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.
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 email@example.com.
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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