Capitol Hill Historical Society | Pantages House, a home built for the Hill’s Alexander the Great

(Pantages House Image:Rob Ketcherside)

In 2004 the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board voted to make the Pantages House a Seattle landmark. They had three reasons: its association with Alexander Pantages, its architectural style, and its prominent siting at the corner of Denny and Harvard.

The house was built in 1906 for Alexander Pantages by architects Knapp & West at the southeast corner of Denny Way and Harvard Avenue. It’s a block from Dick’s and Capitol Hill Station.

Construction date: If you look around you’ll find that everyone but us says it was built in 1907. That’s the date given in the city’s report on landmark designation. Possibly that came from the 1936 King County Assessor property card, which is not to be trusted for early dates.

The closest we have to conclusive evidence is this photograph of the completed structure that ran in the January 14, 1906 Seattle Times. The caption indicated that there was still interior work to be done. Looks like it still needed landscaping, too. There’s no way that took a year to complete.

Construction finished in 1906.

Pantages House photo of completed work (Seattle Times, January 14, 1906)

Alexander Pantages in 1918 (Los Angeles Public Library)

Alexander Pantages: Here’s the text of the sidebar about Alexander Pantages in my book Lost Seattle:

Alexander Pantages was born in Greece as Pericles Pantages in 1896 1867. He had grand ambition, and changed his name after hearing the story of Alexander the Great.

Pantages had a hard journey before he entered his calling in theater management. He left home at age 9 and took to the sea as a deckhand. He labored on the Panama Canal, worked as a waiter and tried his hand at professional boxing in San Francisco.

Like every other restless man he heard his calling when gold was discovered in Alaska’s Klondike in 1897. Unlike the others he quickly realized that more reliable money was to be made from the miners than in the mines. He returned to Dawson City and found work as a bartender and helped the saloon owner add a stage to draw more patrons with music.

After gold was discovered in Nome he moved there and tended bar for the first winter. But opportunity came knocking when the Klondyke Theater’s owners failed to make ends meet. Pantages borrowed money from friends and opened his first theater, Pantages’ Orpheum. Income and expenses were enormous. A violin string cost $40, but the theater charged $25 to see a show.

1915 Pantages Threatre, later renamed the Palomar, at 3rd and University (University of Washington)

Pantages arrived in Seattle in 1902 from the Klondike and Nome gold rushes. In Alaska he learned the basics of running a vaudeville theater. In Seattle he opened the Crystal. It was small, simple, and profitable. He leveraged profits to build the Pantages Theater, named after himself. After he married singer Lois Menhendall he built another for her to perform in 1911, naming it the Lois Theater.

Alexander Pantages had no formal education and could not read or write. But he acquired a sailor and bartender’s command of Greek, English, French, German, and Spanish. And he had an aptitude for mathematics which he used to control expenses and leverage investments to take new risk. Pantages was most often complimented for his unfailing memory and ability to find diamonds in the rough — or gold in the dust.

The architects: The architecture firm Knapp & West designed the Pantages home. There isn’t much written about this firm, but luckily the state Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation has a good article about West to supplement the information in the designation report. Jacob A. Knapp and Thomas L. West formed their firm in 1904 and separated in 1909.

Thomas West was born in Idaho in 1879. He first appeared in Seattle in the 1898 city directory as a draftsman for Timotheus Josenhans. He worked for S. A. Jenning in 1900 and then joined a partnership with Charles N. Elliott in about 1901. His work continued as Elliott & West until 1904 when he joined Knapp.

Knapp previously worked for the Fred L. Fehren Company as an architect from 1903 to 1904. Knapp’s career has not yet been researched but the designation report seems overly dismissive describing him as “only as a draftsman for the Fred L. Fehrens Company”. The extent of his work is unknown because Fehren Company did not credit staff architects. But as the DAHP article says,

“While Fred L. Fehren himself was not an architect or designer, his company made a profound impact on the built environment in the Seattle area during the early part of the 20th century. During his time in the city, Fehren spent 12 years conducting a variety of investment and real estate deals and is credited with forming at least eight subdivisions, as well as planned, built and/or financed over 600 buildings. As a real estate developer, he employed one or more architects and/or builders.”

In addition to designing many homes built by Fehrens, Knapp many have contributed to a plan book put out just before he left the firm.

Knapp & West’s first work mentioned in the Seattle Times was on January 14, 1905, plans for a home for Paul C. Murphy in the “Capitol Hill district”. Murphy’s home address continued to be listed as 1822 17th near Denny Way, so the home must not have ever been built. But within months the Seattle Times reported that Knapp & West had other projects out for bid and under construction.

The partnership completed many buildings and even more plans for for our neighborhood in the run up to 1909 and the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition. After the fair concluded, Knapp moved to Vancouver, BC and formed a new partnership for a few years. Knapp’s life after that is unknown. West practiced independently in Seattle for a couple of years and then moved to Medford, Oregon and on to many other cities through his life.

Architectural style: The building is an eclectic mix of popular contemporary styles. As the designation report says, “The unusual combination of ornate and simple details reflect a transitional hybrid of the Queen Anne and Craftsman styles interspersed with Beaux Arts detailing.”

This article was written on behalf of the Capitol Hill Historical Society. The next meeting of the society is on February 25, 2018.

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10 thoughts on “Capitol Hill Historical Society | Pantages House, a home built for the Hill’s Alexander the Great

  1. Alexander Pantages was born in Greece as Pericles Pantages in 1896. A bartender in 1897. Built his first theatre in 1902. The house was constructed for him in 1906.

    The kid had ambition!

  2. Capitol Hill Housing was honored to have the opportunity to preserve this historic house while adding five stories of affordable housing back in 2005. It now provides 49 permanently affordable apartments, and in 2006 was named Best Urban Project by Affordable Housing Finance Magazine.

    You can read about that more recent history in this story: http://www.housingfinance.com/developments/from-a-historic-home-a-new-project-rises_o

    • Thank god for CHH! You are doing what you can to have a significant impact on the homelessness issue, and I want you to know that we in the neighborhood appreciate it!

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