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The Cayton-Revels House: a landmark to Seattle’s Black history on 14th Ave E — UPDATE

(Source: Seattle Landmark Nomination: THE CAYTON-REVELS HOUSE)

Capitol Hill’s historic Cayton-Revels House is up for nomination for landmark designation Wednesday afternoon with the City of Seattle. Built in 1902, the Queen Anne Victorian-style house was once the home of Horace Roscoe Cayton, publisher of Seattle Black-owned newspaper the Seattle Republican, and his wife and associate editor Susie Sumner Revels Cayton. Community members and the home’s current owners say the landmark designation would be a significant and necessary acknowledgement of Seattle’s Black history.

CHS reported here on the efforts of the 14th and Mercer structure’s owners to achieve landmark status and protections for the 1902-built house, honor the Cayton-Revels family, and recognize the legacy of the racial covenants that shaped Capitol Hill. According to the landmarks nomination, “the Caytons were one of only three Black American families living in today’s definition of Capitol Hill​ before racial restrictive covenants barred non-white residents in 1927.”

You can learn more about the meeting and how to provide public comment here.

UPDATE: The board voted unanimously for the house to move on to the designation phase. The big vote will take place in early April.

The Seattle Republican was one of the most widely-read newspapers in the region at that time. In print from 1894 to 1913, the Republican appealed to national and local audiences of all races, but primarily focused on local politics and the Black experience. Horace Cayton, born a slave on a Mississippi cotton plantation and educated at Alcorn University, made his way to the Pacific Northwest in pursuit of greater freedoms in the frontier-era West. As Seattle changed from a frontier town to a growing city with increasingly racist power structures and property covenants, Black families were pushed into the Central District, where the Cayton-Revels eventually relocated.

“The Caytons were one of the most well-known Black American families in Seattle at the turn of the 20th century because of their business and political involvements,” said Taha Ebrahimi, a Capitol Hill resident who researched and wrote the 142-page landmark proposal for the Cayton-Revels house.

(Source: Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History)

Born and raised in Seattle with a background in journalism, Ebrahimi works in marketing at a software company. In the last two years she learned about the Cayton-Revels family while reading up on the history of Capitol Hill. At one point, she decided to walk by the address of the house, expecting a new development in its place, but the home was still there. In fact, it looked just as it had in the photos. “I was just shocked that it wasn’t a landmark,” Ebrahimi said. “I kept reading about the family—It’s just an amazing, culturally-significant story and I couldn’t believe it wasn’t landmarked yet.”

Susie Cayton and her family’s legacy are also honored nearby at 19th and Madison’s Cayton Corner Park.

Last fall Ebrahimi walked by the house again and happened to come across Kathy Ackerman, who owns the house with Erie Jones. Ebrahimi and Ackerman talked about the history of the Cayton-Revels family. It dawned on Ebrahimi that, with the extra time on her hands due to the pandemic, she could take on the project of nominating the house for landmark designation. It was an intention already considered by Ackerman and Jones when they bought the house. “We’ve always wanted it to have some sort of historic designation,” Jones said. “I started putting some materials together towards that end, but as it usually does, life intervened and I put it aside . . . We are very grateful for Taha’s entrance into the story.”

When Ackerman and Jones bought the house in 1993, they were only the fourth owners since the home’s construction. With the original mouldings, glass hanging bowl fixtures, built-in china cabinets, and gasoliers, “It looked very much as the Cayton’s had known it,” Jones said. They even found some artifacts under floorboards in the attic, including documents signed by Hiram Revels, the first Black U.S. Senator and father of Susie Revels. Later Ackerman and Jones met Cayton’s granddaughter, Susan Woodson, and her son, Harold Woodson Jr., who also visited the house in recent years. They have also kept in touch with Richard S. Hobbs, author of The Cayton Legacy. “We’ve formed a bit of an extended family,” Jones says of the connections.

Since their ownership, Ackerman and Jones have re-wired and re-plumbed the house now used as a rental triplex. They reinforced the basement beams, built new porch railings, repaired plaster walls, and had double hung windows replaced in the original style milled from Douglas Fir wood. They added a small kitchen upstairs and converted the house into a triplex. Ackerman and Jones were careful to convert the home in a way that could easily be returned to its original state.

(Source: Seattle Landmark Nomination: THE CAYTON-REVELS HOUSE)

The owners’ heart for preservation made it that much easier when Ebrahimi wrote the landmark proposal. She enlisted the help of Marvin J. Anderson, a Seattle architect and architectural historian to help with research and review. Ebrahimi pointed out that buildings often achieved protected status from their architectural styles alone. With Seattle, and America as a whole, invested in a greater sense of racial equity, the effort to extend landmark status to include cultural significance means not only working towards equity in the present and future but including the past as well.

“The family’s experiences . . . [are] a ribbon through American history—from slavery to reconstruction to westward migration to Seattle,” Jones said. “It’s an added bonus that [the house] exists much as they knew it, and as Booker T. Washington and other visiting Black leaders saw it. We are strong believers in preserving history, especially history which has all too often been obscured.”

You can walk by and get your own view of history at 518 14th Ave East.

Special thanks to Taha Ebrahimi for her help with this article.

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