Home Page
Link to Seattle Department of Neighborhoods home page

Seattle Historical Sites

New Search

Summary for 5520 Ravenna AVE / Parcel ID 7172700040 / Inv # DPR076

Historic Name: Ravenna Park Shelter House Common Name:
Style: Tudor Neighborhood: Roosevelt
Built By: Year Built: 1932
In the opinion of the survey, this property appears to meet the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places.
In the opinion of the survey, this property appears to meet the criteria of the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Ordinance.
This architecturally distinctive brick shelter house was completed in 1932 to serve the lower eastern end of Ravenna Park. Originally developed as a private park, the city had acquired Ravenna Park in 1911 through condemnation proceedings when negotiations with the park’s owners failed to settle on a suitable price. Five years earlier, Seattle realtor and developer Charles Cowen had donated a large parcel of land located immediately west of and contiguous with Ravenna Park. This land was developed into Cowen Park with 15th Avenue NE as the invisible boundary. In 1889, the Reverend William W. Beck, a Presbyterian minister, and his wife Louise had purchased a large tract of land adjacent to the right of way of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway. Since 1887, the railway had provided access to this area, then considered far from the center of town in Pioneer Square. The enterprising Becks platted most of their land as the town of Ravenna, after the Italian city of that name, loved for both its culture and woods. A deep and picturesque ravine filled with enormous old growth trees ran through a portion of the Becks’ property. A stream at the bottom of the ravine flowed east from nearby Green Lake before emptying into Lake Washington at Union Bay. In the early 1890s, the Becks, who also founded the nearby Seattle Female College, decided to develop the ravine as a private park to be known as Ravenna Park. After installing a fence, the Becks began to bring in exotic plants from Italy and England, and built a large roofed picnic shelter. They also developed paths through the park and to a sulfur spring they called the"Wood Nymph’s Well" However, Ravenna Park’s most sublime attractions were its big trees. Despite its distance from center of town, the park was easily accessible by the railway, which stopped at the Ravenna Station near the park’s lower eastern end. In 1892, the park became even more accessible when David Denny completed his streetcar line from downtown to its northern terminus near the park’s original entrance at present-day 20th Avenue NE along the southern lip of the ravine. Denny had also speculated on nearby property and built the streetcar line to stimulate residential development. At that time, streetcar lines often terminated at a popular attraction so as to encourage real estate development along the length of the line and to increase ridership outside of regular commuting hours, especially on weekends. Over the next twenty years, there were periodic calls for public ownership of Ravenna Park. In 1903, the Olmsted Brothers landscape firm had recommended this site as a city park in their report outlining a comprehensive park and boulevard system. The Olmsteds proposed an extension of the park’s boundaries and the preservation of the park largely in its natural state. The Reverend Beck made several offers to sell the park to the city, however the price was always considered too high. During the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, both Ravenna and Cowen Parks were popular destinations, considered an essential side trip by visitors to the fair, which was held nearby on the campus of the University of Washington. Travelling by streetcar service available every eight minutes, visitors paid a 25 cents admission to view the park’s enormous trees, which had been christened for famous persons. After the city acquired the park in 1911, the fences were taken down, and unfortunately, so were most of the largest trees, including the President Teddy Roosevelt tree, which had stood more than 250 feet high. For a period of time between the early 1910s and the late 1920s, the park was known as Roosevelt Park until the original name was restored by community petition in 1930. In keeping with public demands at the time, a comfort station was constructed in 1926 adjacent to the old picnic grounds near the park’s original entrance, and this shelter house was constructed in 1932 at the lower eastern end of the park near the children’s play area. Designed in a simplified Tudor Revival style, this shelter house was one of eight similar shelter houses constructed in Seattle parks in the late 1920s and early 1930s. These buildings housed large rooms for organized recreation activities in addition to public restroom facilities. Office space for recreation instructors was also provided. Construction of these shelter houses at the Lower Woodland, Jefferson Park, Washington Park, Lincoln Park, Maple Leaf, Ravenna Park, Brighton and Gilman Playfields followed a policy to build only structures that would be pleasing in design and permanent in nature. This building is significant for its design and for its association with the development of Ravenna Park.
Completed in 1932, this brick shelter house occupies a site in the lower area of Ravenna Park adjacent to the children’s play area and wading pool and south of the tennis courts. The Tudor Revival building faces south towards a large grassy field and contains a large recreation room at the center flanked by a women’s restroom at the western end and a men’s restroom at the eastern end. The side gable main block of this one-story building has smaller side gable wings at each end aligned along the rear north elevation, creating a T-shaped footprint. The principal south elevation has a gabled center entrance bay, which contains the original wood door in a slightly recessed opening embellished with decorative brickwork. Horizontal window openings flank the wide center bay and wrap onto the side elevations of the main block. Set high on the wall below the roofline, these openings have multi-paned sash covered by metal screens. The east elevation of the main block has a second narrower entrance into the recreation room located south of center. The gable ends of the main block have narrow arched openings set with louvers. The entrances to the restrooms are situated at the southern ends of the side elevations of the wings. The south elevations of these wings have horizontal window openings similar to those on the main block. Additional window openings wrap the northwest and northeast corners of the wings. The rear north elevation of the main block has an original center entrance door centered between four smaller windows. A large low brick chimney pierces the northern slope of the main block’s gable roof. Graffiti mars both the interior and exterior of the building, and efflorescence and rising damp are evident in places. Nonetheless, this architecturally distinctive building still retains very good physical integrity.

Detail for 5520 Ravenna AVE / Parcel ID 7172700040 / Inv # DPR076

Status: Yes - Inventory
Classication: Building District Status:
Cladding(s): Brick Foundation(s): Concrete - Poured
Roof Type(s): Gable Roof Material(s): Wood - Shake
Building Type: Other Plan: T-Shape
Structural System: Unknown No. of Stories: one
Unit Theme(s): Architecture/Landscape Architecture, Community Planning/Development, Entertainment/Recreation
Changes to Plan: Intact
Changes to Windows: Intact
Changes to Original Cladding: Intact
Major Bibliographic References
Sherwood, Don. Seattle Parks Histories, c. 1970-1981, unpublished.
Seattle Department of Parks. Annual report/Department of Parks. Seattle, WA: 1909-1955.
HistoryLink Website (

Photo collection for 5520 Ravenna AVE / Parcel ID 7172700040 / Inv # DPR076

Photo taken Nov 02, 2000
App v2.0.1.0