Photo Essay: Exploring Seattle’s Architectural History

From the Space Needle and Pike Place Market  to the Smith Tower and Suzzallo Library, Seattle is a city defined by its iconic buildings. In the image-rich new edition of Shaping Seattle Architecture: A Historical Guide to the Architects, editor Jeffrey Karl Ochsner and volume contributors bring to life the city’s fascinating built environment and the architects who worked to create it. Here we provide a sampling of what the book has to offer through ten photographic glimpses into the city’s rich architectural landscape.

Learn more about Seattle’s architectural history and celebrate the publication of the updated edition of Shaping Seattle Architecture at two upcoming events:

Book signing, reading, and reception with Jeffery Karl Ochsner
at Peter Miller Books, August 6 at 6:00 p.m.

Jeffrey Karl Ochsner in conversation with Feliks Banel
at Town Hall Seattle, September 29 at 7:30 p.m.

1. Alaska Building

0C-05-AlaskaBuilding (2)

Photo credit: University of Washington Libraries Special Collections, 1905. Photo by Asahel Curtis

Alaska Building, built 1903–4, designed by Eames & Young with Saunders & Lawton (superintending). The first of the city’s steel-frame high-rise office buildings rose fourteen stories to tower over surrounding construction.

2. Smith Tower

0C-06-SmithTower (2)

Photo credit: University of Washington Libraries Special Collections, 1913

Smith Tower, built 1910–14 and designed by Gaggin & Gaggin. The steel framing for the Smith Tower was topped out in February 1913, and installation of the terra-cotta began immediately thereafter. When completed, this structure was one of the five tallest buildings in the world.

3. Fire Station No. 18

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Photo credit: University of Washington Libraries Special Collections, ca. 1915

Fire Station No. 18, built 1910—11 and designed by Bebb & Mendel. Of the many diverse civic structures designed by architects Bebb & Mendel, this fire station in Ballard is one of the very few that remain. Its stepped brick gables give it a medieval German quality. The building was restored by Historic Seattle and now houses offices and the Hi-Life restaurant.

4. Triangle Hotel

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Photo credit: University of Washington Libraries Special Collections. Photo by James P. Lee.

Triangle Hotel, 1909–10, designed by C. Alfred Breitung. The masonry second and third floors, with projecting bays, are perched on a remarkably narrow iron-fronted ground floor. The building now houses the Triangle Hotel and Bar.

5. Odd Fellows Temple

Photo credit: Museum of History and Industry, Seattle, 1983

Photo credit: Museum of History and Industry, Seattle, ca. 1912

Odd Fellows Temple, built 1908–10 and designed by C. Alfred Breitung. The brown bick and terra-cotta facades, which recall both the Good Shepherd Center and Holy Names Academy, enclose a complicated series of meeting rooms, apartments, offices, and retail spaces. The building is now home to Seattle favorites like Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream and Oddfellows Cafe & Bar.

6. Seattle Asian Art Museum

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Photo credit: American Architect magazine, January 1934

Seattle Asian Art Museum (originally the Seattle Art Museum, built 1931–33 and designed by Bebb & Gould. As the first museum in the United States in a Moderne style, this structure received nationwide acclaim. The severity of the design and the blazing light-colored stoned have softened with time. For concept, scale, and mastery of materials, the interior garden court must be counted among Gould’s finest spaces.


 7. Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute

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Photo credit: Richard F. McCann Collection, ca. 1915

Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute (originally the Congregation Bikur Cholim Synagogue), built 1909–11, 1912–15 (remodeled 1968, 1981) and designed by Thompson & Thompson (initial design) with B. Marcus Priteca (completion). Construction on the synagogue began in 1909, and the daylight basement was completed by late 1910 to Thompson & Thompson’s design. After Priteca decided in 1912 to maintain his office permanently in Seattle, the commission was transferred to him. The entrance stairway was reconfigured and interior detailing was completed under his direction.

8.  Olympic Tower

Photo credit: Museum of History and Industry, ca. 1931

Olympic Tower (originally United Shopping Tower), built 1928–31 (altered), Henry Bittman. This refined Art Deco office tower set back from a base of street-front shops features Chicago-style windows and strong vertical lines.

9. Frye Art Museum Courtyard

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Photo credit: Richard Haag Associates collection, 1998

Frye Art Museum Courtyard, built 1994–97 by Richard Haag Associates, with Olson Sunberg, architects. Thirty-eight years after his first interior courtyard, Haag revisited the concept of internal spaces with his design for this intimate landscape. The size of the spherical concrete form doused in moss is surprising at first. Much like the rock gardens of Ryonji, a temple near Kyoto, Haag positioned the sphere and grasses to form an island within the ocean represented by concrete pavers.

10. Hat ‘n’ Boots

Photo credit: Museum of History and Industry, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection

Hat ‘n’ Boots, designed by Lewis Naysmith with permit drawings by Albert Poe. Opened in 1954 as a Premium Tex service station, these buildings housed retail space under the hat and rest rooms in the boots. Subsequent association with Texaco could not save this station from closing around 1988. After standing empty for more than a decade, the station received designation as a Seattle Landmark in 2002, and the buildings were preserved through relocation to nearby Oxbow Park the next year.

4 thoughts on “Photo Essay: Exploring Seattle’s Architectural History

  1. sandvick

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    Seattle is one of the most beautiful cities in America. While most people think about Seattle’s natural beauty, a new book, Shaping Seattle Architecture: A Historical Guide to the Architects, highlights Seattle’s architecture gems. This blog posts from University of Washington Press Blog provides a sneak preview of some of Seattle’s iconic structures examined in their new book.

  2. bobfortune

    I must say that this article is a very good read. It is evident that a lot of research and hard work has gone in to tits publishing. The detailing was exceptional and invoked a lot of nostalgia in a 63 year old. I especially associated with the Alaska building and the Smith Tower, as I had seen them when I was young. They look so spectacular in black and white photographs, but looked even more impressive in real.

  3. Bill Farley

    Great article. I spent quite a fair amount of time in Seattle on business and tried to stay in a different part of town on each visit. It is a great walking city. I believe the first building on the list housed the American Savings Bank. Or perhaps there were multiple buildings constructed at the same time that looked alike. Post Cards from the time period referred to a very similar looking building as the American Savings and Trust Building. That bank was formed by James A. Murray from Montana.

    1. Bill Farley

      My mistake. I looked at the images again and they are two different buildings. Similar in many respects – both built into a hill, same mass, etc., but slightly different.

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