CHS Schemata: Capitol Hill’s Secret Cottages

Capitol Hill’s topography, lush plantings, and relative density  result in a great diversity of building types and landscapes that offer the urban explorer many interesting and intimate places to explore. One of my favorite recent discoveries is a cluster of eight cottages tightly arranged on what appears to be a typical (Capitol Hill), 5000 square foot lot. Built in 1920, these eight lovely homes, lying somewhere west of Broadway, are real gems, should you be lucky enough to happen upon them.


To set the record straight, I am, as a former professor called me, a dyed in the wool modernist. Clean lines, cubic forms, and glass and steel are where my passions lie — these cottages have anything but those qualities — yet I find them compelling in the spatial and tectonic lessons they offer.

A central promenade bisects the depth of the site, with four homes on each side. Each home is roughly the same size, and large enough for one bedroom. 

Stylistically, they are all loosely based on the NW Craftsman aesthetic; however, the romantic qualities of this approach are pursued with greater verve than in your typical bungalow.

All of the homes have a combination of lap siding and shingles, with the shingles being detailed in a different way on each cottage. Bay windows add a bit of breathing space in their compact arrangements.

If I remember correctly, each has a small front porch with either a side or frontal approach to the walk.

The variety of shingle patterning leads me to believe that these homes were designed by the carpenters who built them — who might of also been the developers as well; not unlike the Anhalts on Capitol Hill.

Okay, these are cute, and the patina of time has been favorable to them; however, it is not that which I find the most appealing. The close clustering of these homes, and the rich, native landscape that envelopes them, make them a compelling model for those who want to live densely, yet still in a detached dwelling.

And while each may have a front porch, each front porch is unique. The rubble wall here is especially, well, dare I say it again — cute. Alright, I said it . . . 

Could this project be built today? It would be difficult, for several reasons. Today’s mass-produced, uniform building materials (nothing wrong here) do not lend themselves to the informality and casualness that is one of this community’s charms. You just could not do this in Hardie panel or metal siding . . . . plus, the skill in design and execution is, I am afraid to say, beyond the grasp of most architects and builders today whose skills are learned in a different environment. And finally, the cost would most likely be prohibitive, at least for a speculative venture. If it were a cohousing community or a similar gathering of like-minded individuals who choose to live in such close proximity to one anther and were willing to tackle the communal and financial challenges a project such as this would pose today, then a project such as this likely could be realized.

John Feit is an architect on Capitol Hill, and works at Schemata Workshop. He blogs frequently on design and urbanism, with a focus on how they relate to and effect the Capitol Hill community.

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13 thoughts on “CHS Schemata: Capitol Hill’s Secret Cottages

  1. This is one of the multitude of reasons I love living on Cap Hill…I have literally spent years “getting lost” while wandering my ‘hood, and I haven’t see these little gems. Love the walkway, the design, the entire idea of this gathering. I recently had dinner at the Row House in the Cascade area…another “forgotten” set of buildings converted to charming/funky use. Thankfully, we haven’t razed all of these things in the name of progress. Thanks for this article!

  2. The cottages constitute a condominium called Greenbush Court. I seriously doubt they were cute when they were built in the 1920s. My guess is that they were rentals for the hired help at the big houses to the north. The design features were created when they were remodeled and organized by John Jarosz in 1980 or so. We have lived in one of the cottages since 1989 and still enjoy every walk down the path to home.

    Great pictures, thanks.

  3. i’ve walked by them before and poked my head inside the walkway.

    i don’t think they’re for rent anymore – they’re owned now, correct?

    glad you love your home!

  4. What can we learn from Greenbush Court to translate into larger projects? I remember when these were condo’ed – at the time, they were relatively expensive for the housing market at the time. These and John Kucher’s Pine Street Cottages are wonderful models for small foot-print housing. There are some other pockets of small tucked-away housing on the west side of Capitol Hill which might be redeveloped without total tear-down. These cottages enrich the life of everyone on Capitol Hill: pedestrian experience, bird habitat, clean air, breathing room. Thanks for writing them up John.

  5. I dream of the day that I might find a place like this, where I don’t have to hear my neighbors having sex all the time. Man, I’m jealous.

  6. These cottages are in the 700 block of Summit a block north of Top Pot. I’ve passed by the end of the walkway dozens of times and never realized what was in there. It’s really cool. Somehow romantic…

  7. I toured one of these when it was for sale. They’re a great urban example of small foot-print living. They don’t get a lot of light, from what I remember, and you have to be ok with density, but they are a real gem. I live in an Anhalt and love the details and craftsmanship in these older buildings that, sadly, you just don’t find anymore.

  8. What really surprised me when I went on to photograph the place, is that they have basements! Mostly for things like the water heater, laundry etc. But enough extra space for an additional little room.

  9. If anyone knows the contact information for previous residents of the community, please send it to greenbushcourt@gmail.com . We will be getting a Reunion together this summer and are beginning the process of tracking down owners/renters from 1982 and on.
    Thanks!