Seattle Architects and the Legacy of H. H. Richardson
- PUBLISHED: January 2003
- SUBJECT LISTING: Architecture, Pacific Northwest
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 424 Pages, 7.5 x 11 in, 234 illus.
- ISBN: 9780295982380
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
On the afternoon of 6 June 1889, a fire in a cabinet shop in downtown Seattle spread to destroy more than thirty downtown blocks covering 116 acres. Disaster soon became opportunity as Seattle’s citizens turned their full energies to rebuilding: widening and regrading streets, laying new water pipes and sewer lines, promulgating a new building ordinance requiring construction in the commercial core, and creating a new professional fire department. A remarkable number of buildings, most located in Seattle’s present-day Pioneer Square Historic District, were permitted within a few months and constructed within a few years of the Great Seattle Fire. As a result, the post-fire rebuilding of Seattle offers an extraordinarily focused case study of late-nineteenth-century American urban architecture.
Seattle’s architects, seeking design solutions that would meet the new requirements, most often found them in the Romanesque Revival mode of the country’s most famous architect, Henry Hobson Richardson. In October 1889, Elmer Fisher, Seattle's most prolific post-fire architect, specifically cited the example of H. H. Richardson in describing the city's new buildings. In contrast to Victorian Gothic, Second Empire, and other mid-nineteenth-century architectural styles, Richardson’s Romanesque Revival vocabulary of relatively unadorned stone and brick with round-arched openings conveyed strength and stability without elaborate decorative treatment. For Seattle’s fire-conscious architects it offered a clear architectural system that could be applied to a variety of building types - including office blocks, warehouses, and hotels - and ensure a safer, progressive, and more visually coherent metropolitan center.
Distant Corner examines the brief but powerful influence of H. H. Richardson on the building of America’s cities, and his specific influence on the architects charged with rebuilding the post-fire city of Seattle. Chapters on the pre-fire city and its architecture, the technologies and tools available to designers and builders, and the rise of Richardson and his role in defining a new American architecture provide a context for examining the work of the city’s architects. Seattle's leading pre- and post-fire architects - William Boone, Elmer Fisher, John Parkinson, Charles Saunders and Edwin Houghton, Willis Ritchie, Emil DeNeuf, Warren Skillings, and Arthur Chamberlin - are profiled. Distant Corner describes the new post-fire commercial core and the emerging network of schools, firehouses, and other public institutions that helped define Seattle’s neighborhoods. It closes with the sudden collapse of Seattle’s economy in the Panic of 1893 and the ensuing depression that halted the city’s building boom, saw the closing of a number of architects’ offices, and forever ended the dominance of Romanesque Revival in American architecture.
With more than 200 illustrations, detailed endnotes, and an appendix listing the major works of the city's leading architects, Distant Corner offers an analysis of both local and national influences that shaped the architecture of the city in the 1880s and 1890s. It has much to offer those interested in Seattle’s early history, the building of the city, and the preservation of its architecture. Because this period of American architecture has received only limited study, it is also of importance for those interested in the influence of Boston-based H. H. Richardson and his contemporaries on American architecture at the end of the nineteenth century.
Authors & Contributors
Jeffrey Karl Ochsner is professor of architecture at the University of Washington; among his previous publications is H. H. Richardson: Complete Architectural Works. Dennis Alan Andersen , formerly in charge of photographs and architectural drawings in the Special Collections Division of the University of Washington Libraries, is a longtime historic preservation advocate and currently a Lutheran pastor. Both are authors in Shaping Seattle Architecture: A Historical Guide to the Architects.
1. Introduction: Seattle and the Nineteenth Century American Architecture
2. Pre-Fire Seattle: Architects and Architecture
3. The Fire and Its Aftermath: Technology, Construction, and Design
4. The Architectural Context: The Influence of Richardson and the Romanesque Revival
5. The New Commercial Core: Architecture for a Metropolitan Center, 1889-1895
6. A City of Neighborhoods: The Network of Public Institutions, 1889-1895
7. Creating a Civic Presence: Willis Ritchie and the Architecture of Public Buildings
8. Toward the Turn of the Century: Seattle After 1895
Appendix: Known Buildings of Seattle's Major Post-Fire Architects, 1880-1895
It deserves to be read by persons interested in those architecturally zestful years of recovery and mostly rampant growth after Seattle's Great Fire of 1889.- Paul Dorpat, The Seattle Times
The book teems with fascinating facts.- Sheila Farr, The Seattle Time, The Seattle Times
An impressive accomplishment.- Choice
In this masterful study of architectural practice in late nineteenth-century Seattle, Washington, Jeffrey Ochsner and Dennis Andersen have produced a model of how architectural history should be written. . . Distant Corner is an exceptional work of research, narrative, and analysis.- Oregon Historical Quarterly
Due to its thorough scholarship and readability, Ochsner and Anderson's account is an excellent model for a city's architectural and urban history at a key moment in its development. This book is a fascinating case-study of an important American city..- H-Net Reviews
Ochsner and Andersen have presented a carefully written and documented explanation for the development of a unique Seattle spirit . . . . Distant Corner should be made required reading for any out-of-town developer today, that they might come to know the important role these Richardsonian buildings played and continue to play in shaping the ethos and character of Seattle.- The Public Historian
This handsome book, generously illustrated with more than 200 black-and-white archival photographs and drawings, is a much needed addition to the short shelf of books on early Seattle architecture.- Sheri Olson, Special to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
This book makes a significant contribution to the history of American architecture by studying carefully a major American city at a time when architecture and cities in this country were entering the modern era. Moreover, this book is a fine piece of local history that rests on solid scholarship.- Francis R. Kowsky, Buffalo State College
An important contribution to the field of American architectural history.- Kenneth A. Breisch, University of Southern California