Originally constructed in 1896, this distinctive two-story brick masonry building was extensively remodeled and modernized in 1924. However, it is one of the oldest and architecturally interesting 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 the initial era of industrial and commercial development of Ballard (1888-1900). The establishment of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad service to and from Seattle proper in 1888, which occurred in conjunction with the platting and promotion of Gilman Park by the West Coast Improvement Company, triggered the initial era of industrial development along Salmon Bay and commercial development along the adjacent Ballard Avenue. The first successful industrial lumber mill began operation in 1888 with others rapidly established thereafter. After the great fire of June 1889, which destroyed virtually all of the commercial buildings and industrial facilities in Seattle, these mills prospered by supplying the lumber and wood products required for the massive reconstruction efforts.
In 1890 Gilman Park was formally incorporated as the municipality of Ballard and boasted a population of 1,636 residents living in the general vicinity. By 1895 Ballard was home to a large Scandinavian fishing fleet and included a concentration of shingle and lumber mills employing some 570 men. The community grew rapidly as passenger rail and private streetcar service expanded in the 1890s. By the late 1890s Ballard Avenue was lined with a distinct collection of wood-frame commercial buildings, workingmen’s hotels and lodgings and single family residences as well as several masonry and stone commercial buildings, including the subject property, the highly distinctive Cors & Wegener Block (1893), the Chopard Block (1894) and the City Hall (1899, demolished).
As originally constructed (1896) the Bowie Electric Co. building was a two-story masonry structure with a canopy extending over the wooden sidewalk that ran along the storefront level on Ballard Avenue. It appears to have been designed to house one large shop on the ground floor and dwellings on the second floor level. The second floor level included bay windows that flanked three central windows. (See Early Ballard (Images of America), Arcadia Publishing, 2007, pg.16.) The original two-story structure utilized a very common central entry/stair passage plan for access to second floor level and probably had a prominent central entry bay; numerous other historic properties built during this era on Ballard Avenue followed this same scheme. Efforts to identify the original owner, architect, builder or early tenants have been unsuccessful. The building is known to have been acquired by Mitchell T. Bowie in 1921 in order to house the Bowie Electric Co., which had been established nearby in 1916. The building was extensively remodeled in 1924 at which time the bay windows were removed and the entire façade and storefront reconstructed. As remodeled, the building continued to house the Bowie Electric Co. on the ground floor for over sixty years and is particularly well-preserved. The upper floor (that included 12 rooms) appear to have functioned as offices and lodging rooms. A dentist office was located on the second floor in 1937. For a period Seattle City Light utilized an office on the ground floor and had a large electrified blade sign on the building (1937+). By 1971, the upper floor included a three-room apartment unit and four offices. Note: A small 8' x 60' one-story shop appears to have been added to the south side of the buiulding c.1924. Historically it housed a tailor shop (1937, W.D. Meeker).
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.
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.)