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Summary for 713 NE Northlake PL NE / Parcel ID 4092302320 / Inv # SCL020

Historic Name: University Unit Substation Common Name:
Style: Art Deco - Streamline Moderne, Modern Neighborhood: University
Built By: Year Built: 1941
The smaller eastern half of this rectifier substation was constructed in 1940 in order to convert conventional Alternating Current (AC) to the Direct Current (DC), which would power the City’s new "trackless trolley" transit system. The larger western half was completed some ten years later in a further modernization of the system. In 1939, the City had begun the process of converting and modernizing the public transportation system with a loan secured from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. Since the City’s purchase of the rail lines of the Puget Sound Traction, Light & Power Company in 1919, the Municipal Street Railway System had experienced severe financial difficulties, culminating in bankruptcy by 1938. By this time, the system, which consisted of 26 electric streetcar routes, three cable car lines, and 18 gasoline-powered bus lines, was considered archaic and in need of extensive modernization. Under the auspices of the newly created Seattle Transportation Commission, the new Seattle Transit System replaced the streetcars with trolley buses. The first trolleys began carrying passengers in April 1940, and the last streetcar ended its last run a year later on April 13, 1941. By 1943, the new trolley system had been finalized and used City Light’s inexpensive hydroelectric power. This conversion required an upgrade in the equipment used to power the system, resulting in the construction of the Roxbury and University rectifier substations and the installation of additional equipment at existing City Light facilities, including the North Substation. The difficulty of transmitting Direct Current over long distances required multiple rectifier substations distributed throughout the City. At University, two 300-kilowatt rectifiers provided the 600-volt Direct Current. Within ten years, further modernizations were necessary to supply Direct Current to the Transit System with higher efficiency and reduced conversion costs. The modern Mercury Arc rectifiers, which replaced the obsolete rotary equipment, also allowed non-attended operation of conversion facilities. From 1951-1955, City Light added equipment at the new Broad Street Substation and constructed new substations at South, University, North, Avalon, Fremont, Leary, Gatewood, and Olympic Hill. At University, the larger west half of the building was constructed between 1951 and 1952 with one new 1000-kilowatt rectifier, providing the 600-volt Direct Current. The older equipment was relocated to other newly built substations. The electric trolley buses operated throughout the City for another decade until 1963, when diesel buses replaced them north of the Ship Canal and south of Spokane Street. Ten years later, the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (METRO) took over the Seattle Transit System, ending over fifty years of municipal control of the City’s public transportation system. This modest utilitarian building is significant for its associations with the municipally owned public transportation system and its conversion and modernization during its years of operation.
Constructed in two phases between 1940 and 1952, this rectifier substation is situated on the middle parcel of a small block bounded by NE Northlake Place and NE Northlake Way and by 7th and 8th Avenues NE. Currently, the fenced area at the rear of the building is being used for storage. The Modern design of this flat roof structure displays some Streamline Moderne stylistic influences, including a smooth concrete exterior incised with lines to create strong horizontal bands and a shallow curved roof over the single entrance door on the principal north elevation. Completed in 1940, the smaller eastern half has a rectangular plan, which measures approximately 23 feet by 18 feet, while the larger western half, completed in 1952, has a rectangular plan, which measures 38 feet by 35 feet, creating a structure with an L-shaped footprint. Set on a concrete plinth, the eastern half of the structure has an indented cornice band above the wider horizontal bands. On the principal north elevation, a large opening at the eastern end contains double metal entrance doors below a screened transom. The east elevation has a single horizontal opening in the upper band installed with a metal louver. The rear south elevation has a single entrance door at the eastern end as well as two louvered openings at the southern end within the lower band. The larger western addition dwarfs the original building. Two concrete piers divide the north and south elevations into three bays. On the north elevation, a tapered diagonal bracket supports the shallow roof over the original entrance door within the western bay. The north elevation also a window in the upper section of the eastern bay. The west elevation has a similar window set high on the wall at the northern end, while the east elevation has a large opening, which contains an overhead metal door. The rear south elevation has at least one window opening low on the wall on the western end. For both portions, the coping of the roof parapet is lined with sheet metal. Though no longer used as a substation, this building retains excellent physical integrity.

Detail for 713 NE Northlake PL NE / Parcel ID 4092302320 / Inv # SCL020

Status: Yes - Inventory
Classication: Building District Status:
Cladding(s): Concrete Foundation(s): Concrete - Poured
Roof Type(s): Flat Roof Material(s): Unknown
Building Type: Government - Public Works Plan: L-Shape
Structural System: Concrete - Poured No. of Stories: one
Unit Theme(s): Architecture/Landscape Architecture, Science & Engineering, Transportation
Changes to Windows: Slight
Changes to Original Cladding: Intact
Changes to Plan: Intact
Major Bibliographic References
City of Seattle DCLU Microfilm Records.
King County Property Record Card (c. 1938-1972), Washington State Archives.
Seattle Department of Lighting. Annual report / City of Seattle, Department of Lighting. Seattle, WA: 1910-1974.

Photo collection for 713 NE Northlake PL NE / Parcel ID 4092302320 / Inv # SCL020

Photo taken Jul 25, 2000
App v2.0.1.0