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Community Post | Endangered Capitol Hill -1890 Frank Pardee Lewis house-1823 18th Avenue

(Image: John Fox)

Editor’s note: Anybody can post on CHS — the most useful articles make the homepage. This results in community posts from a variety of viewpoints — and at a variety of levels of quality. Capitol Hill’s John Fox contributed this piece about an old home on the Hill that faces demolition. We wrote about the project slated to replace it back in February. Currently, the project is far from the start of construction. The design review process must still be completed and the land use, approved. We frequently write about Capitol Hill design reviews so we’ll keep you posted on that front. You can keep track of the latest Seattle land-use bulletins here. Below, Fox lays out some of the history of the old house he’d like to see preserved. If you have something you want to say, jump into the comments — or dig in and create a CHS post of your own. — jseattle

Since the announcement of the Weatherford House and Melrose Buildings impending demolition has raised awareness of historic preservation on Capitol Hill,  I thought I would speak to the importance of another neighborhood treasure at the corner of 18th and Denny which is scheduled for demolition along with its 1893 neighbor. A massive 31 unit 4 story building will take their place.


Constructed in 1890 for Mr. Frank Pardee Lewis this cheerful yellow house is an excellent and rare example of Victorian residential architecture in our neighborhood. The former owner spent 15 years restoring the exterior and made significant upgrades to the systems and interior. The house sits high on the lot and features an unusual rounded porch, sunbursts in the gable ends, and some very fancy shingling in the gables. It is clad in tongue and groove “California” siding and retains most of its original windows and doors. Above the entry is an eye brow window which lights the stair hall inside the house. On the south side at the rear is another unusual hooded arched window which is clad in fancy shingles. The west and south side of the house exterior have not been restored but the original siding remains underneath asbestos shingles. The porch is also missing its original spandrels and spindles but still provides a pleasant outlook of the surrounding neighborhood. A side door with stained glass and the original double front doors remain. While the City has the date of construction as 1901, an 1893 map shows that both houses were there at that time at the corner of Depot and Hyde streets.

The interior is actually quite spacious and features 12 foot ceilings, wood floors, extensive original window and door trim, and a wonderful original staircase with turned spindles and newels. There are 5 bedrooms, a fireplace, and original pocket doors seperating the day rooms. Inside and out this house is in VERY good shape for being 122 years old and is certainly not a tear down nor is its unrestored 1893 neighbor. Another neighbor of mine likened their proposed demise to tearing out the good teeth and leaving the rotten ones. Without a doubt there ARE buildings I wouldn’t miss but this house isn’t one of them. Given its unique architectural style I can’t imagine that its developer owners aren’t aware they have a jewel on their hands.

Frank Pardee Lewis was from Triangle New York and moved to Seattle in 1887. He was a prominent attorney with offices in the Lowman building downtown starting in 1890. He went to the office almost every day until his death in 1938. Mr. Lewis was elected to the Washington State Legislature in 1895, he was also a member of the Scottish Rite Masons.

Mr. and Mrs Lewis entertained often at 1823. There are dozens of mentions of social events at the house 100 years ago. The neighborhood was full of successful merchants and professional families such as the Galbraiths, Maddocks, Singermans, Ecksteins, MacMillans and the Youngs. They all entertained in style and often. Many, many teas were held by Mr. and Mrs. Lewis as well as a host of other social affairs. Both were active in many organizations.

Surely there is much more to know about the early years of these two houses and their original owners. All of the information I have written was readily available in the Seattle Times Archives but many other sources exist for research such as this. The Society pages are very interesting in the Times. Pick your favorite old house or building, enter the address and you’ll be surprised by what you can find out about a particular property. 

Lastly, while not all houses can or should be saved, I feel that these two houses would qualify as neighborhood landmarks due to their age, unique architectural style and the story of their early occupants. The yellow house is particularly important to the ever changing fabric of our special part of the city.

Fingers crossed that they will be saved……………………………………

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A neighbor
9 years ago

They recently updated that house, maybe they thought they were flipping it. Wonder if they knew they were simply dressing it for its funeral? It’s a nice relic in a transitioned neighborhood, as zoning gets more relaxed it will be the whole hill, sad.

akanola
9 years ago

It never ceases to boggle me that Seattleites routinely chomp at the bit to tear down buildings that have historic, architectural, or sentimental significance to make way for architectural monstrosities that often times go vacant. In any other major city in America this would never happen.
I’ve seen many a building in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Fransisco and others saved by coalitions of neighbors, historians, and architects, and wonder frequently why we don’t do the same here. Many of the buildings I’ve seen saved elsewhere had no other significance beyond that they were nice buildings that fit well into their neighborhoods and gave those neighborhoods “a special flavor”.
I frequently walk past this house and admire it’s simple beauty, it’s unique architecture, and it’s prominence as the nicest house on the block. I know I’m not alone, so why do we do this?
OK, so by comparison Seattle is fairly young city- George Washington never slept here- does that mean that we shouldn’t treasure what history we do have?
Maybe it’s because so many of us (myself included) are transplants from other cities with little or no connection to the Dennys and Yeslers? That’s not a defense I can accept; though my family hasn’t been here for 150 years I still recognize the treasures that abound in our city and mourn their demolition.
Is it because space is so limited? I’d accept that in the middle of downtown, but I know of four empty lots or derelict buildings within ten blocks of this house that are as big as the lot that will be created by the destruction of this gem and its neighbor.
And what of our planning board? Why does it allow for the construction of buildings that don’t fit in to a neighborhood? It almost seems that they are addicted to post-modern homogeneity, tearing down unique buildings that stood when their grandfathers were children to make way for ugly glass and panel atrocities of design.
I know I present far more questions than answers in my comment, but these are the questions we must ask ourselves if we don’t want our neighborhoods overrun by the development of cookie-cutter mixed-use eyesores.

zeebleoop
9 years ago

act! nominate them for historical preservation.

personally, i don’t see these houses as being historically significant, especially in light of needing more density in the neighborhood. replace two structures that can house two families with one structure that can house thirty-one? yes, please!

JimS.
9 years ago

it’s not unique to Seattle. Inexplicably enough, this foolish destruction happens in lots of places.

JimS.
9 years ago

Except for that that neighborhood is way plenty dense enough already. Directly across the street to the north from that is a vintage 3 story apartment building, and directly across the street to the east is another 3 story condo complex. That block doesn’t need any more density.

hobbes84k
9 years ago

I remember walking past that house while they were working on it. I desperately wanted to buy that house so I could live in it. Considering how updated it is, I’m a little surprised that the current owners don’t just sell it to someone willing to pay the $1,000,000+ that it’s worth. The developers wanting to buy it can’t be offering that much more than market value, can they?

JimS.
9 years ago

I lived near there for several years in the late 90’s, and I too watched as they gradually restored that house. It was a very long and gradual process and I’m sure they weren’t doing it with an eye to flipping it. It probably breaks their hearts too that someone’s going to tear it down, but nobody’s going to pay $1,000,000 for that house. If they need the money now, there’s really nothing they can do.

Fc Florence
9 years ago

I thought you were for more affordable housing, John? Seems like housing for 31 apartment dwellers is a better use of land than housing for 1 wealthy family. I get the preservation argument.

JRF
JRF
9 years ago

Wrong John Fox. I am a real estate agent specializing in historic properties in the neighborhood. As far as density goes there are THOUSANDS of new units coming in the next decade on Capitol/First Hill so I think we have density covered. Will these units be affordable to most ABSOLUTELY not! If they bash these houses down and build their monster you can be sure that they will not be for low income folks but rather hip monied singles and couples. Families will be pushed out and these houses are great for families. Most families are not going to live in a 680 square foot $1500 (or more) per month apartment. Hardly any of this new apartment development in the neighborhood is geared towards families or people over 30 for that matter.

Melissa
9 years ago

I recently moved into the neighborhood and I am saddened this is slated for demolition. The neighborhood has a lot of density with apartment buildings but it also has a smattering of beautiful older homes that give it a more historic, family-friendly vibe. This house is a beautiful landmark in our neighborhood and it would be a travesty to see it demolished to put up yet ANOTHER apartment building (the Lawrence Lofts are 2 block away). Is there anything I, or anyone else can do to help preserve this house?

GS
GS
9 years ago

It’s getting tiring hearing all the whining about older structures on the hill getting torn down and replaced. Yes, some of it is sad as the older structures have sentimental/visual/whatever value. But whining about it here isn’t going to change anything. If you don’t want a building torn down and replaced, buy it yourself or put together a coalition of investors and buy it and preserve it. If that doesn’t make financial viability for you, then likely that’s why someone else is buying it to tear it down and replace it with something that does make financial viability. That would be called capitalism and free economy.

Andrew Taylor
9 years ago

neighborhood actions saved the white house with all the columns on 14th across from the Safeway. As with most things, I suspect it would take one person with a lot of enthusiasm and time to get the ball rolling.

That person could be you …..

However, you do need to find some genuine historical interest in the property to get it preserved. I’ve read of the Historical Building Preservation Board (or whatever) noting that they are NOT the “Nice Old Building Preservation Board”.

joanna
9 years ago

What little is left in the older neighborhoods of Seattle that is interesting and distinct should be saved. There are many treasures including these houses that should be saved in Capitol Hill, Central District and other neighborhoods. It is time to figure out a good way to integrate these gems into the new development rather than tearing them down. Every city and area should value its historic character. Without it we are just the ticky tacky found everywhere. I have lived here since 1977 and much has already been razed. I was attracted to Seattle because it had real character and charm. Are we trying to decharm the place? Many of the great details of the older architecture will never be replicated and should be valued.

JRF
JRF
9 years ago

If you look up Seattle Department of Neighborhoods under Historic Preservation you will find the Landmarks Preservation Board. Current nominations such as the Weatherford House are there as well as agendas and contact info. There is a particularly interesting section “Landmarks A-Z” where you can view all of the current landmarks in the city. Anyone can write a nomination and there is info on how to do so. And not all houses on the list are grand mansions. There are much simpler houses that have been saved in the past. In 1890 Seattle was only 40 years old so this was a rather fashionable house in its day……………….

Neighbor
9 years ago

Historic Seattle & the WA State Trust for Historic Preservation are great resources, as well.

zeebleoop
9 years ago

@jims

please explain how you are qualified to make that decision on this particular part of the hill. i think it’s up to the market to decide if there’s enough density or not (or at minimum, city planning). just because a handful of people fancy a yellow house does not mean that maximum density requirements are met for the block.

Dotty
9 years ago

could look at the CHP project that saved the Pantages House, also on Denny, while including apartments. It would be sad to see this house demolished. It is the last one on the block in good repair. But it is surrounded by apartments and the nursing home, the local elementary school is closed, and it is hard to imagine that a family might wish to live there.

JRF
JRF
9 years ago

I agree that a creative developer could incorporate this house into their design.

I disagree with the idea that it isn’t a family friendly house or neighborhood. I have lived three houses north of the Lewis house for 30 years. A family with children are the ones who sold it. Never before have I seen so many children in our neighborhood as right now.

That house and the one at 122 18th East which just sold are a result of the crappy real estate market and the ability to get a loan. In better times it would have sold to someone who would just live in them. Normal people still can’t get financing while the developers can. End of story.

Charlus
9 years ago

I live a block away from the Frank Pardee Lewis house. I’m happy to share the corner on which I live with about 100 other living units in three 1920’s vintage apartment buildings, one of them 5 stories tall. That’s about dense enough, one would think. Capitol Hill’s become a great place to live, and I personally don’t mind moving over and making room for others who’d like to live here as well. But when someone starts saying that we ought simply let the market decide what goes where and what gets destroyed in the process, that’s where I get off the bus. As a general contractor whose Dad and 2 older brothers are all developers, I’d caution people to be careful what they wish for in that regard, lest we end up with a neighborhood crammed with monolithically ugly structures built with profit maximization as the principal guiding force.
Despite what I do for a living, and with all due respect, I’d counter that those of us who have to live in this neighborhood are in fact very uniquely qualified to weigh in on what our neighborhood is going to look like in 20 years’ time. If, conversely, someone’s inclined to buy the snake oil being peddled by free-market ideologues, I can only respond with the time-honored warning: caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).

Pam
Pam
9 years ago

John, Thank you for this wealth of information and for bringing this gem to the attention of a bigger audience. I believe the move to demolish this house is all about money. To those suggesting that this house be demolished because that’s progress and we need greater density,let’s not do it at the expense of noteworthy architecture, valued character, and history. I ask what shape you would like that progress to take? Do you want to lose the unique feel of each Seattle neighborhood, its beauty and history in favor of buildings constructed all in the last couple of decades? Do you think it is sensible to remove a building in good condition? These houses are the oldest for blocks and blocks around. What else do we have of the 1890’s?

Pam
Pam
9 years ago

I and my family have lived in the neighborhood for two dozen years. We are certainly not the only ones. We are surrounded by families with far younger children. There’s a new born down the block. Our neighborhood is great for kids. We have parks and shops close by, fabulous neighbors and quiet streets.

Jupien
9 years ago

The cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris occupies a large portion of the Île St-Louis in the most walkable part of Paris. An ideal spot to promote residential density and walkability in the heart of a major European city. That space could doubtless accommodate enough high-rise condominiums to house thousands of people. One might think, judging from @jims’ comment above, that he’d have no objection to razing the old pile in order to meet some urban planner’s “maximum density requirement” for the block it occupies. Sound good?

Michael
9 years ago

Save a building on Cap Hill that might be historic? NO, we would rather bulldoze everything of value into the ground, so we can put up an apt building and/or square box condo with no value other than to the developer. This city really f*cking sucks. Not nearly as much as Mayor McGinn is sucking the c–K of every developer in town. Get in line for some really great service, he is one of the best. I cant believe I voted for him. Why dont we just bulldoze everything and be done with it?

linder seattle
9 years ago

Zillow often keeps up the real estate photos for recent sales. 1823 sold in July 2011. Here’s the Zillow link which includes photos of the interior & some exteriors.