Constructed ca.1901, the Portland Building is among the oldest and as is one of the most intact and architecturally significant historic buildings within the Ballard Avenue Landmark District. Despite some storefront level alterations, it continues to contribute to the distinct architectural character of the historic 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.
Efforts to identify the original owner, architect and/or builder responsible for the design and construction of this distinctive block have been unsuccessful. Reportedly, the building was constructed in 1901. The 1905 Sanborn insurance map identified it (at original address 315-319 Ballard Avenue) as two stories with three storefront spaces on Ballard Avenue including a drug store (Cascade Drugs at 315), the Post Office (317), a shop (319) and the storefront at 3rd Avenue (22nd Avenue NW) as a saloon and lunch business (Grand Buffet & Bar). The post office is believed to have been there from 1904-1908. By 1910, a shoe store (Olberg Shoe Co.) was a tenant in the building (Seattle Times, 10-10-1910, pg.12). The Cascade Drug Store continued to operate here until at least 1915. By 1915, Charles Halverson was operating a men’s clothing store here and continued to do so until he moved the business to a new building that he had constructed in 1920 at 4549 Ballard Avenue NW. Thomas Hegdahl (Hegdahl Furniture Co.) operated his business here in 1920 and possibly earlier. The second floor included 40 rooms and functioned as offices and lodgings with fairly limited bathroom facilities) and became known as the Portland Hotel, which appears to have operated until into at least the late 1930s. It continued to function as a rooming house until 1963 or later. Tax records indicate that in 1937 it also housed the Cedar Tavern and the Ballard News Tribune offices.
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.)
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.