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Eclectic Eastlake: The Moderns

According to a local designer, at one time (around the 1960s) the area south of Boston St. along Eastlake Ave. was known as “Architects Row.”

Architects Row?

Susan Boyle, architectural historian and former Eastlake resident, thinks it might have been a loosely coined term as there were architect studios on Eastlake Ave., but studios were also sprinkled around on other streets in the neighborhood.

“It was more an ecology than a row,” she added noting that in the 1950s and 60s, real estate in Eastlake was cheap, the zoning less restricted, and, though close to downtown, Eastlake was maybe dirty due to smoke from the steam plant. At any rate, a lot of architects in the late 50s and 60s designed and built their offices here. Many of them like Gene Zema, George Suyama, and Paul Hayden Kirk would become lions of Northwest Modernism.

A healthy ecology has a lot of different elements, and there was a lot of variety in the architectural forces taking root in Eastlake. The modern movement is roughly from 1930s to the 1970s. Below is a look at some of the notable Eastlake buildings still standing designed by leading architects of the time.

The buildings were featured in a 2001 Eastlake Modernism Tour presented by Historic Seattle and DoCoMoMo.WeWa, a group Susan Boyle helped found. DoCoMoMo.WeWa stands for DOcumentation and COnservation of building, sites and neighborhoods of the MOdern MOvement, WEstern WAshington. (www.docomomo-us.org).

For this updated tour I relied heavily on the 2001 brochure, and when quoting from it, for ease of reading, reference it as Docomomo.

200-210 East Boston Street – Japanese Antiquities Gallery building

An early photo of 200-210 East Boston Street

This hidden gem on Eastlake Ave. is a Japanese-inspired building that was designed and built by architect Gene Zema, who lived in it and had had a design studio here and gallery. The structure is a leading example of Northwest contemporary modernism. The first phase of the building, the eastward single-story structure, “hovers above the ground to minimize the impacts on the site, giving the impression that the building has a finger, rather than footprint,” notes Docomomo and was completed in 1953 just a couple of years after Zema graduated from UW’s architecture school.

The two-story structure that fronts on Eastlake Avenue, was built in 1961, and it “exhibits the influence of the Japanese through Zema’s mastery of wood detailing…. As wood was once widely available and relatively inexpensive in this area, Zema adapted Japanese craftmanship to fit modern design exploration in the Northwest.”

Zema influenced other architects including George Suyama who worked for him and who developed the buildings kitty-corner – the Serafina and Cicchetti buildings.

200-210 East Boston today

2043 Eastlake Ave. E. – Serafina and Cicchetti buildings

The story behind this site was a little confusing, so I decided to try calling George Suyama’s offices, the architect who designed it, to see if someone there could clarify. To my surprise, George Suyama called me back. “Eastlake’s my love,” he told me as he tried to recollect the story of the building that was renovated and developed nearly four decades ago.

His first job at the end of college was working across the street with Gene Zema for six months. From there he moved to a building at the northeast of Newton Street, since remodeled into a home (but not by him).

Later I found a biography of Mr. Suyama and his work, Suyama: A Complex Serenity, that pinpoints the time exactly: “In 1973, he found ‘an old shack’ at Eastlake Avenue and Newton Street, almost opposite Zema’s office, with a ‘fabulous view’ from a roof deck. Using salvaged materials, he made the shack and its roof deck into an office.”

While at the Newton office he remodeled the Serafina building and designed the building in back to blend in with the older, brick building on Eastlake Ave. (Before Serafina moved in the space was occupied by Nick and Scully, a deli, as he recalled.) He specifically designed the new building in back around a courtyard between the two structures to preserve an old tree, either a Maple or an Oak. He couldn’t remember which. (That courtyard has now become a favorite neighborhood gathering spot.)

Street view of the courtyard between Serafina and Cicchetti restaurants

He moved his offices into the new building and was there for 10 years, later moving to Belltown; another architect moved in, and he believes the new architect and Susan Kaufmann owner of Serafina bought both properties, and Susan later bought the architect out when he too moved to Belltown around 1998.

1945 Yale Place – Former Pacific Architect and Builder Magazine Headquarters

1945 Yale Place

Further cementing Eastlake’s “ecology” for architects, this building, built in 1960, was designed for Pacific Architect and Builder magazine to house their business offices and printing facilities. The architect was a consulting editor, A.O. Bumgardner, who designed many notable modern residences and public structures.

The building is distinctive for its peaked, rhythmic white roof contrasted with flat, dark walls below. The entry ramp bridges the gap between building and hillside, dramatizing the sloped site.

In January 2018 the city granted the building landmark status thanks to the work of Docomomo.  The Eastlake Community Council assisted the effort with archive photos and a letter of support. The building’s current owner W.G. Clark Construction Company supported the landmark status, embracing the building’s iconic features.

2000 Fairview Ave. E. – Former architectural office of Kirk, Wallace, McKinley and Associates (1960-61)

2009 Fairview Ave. E. –  Former Community Psychiatric Clinic  (1962)

Paul Hayden Kirk’s office

These two building were designed by the firm of Paul Hayden Kirk, a renowned modernist who designed many private and public buildings and specialized in medical facilities. His interest in designing medical buildings, as noted in the book Shaping Seattle Architecture, may have been due to having “contracted polio at an early age, which necessitated crutches for walking.” Quietly visionary, Kirk provided accessible ramps to both these buildings long before the 1980 Americans with Disabilities Act began requiring such features.

Docomomo notes that the building at the corner of Minor and Newton (actual address is on Fairview Ave., but it can be better viewed on Minor) was built as Kirk’s architectural office, “the building is a beautifully scaled, simple wood post-and-beam frame structure articulated with delicate details and connections and clad in cedar siding …. Following the natural slope of the lot, the structure was raised from street level, poised over open ground area, providing parking spaces underneath….”

Of note to passersby is the colored glass on the south side of the building: “The clear-glass corridor [is] punctuated with multi-colored glass vent louvers, giving the walkway a touch of brightness.”

Multi-color glass vent louvers
Side view of 200 Fairview

Next door to Kirk’s office building at 2009 Fairview Ave. E., his firm designed a building that was initially occupied by the Community Psychiatric Clinic; it is now the headquarters of the survey and engineering firm Bush, Roed, and Hitchings. The building “is similar to Kirk’s office,” write Docomomo, “acting almost as an extension of it. Since the site was sloping, the building was raised to provide privacy and parking, but the similarities stop there. Function, plan and scale define a very different type of environment…”

2009 Fairview Ave.

Docomomo notes that the waiting room area has an open-sky courtyard, “which offers a place for relaxation and contact with nature.”

“In its expression of enclosure, and in the way light gives character to spaces, the clinic is representative of Kirk’s sensitivity and talent to create simple but rich spatial composition.”

“No Seattle architect of that underdocumented era shined more brightly than Paul Hayden Kirk,” writes Dale Kutzera, who amends that “underdocumented era” with his book Paul Hayden Kirk and the Rise of Northwest Modern. “A little research told me he was the most-awarded and -publicized architect of his era. Touring his houses and medical clinics showed me why. If the story of Northwest Modernism were to be told, it should be through the work of this midcentury master.” 

1264 Eastlake Ave. E. – Former architectural office of Steinhart, Theriault & Anderson.

The modernist architecture group Docomomo writes that “This building is a striking example of post-war International Style Modernism in Seattle. Built in 1956, it  … was designed by Steinhart Theriault and Anderson as their architectural office, and was occupied by the firm until the mid-1980’s. The building attracted considerable attention when it was built because of its design and its highly visible location near the intersection of Eastlake and Fairview Avenues. In September 1960 Pacific Architect and Building noted, ‘This little building (is) “a real eye-stopper” with an overall design quality that removes it from the gimmick category.’”

2717 Franklin Ave. E. – Castlewood

Lastly, while not an example of Northwest modernism, Castlewood was an early, career-defining building for modernist architect Paul Thiry. Built in 1928 as apartments (but now condominiums), it is important for marking how Thiry began to break with the ornate architecture of the past to a more modern style. “[Castlewood] is very well preserved and exhibits distinctive Art Deco/ [Art] Moderne characteristics on a plain brick façade,” notes Docomomo, “When the Depression of the 1930’s drastically reduced the number of his commissions, Thiry took the opportunity to travel around the world, where he met influential modernist architects including le Corbusier. He quickly abandoned the stylistic Art Moderne features of his University of Washington Beaux Arts training upon his return home in favor of variants of the modernistic ideals he had observed in Europe. These included incorporation of modern life and new technology into architecture, open floor plans, and the expression of structure.”

Most notably, Thiry became the principal architect of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, overseeing other architects and designing the Coliseum/Key Arena, renown for the hyperbolic paraboloid roof that became a Seattle Landmark and the only feature preserved in the rebuilding of the arena now renamed Climate Pledge Arena.

“Thiry is credited with introducing European modernism to the Pacific Northwest,” writes Docomomo.

If you have would like to provide the Eastlake Community Council with any more information about these buildings (or stories about these architects in Eastlake), please send it to info@eastlakeseattle.org.

Sketches by Karen Berry

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Written by Judy Smith

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