Clise, James (1855-1939)

  • By HistoryLink Staff
  • Posted 9/27/1999
  • Essay 1688
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James W. Clise arrived in Seattle the day after the great fire of 1889 had burned down the business district. He promptly founded a real estate company, launching a career that made him one of the most prolific real estate developers in the region. He was married to Anna Herr Clise (1866-1936), the prime mover in the founding of Seattle's Children's Orthopedic Hospital. Their home and model farm near Lake Sammamish became Marymoor Park.

A Timely Move

Clise was born in 1855 in Wisconsin, and came to Seattle in 1889 on the invitation of his sister. He liked what he saw and moved his wife and daughter from Colorado. The family arrived on the day after the Great Seattle fire and Clise had his work cut out for him.

A friend in New York agreed to help find potential investors; one was typewriter magnate Lyman C. Smith (1834-1910), who along with other investors began pouring money into Seattle. With a single check, Smith made one of the largest purchases of commercial real estate in the city's history, including the corner of 2nd Avenue and Yesler Way, where Smith Tower, at the time the tallest building west of New York, was completed in 1914.

Clise had an unusual ability to attract investors. He went to work developing Carlton Park, projects on Whidbey and Mercer islands and projects in the University District. His firm eventually developed much of Seattle's Regrade, as well as key projects in the Central Business Area. In 1904, Clise and investors organized the Washington Trust and Savings Bank, which merged with the Dexter Horton Trust and Savings Bank in 1912, and eventually became Seattle First National Bank. They also formed the Washington Securities Co.

Beyond Structure: Infrastructure

Clise's endeavors went beyond real estate. With his brother Harry, he started Citizens Gas Co. to compete with Seattle Gas Co., which, he and others felt, was using its monopoly to force higher gas prices on users. In 1902, he organized the Globe Navigation Co., an international trade firm, which helped tie Seattle to the rest of the world. Clise was deeply involved in financing the first irrigation canals in Central Washington (Seattle and Moxie Irrigation Canal Company), instrumental in the development of Fort Lawton (now Discovery Park), and helped convince the government to fund part of the cost of the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

Clise developed a 440-acre model dairy farm near Lake Sammamish and built a family home there called Willowmoor. The farm and home is now Marymoor Park. After the death of their 5-year-old son Willis in 1898, Anna Clise became the prime mover in the founding of Children's Orthopedic Hospital. James Clise died in 1939. The firm remains one of Seattle's prominent real estate companies.


"A Century of Business," Puget Sound Business Journal, September 17, 1999; Junior Achievement of Greater Puget Sound Hall of Fame Series; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Children's Orthopedic Hospital," (by Mildred Andrews), (accessed 1999).

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