A two-story, 6-unit Bellevue Ave apartment building designed in the spirit of a single family home during a brief Capitol Hill development boom in the 1950s will be considered as an official Seattle landmark this week.
The longtime landowner of the Sterling Apartments at 323 Bellevue Ave E is bringing the nomination forward. Though the landmarks process can often be the first public step in developing a property, there are no records for active projects on file for the address.
A 2006 plan to demolish the building and build a new two-story, 10-unit apartment building never got off the ground.
According to the landmarks nomination prepared for longtime owner Dan Chua by Cardinal Architecture PC, the Sterling units were created during a boom for developers as builders rushed to beat a new Seattle requirement for off-street parking:
Construction in Seattle dropped off considerably with the Great Depression, but apartment construction picked up again after World War II with a flurry of activity in the 1950s and 1960s. A new zoning resolution that went into effect in 1959 established minimum off-street parking requirements for apartment buildings in this neighborhood, which led to a rush to build before the new law went into effect.
Nearly 60 years before the debate over microhousing’s shared spaces, architect Paul Hayden Kirk designed the Sterling building with an eye toward privacy for tenants:
The Sterling opened in July 1956. An Open House announcement in the Seattle Times described the building as a “new luxury apartment house” and listed rents in the range of $120 to $130 a month. The announcement identified Paul Hayden Kirk as the architect and describes four view apartments and two with “private, secluded courts”. The basic building materials (vertical cedar siding and pumice block) are mentioned, but there is no in-depth architectural description or analysis.
The focus on privacy alluded to in the Seattle Times description references a quality where the Sterling stands out from other apartment buildings of the era. Many Seattle apartment buildings built in the 1950s used exterior corridors, which allowed for more units with exterior entrances and large view windows, but at the expense of individual privacy. Victor Steinbrueck, in his 1962 book Seattle Cityscape, wrote, “Most tenants close their blinds and look for another apartment when their lease runs out.” The Sennett, which is located across Bellevue Avenue from the Sterling and was also developed by Sterling Taylor in the mid-1950s, is an excellent example of this phenomenon (figure 50). The Sterling stands apart from these buildings in its focus on privacy. Its private unit entrances, high ribbon windows, and private patios and balconies reference Paul Hayden Kirk’s expertise in private homes.
The Sterling was completed in 1956 and named for original owner Sterling Taylor, “a Seattle attorney and polio survivor who worked as an advocate for people with disabilities,” according to the nomination. He and his wife, Frances Taylor, developed the property and managed the apartments until his death in 1972. In 2005 after a series of owners, Chua bought the property for $1,050,000.
With its unique design and place in the Hill’s remaining stock of old apartment buildings, The Sterling could be the kind of property to make the landmarks board cut. The most recent Capitol Hill property slated to come before the board never made it to its hearing — owners of the Aloha Terrace property pulled out of the process before its June meeting. The Sterling nomination gets its first hearing Wednesday. Meeting information is below. The full nomination packet is here (PDF). You can speak up in person or send your feedback via email.
Landmarks Preservation Board to consider The Sterling Apartments for landmark nomination
SEATTLE – The Landmarks Preservation Board will consider nomination of The Sterling Apartments (323 Bellevue Avenue East) at its meeting on Wednesday, August 20 at 3:30 p.m. in the Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 5th Avenue, 40th Floor, Room 4060.
The public is invited to attend the meeting and make comments. Written comments should be received by the Landmarks Preservation Board at the following address by August 19 at 3:00 p.m.:
Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board
Seattle Department of Neighborhoods
PO Box 94649
Seattle, WA 98124-4649 (mailing address)
A copy of the landmark nomination will be available for public review at the Capitol Hill Branch Library, 425 Harvard Ave E (206-684-4715), and at the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods office at the Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 5th Ave, Suite 1700 (206-684-0228). It is also posted on the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods website, www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/preservation/landmarks.htm under the heading of “Current Nominations.”