an architect. Perhaps early in his career Hainsworth was experimenting with doing both the planning and the construction of buildings.  

Hainsworth continued in business as the Hainsworth Construction Company. He and his firm built a number of residences and commercial buildings. He is probably best known for building the original Bellevue Square Shopping Center and the first Nordstrom store there, but his work was not confined to the King County area. He is also known for constructing Wenatchee area hospitals. He served as president of the Associated General Contractors and of the Overlake Golf and Country Club, and lived on Mercer Island for many years. 

Architects and Managers 

Daniel Riggs Huntington was born in New Jersey, raised in New York, and worked as an apprentice architect in Denver where he began his practice. He moved to Seattle in 1904 or 1905, and designed both the Mines Building and the Oriental Building for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909. Huntington seems to have enjoyed working with different people at different times, and is well known in Seattle for his work both as an independent architect and in partnership with others. He served as Seattle City Architect from 1912 to 1921, and taught briefly at the University of Washington in the 1923-1924 school year. Huntington was president of the American Institute of Architects, Washington State Chapter from 1918 to 1919 and again from 1925 to 1926. Also an accomplished painter, he focused on painting rather than architecture after his work with Torbitt. 

The 1926 Piedmont project was one Huntington designed independently. However, from 1928 to 1931 he partnered with Archibald Torbitt as Huntington and Torbitt, Architects, and it was this firm that designed the 1928 Piedmont Apartment Hotel. While they were working on the hotel, they were also working on the Seventh Street Theater in Hoquiam with Edwin St. John Griffith. It is interesting to note that this theater was described as one "where an 'atmospheric' interior metaphorically transports patrons to an open-air evening performance space in a 'Spanish village'" (Veith, p. 116). 

Archibald N. Torbitt, working with Miller, Opel, and Torbitt in Springfield, Missouri, designed the Greene County Courthouse there, built between 1910 and 1912. His work in Washington includes sites in Seattle, Kelso, Longview, and Anacortes. It is not clear exactly when he moved to Washington; likely in 1926. In 1929, Torbitt designed the small, classical Christian Science church in Anacortes. He was a long-time Christian Scientist, and may have designed other Christian Science facilities. He continued to work in Washington until he died. 

Clara Buckley and Nina Carlston had worked for three years as managers of the Alhambra Hotel (built about 1908) a few blocks north on Summit Avenue before they came to initiate the original Piedmont Residential Hotel. They seem to have been highly regarded by the Hotel News of the West, which printed a number of articles about the evolving hotel in 1926 and 1928. (Mrs. Carlston's name is often misspelled "Carlson" in reportage, but is listed separately from Mrs. Gus Carlson (Nina) in the Polk's Seattle Street Directories.) 

A Major Expansion 

The 1928 Piedmont Apartment Hotel was a major expansion. Five stories tall over a daylight basement, it was an L-shaped building fronting on Seneca Street then extending along Summit Avenue to join the original building. In the area between the buildings was a plaza built over a 40-car garage with an entrance down a ramp from the alley. The completed complex included 30 apartments of 2 and 3 rooms (they didn't count kitchens and bathrooms in those days), and 51 hotel rooms. The cost was estimated at $200,000. 

The new building included a decorative lobby, mezzanine, and music room. The dining room was expanded and re-equipped, and could seat 150, and the original dining area was remodeled as a private dining room, the Chinese Room. The color scheme throughout was brightened with reds, greens, and blues, undoubtedly taken from the gloriously colorful tile work installed on the facades and in the lobby. The plaza contained statuary and the lobby an elegant fireplace. 


The Piedmont Apartment Hotel featured tile work in many places, including a terrazzo floor in the basement lobby, but the most spectacular tile work was the installation of "Moorish" tile from Malibu Potteries in the lobby fireplace, on the street facades, in the dining room and lounges, and on the towers atop the building supporting classical urns.  

Malibu Potteries, on the beach north of Los Angeles, was founded in 1926 by May K. Rindge and her Marblehead Land Company. She was attempting to use the resources of the Spanish land grant she owned (known as Malibu) to maintain the property, and had discovered that good quality clay was among her resources. She hired Rufus B. Keeler (1885-1934), originally from Bellingham but long known as one of California's foremost ceramists, to create and operate Malibu Potteries. Keeler created stock designs for tiles based on the Moorish tiles of Spain along with new designs created by himself or local artists hired to work at the pottery. Unfortunately, Malibu Potteries did not last long, closing altogether in 1932.  

The tiles used in the Piedmont Apartment Hotel were from the original stock produced by Malibu Potteries, as were those with which Charles W. Rodgers (c. 1870-1949) had faced his new tile showroom at 117-119 Yale Street N a year earlier in 1927. The tiles facing Rodgers's showroom appear to have provided the first opportunity for Seattleites to see Malibu tile. Most likely it was the hotel architects, already involved in developing Spanish effects, who came upon the Malibu Potteries tile work.  

The Charles W. Rodgers Company of Seattle was well-known for installations in a host of buildings including the L.C. Smith Building, the original Olympic Hotel, and the Wintergarden Theatre. Rogers was particularly interested in creating lovely fireplaces at the time the hotel was built, and a specialist in hand made tile. His company was also responsible for the charming fireplaces in a number of Seattle area residences. It is believed that it was Rodgers who installed the Piedmont Apartment Hotel tile. 

The provenance of the urns is less clear. High atop the Piedmont Apartment Hotel were large terra cotta urns of "classical" design with figures from Greek or Roman mythology surrounding them. Both the tile work and the urns were drawn in detail on the original architectural drawings, so we don't know whether the urns were of original design by one or both of the architects or were a stock feature of either the Malibu Potteries or a terra cotta company.  

Piedmont Apartment Hotel 

The Piedmont Apartment Hotel flourished for decades under various owners and managers. Society matrons sponsored teas for social and/or charitable reasons, numerous organizations held their meetings and dinners in the dining room, and residents, both short- and long-term, continued to enjoy the facilities.  

In December 1948, Shirlee Mitchell, the 21-year-old front office clerk at the Piedmont Apartment Hotel, became "Miss Washington Hotels," an honor for which she was nominated by her father, owner and manager W. C. Mitchell. Mitchell continued to own and operate the Piedmont and its dining room until about 1952 when new owners opened the dining room as the Piedmont Hotel Coffee Shop. 

By 1960, manager Abel Label seems to have found himself squeezed to make the Piedmont pay. He hired Walter Hansen to run the hotel coffee shop, and Hansen applied for a conditional use permit to reconstruct a 50-seat cocktail lounge in what had been the private dining room. The City Board of Adjustment turned him down on the basis that "because the hotel is in a multiple-residence, high-density district, it would not be proper to allow sales of liquor" ("City Affairs ..."). On appeal to the City Council in March 1961, the decision was reversed, and for a time it looked as if the Piedmont would have a cocktail lounge. In 1962, Piedmont Coffee Shop manager Reuben Label tried to extend the permission to build a cocktail lounge. In August of that year, Walter Hansen, the original applicant for the lounge permit, was charged with embezzlement (grand larceny) by King County Prosecutor Charles O. Carroll (1906-2003) for "selling a check he had been given to turn over to the State Liquor Board" ("Embezzlement Charges ...") and the subject seems to have been closed. In 1963, the Piedmont's dining room became Marie's Piedmont Hotel Dining Room, managed by Marie M. Frye. 

Evangeline Residence 

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, downtown Seattle was regraded as Interstate 5 was built through town. The Evangeline Residence of the Salvation Army at 6th Avenue and Madison Street was supplanted by a freeway interchange in 1961. The Piedmont Apartment Hotel was purchased as a replacement, and in 1963 converted to 176 sleeping rooms. Improvements were made to the dining room the following year. The alterations were designed by NBBJ (Naramore, Bain, Brady, and Johansen). The new Evangeline Residence opened in July 1964, operating much like a residential hotel, with a dining room, maid service, and shared facilities including washing and drying machines, a sewing room, practice rooms for music study or typing, a canteen, and a lounge. 

Evangeline Residences, which the Salvation Army operated in many cities, were named after Evangeline Booth (1865-1950), daughter of the organization's founder. She served as Commander of the United States Salvation Army from 1904 to 1934, then as International Commander-in-Chief until 1939 when she retired. Establishing residences for young women in the cities was one of her projects, providing a safe and supportive environment for women who came to cities to work or study away from their families.  

The Seattle Evangeline Residence was founded in 1922, the third such residence in the U.S. While initiated and managed by the Salvation Army, the Evangeline Residences were self-supporting and did not use funds from the local United Good Neighbor or other community funds. Young women of all backgrounds were served at the Evangeline residences, and while religious and charitable activities were available, they were not mandatory. A March 1967 article by Dorothy Brant Brazier, Women's News Editor of The Seattle Times, gave a history of the Residence in honor of a Reunion Tea to be held that April 29. The photograph accompanying the article clearly shows the lovely Malibu tile fireplace surround of the old Piedmont Apartment Hotel. 

The Evangeline Residence lasted at the Piedmont about 20 years. Radical changes in the status and legal rights of young women during that time created opportunities for independent living unavailable earlier, and in the early 1980s the Salvation Army chose to close Evangeline Residences and reprioritize its efforts to be of service to the most needy. 


In 1986, the partnership of Linda Alexander and Rome A. Ventura bought the old building and spent 1987 gutting the apartments and creating 79 contemporary apartments and a large lobby office space. The two did their best to keep and restore the decorations inside and out, and kept the dining room, patio, and garage. They moved their office into the former hotel lobby at 1215 Seneca Street. All-purpose developers, they had plans drawn up by Contract Design Unlimited and oversaw details themselves. Early in 1988 the building re-opened as The Tuscany Apartments. 

In a rare interview with Alexander and Ventura by Richard W. Larsen (1928-2001) of The Seattle Times in 1990 there is a glimpse of this partnership: 

"Alexander and Ventura met 10 years ago when both were working for McPherson Realtors. Neither woman had anything in her background that would point toward the competitive, demanding world of development and construction … 
"At the time, the realty firm offered employees, as a part of compensation, use of its line of credit. Intrigued, the two women shopped around for a development opportunity. Their eyes fell upon an old building atop Queen Anne Hill, a former hospital and one-time morgue that had long been boarded up.
"They saw, beyond the forlorn mood of the place, a stately brick exterior, a handsome tile roof, lovely old tiles and other appealing architectural details not found in new buildings. 'We talked about it, walked around it, walked around the neighborhood and talked to people,' says Ventura. They decided it should be a place for retirement residences.  
"Ventura recalls when they nervously considered a $2.1 million loan -- at an interest rate of over 20 percent -- 'a broker said, "I think this is more than you little girls can handle." THAT DID IT!'  
"They took the plunge. Queen Anne Manor, 117 quality units, was done in six months. Doing that first project, recalls Alexander, 'was the same as a Harvard education in construction.' 
"They'd found a pattern of operation: Find the right old building, preferably built in the early 1900s, with lots of windows and high ceilings: 'Buildings nestled into the neighborhood …'" (Larsen).  

Alexander and Ventura transformed several old and seemingly worn out buildings into new uses. After Queen Anne Manor (formerly Children's Orthopedic Hospital, built 1911), the developments tended to be named in an Italian mode: the Tuscany Apartments, the Portofino, the Florentine, to name a few. All of their projects up to 1990 were in or near downtown. But the partners couldn't manage all the properties and continue developing, so they opted to sell the apartments and keep up the development. The Tuscany Apartments were sold to a private owner. In 2005, Northwest Apartments bought the building and settled its offices into the former lobby, where they are today. 

The dining room has been used throughout the building's history. During the Alexander and Ventura period, Mama Mia's restaurant was in residence. In 1992 it was Webster's Restaurant. During the past sixteen years, the dining room has served both day and residential students at The Northwest School. The dining room has its own entrance at 1111 Summit Avenue (the original entrance to the original Piedmont Residential Hotel dining room).

Sources: Thomas Veith, "Daniel R. Huntington," in Shaping Seattle Architecture: A Historical Guide to the Architects ed. by Jeffrey Karl Ochsner (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994), 114-119; Lawrence Kreisman and Glenn Mason, The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Pacific Northwest (Portland, OR:  Timber Press, 2007), 114; West Side Story ed. by Clay Eals (Seattle: Robinson Newspapers, 1987), 138, 148-150, 234; Diana E. James, Shared Walls: Seattle Apartment Buildings, 1900-1939 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2012), 48-49, 79-85; Ceramic Art Of The Malibu Potteries, 1926-1932 ed. by Marcia Page (Malibu, California: The Malibu Lagoon Museum, 1988); More About Malibu Potteries, 1926-1932 ed. by Mary Landroth (Malibu, California: The Malibu Lagoon Museum, 1997), 84; "Seattle, Building Permits, General Building," Pacific Builder and Engineer, May 1, 1926, p. 33; "Seattle, Building Permits, General Building," Ibid., February 26, 1927, p. 2; "Seattle, Building Permits, General Building," Ibid., April 9, 1927, p. 2; "Seattle, Building Permits, General Building," Ibid., March 10, 1927, p. 3; "Latest Residential Hotel Follows Italian Style," Hotel News of the West, September 11, 1926, p. 5; "New Piedmont Addition To Open To Public October 1st," Ibid., August 4, 1928, p. 15; "Piedmont Addition Opens November 11," Ibid., November 10, 1928, p. 4; "Piedmont Embodies Last Word in Apartment Hotel Design," Ibid., November 24, 1928, p. 13; "The Piedmont," Washington State Architect, October 1928, p. 12; 74 Years of Service to Seattle:  A Special Report to Seattle's Opinion Leaders, (Seattle: Salvation Army of Seattle,  ca. 1970); "King County Parcel Viewer" (search results for parcel number 1978200750) King County website accessed July 11, 2012 (http://www.kingcounty.gov/operations/GIS/PropResearch/ParcelViewer.aspx); "Hainsworth Construction Co.," undated typescript, File number 4029-001, Hainsworth Construction records, 1925-1931, Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle, Washington; "Rodgers Tile Buys Site For New Plant," The Seattle Times, March 13, 1927, p. 26; "Enlarged Piedmont Hotel Holds Open House Next Sunday," Ibid., November 4, 1928, p. 33; "Miss Washington Hotels Honored at Luncheon," Ibid., December 14, 1948, p. 2; "City Affairs: Council Committee Favors First Hill Cocktail Lounge," Ibid., March 30, 1960, p. 48; "Embezzlement Charges Filed Against 2 Here," Ibid., August 28, 1962, p. 29; "The Salvation Army's Evangeline Residence Has New Quarters," Ibid., July 5, 1964, p. 26; Dorothy Brant Brazier, "Reunion of Evangeline Residents Set," Ibid., March 19, 1967, p. 108; Richard M. Larsen, "A Sensible Trend -- Classy In-City Living," Ibid., December 2, 1990, p. A-21; "Tuscany Apartments History," Northwest Apartments website accessed July 12, 2012 (http://tuscany.northwestapartments.com/pages/history.html); "Salvation Army 125 Years," Salvation Army website accessed July 12, 2012 (http://www1.usw.salvationarmy.org/usw/www_usw_northwest.nsf/vw-news-27-home/8022A1FF9652CF4F88257A05007C80A7?opendocument); "Archibald N. Torbitt," American Institute of Architects website accessed July 12, 2012 (http://communities.aia.org/sites/hdoaa/wiki/Wiki%20Pages/ahd1045240.aspx,); "Historic Greene County Courthouse, Springfield, Missouri," Waymarking website accessed July 14, 2012 (http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMCYKR_Historic_Greene_County _Courthouse_Springfield_Missouri); Kathy Irey, "Evangeline Booth; International Commander of the Salvation Army," History's Women website accessed July 17, 2012 (http://www.historyswomen.com/womenoffaith/EvangelineBooth.html); Archibald N. Torbitt, "With the Desire to Express Some … ," The Christian Science Journal, November 1937; Steve Shay, "Lettermen Gather for Monogram Club Lunch," West Seattle Herald, February 8, 2010 (http://www.westseattleherald.com/2010/02/08/features/lettermen-gather-monogram-club-lunch); Shay, "Monogram Club Nearly Calls It Quits , Then Finds New Bounce in Its Step," Ibid., February 4, 2012 (http://www.westseattleherald.com/2012/02/04/news/monogram-club-nearly-calls-it-quits-then-finds-ne); Diana James, email to Dotty DeCoster, July 11, 2012, transmitting research notes on the Piedmont Hotel made by Jacqueline B. Williams and Diana James, in possession of Dotty DeCoster, Seattle, Washington.

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