Constructed 1923, the Stewart Commercial Building contributes to the architectural and historic character of 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 post annexation era of commercial and industrial development (1908-1930) when after the annexation of Ballard to Seattle, substantial construction continued to occur along Ballard Avenue and it remained the commercial center of the community. However, commercial development occurred at a slower pace and was more concentrated near NW Market Street. Three distinctive reinforced concrete buildings were built early in this period; the Hyde & Fitzgerald Building (aka Eagles Building, 1908), the O’Donnell Hotel Building (1909) and the Ballard Savings & Loan Building (1914). Gradually new construction and business activity became much more concentrated near Market Street.
During this era Ballard, and Seattle as a whole, became more auto-oriented and associated businesses, including a Ford showroom, were established on Ballard Avenue. The streetscape changed significantly after 1916 when prohibition was instituted and long-established local saloons were converted to tobacco, candy, ice cream and soft drink businesses. The 5-year long construction and the completion of the nearby Hiram Chittenden Locks and the Lake Washington Ship Canal in 1916 also spurred major changes within the local community and increased industrial and commercial fishing activity. Prior to the construction of the locks, barges and ships could only dock at Salmon Bay during high tide, whereas after the construction the waterway remained at a much more constant lake level, which was conducive for shipping and product distribution purposes. The creation of the ship canal also required the construction of a new Ballard Bridge (1918) and spurred associated road improvement and paving projects. With traffic revisions and roadway improvements, Market Street (formerly Broadway Street) began to be developed as the principal commercial thoroughfare. In 1927-28, the completion of the massive Ballard Building established Market Street as the modern commercial center in Ballard. However, numerous distinctive commercial buildings continued to be built along Ballard Avenue up until the onset of the Depression era.
Efforts to identify the original developer, builder and/or architect for the construction of this distinctive seven-shop commercial building have been unsuccessful. Tax records indicate that it was built in 1923, which appears to be correct given the scale and design character of the property. Small commercial complexes similar to this one were built in neighborhood commercial districts throughout Seattle during this era. A building permit for a minor improvement at 2301 Market Street (#227974) was issued 10-15-1923 to a “Mrs. Stewart” and later tax records identify “Francis E. Stuart (sic)” as the property owner. This was the earliest commercial building to be constructed in the commercial district along Ballard Avenue to be adorned with lavish terra cotta ornament and coping members. It was designed to include seven separate shop spaces; by 1937 the building housed a jeweler, dairy dealer, paint shop, bakery, two clothing stores and a malt shop. Early businesses included Western Auto Supply, the Royal Café, Ballard Dairy (selling hand churned butter and ice cream) and Jolly Hardware Store.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION
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, 1912.
Sanborn Insurance Maps, 1884-1951. Digital versions available via Seattle Public Library - www.spl.org.