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Street Critic | 17th Ave is as good as it gets

The Barbara Frietchie

The Barbara Frietchie

Great urban landscapes are typically comprised of a collection of good buildings and landscapes instead of superlative singular designs. 17th Ave, between E. Union and E. Spring, is just such a landscape and warrants a visit. On this stretch of 17th, one will find a half dozen apartment buildings which individually may stir only a passing (if admiring) glance, yet as an ensemble are a gift to behold. Many of the buildings were built (and perhaps designed?) by the same developer, Samuel Anderson, in the 1920s.

The most conspicuous of the apartments, owing both to its advantageous corner location at the intersection of 17th and E Spring and to its equally proud corner entry, is The Barbara Frietchie. It is one of the very few co-ops in Seattle. More common in New York City, co-ops were a form of apartment ownership that pre-dates condominiums. Perhaps its New York roots account for its being the most visible – ostentatious, even – of the bunch? Its unique quarter-round entry portico set in a subtractive corner is another feature that hints of its big-city aspirations.

Fleur de Lis

Fleur de Lis

Fleur de Lis

Fleur de Lis

Next door to Barbara F is a building whose airs come not from its dominant position in the landscape but from its French name, the Fleur de Lis. In addition to the eponymous adornments gracing its entrance, there are a few other features of French derivation including the charming, diagonally leaded windows and green and orange accent colors. The Fleur de Lis is as impeccably well dressed as any haute couture Parisian fashionista.

Across the street from the Fleur is another edifice of Gallic derivation, the delightful, art deco, Margola. Its teal-colored accents and Mayan-inspired accoutrements add whimsy to its street façade and speak to its joie de vivre.

Aside from being all quality buildings with luscious landscapes, most of the apartments are named after women, including the Margola’s neighbor, the Martha Anne. It is refreshing when a building has a proper name rather than just an address, and better still when it is named after someone. Was Martha Anne a sister, a mother, a good friend? Martha’s design is the most robust of the apartments, having a strong, cast-in-place concrete entry, very deep-set windows, and multi-sashed steel windows, as well as corbelled brickwork. There is, however, a lighter touch to be found as well: stained-glass windows, rose-colored accents (including the rose and green colored clay used in the brick), and a terra-cotta cornice. This complex mixture of traits leads one to speculate is the Martha Anne may be one of Seattle’s first gender-neutral apartments?

Next to Martha and still on the west side of 17th is Carmona, a building with so many fine architectural details it merits a blog post of its own. With a Juliette balcony, stained-glass windows, twisty column shafts, the largest cornice of the bunch, and arched windows, Carmona is a fine example of eclectic design.

Across from Carmona is the Betsy Ross. In keeping with her historically-inspired name, Betsy has an elegant arched window and Doric column entry as well as another well-coiffed landscape.

The last of the apartments on the tour is the Dixonian whose outstanding feature is its enormous windows, which bathe its interiors with daylight. As do its neighbors, it has fancy brickwork, an interesting entrance, and, of course, fastidiously trimmed topiary. A bit smaller than the other buildings, its stature is increased by four pilasters crowned with streamlined capitals.

While some of our streets may be able to boast of a fine building or two, we should be thankful to have a street to stroll such as this section of 17th Ave, where eyes and imagination are free to wander and be delighted by so many good works.

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22 thoughts on “Street Critic | 17th Ave is as good as it gets

  1. We need to move forward in time and highlight what is good with hardie board. Surely someone has figured out something pleasing to do with the delightful 4×8 sheets of cement board….

    • Lol. Or how about a tour of all the lovely Particle Board Craftsman townhomes put up pre-Great Recession ?

      I’m sure we could all see them in their well kept splendor!

      They’ve all aged so gracefully….

  2. I found this street recently on one of my “quarantine” walks and I couldn’t believe I’d been missing such an amazing part of Seattle this whole time. I went home and immediately told my husband I’d found my “favorite street” in Seattle, so I love that you’re highlighting it here. The most wonderful time of day to visit is right at dusk. Each of these buildings has beautiful windows, with stained glass or in-laid detailing that is perfectly shown off as the lights come on inside and the sun is setting. I know these buildings have the most amazing stories to tell and I can’t wait until the library is open again. I plan to go research them!

  3. Having lived on East Columbia Street and 17th for 10 years, how I enjoyed the ambiance of this wonderful street.
    The Carmona is a special favorite, they added another building to the north sometime in the 90’s and added whimsical details as the salmon at the top of the front.
    Still enjoy seeing these beauties.

  4. I discovered this block of the CD on bicycle rides in the 1980s, and bought an apartment in the Barbara Fritchie around 1992 or so and stayed for 6 or 7 years. A bit creaky maybe, but comfortable and character as wonderful on the inside as the exterior. Great photos and wonderful essay!

  5. I lived in the Martha Anne for 5 years in the late 90’s. the apartments are beautiful; Spanish style with curved entries and steam heat; French casement windows. On the third floor we had a panoramic view of downtown and the space needle (the view is likely gone).

    The same architect designed all of the buildings that are mentioned in this article. He named them after female friends of his.

    I’ve been in all of the buildings. The Fleur de Lise apartment that I used to hang out in had a circular wrought iron staircase going to the roof!

  6. Question. I always thought that this is still Capitol Hill. It is referenced by some commenters as the CD. Which is it?

    A side note. Every one of these lovely buildings was conceived of, paid for and built by a developer; a rather generic term that differs from an owner built home for one’s personal occupancy. Since one could only occupy a single apartment at best, not multiple buildings, these were done with the idea of using money to build something, and then collect the proceeds of sale or rent, or both, in hopes of generating more than the cost to build. So glad whoever was responsible cared about design and engaged a quality architect. All those haters must remember this the next time they look out their window or the roof over their progressive heads. Likewise their ability to read this article is the end result of risk taking and profit making from investment in hardware and software enterprises, done for personal profit, or hope of same. It is not for the glory of the state – do men and women work long days with passion. And any progressive union folks lucky enough to still have a pension. Guess what it is invested in? Capitalist enterprises. And the rare publicly paid for housing, still built by developers – paid for by taxes from profits, revenue, and income. One can argue about equity, tax rate, structure and the like, but there is no evidence that a system where profit and capitalism is not involved, can or has generated anything but crap and want. Stating the obvious but those hypocrites who rail against the basics of the system are ignorant or denying reality. They should walk the talk, take to a tent and never enter a car, bus or plane, take a medicine, or enjoy a movie – and definitely throw out their electronics.

    Lastly, yeah, some of the stuff being built today is crap. There is higher quality and aesthetics in the structural steel high-rises going up downtown. But these exceptional buildings were also likely the exception and not the rule in their times, and we are dealing here with selection bias. Thankfully.

    • Capitalists shouldn’t be on any high horse. The reality you don’t want to face is many of the products you enjoy every day are made entirely in communist China or have parts made there. How is that possible? Greedy capitalist executives wanted to make more money for themselves and moved all the manufacturing jobs there so they could take advantage of slave-waged workers in terrible working condition.

      Better talk the talk and throw out your computer and phone, truth speaker.

      • Learn your facts. Communist China is intensely Capitalistic with a lot of wealth and people looking after their personal and family interests. Be assured the profits flow to individuals as well as the State. And the innovation is largely elsewhere with China being the factory.

      • I know right wing low-lifes love the “intensely capitalistic” parts about China, as in no worker and environmental protection, no food and product safety.

  7. In the late 90s I had a girlfriend who had bought her first home in the Barbara Frietchie. We had both grown up in Seattle and had no idea this wonderful street existed until her realtor suggested she take a look at it. I ended up moving in with her and we lived there happily for a couple of years. We loved walking to work downtown, which involved walking down lovely leafy streets from the hill down to 14th and 12th Ave, through the Seattle U campus with students walking/biking to and fro, and the backside of the First Hill hospitals on Marion. The Barbara F was filled with super nice neighbors who had lived there for many years and had formed a really nice community. We discovered the giant and beautiful Immaculate Conception church, the oldest Catholic church in Seattle, around the corner at 18th and Marion. We now live several blocks away but I still have fond memories of those years. Thanks for the great article.

  8. In addition, there are 2 single family homes on the east side of the street that were built in 1903. One of them was purchased in 2012 and beautifully brought back to its original architecture and saved from the voracious aspirations of the HardiePanel Box developers. These must have sat by themselves for quite a while. The lots were partitioned around that time. I am not sure what was on the rest of the block looked like before Anderson came along and built each of the other beautiful apartment buildings in beginning in 1928.

    This specific block was also known as International Village. If you Google international village 17th Ave Seattle you will get a fair amount of hits with great descriptions and and wikis.

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