This property is directly associated with the early twentieth century developmental era (1920-1930) when a significant number of commercial buildings were constructed and the modern downtown commercial district was fully established. In 1923 Seattle adopted its first ordinance that regulated specific geographic areas for specified uses; it allowed the most densely concentrated commercial development to occur in the downtown core. The economic prosperity of the 1920s stimulated the development of numerous major highrise commercial buildings, as well as smaller-scale bank and commercial buildings, major hotels and apartment hotels, club buildings and entertainment facilities, which were typically designed by leading Seattle architects. During this era, the original residential district was entirely absorbed by commercial and other real estate development. By 1930, virtually all of the old residential properties - as well as many of the immediate post-fire era commercial buildings outside of Pioneer Square - had been demolished or removed.
In order to create additional industrial land areas to the south of the commercial district, as well as opportunities for commercial expansion further northward, major regrading efforts began in 1895. Under the direction of City Engineer R.H. Thompson, various projects were initiated with the intention of reducing the steepest slopes and eliminating the obstructing hills and filling tidelands. In 1897, First Avenue was further regraded and paved north from Pike Street to Denny Way. This was followed in 1903 when Second Avenue began to be extended and paved northward. By 1908, the major task of removing all of Denny Hill began in earnest. It would take over twenty years to completely remove Denny Hill; in the process Fourth Avenue at Blanchard Street would be lowered in elevation by some 107 feet.
Most of Denny Hill to the west of Fifth Avenue had been removed by 1911; however, the lengthy civic debate over the Bogue Plan (that was ultimately rejected by voters in 1912) delayed real estate development in the vicinity. The anticipated major commercial development to the north of Stewart Street was slow to occur. With only a few exceptions, it was not until the early 1920s that sizable hotel and apartment house construction occurred. With the adoption of a zoning code in 1923, several multi-story, store and loft buildings that could accommodate light manufacturing and publishing purposes were also constructed, as were numerous automobile-related businesses and parking facilities.
The subject land parcel appears to have been purchased by Barbara R. Marshall in 1921. The subject building was constructed in 1925 for Robert J. Huston and Mary Ethel (Semple) Swanstrom and appears to have been a speculative real estate investment. The property appears to have remained in the ownership of the Marshall family for many years. Building permit information indicates that the anticipated construction cost was $150,000 and that the building was designed and constructed for Mr. Huston and Mrs. Swanstrom by the Seattle offices of The Austin Company (represented by R.F. Bell). The original architectural plans have not been located; however, they may be housed and available within the Austin Company archives. [The New Industrial Landscape: The Story of The Austin Company (page 84) includes a beautifully delineated rendering of the subject building, entitled “Building for R. J. Huston and M.E. Swanstrom, Seattle, Wash.” within the company title block.] The building was clearly designed as a store and loft in order to accommodate retail, office or warehouse/light manufacturing uses. The original design included nine retail storefront spaces with three upper floor levels of open and flexible space.
The Standard Cloak & Suit Company appears to have been one of the earliest and longest known tenants; they operated a coat and suit manufacturing plant there from 1926 until 1954. The company was established in 1916 and the factory had been previously located in the Maritime Building and by 1921 in Pioneer Square. By 1929, the company had a nationwide $500,000 market for their Seattle –made coats. They specialized in design and fabrication of women’s and misses’ coats and raincoats. To a lesser degree, they also designed and fabricated women’s and misses’ suits. The company fabricated approximately 200 different models/products based on design trends out of Paris, New York and other fashion centers. Their designs were know for incorporating fur collars made from a wide range of animal pelts that were primarily acquired in Alaska and North Pacific areas.
By 1929, Seattle was growing in importance as a garment manufacturing center. The Standard Cloak & Suit Company employed some 75 people and used the most modern electrically-driven equipment. They manufactured approximately 1,500 “better grade” garments a month and over 20,000 a year. V. J. Haus served as the company president and main designer and, M.S. Tat and A.G. Thal served as other officers. They also employed sales representatives in regions throughout the nation, including: the Pacific Northwest; Midwest; California; and East Coast. By 1937, in addition to Standard Cloak & Suit Company, which utilized most of the upper three floor levels, the building also housed the Virginia Creamery and the Abbott Laboratories. By c.1950, the fourth floor level also included a printing business and the storefronts primarily housed wholesale business operations.
This is a mostly intact example of a rather uncommon downtown property type, a store and loft building used for light manufacturing purposes. It is a notable example of an academic eclectic design incorporating Gothic-derived ornamentation. It was designed and constructed by The Austin Company of Cleveland, Ohio and appears to be among the earliest projects undertaken by the firm after it established offices in Seattle in 1923.
The firm’s local offices were managed by District Manager, George W. Plaisted. The earliest commission appears to have been a plant facility for New Washington Iron Works (location not identified). The Austin Company is known to have designed and constructed a series of wholesale and manufacturing warehouses (located at 1028-1056 6th Avenue S. and 1021-1061 6th Avenue S.) for Charles F. Frye in 1923. The firm designed the Henry Disson & Sons, Inc. manufacturing and warehouse building (1555 4th Avenue S) built by Hans Pederson in 1924 and the Pioneer Sand & Gravel Company salesroom and general offices (901 Harrison St., a.k.a. Kaufer Christian Books & Gifts) in 1927. They are also known to have designed the unrealized Cheasty’s Department Store in downtown Seattle (1926-27) and to have constructed several store buildings for the S.H. Kress & Co. during this era, including one in Tacoma, Washington.
The Austin Company
Samuel Austin immigrated to America from England in 1872 and established himself in the carpentry trade in Cleveland, Ohio. He initially constructed residences; however by the early 1890s he had broadened his business to include large commercial and manufacturing building projects. After his son Wilbert graduated with an engineering degree from Case Western Reserve University in 1904 the firm was incorporated as Samuel Austin & Son Company. Wilbert Austin developed the concept of full service design, engineering and construction within one company. This approach became known as the “Austin Method” and would come to distinguish the firm throughout the nation and the world. This integrated approach enabled projects to be undertaken more rapidly and a savings of time and expense to the client. They proceeded to undertake the design and construction of major factories and research facilities. In 1916, the firm introduced standard building designs that facilitated the quick delivery of packaged and prefabricated industrial buildings. By refining and standardizing the Austin Method, the company became involved in the construction of factories of all types in regions from New England to the Midwest and the Pacific Coast.
Samuel Austin & Son was incorporated as The Austin Company in 1916 and soon began to open district offices across the country and began to gain a wider national reputation. In 1917 they designed and built the world’s largest manufacturing facility for the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company and by 1927 they were responsible for the world’s largest building, a factory built for the Oakland Motor Company of Pontiac, Michigan. Although the firm specialized in industrial projects, they also designed and constructed downtown commercial buildings and during the late 1920s they are known to have designed apartment houses, residences and commercial buildings in popular revival styles. By the mid-1940s the company operated over 30 branch offices in the U.S. The company was widely known for its commercial and industrial building designs, which included factories, laboratories, industrial laundries, airplane hangers and other aircraft facilities, chemical and power plants, and parking garages.
The Austin Company designed and built the Boeing Assembly Plant in Renton in 1936-38 and the Boeing Company Plant No. 2 and headquarters in 1940, as well as the Boeing Space Center in Kent (1965) and the Boeing 747 Assembly Plant in Everett (1966-68).
Other notable industrial and warehouse facilities designed and built by the firm include the Washington State Liquor Control Board warehouse at 4201 East Marginal Way (1948) and the Nicholson Manufacturing Co. (Puget Sound Sheet Metal Works) at 3670 E. Marginal Way (1949).
Robert J. Huston and Mary Ethel (Semple) Swanstrom
The subject building was constructed in 1925 for Robert J. Huston and Mary Ethel (Semple) Swanstrom and appears to have been a speculative real estate investment. By 1925, both Mr. Huston and Mrs. Swanstrom had been heavily involved for many years in downtown commercial real estate activity. Robert J. Huston was an attorney who had practiced law in Chicago prior to migrating to Seattle in the spring of 1889. He practiced law for a few years; however by the mid -1890s his primary occupation involved real estate sales both as a real estate dealer and as president of Northwest Bond & Mortgage Corporation dealing in real estate loans and investments.
By 1921 and possibly earlier, Mr. Huston shared real estate offices in the Leary Building with Mary Ethel (Semple) Swanstrom, an important Seattle civic leader and business woman. Mrs. Swanson was the daughter of Eugene Semple, who served as Washington territorial governor from 1887-1889. She spent her childhood in Portland, Oregon and St. Louis, Missouri and began to reside in Seattle in 1889 while attending St. Winnifred’s School. In 1902, she married Frederick E. Swanstrom, a successful financier and real estate broker. Upon his death in 1911 she took over his real estate business and continued to deal in downtown real estate until her retirement in 1949. She was active member of the Seattle Real Estate Board and Seattle Chamber of Commerce. As an amateur
Pacific Northwest historian she researched and worked toward the restoration of Fort Simcoe near Yakima. She also helped to found the Seattle Historical Society and was instrumental in helping to obtain the site for the present Museum of History and Industry.