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Street Critic: Eastlake’s Mid-Century Masterworks

The Eastlake neighborhood is only five blocks west of Volunteer Park but its even closer proximity to Lake Union makes it a neighborhood quite different than Capitol Hill. Highlighting this difference are buildings representative of Eastlake’s commercial and maritime heritage which range from small, jewel-box like office buildings to large industrial structures.

Eastlake engages Lake Union in a variety of ways including seven ‘streetend parks’, such as Lynn Street Park. The streetends give one a chance to launch a Kayak, play catch with your dog, or simply to watch boats and seaplanes skim the lake’s surface. Some folks are so captivated by such water-borne activities that they have decided to live on the water, making Eastlake’s houseboat community the largest in Seattle.

And there is more than a preponderance of houseboats to behold. There are ships – quite large ones – to be found in the dry and seafood docks hugging the lake’s southeastern shore. Only a remnant of Lake Union’s once robust industrial past, they offer a tangible connection to our city’s history (and present for that matter). Included along this working waterfront is the former Seattle City Light Lake Union Steam Plant, which now houses research facilities.

In addition to these unique-to-Eastlake landscapes are some that Capitol Hill residents are accustomed to, including pre-war, three to four-story brick apartments and views to Queen Anne.

While all the above qualities were certainly good enough reasons to visit Eastlake, I had one which usurped all others: the desire to see some great, mid-century modern buildings, two of which I already knew of. The first is a delightful set of jalousie-window, ‘60’s era bungalows by Paul H. Kirk, which for a time included his firm’s offices. Their delicate framing and ever-so-slight cantilevers, as well as fantastic windows in a variety of colors, make this a standout building not only for Eastlake but for Seattle and the Northwest (unfortunately these landmark-worthy buildings may be faced with demolition, which would be tragic). As cool as these buildings are, they are one-upped by the super cool 1264 Eastlake building, originally the offices of Steinhart, Theriault & Anderson Architects. Prominently located along Eastlake, and daringly cantilevering over its sloped site, this building has had countless admirers for over 60 years. It is heartening to see it is maintained in such good condition and retains a design-related tenant. But I hoped there would be more.

While there was only one new mid-century building I discovered that day, it more than satisfied my appetite for it was a real beauty. What first caught my eye was the concrete, folded-plate roof. A true emblem of mid-century design, the folded plate roof gained its structural capabilities from its creases (think of corrugations in corrugated cardboard), which act as the framing, negating the need for typical roof framing and resulting in a very thin and relatively lightweight structure. Ultimately abandoned due to its relatively high cost in building the formwork, as well as its poor insulating qualities (adding the proper amount of insulation bulks the roof up, robbing it of its elegance). Other highlights of the buildings include a long entry ramp and small entry pavilion, perhaps inspired by modernists like Le Corbusier. Other highlights include continuous horizontal windows, a recessed main floor balcony, and board-formed concrete. It checks all the boxes. Unfortunately, I have been unable to figure out the designer of the building (please comment if you do know).

If you are interested in experiencing some close by maritime character, including some of Seattle’s famous houseboats as well as killer modern architecture, Eastlake should be on your bucket list. And should you be walking down from the north end of the Hill, be sure to go down the Blaine Street Hillclimb, so you can enjoy the fabulous Streissguth Gardens en route.


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15 thoughts on “Street Critic: Eastlake’s Mid-Century Masterworks

  1. On the other hand the house boat communities have managed to privatize almost all of the shoreline access to the point that you can’t walk around the lake or get near it for most of along Eastlake. Sad !

    • Oh please. Starting North and moving South, here are the waterfront parks on the eastside of the lake that you’ll come across as you walk down Fairview:
      South Passage Point Park
      Good Turn Park
      Allison St
      Fairview Park
      E Hamilton St
      Roanoke St Mini-Park
      Eastlake Boulodrome Park
      Lynn St Mini-Park
      Terry Puttus Park

      • Take a walk along Lynn where the first picture was taken, and notice that the entire area is covered in private signs preventing access from any houseboat / dock. You have two micro parks. My understanding is you can’t actually own the shoreline, so I’m a little confused as to how these houseboats seem to have taken over it.

        Portage bay is even worse, with a single micro park. Any normal city would have kept shoreline access. Most of it is now houseboat carparking.

      • Complaining about Seattle houseboats is akin to being against motherhood and apple pie. They are a charming and most wonderful part of our city.

  2. Hmm, you can’t walk along the lake or get near it? You can walk the entirety of the east side of the lake along Fairview, and enjoy the many street end parks–with water access.

  3. I believe the building you’re wondering about is by Gene Zema – he also designed a building up Eastlake Blvd kitty corner from Serafina that used to be home to a Japanese Antiquities Gallery

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