My Favorite Seattle Landmarks
By Larry E. Johnson, AIA, The Johnson Partnership

In the fall of 1976, when the City’s landmark program was just three years old, I wrote my first City of Seattle Landmark Nomination. I was a young architecture graduate student at the University of Washington and in some ways was reaching back into the history of that neighborhood for my own roots. My parents had both grown up there in the 1920 and 30s, attending the old Adams School and later Ballard High School. A couple of years earlier I had been part of the original citizen group that worked with the City’s new office of Urban Conservation to establish the Ballard Avenue Historic district, working with the late Earl Lyman, our first City Conservator.

Often roaming around Ballard on foot, I fell in love with the old Ballard Carnegie Library on Market Street. The building was then being used as an antique store, having been sold by the city when they built a new branch library. I wandered in one day and couldn’t help but envy the thousands of people who had spent Seattle winters sitting round the fireplace reading books magazines, newspapers, and books. The shelving plan was set up radially to allow the librarian to visual control over the entire first floor. The remaining fir woodwork gave the whole place a somber, but homey feel.

After several trips to this building, I suggested to the store owners that the building should be recognized a city landmark. Not hearing any reason why I shouldn’t proceed, I started researching Andrew Carnegie and the foundation he established to bring libraries and free reading to every community in the country. As I learned more about the building I couldn’t understand why the city would abandon such a beautiful library, a precious gift to the community from a generous enlightened man, for a rather average 1960s steel and glass branch library.

Early landmark nominations were more about passion than the hard research found in current nominations. Most nominations actually fit on the four pages that were on the original form then, rather than being supplemented by the 20 to 30-page report that we generally have today. I turned in my Ballard Carnegie Landmark Nomination and went to the February 25, 1977 hearing of the Seattle Landmarks Board, where Peggy Corley, the first chair of the Landmarks Board, thanked me for submitting the nomination. Roberta Deering, then coordinator for the board presented a full agenda that, along with the Ballard Carnegie Library, included the La Turner House, the Fremont Hotel, the Fuggate/Morgan House, the Cascade Cottages, the American Can Company, the Artic Building, the YMCA Building, the Columbia House, the First United Methodist Church, and the Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist. In my naivety I assumed that was that, my job was finished. The shop owners later presented me a small antique drafting set as a thank you, which I still have in the top drawer of my office desk.

Thirty some years passed and now something unexpected has happened. In the last several years I’ve written about a dozen nominations, somehow fitting them in between my architectural work. Four of these nominations went forward to become designated City Landmarks: Pier 59, the Chapel at Fort Lawton/Discovery Park, The Seattle Yacht Club, and the most recently, the Sigma Kappa Sorority Chapter House in the University District. But it was only when I pulled out my file on the Ballard Carnegie Library and started my research to write this article for Historic Seattle that I discovered somehow the library nomination had somehow “slipped through the cracks." The building had never been designated. I’m not sure why it was overlooked—of the eleven buildings nominated that February day in 1977, four are now City of Seattle Landmarks: the Fremont Hotel, the Artic Building, and the YMCA. The First United Methodist Church, as most readers will remember, was listed and then removed as a result of a Supreme Court ruling.

Besides Fire Station 18, I can’t think of another building in Ballard outside of the Ballard Avenue Historic District that is more iconic. Now almost thirty years later, I still think it deserves recognition.

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