Constructed in 1901, the G.B. Sanborn Block is among the oldest and most prominent historic buildings within the Ballard Avenue Landmark District. The Ballard Avenue Landmark District encompasses a particularly well preserved section of one of several successful small towns that flourished around the perimeter of Seattle in the late nineteenth century and would be subsequently incorporated into the metropolis. Ballard Avenue is lined with an intact collection of modest scale commercial buildings that reflect the development of the community’s main commercial street between 1890 and 1930. The character of this distinctive historic streetscape was primarily preserved because it was by-passed by Post-War era development that instead occurred along modern arterials - Market Street and 15th Avenue, to the north and east. In 1976, the Ballard Avenue Landmark District was formally designated a local historic district by the City of Seattle and was also listed in the National Register of Historic Places (Ballard Avenue Historic District).
This historic property is directly associated with a crucial era in the commercial and industrial development of Ballard (1900-1907) when the commercial district along Ballard Avenue was fully established and a significant number of permanent buildings were constructed. By the early 1900s Ballard became known as the “Shingle Capital of the World” with approximately twenty lumber and shingle mills in full operation. In addition to the mill operations the industrialized shoreline included iron foundries, machine shops, paint manufactures, shipyards, pipe making plants and boiler works. Substantial commercial buildings were constructed along Ballard Avenue as the local population grew to over 10,000 residents (including 3,400+ school age children) by 1904. During this era Ballard Avenue functioned as a full service commercial street populated by numerous boarding houses, hotels and lodging houses, clothing merchants, banks, hardware dealers, druggists, dry good stores, laundry businesses, meat markets, restaurants, theaters and saloons. Gradually, the earliest wood-frame structures were replaced by more permanent – often architect designed – commercial buildings. Among the distinctive masonry and stone buildings that date from this era and most of which continue to characterize the streetscape are the G.B. Sanborn Block (1901, Portland Building (1901), Felt Block/Jones Building (1901, demolished), St. Charles Hotel (1902), Deep Sea Fisherman’s Building (1902), Scandinavian American Bank (1902), Matthes Block (1903), Kelsey Block (1903), Junction/Lombardini Block (1904), Kutzner Block (1904), Barthelemy Bros. Hardware Building (c.1904), Ernst Brothers Hardware Building (1904, demolished), A.L. Palmer Building (1905), Theisen Block (1905), Ballard Hardware Supply (1905), Peterson Hardware Co. (c.1905), Markussen Building (1905), and the Enquist Block (1906). In late 1906 Ballard residents approved annexation and the town became part of the City of Seattle on January 1, 1907. The boom era of major commercial construction began to lessen after the annexation.
Built in 1901, the G.B Sanborn Block was named in honor of Gustavus B. Sanborn, a pioneer Ballard business man who had begun his career in 1891 working as a carpenter. He came to own a series of hardware stores on Ballard Avenue in the 1890s prior to establishing a hardware store at this location in 1901. Efforts to identify an original developer, architect or builder associated with the construction of this distinctive three-story building have been unsuccessful. The building is noted on 1905 Sanborn insurance maps as 251-253 Ballard Avenue. Map notations indicate that there were two storefront shops, a “Lodge Hall” on the second floor and “Rooms” on the third floor. Retailers William French and Peter Nelson operated a dry goods store here after Sanborn’s death in 1902. In 1912, Norwegian immigrant businessman Thorvald W. Hauff opened Hauff’s Department Store on the ground floor. He had previously worked for the Rhodes Bros. department stores in Tacoma (and established the Seattle store) before establishing his own department store on Ballard Avenue. He appears to have operated here until 1928, at which time the business was apparently relocated to the Markusen Building/Princess Hotel at 5443 Ballard Avenue NW. Tax records indicate that the building was remodeled in 1918, possibly to create apartments on one of the upper floors. It appears to have subsequently functioned as a hotel in tandem with the adjacent building at 5325 Ballard Avenue NW. Known in 1923 as the Trafton Hotel and later as the New Home Hotel.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Pheasant-Albright, Julie D. Early Ballard (Images of America), Arcadia Publishing, 2007.
----------. Passport to Ballard, Ballard News Tribune, 1988.
Property Record Cards (1937-1972). Washington State Regional Archives, Puget Sound Regional Branch, Bellevue, WA.
“Ballard Avenue Historic District” National Register of Historic Places – Nomination Form (Prepared by Elisabeth Walton Potter, OAHP, April 1976.)
Ballard Historical Society, Ballard Avenue Landmark District Plaque Project records.
Baist’s Real Estate Atlas of Surveys of Seattle, Wash. Philadelphia: W.G. Baist, 1905, 1912.
Sanborn Insurance Maps, 1884-1951. Digital versions available via Seattle Public Library - www.spl.org.