Historic Preservation in the Queen Anne Neighborhood
By Heather MacIntosh

The Queen Anne neighborhood, located northeast of downtown, contains some of Seattle's most outstanding residential architecture, and is home to a number of landmarks. In spite of this rich architectural history and tradition of preservation, large historic buildings in the Queen Anne neighborhood may be some of the city's most endangered. The neighborhood's convenient location near downtown, its outstanding views, and ironically, its historic building stock, have made it a prime location for "million dollar tear downs."

This phenomenon is well illustrated by a classified real estate advertisement published last year that read, "grand home sited on rarely available view lot on south slope of Queen Anne. Corner lot in excess of 14,000 square feet enjoys sweeping views of Puget Sound, downtown and the Olympic Mountains. Demolition has begun on this 5-bedroom, classic 1900 Victorian. Bring your contractors/architects to define your dream mansion in an area surrounded by multi-million dollar homes." This problem has long gained Historic Seattle's attention, and sparked the concern of local advocates and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Very few neighborhoods have had such a long and continuous history of tension between new development and preservation interests.

A Hill with Style

Queen Anne is the only Seattle neighborhood named after an architectural style. Allegedly, the designation started as a joke. In the 1880s, when development of the hill began in earnest, many residents built in the Queen Anne style, then popular throughout the US. Reverend Daniel Bagley is reported to have sniggered at the monotony of the style, calling the new neighborhood "Queen Anne Town." The name stuck, and the architectural legacy of this boom period remains in many outstanding landmarks. Most of the Queen Anne's designated landmarks received their official status in the late 1970s and early 1980s. For a full list of Seattle landmarks, see the City of Seattle's Department of Neighborhood's website.

Lower Queen Anne: Intersection of Old and New

Seattle Center, the historic grounds of Seattle's Century 21 Exposition, forms the edge of lower Queen Anne, and is a complex intersection of preservation losses and gains. The Exposition, which looked toward Seattle's future, not its past, provided Seattle with one of its most dramatic and iconic contemporary landmarks - the Space Needle, designated in 1999 - while at the same time cleared a number of Victorian houses for the Expo site. The Exposition did not remove all buildings from the site for the fair's master plan; the Seattle Center House is a rehabilitated Armory Building, but most of the 1961 design reflected modern architectural sensibilities that are beginning to be considered "historic" by progressive preservationists and architectural historians.

Continuing this dichotomy of Old High Style Seattle and Contemporary High Design, is the construction and design of the Experience Music Project. Loved and loathed, the Frank Gehry building forms part of the contemporary threshold of a historic community.

Dramatic Wins and Losses

Queen Anne was one of several neighborhoods inventoried by Historic Seattle consultants Victor Steinbrueck and Folke Nyberg in the 1970s, and a number of neighborhood volunteers. Since this survey, Historic Seattle has directly participated in two preservation successes on Queen Anne. One, Queen Anne High School, is a dramatic example of adaptive reuse of a historic building within a changing social and economic context. Historic Seattle's purchase and redevelopment of the building yielded 139 apartments in a neighborhood with high housing demands near the city's center. While most of Historic Seattle's housing developments are technically affordable, Queen Anne High School is market rate, and many of its units enjoy some of the city's best views of downtown.

Historic Seattle also purchased three historically significant late Victorian houses and placed protective covenants on their outstanding exteriors in the late 1970s. A brief description of this project and others appears on our main website.

The loss of Coe Elementary School to fire early last year (01/21/01) was a blow to the neighborhood. Like many historic schoolsthroughout the city, Coe was an institution which helped build and sustain the community around it. The building was undergoing a restoration when a fire completely demolished it. The new design for Coe, which should be completed in early 2003, looks to its historic predecessor, and speaks to the enormous importance of the building and the memories of the thousands for whom it held special meaning.

Old John Hay School could provide a counterpoint to this loss. The historic school building, located at 2100 4th Avenue North needs help in the form of a new paint job, other cosmetic fixes, and a landscaping plan. Its current condition and off-the-beaten-path location somewhat obscures its importance as a landmark and a significant site of history in the making. The building is an Ellis Island for young new arrivals to Seattle. It houses a one-year program that helps the children of immigrants learn English and adapt to their new environment. The program, and the potential of the landmark school building, is inspiring. For more information on this program, or to learn how you can aid the stewardship of this John Hay School, contact John Boyd, 252-2200.

The Queen Anne neighborhood is a trove of hidden history and heretofore unprotected potential landmarks. While we receive calls from a number of Seattle citizens, no one neighborhood's residents call more than Queen Anne's.

Concerns we've heard over the past year include: the general problem of piecemealing (that is, removing brick by brick slowly) demolition without a permit; concern about the demolition of an entire block of older homes near the commercial center of Upper Queen Anne for multifamily development; potential demolition of what may be a historic Filipino Embassy; potential demolition of an Anhalt apartment building; and potential demolition of a historic sanatarium. It is impossible to save all historic buildings, but there are comprehensive effort that may help, especially in a neighborhood with so many historic resources at risk.

The problem of preserving what's left of Queen Anne's heritage is clearly not apathy, but rather identifying which and how many potential landmarks are still in the neighborhood, and engaging volunteers in a collective effort to protect them through landmark designation and consciousness-raising activity.

Thankfully, this is a plan already in the works. Queen Anne will soon receive a community-driven survey that will identify potential landmarks and help the city plan for future development there. If you are interested in participating in the Queen Anne survey, contact the Karen Gordon, Seattle's Historic Preservation Officer, at 684-0381.

Developing a network of watchdog advocates is also a significant part of ongoing preservation success. This network helps the city understand what's going on within its neighborhoods, and helps organizations like Historic Seattle understand how it might best meet the needs of our community. Queen Anne's history of advocacy and preservation predated the advent of email. It's exciting to imagine what could happen now.

View last month's Neighborhoods article

Back to Top