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Home to a depth of Seattle history, neighbors seek federal recognition of Capitol Hill’s Millionaire’s Row

Millionaire’s Row from the Volunteer Park water tower (Image: CHS)

Seattle may have a new spot on the National Register of Historic Places if a couple of neighbors have their way. DJ Kurlander, Bryce Siedl and Jim Jackson are leading an effort for federal recognition of a stretch of 14th Ave E known as Millionaire’s Row.

If approved, the district which stretches from E Prospect just south of Volunteer Park to south of E Roy, would be honored as historic.

That recognition, unlike being classified as a landmark by the city, has no implications for future uses of the properties. It would not restrict redevelopment or renovations of either the inside or outsides of any of the homes. Nor would not preclude the area from any future zoning increase.

“This ins’t any kind of stealth reaction against the city’s density. The National Registry has no effect on what can be built. But as the city changes, it’s also important not to forget its history either, and that’s the whole purpose of the nomination,” Kurlander tells CHS.

The nomination paperwork (PDF) goes into great depth about the stretch of road. It includes 19 houses — 18 are original while 1021 14th Ave E was torn down and replaced — built between 1902 and 1915. The area also includes three buildings that used to be stables or carriage houses, and two that were built later on what had been vacant lots.

Much of Capitol Hill was purchased by James A. Moore in 1900 with an eye toward development. Moore reserved this prime stretch of street for friends and associates, all of whom were well-known businessmen (or maybe robber barons, depending on where you fell on the political spectrum just after the Gilded Age).

“It was a private stretch of land, exclusive for his friends,” said Tom Heuer of the Capitol Hill Historical Society. Neither Heuser nor the society are involved with the nomination, though they generally support the effort. “I think it’s fantastic. I always love when residents take interest in their homes and the neighborhood.”

Heuser said that while he’s never been involved in a nomination like this before, he thinks there is a strong case to be made for recognizing the area as an historic district.

Moore made millions in real estate in Seattle, lost it all after some bad business luck, moved to Florida where he made a lot of money again, then lost it all after the town he developed was walloped by a hurricane, and ended up dying almost penniless in San Francisco.

According to the nomination, a 1913 Seattle Times story called the area Millionaire’s Row, showing the name has been in use for more than a century. It still applies today, according to the King County Assessor’s Office, the homes are valued at between $1.12 million and $5.69 million. Zillow thinks they’re worth even more, with a range of $1.4 million to $7.1 million.

14th Ave E (Image: CHS)

Kurlander said he hadn’t set out to write a nomination for an historic district.

“Initially, I just did a little research on the early owners of my house, because I was curious. It turns out that the first two owners worked with James Moore, who developed Capitol Hill, and also had his home on the street. Millionaire’s Row was essentially Moore’s private showplace street. This led me to look into the other owners, and they were fascinating,” he said.

Almost all of the early homeowners, the nomination notes, were involved in extracting natural resources from the northwest. Seven of them made their fortunes in lumber, four in fishing, one in a stone quarry, seven in land development and two in agriculture. Some of them also made fortunes during the Klondike Gold Rush, helping outfit prospectors on their way to Alaska. Another ran a saloons and brothel to help them spend their newfound riches when they got back.

They developed large tracts of downtown, including places still standing today, such as the Moore Theater. Many were early, if not founding members of Seattle institutions, like the Rainer Club, Temple de Hirsch (now Temple De Hirsch Sinai), Pilgrim Congregational Church (now All Pilgrims Christian Church) and Seafirst Bank. Some early residents served in the state Legislature, and held positions in the federal government. The namesake of Eckstein Middle School lived on the road. It was also home to the second owner of Pioneer Square’s still open Merchant’s Café, getting an early start on the neighborhood’s knack for food and drink establishments.

One of the homes was owned by Elbridge Stuart, the man who started Carnation Dairy Products (you might have a can of their evaporated milk in their cupboard today), which grew into a global brand until it was acquired by Nestle in 1985.

The home at 1409 E Prospect, the large, white house which faces Volunteer Park, had its first owner sent to jail for fraud. Its second owner, Eugene Ferson was possibly Russian nobility, and was rumored to be the acknowledged bastard son of Tzar Nicholas II. He founded a quasi-religious group called the Lightbearers, which owned and operated the house until selling it to a private homeowner in the 1980’s.

Edward Ederer ran a company that started by making net and twine for fishermen, and has grown into making cranes for NASA, and the mechanism that operates the roof at T-Mobile Park.

“So the whole goal here is to share the history. Ten years ago, I wrote up the history and put it in a drawer. About a year ago, neighbors Bryce Seidl and Jim Jackson suggested that we look into the National Historic Registry – just as a mechanism to honor the street’s history and let others know about. For me, it’s been kind of a hobby,” Kurlander said.

When Moore built up the street, he ended up setting the tone for the larger neighborhood in ways that still ring true today. He was considered a progressive developer, in part because he did things like installing sewer lines, sidewalks and paved streets before he sold the lots.

He was a major advocate for transit, pushing for streetcars from downtown up into what was, at the time, a suburb. He stated he wanted no place on Capitol Hill to be more than a 2-minute walk from a streetcar. Though it’s likely he was more interested in making the area enticing for workers than he was in the urban design and environmental benefits.

He was also a NIMBY. While he wanted those streetcars, he insisted that none of them come down his street. To keep the streetcars at bay, he went so far as to put planted strips in the median, and a gate at 14th and Roy, making it one of Seattle’s first gated communities. The gate remained until 1924 when the neighbors turned the street over to the city.

The nomination lists other details about the street, continuing until 1945 when the last original owner, Nathan Eckstein, died.

More details about the nomination can be found on a website set up by the neighbors.

The nomination is currently at the state level, with a decision from a state committee due in March. If approved it will move on to a national parks committee, which could possibly recognize the street as a landmark by the summer of 2020.

Reprint of a neighborhood history
Anyone who thinks the history of those few blocks is worth a read might also be interested in a forthcoming book about the history of the larger neighborhood.

Jackie Williams wrote a book called, “The Hill With A Future: Seattle’s Capitol Hill 1900-1946.” It was first published in 2001, but had gone out of print. Now, the historical society has reprinted it.

Williams and her son, David, contacted the historical society with an offer to reprint the book and donate the proceeds to the society.

He explained the book covers most of what we now call Capitol Hill. It explores the early development of the residential area by Moore, who is credited with naming the neighborhood. Some accounts say Moore was lobbying for the area to be named the state capitol, others that he named it after a neighborhood in Denver, his wife’s hometown.

Heuser, of the Capitol Hill Historical Society suggests that the latter is more likely, and that the whole thing might actually have been little more than a branding exercise, giving his new neighborhood a name that sounded a bit exclusive.

The book also talks about the auto row industrial era of the Pike/Pine corridor, parks, cemeteries, schools, businesses and transportation. Heuser said that woven in are personal accounts and stories that really bring the history to life.

Some of the driving reasons for re-publishing the book is that Seattle Public Libraries has only one copy, and it’s often checked out. Heuser said that Seattle Public Schools also has only a single copy, but it is officially lost.

The book is available for purchase at Elliott Bay Books and on the historical society’s website where you can also donate toward a copy for local schools.

Looking forward, Heuser said the society is hoping to collect interviews from longtime residents. He said the society is putting together a collection oral histories from the era from 1946-2000, which they plan on publishing. Anyone with stories to share about the area can help by emailing the society at info@capitolhillpast.org.

CORRECTIONS: CHS erroneously referred to the Capitol Hill Historical Society as the Capitol Hill Historic Society and incorrectly described how the reprint opportunity came about. The author and her family approached the society not the other way around as originally described by CHS. There were also a couple unfortunate typos that your friendly neighborhood editor allowed to hit the page. We regret the errors.


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38 thoughts on “Home to a depth of Seattle history, neighbors seek federal recognition of Capitol Hill’s Millionaire’s Row

      • Right out of the Fidel Castro communist playbook. They did exactly that in Cuba. I’ve met victims, who as children, had their home confiscated and “redistributed” to those who supported the party.

    • They would cost too much to upgrade and retrofit for earthquakes. This kind of low density sprawl is immoral. They should build high rise apartments for all levels of income. You would get more for your money by razing them and rebuilding with modern insulation, etc.

      • Oh please. Your comments are so reactionary, with no respect for history, time, or place. Do you think it was okay, and reasonable, for the Taliban to destroy the Bamiyan Buddahs?
        Seattle needs affordable housing, but not every building, in every neighborhood, should be turned into a high rise. You really need to temper your responses if you want to make a point.

      • Oh come on, iluvcaphill, a whole neighborhood? They’re bypassing the local authority because they know they’d be denied at the outset. One or two might be reasonable, but everything should be on the table for rezoning. This is a sham. Protecting a few rich people and their mansions, during a crisis, is oligarchy at its worst.

    • The home or apartment you live in is a product of Capitalism, as is the job you have, that is if you work. And if not, or employed by the public, the money in your pocket comes from the taxes of us Capitalists.

  1. I think that you mean “Gilded Age.” A “Guilded Age” would probably be one in which guilds (i.e. unions) were more powerful, which I think is quite the opposite of what you are discussing.

  2. Any steps to help recognize and preserve local architectural history and diversity is a good thing. Those homes are beautiful monuments to the trade craft of a bygone era. Don’t let Seattle’s unhealthy obsession with class warfare and the politics of envy reduce the landscape to a modern day equivalent of Soviet brutalist monolithic architecture. With the expanding light rail system and expansive bus routs, there’s no reason to raze family homes and displace families to build taxpayer subsidized housing on 14th street.

    • I’ll take function over form any day. These types of homes are obsolete and taking up valuable space. Take a picture and put it in a museum. We have a housing and climate crisis that doesn’t have room for extravagant houses like this.

      • There a places for those who prefer conformist, monolithic environments. And there should also be a place for those of us who appreciate a visually diverse and beautiful city. As I stated before, an expanding public transportation system funded by millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars allow for additional lower priced housing in areas that will be less expensive and disruptive to build in. We need less ideology driven thinking and more practical, economical solutions.

      • Well then we should do it everywhere. If we go with your idea, let’s tear down your parents house, your grandmother’s house, your aunt and uncle’s and any houses you deem obsolete. Why not knock down churches? They take up a lot of space and aren’t used that much. I hope you’re living in a micro housing unit because anything larger would make you quite a hypocrite.

        I wonder how people get like you. Is it envy? Is it frustration with your own situation? Do you really think the entire world needs to live in 500 square-foot apartments in 20 story buildings? Do you have children?

  3. LOL! yes folks defend the rich and their homes! Protect the mansions! Support the cause! Donate now! You folks are out of touch. Tear em down and while you’re at it take the churches with you too, there is no god on this hill!

    • Maybe not in the short period you have lived here. If you even knew a little bit about the place you have your tent, you would know how dead wrong you are. Capitol Hill has been and will be a family neighborhood. As much as you bitch and moan about it’s LaCk Of InClUsIvItY or whatever other hoarse shit makes you feel morally superior, the neighborhood won’t change, so go back to whatever hole you crawled out of.

      • You must be hiding in a corner, Jan. I’ve live in Capitol Hill/First Hill for 30 years, and I’ve seen enormous change. There used to be a large, young, vibrant community. Broadway and Pike/Pine were eclectic and sometimes weird. And rent was AFFORDABLE. There were quiet, residential areas, but that wasn’t the heart of the Hill.

  4. It’s amazing how much information they were able to gather in one place. Every time I walk down 14th to the park I have wondered about the history, prior residents and history. The old photos and postcards are especially wild to me. Thanks for posting.

  5. The amount of ungratefullness and entitlement in this thread is so absolutely unreal that it can only be interpreted as sarcasm. You live in one of the richest, most beautiful, most successful cities, in one of the best states, in the single greatest economy in history, in the safest period for a person in the existence of mankind. Yet, all you can do is complain that if you don’t have a house in “millionaires row” that no one can. That we should build housing projects for “affordable housing”. You people are why I carry a 38 to protect myself from the most selfish, pathetic losers who have no qualms about taking what I have worked extremely hard, and more importantly, diligently, for.

    You are nothings, you are powerless, you are penniless, and for that reason, you lose. I was born and raised on cap hill, literally, how many of you can say the same? If not, go back to you shanties and leave us alone, because we don’t need you.

    • If you are carrying a loaded 38 around with you, it seems that you are the one who feels powerless, and needs a gun to help you.

      People like you scare me, because you’ll just pop off at any second because someone might trip your insecurity wire and then some innocent person is dead.

      Also, people born and raised on Capitol Hill don’t call it Cap Hill. Hell, I’ve been here 11 years and after 2 years I knew not to call it that.

      • Or maybe it because multiple innocent folks were stabbed in downtown. Or maybe it’s because a man had his throat cut a few days ago. Or maybe it’s that guy trying to throw a woman over the I-5 overpass. Or maybe it was the young child that had coffee thrown in his face. Or maybe, or maybe, or maybe.

        I know in your neo-liberal, woke, socialist bubble everyone is innocent, especially the drug addicted criminals that just a poor defenseless product of the white, cis, heteronormative, patriarchy; but I will defend myself, and more importantly my family, from the violent and unprovoked attacks from which there are little to no repercussions or interest from the police.

        Also, I couldn’t give less of a shit what you learned to call the place I was literally born in. Like I said before, go back to your shanty.

      • @Tom
        No one here but you has mentioned anything about race and sexual preference. Drew is clearly addressing those perpetuating the politics of envy, childish class warfare and cultural fascism with no respect or tolerance for the people or culture that preceded them in this neighborhood. Maybe it’s time to spend some time outside of your politically non-diverse Capitol Hill bubble for some perspective.

      • That’s ironic considering they can’t pay their rent because…capitalism?

        They are things I have to account for, you’re right. I’d rather have to account for the powerless, penniless, losers than be one of them.

  6. I am confused, because I thought the “historic district” designation meant that property owners were restricted in what they could do to their homes/buildings. Yet, the people who are proposing this are saying that there would be no such restrictions.

    One example is the building formerly home to the Harvard Exit, now a Mexican consulate. I believe it is within the boundaries of the Harvard-Belmont Historic District, and that’s why the re-developer was not allowed to make changes to the exterior of the building (thank god!).

    Can someone please clarify?

    • That’s a city-designated district, which comes with certain restrictions about how you can use the property. They are applying for recognition on the national register — federal level. It has no restrictions or benefits, really. Pretty much it goes on a long list of places around the country with historic value. Sorry if I didn’t make that more clear.

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