This property is directly associated with the early twentieth century developmental era (1920-1930) when a significant number of commercial buildings were constructed and the modern downtown commercial district was fully established. In 1923, Seattle adopted its first ordinance that regulated specific geographic areas for specified uses; it allowed the most densely concentrated commercial development to occur in the downtown core. The economic prosperity of the 1920s stimulated the development of numerous major highrise commercial buildings, as well as smaller-scale bank and commercial buildings, major hotels and apartment hotels, club buildings and entertainment facilities, which were typically designed by leading Seattle architects. During this era, the original residential district was entirely absorbed by commercial and other real estate development. By 1930, virtually all of the old residential properties - as well as many of the immediate post-fire era commercial buildings outside of Pioneer Square - had been demolished or removed.
In order to create additional industrial land areas to the south of the commercial district, as well as opportunities for commercial expansion further northward, major regrading efforts began in 1895. Under the direction of City Engineer R.H. Thompson, various projects were initiated with the intention of reducing the steepest slopes and eliminating the obstructing hills and filling tidelands. In 1897, First Avenue was further regraded and paved north from Pike Street to Denny Way. This was followed in 1903 when Second Avenue began to be extended and paved northward. By 1908, the major task of removing all of Denny Hill began in earnest. It would take over twenty years to completely remove Denny Hill; in the process Fourth Avenue at Blanchard Street would be lowered in elevation by some 107 feet.
Most of Denny Hill to the west of Fifth Avenue had been removed by 1911; however, the lengthy civic debate over the Bogue Plan (that was ultimately rejected by voters in 1912) delayed real estate development in the vicinity. The anticipated major commercial development to the north of Stewart Street was slow to occur. With only a few exceptions, it was not until the early 1920s that sizable hotel and apartment house construction occurred. With the adoption of a zoning code in 1923, several multi-story, store and loft buildings that could accommodate light manufacturing and publishing purposes were also constructed, as were numerous automobile-related businesses and parking facilities.
Tax records indicate that the Maxim Land & Investment Company was the owner of the subject land parcel at the time of construction of this building; however, the Wilson Investment Co. is listed as the owner on the building permit application (permit # 272766) submitted on November 10, 1927. Maxim Land & Investment Company was owned by Dr. Charles S. Noble and his wife (Helen) who purchased the undeveloped property in late 1926. The permit application indicates that the original work description was to “Erect 4-story Stores & Loft & Business College” – however, “Loft” was crossed off, indicating that the entire upper floor area would be devoted to college uses. Another note indicating “Building designed for additional floors” was also crossed off. The permit states that the contractor was Piter Gjarde. The building was constructed in between December 1927 and May 1928.
The distinctly Collegiate Gothic design may have been prescribed by the principal tenant, an already well-established business college. The architectural drawings include “Wilson’s Modern Business College” in the title block and the college appears to have paid the taxes for Maxim Land & Investment Company up until 1945, when the college completed the purchase of the building. The architect was Frank H. Fowler, who also designed the Wilsonian Apartments [as yet undetermined connection with J.P. Wilson]. The building may have been initially designed to accommodate retail, office or warehouse/light manufacturing uses on a speculative basis as the design of the three upper floor levels included large, open and flexible spaces. It is possible that the flexible design was adapted for the college uses at some point in the design process and the spaces were thus divided into college offices and classrooms.
Wilson Modern Business College used all of the upper floor level office spaces from 1928 until the late 1940s. After 1933, the college appears to have also owned the building. The Wilson Modern Business College was founded by J.P Wilson in 1895; by 1904 it was well-established and housed on the upper two floor levels of the Collins Block at Second Avenue and James Street. It was one of several schools in the city that prepared women and men for jobs in business enterprises. They offered daytime and nighttime classes including arithmetic, geography and spelling along with shorthand, bookkeeping, typing and commercial law. From 1910 until 1928 it was located on Second Avenue near Pike and Pine Streets. By 1937, the corner storefront of the subject building was occupied by a drug store that sold sundries and included a lunch counter.
While the Wilson Modern Business College continued to own the building, it began to be used by the Griffin Business College in the late 1940s. This business school was founded by John Griffin in 1909; he was known for having helped to develop the Gregg system of shorthand. The Griffin Business College was housed in Textile Tower from 1928 until taking over this building in the late 1940s. Eugene Francis Griffin, John Griffin’s son, taught shorthand at school from c. 1932 until 1986 and operated the college after his father’s death. During this period it became one of the regions largest and longest privately-owned business colleges and expanded to campuses in Bellevue, Tacoma and Everett. It closed operations at this location in 1993; however, the building remains in the ownership of the Griffin family.
This building was designed by Frank H. Fowler (1882-1931), a Seattle architect with offices in the Smith Tower. Fowler graduated from the University of Washington and may have been trained as a civil engineer. He appears to have been in practice as an architect by 1911 designing residences, apartment houses and store buildings. During the late 1910s, Fowler may have worked for the highly notable architect Marcus Priteca - who played a major role in the development of the theater building type - as Fowler was associated with a former Priteca employee (Otis Hancock). He was said to be an authority on masonry and timber construction and served on the 1918 Building Code Commission creating an entire section of the code. He also formulated parts of the State building code. During the 1920s, Fowler is known to have designed numerous apartment buildings and commercial buildings, including the Wilsonian, Cornelius and Hardt Apartments and the Lambert Building located in the University District. He also designed the Winter Garden Theater (1513 3rd Avenue, 1920).
This is a mostly intact example of a rather uncommon downtown property type, a store and loft building used for educational rather than light manufacturing purposes. It is a notable example of an academic eclectic design incorporating Gothic-derived ornamentation. Furthermore, it is unique for its direct association with business education in the commercial core.