Schell, Paul (1937-2014)

  • By Brad Holden
  • Posted 4/07/2020
  • Essay 21001
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Paul Schell was a politician, attorney, developer, and urban planner who helped guide Seattle's transformation from a medium-sized city into a vibrant metropolis. Born, raised, and educated in Iowa before attending law school in New York, Schell and his wife Pam settled in Seattle in 1967. An early affiliation with the activist group Allied Arts led to his 1973 appointment by mayor Wes Uhlman as director of the Seattle Department of Community Development, where Schell oversaw renovations to the Pike Place Market. After a failed run for mayor of Seattle in 1977, Schell worked in private development until 1989, when he was elected a Port of Seattle commissioner. His second try at the mayor's office was a resounding success; Schell handily defeated opponent Charlie Chong on November 4, 1997, becoming the city's 50th mayor. Schell welcomed new architecture into downtown and helped to improve the city's libraries, parks, and public art, but his single term as mayor was marked by a series of crises including the WTO riots, Boeing's corporate departure to Chicago, and a violent Fat Tuesday celebration that left one person dead. The critical aftermath doomed Schell politically, leading to his unsuccessful bid for re-election. When Schell died in 2014 he was eulogized as "one of the great city builders of the Pacific Northwest."

Son of a Pastor; Child of the Sixties

Paul Ervin Schlachtenhaufen (later Schell) was born on October 8, 1937, in the small farming town of Pomeroy, Iowa. His father, Ervin Schlachtenhaufen, was pastor of the local Lutheran church, and Paul's mother, Gertrude Reiff Schlachtenhaufen, was a nurse. Paul was the oldest of six children and spent much of his childhood in Independence, Iowa. The family later moved to Des Moines, Iowa, where Paul graduated from Roosevelt High School. He attended Wartburg College, in Waverly, Iowa, where he played linebacker on the football team, and then transferred to the University of Iowa, where he earned a political science degree in 1960. 

A few months after graduation, John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) was elected president, and Schell was heavily influenced by Kennedy's inauguration speech, in which JFK encouraged Americans to "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Soon after, Schell met Pam Hutchinson (b. 1940), a registered nurse, while he attended Columbia Law School in New York. The couple married on June 4, 1963, the day after Schell graduated from law school, with his father performing the wedding ceremony. While still in New York, Schell accepted a position at the Dewey Ballantine law firm, where he specialized in corporate finance, and where he shortened his surname from Schlachtenhaufen to Schell because his name had too many characters to fit on the company's computer punchcards.

During his years in law school, Schell spent summers working as a seasonal firefighter in the national forests of Western Washington. This gave him the opportunity to visit local attractions, including the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle, and from his early visits he was encouraged to return permanently. He took a job in 1967 with the Perkins Coie law firm in Seattle, where he practiced business and securities law. After a few years at Perkins Coie, Schell left to form his own small partnership: Hillis, Schell, Phillips, Cairncross, Clark and Martin. 

In 1971, the Schell family welcomed infant daughter Jamie, whom they adopted from a local agency. It was during this period that Schell befriended members of Allied Arts, an activist group dedicated to preserving Seattle's historic character and improving the quality of its urban life. This introduction into civic affairs would ignite a new passion for Schell, eventually leading him to depart his law practice and become one of the city's most influential urban planners.

Civic Action

In the early 1950s, an informal group of Seattle artists, writers, and academics began meeting regularly in various bars and taverns and became known as the "The Beer and Culture Society." Over time, they transformed their ideas into civic activism, lobbying for historic preservation of buildings and to improve urban design in a city with modest architectural aspirations. In 1955, they formally established themselves as Allied Arts. Schell became friends with members of the group and began attending their meetings in 1970. One of their early endeavors was to help save the Pike Place Market, which was threatened with demolition. Schell helped Allied Arts lead a successful signature-gathering "Keep the Market" campaign that put Seattle Initiative No. 1 on the November ballot. The measure sought to preserve the Market by turning it into a seven-acre historical district. That fall, King County residents approved the initiative and the Market area joined Pioneer Square as one of the city's two historic districts.

This earned Schell some recognition, and in 1973 he was offered an appointment as director of the Seattle Department of Community Development by mayor Wes Uhlman (b. 1935). Leaving behind his legal career, Schell accepted the position immediately. During his term with the Department of Community Development, Schell oversaw the renovation of crumbling sections of the Pike Place Market while preserving much of the original architecture. He encouraged the use of artist-designed manhole covers, many of which are still visible on downtown sidewalks; combatted the construction of the proposed Bay Freeway that would have walled off Lake Union; and created Seattle's first neighborhood improvement plan. In this same period, Schell rose through the ranks of Allied Arts to become director. He helped establish the "One Percent for Art" program that set aside 1 percent of the city's municipal budget for arts funding, and this 1 percent concept later became a national standard. Also under Schell's leadership, Allied Arts helped Mayor Uhlman organize a new music and arts festival. Known as Festival '71 in its first year, the annual festival was rebranded Bumbershoot in 1973. 

These accomplishments helped establish Schell's reputation as an innovative civil servant. As Bruce Chapman, a city councilmember from that period, would later recall, "There surely has never been another local leader in Seattle as well-grounded or as visionary in city design" ("Paul Schell: Mayor, Innovator, Friend").

In March 1977, Schell resigned from his city post and made the leap into politics when he announced his candidacy for Seattle mayor, running against former KING-TV newsman Charles Royer (b. 1939). The future of the Westlake Mall would emerge as the primary campaign issue, with Schell proposing a major redevelopment of the area that would have included such features as a public square, theaters, and a hotel. Royer criticized Schell's plan as grandiose and not in concert with the scale of downtown. His strategy of framing Schell as an avaricious downtown developer proved to be effective, and on election day, November 8, 1977, Royer defeated Schell, 100,615 votes to 75,649. The two men would later become friends, with Royer backing many of Schell's future projects and hailing him as "a major place-maker in our city" ("Waterfront Conference Center ...").

All Along the Waterfront

After the loss, Schell detoured from politics and in 1979 joined real estate entrepreneur Jim Youngren in founding the Cornerstone Development Company. Schell, who served as the company's president until 1987, was a proponent of meshing the architecture of new buildings within the historical context of their surroundings, and was dedicated to redeveloping and repurposing much of downtown Seattle. One of Cornerstone's most celebrated projects was the transformation of a rundown and neglected waterfront area along Western Avenue into Waterfront Place: a six-block mixed-use project that re-purposed six historic buildings and incorporated them alongside contemporary architecture, creating what Schell called "a 24-hour neighborhood" with a combination of shops, condominiums, office buildings, and restaurants. Cornerstone also built the 22-story Watermark Tower, where the Schell family lived for several years, and helped restore the Alexis Hotel and the Inn at the Market.

In Tacoma, Cornerstone restored several lowrise buildings to create The Tacoma Center, a retail shopping area in the heart of the city that included the Tacoma Financial Building and a Sheraton Hotel (now Hotel Murano). In Portland, the company developed RiverPlace, a 10-acre mixed-use project along the Willamette River in the city's downtown. Schell described his personal philosophy toward urban development in a 1987 interview: "Architecture should be subservient to the people and uses that occur there. Buildings shouldn't dominate people. I try to build buildings people can live and work in, not erect testimonies to financial power and might" ("Schell: Line's Fine ... "). Schell stepped down from Cornerstone in 1987. His last major project with the company was assisting in the design and creation of the Four Seasons Hotel and Condominiums on 1st Avenue across from the Seattle Art Museum.

Schell re-entered the political arena in 1989 when he was elected a Port of Seattle Commissioner. He became the port's president in 1995. While serving as commissioner, he remained dedicated to redeveloping the waterfront and successfully advocated for the Bell Street Pier project, located at Pier 66. The massive project involved building an international conference center, a cruise ship terminal, a marina, and a hotel-residential complex with stores and restaurants.

Schell long advocated for better socioeconomic relations with Oregon and British Columbia and helped popularize the bioregional concept of "Cascadia." Speaking to a gathering of business, political, and civic leaders at a Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce conference in April 1990, Schell proposed a scenario in which Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia would collaborate in business, higher education, the arts, and sports, resulting in a new cultural region with a shared strategy for the future. The centerpiece of his proposal was a high-speed bullet train connecting Portland, Seattle, and British Columbia. His speech received an enthusiastic response and helped ignite the Cascadia movement. He encouraged using the Port of Seattle to accomplish this regional mission, telling reporters, "The port should be a catalyst for bringing together regional governments to discuss common interests. As a catalyst, the port could push the region to become an international trading center" ("Schell Declares ...").

In 1992, Schell was appointed Dean of the University of Washington College of Architecture and Urban Planning. He served as Dean from 1992 to 1995. He established the University of Washington's Office of Sustainability and supported the initiation of the Real Estate program and the Center for Environment, Education, and Design Studies.

Seattle's 50th Mayor

In 1997, Schell once again ran for mayor. His opponent was Charlie Chong (1926-2007), a Seattle city councilmember known for his aggressive anti-establishment views toward what he perceived as the downtown elite. Both men ran spirited campaigns, though Schell's lengthy civic resume and passion for renovating the city earned him many top endorsements and kept his campaign ahead in the polls. Talking to a newspaper reporter, he gushed, "It sounds corny but I love this city. It's been my study, my life. It's what's given me meaning and purpose." On November 4, 1997, Schell was elected Seattle's 50th mayor, defeating Chong 106,414 votes to 81,683.

Schell's term commenced on January 1, 1998, and he immediately went to work with plans to build a greater city. During his term as mayor, the City of Seattle built a new City Hall and the Seattle Justice Center. Schell sought out top designers, architects, and artists, and helped initiate the construction of new branch libraries, parks, and community centers. He spearheaded a successful $196 million "Libraries for All" bond campaign that funded one of his crowning achievements: a new, signature downtown library designed by famed architects Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus. Schell also championed a $72 million effort that combined public and private funds to renovate the Seattle Center Opera House and Seattle Symphony Hall, and backed development of the Olympic Sculpture Park and QWest Field. He helped negotiate the transactions that resulted in Vulcan's development of South Lake Union. The local media took notice of the changing Seattle skyline, with Seattle newspaperman David Brewster describing Schell as "an architect without a portfolio" ("Remembering Paul Schell").

While Schell's achievements helped transform Seattle, the events stemming from a World Trade Organization (WTO) conference in Seattle would have a lasting and damaging effect on his political career. On November 29, 1999, international delegates from the WTO arrived in Seattle for a planned round of trade negotiations at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center. The next morning, opening ceremonies for the conference were abruptly cancelled when the WTO delegates found themselves blocked from leaving their hotels by thousands of protestors who had arrived to demonstrate against WTO trade practices. More than 40,000 protestors were estimated to have been there that day and they represented a wide range of interests including labor, environmentalism, human rights, and pro-democracy groups. Tensions escalated when a large group of self-proclaimed anarchists joined the more serious WTO-focused activists. Soon after their arrival, the anarchists began blocking intersections and smashing windows of downtown stores and restaurants. Seattle City Hall and the Police Department were caught off guard by the sudden surge in violence, resulting in a delayed response. By the time Seattle police effectively mobilized, the downtown area had turned into a riot zone and the remaining afternoon turned into a fiasco of teargas, property damage, and mass arrests.

It wasn't until early evening that police were able to clear the streets. By the time Schell declared a state of emergency, imposed a curfew and established a 50-block "no protest zone," the damage was done. It was estimated that downtown retailers sustained more than $20 million in damages on November 30 as a result of vandalism and lost sales. Business owners and local residents were furious that the city had lost control of its downtown, resulting in a fierce public backlash, eventually culminating in the resignation of Seattle chief of police Norm Stamper (b. 1944). It didn't help that Mayor Schell had joined other political leaders in earlier promoting the WTO conference as a boon for the city.

Two years later, on February 27, 2001, a particularly violent Fat Tuesday celebration in Pioneer Square left one man dead, sparking further criticism of how the city was being run. Later that year, Schell's administration sustained further critical damage when the Boeing Company announced that it was moving its corporate headquarters to Chicago.

Despite these public setbacks, Schell decided to seek re-election in 2001, but even his campaign was marked by unplanned calamity. On July 7, 2001, while attending a community event, Schell was assaulted by a political opponent named Omari Tahir-Garrett. Garrett struck Schell in the face with a bullhorn, breaking bones under his right eye. Garrett was later convicted of second-degree assault and sentenced to 21 months in prison. Schell was never able to regain his previous political luster and found himself losing in the 2001 primary election, with Greg Nickels (b. 1955) and Seattle attorney Mark Sidran (b. 1951) advancing to the general election, won by Nickels. Privately, Schell took the defeat hard but remained publicly upbeat and graciously assisted the new Nickels administration with its move into City Hall. Speaking to reporters, Schell said he and Pam would be "walking out with our heads high" ("Bedrock ..."). 

Autumn on Whidbey Island

Schell spent his remaining years living in semi-exile on Whidbey Island, where he and Pam dedicated themselves to supporting the local arts. The couple had helped support the rise of the Intiman Theatre in the 1970's and they remained strong advocates for the arts both in Seattle and in their local community on Whidbey Island. They had earlier developed the highly successful Inn at Langley and later played a key role in establishing the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. When not greeting visitors at their Inn or attending a performing arts event together, Schell spent his time designing a new house. Days before they were scheduled to move int, however, Schell developed heart trouble and underwent bypass surgery at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. A few days later, while still in the hospital, he developed complications from the surgery and died on July 27, 2014. He was 76 years old.

Upon news of his death, tributes from those who knew Schell started pouring in. Then-Mayor Ed Murray issued a statement praising Schell's civic legacy, saying Schell "will be remembered as one of the great city builders of the Pacific Northwest. As a citizen activist, lawyer, director of community development, port commissioner, dean of architecture and mayor he directly shaped the civic infrastructure of Seattle for more than 40 years." 

Washington Governor Jay Inslee (b. 1951) echoed a similar sentiment in his statement: "As a mayor, Paul Schell was a visionary and intellectual who wasn't afraid to think big, and who led Seattle through a time of transition. Even after leaving office he never stopped caring about supporting his community, particularly the arts. He was accustomed to looking for new approaches to old problems. He will be missed by many, but the legacy of his leadership remains strong."

Schell's memorial service was attended by hundreds at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center at Pier 66, which was later renamed the Paul Schell Center in his honor. Pam Schell still lives in their home on Whidbey Island and continues to operate the Inn at Langley.


"Allied Arts Lists Nine Points," The Seattle Times, July 20, 1972, p. 61; "Schell Re-elected by Allied Arts," Ibid., February 1, 1973, p. 22; Wayne Johnson, "Council Action Supports Arts," Ibid., August 29, 1973, p. 28; "Schell Resigns City Post," Ibid., March 4, 1977, p. 33; John Arthur Wilson, "Paul Schell: 'Less Is Better for Seattle'," Ibid., August 28, 1977, p. 14; Bill Russell, "Some Impressions of Paul Schell," Ibid., November 6, 1977, p. 16; "Paul Schell Partner in New Urban-Redevelopment Firm," Ibid., December 11, 1977, p. 123; Polly Lane, "Weyerhaeuser Unit, Developers Form New Rehab Company," Ibid., September 17, 1979, p. 62; Robin Updike, "Urbane Development -- At Waterfront Place, Downtown's At Your Door -- For a Price," Ibid., September 1, 1985, p. E1; Ross Anderson, "Seattle Finally Gets Town Triangle," Ibid., January 4, 1987, p. 8; Janice Hayes, "Schell: Line's Fine Between People, Buildings," Ibid., September 8, 1987, p. C2; "Paul Schell to Leave Cornerstone Post," Ibid., September 21, 1987, p. A9; Emmett Watson, "Schell Feels He's Ready for a New Challenge Once Again," Ibid., December 31, 1987, p. E1; Theresa Morrow, "Schell Declares for Port Position; 1977 Mayoral Candidate Skips The City Hall Race," Ibid., June 30, 1989, p. B1; O. Casey Corr, "Port Considering Changes in Waterfront Project," Ibid., March 22, 1990, p. C1; O. Casey Corr, "New Pacific: Fiscal, Cultural Dream for a United Northwest," Ibid., April 7, 1990, p. A10; Lily Eng, "Port Commissioner Named Dean of College at UW," Ibid., October 7, 1992, p. F3; Barbara Schechter, "Building Up Pier 66; Port Wants Complex to Generate Business, Jobs, Better Access to the Waterfront," Ibid., August 6, 1994, p. F1; Christopher Solomon, "Welcome to the Waterfront," Ibid., April 24, 1996, p. A1; Susan Byrnes, "Mayoral Race Off and Running," Ibid., August 3, 1997, p. B1; Susan Byrnes, "Schell Wins, Vows Change; He Pledges He'll Redefine Job, Work With All," Ibid., November 5, 1997, p. A1; Charles E. Brown, "Mayor Cites Support for Library Plan; Bond Measure Will be on November Ballot," Ibid., September 10, 1998, p. B5; Mark Trahant, "Cascadia: Borderless Solutions," Ibid., May 2, 1999, p. A19; "Seattle City Hall Architect Chosen," Ibid., July 30, 1999, p. B2; David Postman, Jack Broom, Warren King, "Clashes, Protests Wrack WTO; Police Try to Break Up Protestors; Clash Delays Opening Event," Ibid., November 30, 1999, p. A1; J. Martin Mcomber, "Schell: I Did The Best I Can With The Circumstances," Ibid., December 2, 1999, p. A22; J. Martin Mcomber, "WTO: A Turning Point; Scrutiny of Schell's Leadership is Just Beginning as Council Schedules Meetings," Ibid., December 5, 1999, p. A1; Anne Koch and Dave Birkland, "A Mardi Gras Melee; 1 Killed, 71 Hurt, 21 Jailed in Pioneer Square," Ibid., March 1, 2001, p. B1; Eli Sanders, Stuart Eskenazi, Janet I. Tu, "Schell Injured in Attack at Central Area Festival; Mayor Hospitalized After Protestor Hits Him With Megaphone," Ibid., July 8, 2001, p. A1; Jim Brunner and David Postman, "Schell Ousted; Sidran to Face Nickels in Nov.," Ibid., September 19, 2001, p. A1; Jim Brunner and Lynn Thompson, "Mayor Left Mark in Term Full of Crises," Ibid., July 28, 2014, p. A1; Bruce Chapman, "Waterfront Conference Center to be Renamed for Paul Schell," Ibid., October 8, 2014, p. 18; Neil Modie, "Analysis: Schell's Vision Clouded By Reality," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 18, 2001, p. 12; Kerry Murakami, "Bedrock of Paul Schell's Legacy: Getting the Neighbors Involved," Ibid., December 28, 2001, p. 6; Gregory Roberts and Brad Wong, "Charlie Chong, 1926-2007: Former Councilman Blazed Trail in City Hall," Ibid., April 27, 2007, p. 2; Jake Ellison, "Paul Schell, Seattle Mayor During 1999 WTO Riots, Has Died," Ibid., July 27, 2014, p. 1; James Bush, "Is Mayor Paul Schell Destined to Become a New Man?"  Seattle Weekly, October 9, 2006, p. 4; Bruce Chapman, "Paul Schell: Mayor, Innovator, Friend," July 27, 2014, Discovery Institute website accessed April 1, 20202 (; David Brewster, "Remembering Paul Schell," Crosscut, July 27, 2014, website accessed April 1, 2020 (; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Voters elect Paul Schell as mayor of the City of Seattle on November 4, 1997" (David Wilma), website accessed April 1, 2020 (; Seattle City Clerk, "Mayors of the City of Seattle," City of Seattle website (; Author Brad Holden interviews with Pam Schell from February 18, 2020 through March 3, 2020, interview transcripts in possession of Brad Holden, Seattle.

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