Of Seattle's many neighborhoods, Eastlake, located on the east side of Lake Union, has perhaps the best concentration of buildings reflecting modern design from the middle of the last century. Hemmed in by I-5 to the west, the University Bridge to the north, and Cascade to the south, is one of the city's smaller neighborhoods, but has some of the most outspoken and effective neighborhood and preservation advocates in the city. This combination bodes well for the preservation of the neighborhoods many modern resources which are gaining recognition among local preservationists.
Changes over Time
Claimed from forests, Eastlake was first made up by small farms. The neighborhood was established in the early 1890s as a group of homes and small businesses along the streetcar line that linked the city's downtown to neighborhoods along the north end of Lake Union -- such as University, Latona, and Portage Bay. When the University Bridge was constructed in 1919, travel along Eastlake Avenue increased. In the early 1940s, the streetcars were replaced by buses.
Like many of the city's oldest neighborhoods, Eastlake contains a fascinating mixture of uses and building types. These include industries such as Seattle City Light's earliest electric generating plant (Lake Union Steam Plant) and the Lake Union Dry Dock and Sound Propeller Company on Fairview Avenue East, both founded to serve the Navy's needs in World War I, and the site of William Boeing's 1916 airplane facility at the foot of Roanoke Street.
The neighborhood retains many other examples of its built history with Victorian farmhouses, Craftsman bungalows, Mission Revival and Art Deco styled apartment buildings, and dense marinas with repair yards, fishing boats, canoes, kayaks, motor and sailboats. Eastlake's houseboats were first constructed in the teens and 1920s as a floating "Hooverville" -- small seasonal homes for loggers and fishermen, and was gradually transformed to house a low-income residential community of bohemians, poets, students, and activists by the 1960s. Presently, it is a visually complex and permanent water world of multi-story floating residences.
Eastlake also contains one of the city's oldest schools-the original, wood-frame
Seward Elementary, which was built in 1893-along with its year 2000 addition. The original school is a City Landmark. Along the primary arterial, Eastlake Avenue, there is a collection of commercial offices, restaurants, taverns and stores.
For those who simply travel through it, this street provides many glimpses and sliver views of the water. These are complemented by street-end shoreline parks at the foot of Yale, Roanoke and Newton Streets, the small Fairview Olmsted Park, and the green hillside open space at the Neighborhood's south end which is distinguished by the classical-like columns of the freeway. Today Eastlake is a vibrant, active community treasured by its community of residents, and home and business owners. For more information about the neighborhood, contact the community's website
The Eastlake Neighborhood Plan identifies community design as an important element. It includes recommendations and policies related to architectural design, land use, history, streetscapes, views, and character. The plan supports the renovation, preservation, and continued use of existing structures in Eastlake. It recognizes the significance of maintaining a pedestrian scale and the reuse of its commercial vernacular buildings. These elements are essential to the neighborhood's character.
Advocating for Eastlake Modernism
With an appreciation for all that is Eastlake, DoCoMoMo.WeWa worked to raise awareness of the neighborhood's Modern architecture when, in June 2001, the group conducted a successful tour of Modern buildings. The neighborhood appealed to those who designed and built small-scale Modern-styled commercial buildings in the 1950s and 1960s because it was close to downtown, relatively inexpensive, and provided an eclectic urban laboratory for new ways of working and design. Modernist buildings are located in many of Seattle's neighborhoods but Eastlake contains a concentration of work by some of the region's leading Modernists including Paul Kirk, Paul Thiry, and Gene Zema.
No doubt many people have either walked or driven by 1264 Eastlake Avenue East (originally, Architect's Office Building). The building is a striking example of post-war International Style Modernism in Seattle. Constructed in 1956, the building was designed by Steinhart, Theriault and Anderson as their architectural office; it was occupied by the firm until the mid-1980s. 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. The building was placed on a small wedge-shaped parcel, and it took advantage of the site with a raised and cantilevered form.
The first phase of Gene Zema's Asian Gallery/Architect's Office at 200 E. Boston was built in 1953. It exhibits many modern-era elements; foremost, the massing of the structure is an abstraction of an elemental form that is reinforced by Zema's use of pure planes of material, namely wood, stucco, and glass. The roofline is almost flat, a tool used to accentuate the feeling that the building is an assemblage of floating planes. The structure also hovers above the ground to minimize the impacts on the site, giving the impression that the building has a finger, rather than a footprint. The two adjoining two-story structures, comprised of an office, gallery, and residence was built (partially by Zema) across a small courtyard in 1961. The phase of the project illustrates the evolution of Zema's design sensibilities. Namely, Zema expanded on Modernism to experiment with design that is specific to our region. The phase of the project exhibits the influence of the Japanese through Zema's mastery of wood detailing.
Paul Hayden Kirk's small office building (2000 Minor Ave. East) is a fine example of the personal attention to site and detail that produced some of Seattle's best Modernist architecture. Built as Kirk's architectural office, the building is a beautifully scaled, simple wood post-and-beam frame structure articulated with details and connections and clad in cedar siding. Following the slope of the lot, the structure was raised from street level, poised over open ground area, providing parking spaces underneath the building.
During the 1950s, Kirk was known as a specialist in the design of medical clinics, designing more than fifty clinics during that decade alone. Next door to Kirk's office building, his firm designed a psychiatric clinic (Lake Union Community Psychiatric Clinic, 2009 Minor Ave. E.). The clinic is similar to his office, acting almost as an extension of it. However, function, plan, and scale define a very type of environment.
These Modern buildings and many others in the neighborhood contribute to Eastlake's diverse architectural character. It is DoCoMoMo.WeWa's mission to raise public awareness of the significance of Modern architecture in the region. None of Eastlake's designated City landmarks are from the Modern era. The buildings mentioned above and some other key ones in the neighborhood are most likely eligible for landmark status. They represent the evolution of a neighborhood as well as some of Seattle's best examples of Modernism. As with many other post-war buildings and small scale commercial vernacular buildings throughout Seattle, there is always development pressure for "best and highest use." DoCoMoMo.WeWa works to build appreciation of these buildings as well as advocate for its preservation and continued use.
If you are interested in the preservation of the recent past, and modern design, contact DoCoMoMo.WeWa through Historic Seattle's Preservation Advocate, Heather MacIntosh at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 206-622-5444 extension 226..
last month's Neighborhoods article