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Summary for 5849 15th AVE / Parcel ID 1797501330 / Inv # DPR018

Historic Name: Cowen Park Shelter House Common Name:
Style: Other Neighborhood: Roosevelt
Built By: Year Built: 1909
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 unique structure was completed in 1909 as a combination comfort station, viewing platform, waiting shelter, and shelter house for Cowen Park. Three years earlier, Seattle realtor and developer Charles Cowen had donated the land for the park. The donated land was a large parcel located immediately west of and contiguous with Ravenna Park with 15th Avenue NE as the invisible boundary. At the time, a shallow winding ravine dominated most of the Cowen Park property. The ravine continued east into Ravenna Park, where it became substantially deeper. A stream drained from Green Lake and flowed to the southeast through both Cowen and Ravenna Parks before emptying into Lake Washington at Union Bay. In anticipation of the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, which would be held on the grounds of the University of Washington, the city commissioned the Olmsted Brothers landscape firm to prepare a plan to improve the park. In 1903, the city had hired the Olmsted Brothers to prepare plans for a comprehensive park and boulevard system, including suggestions for improvements to existing parks. This was supplemented by an additional report in 1908 to include the large areas of the city annexed the previous year in 1907. The park’s location along the northern end of the University streetcar line would make it easily accessible to the public. The improvements to Cowen Park included leveling spaces for lawns, walks, and plantings and constructing this Classical Revival shelter house. However, the ravine remained the park’s primary feature with its natural growth and rustic charm. The design of the shelter house built on a terrace along the eastern side of the park took advantage of this feature. Its upper level offered a resting place and an observatory with a view of the ravine below. The upper level also featured a public restroom and a protected area for those waiting for the streetcar. Similar buildings in design and function were also constructed at this time at Green Lake and Volunteer Parks. Each of the buildings are located at or near what was once the end of a streetcar line, serving a popular public park. Charles Cowen also financed the construction of an ornate arched wooden gateway and drinking fountain at the southeast corner of the park. In 1920, this wooden arch had deteriorated to the extent that it was necessary to replace it with a permanent stone entrance, also financed by Charles Cowen. During the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, both Cowen and Ravenna Parks were popular destinations, considered an essential side trip by visitors to the fair. Although the ravine between Green Lake and Cowen Park was filled to create Ravenna Boulevard by about 1911, Cowen Park remained in its relatively natural and original state until the early 1960s. When 100,000 cubic yards of fill became available due to the construction of nearby Interstate 5, the local demand for additional athletic fields resulted in the filling of most of the ravine. Only the shelter house remained from the original Olmsted designed landscape. This distinctive structure is one of the oldest in the entire Seattle park system. It is significant for its design and for its associations with the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, with one of Seattle’s earliest modes of mass public transportation, the streetcar lines, with the improvement of the park under the direction of the Olmsted Brothers firm, and with the overall development of Cowen Park.
Completed in 1909, this reinforced concrete and wood frame shelter house occupies a site along the eastern margin of Cowen Park near the 15th Avenue NE Bridge. A children’s wading pool and play area is situated immediately west of the building. Set into a hillside, the one-story structure has an upper level with a combination comfort and waiting station surrounded by a viewing platform, which rests on the roof of a shelter house within a lower level facing the park. The stairs along the northern and southern sides of the building lead to the lower level and have landings midway down. This unique building was constructed in two phases. A 1909 historic photograph shows an open wood frame shelter with a gable on hip roof over the reinforced concrete base of the present building. Subsequently, a more substantial wood frame structure with a stucco exterior replaced the original shelter. The concrete wall encircling the viewing platform was added at the same time. Constructed with cement stucco walls set on a concrete plinth, the comfort and waiting station has a rectangular plan and a hip roof with slightly overhanging eaves. A simple cornice above a wide fascia wraps the building, which displays Classical Revival stylistic influences. The building faces east towards the street and contains a women’s restroom at the southern end and a men’s restroom in the northern end. A recessed waiting area on the east elevation separates the restrooms at either end. Two Doric columns on small wood plinths support the center of the wide opening while engaged columns frame the outer edges. A long slatted wooden bench lines the rear of the recessed area. The end walls on the east elevation each have a tall narrow recessed opening with a horizontal window opening set high on the wall above a vertical inset panel. Wire mesh screens the multi-paned windows within the openings. Three of the same openings cover the north and south elevations, however the entrances to the restrooms replace the lower panels in the eastern openings. Modern metal gates cover the original single door openings. The rear west elevation contains five of the openings with an entrance door at the center, which provides access to a maintenance room. The windows at either end of the elevation have been replaced by metal louvers. The wall surrounding the viewing platform has decorative concrete panels set between concrete piers with concrete caps. The concrete walls of the shelter house at the lower level have been incised with lines to simulate stone blocks. On the west elevation, four concrete piers reinforced with tapered concrete buttresses divide the elevation into three bays. The middle bay has a wide entrance door below a transom centered between two windows set high on the wall. The end bays each have three similar windows set high on the wall. The window and door configurations within these bays appear to be later but historic alterations. On the north and south side elevations, two additional concrete buttresses flank a louvered window opening set high on the wall at the base of the stairs. These elevations have a second window opening at the level of the landing. Although slightly deteriorated with painted over graffiti in places, this architecturally distinctive building retains very good physical integrity in spite of the window and door alterations.

Detail for 5849 15th AVE / Parcel ID 1797501330 / Inv # DPR018

Status: Yes - Inventory
Classication: Building District Status:
Cladding(s): Concrete, Stucco Foundation(s): Concrete - Poured
Roof Type(s): Hip Roof Material(s): Metal - Standing Seam
Building Type: Recreation and Culture - Sports Facility Plan: Rectangular
Structural System: Concrete - Poured No. of Stories: two
Unit Theme(s): Architecture/Landscape Architecture, Community Planning/Development, Entertainment/Recreation, Transportation
Changes to Original Cladding: Intact
Changes to Plan: Intact
Changes to Windows: Moderate
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.

Photo collection for 5849 15th AVE / Parcel ID 1797501330 / Inv # DPR018

Photo taken Jul 25, 2000

Photo taken Jul 25, 2000

Photo taken Jul 25, 2000
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