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Summary for 5500 Phinney AVE / Parcel ID 0725049001 / Inv # DPR108

Historic Name: Woodland Park Zoo Main Gate Comfort Station Common Name:
Style: Colonial, Colonial - Colonial Revival Neighborhood: Green Lake
Built By: Year Built: 1931
In the opinion of the survey, this property appears to meet the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places.
In the opinion of the survey, this property appears to meet the criteria of the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Ordinance.
This architecturally distinctive comfort station was completed in 1931 to serve the main west gate of the Woodland Park Zoo. In 1899, the Parks Department acquired the 180-acre Woodland Park from the estate of Guy C. Phinney, a wealthy lumber mill owner and real estate developer. In the late 1880s, Phinney paid $10,000 for 342 acres of land along what we now call Phinney Ridge and down the slope to Green Lake and kept more than half of it for himself. He then spent $40,000 converting his land into an elegant English-style estate named Woodland Park, complete with formal gardens, and generously opened his estate to the public as long as they obeyed his conspicuously posted rules. Since the location was considered far from the center of town, Phinney also installed a streetcar line down the hill to the town of Fremont. Phinney’s untimely death in 1893 at the age of 41 left his estate unfinished. Six years later, his widow sold the property to the city despite significant controversy over the $100,000 asking price and the distant location, and opposition by Mayor Thomas J. Humes. In 1903, the city hired the Olmsted Brothers landscape firm to prepare plans for a comprehensive park and boulevard system, including suggestions for improvements to existing parks. This move was largely brought on by the public interest generated for the planned Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition and through the purchase of Woodland Park and the acquisition of Washington Park, two large tracts of mostly undeveloped land. A general plan for the landscape development of Woodland Park was included in the initial report prepared by the firm, but a more detailed plan with 65 drawings was not completed until 1910. Within four years, the park had been almost entirely reconstructed following the detailed plans of the Olmsted Brothers, which incorporated many of the existing features. These plans included a zoological garden for the upper area of Woodland Park and athletic fields and a picnic grove for the lower eastern half. During the first 30 years of the 20th century, the zoo slowly took on the appearance of a "real" zoo of the time with the construction of additional animal barns, cages and enclosures. In 1911, the Primate House, which opened in mid-summer, was the first heated structure at the zoo and the most impressive building on the zoo grounds until mid-century. A row of barred bear and lion cages was constructed along the main north-south pathway through the zoo. Increasing numbers of fenced yards were built for birds and hoofed animals such as deer, sheep, elk and bison. In 1921, an elephant barn was built. Nearly all of the exhibits were in the approximately twenty acres closest to Phinney Avenue North. There were also large yards for elk and bison in what is now the northeast corner of the zoo. Unfortunately, this program of improvements came to a halt in the early 1930s due to the financial difficulties brought on by the Depression. The construction of this comfort station in 1931 was the last major project built before the Works Progress Administration (WPA) era of the later 1930s and early 1940s. In keeping with public demands at the time, this comfort station was constructed in 1931 near the park’s main west gate. At the time, the Woodland Park Zoo, which was not fully enclosed as it is today, did not charge an admission and was considered to be like any other city park. The zoo grounds featured a variety of amenities for visitors in addition to the animal exhibits. For many years, there was even a public road, which transited the zoo, allowing cars to shortcut from North 59th Street to Fremont Avenue North by driving past the row of bear cages. Designed in the Colonial Revival style, this comfort station was the last of a series of new comfort stations constructed in Seattle parks in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Located in prominent parks in fashionable residential neighborhoods, these comfort stations were notable for their attractive designs in various period revival as well as modern styles. Construction of these comfort stations at Leschi, Kinnear, Mount Baker, Magnolia, Woodland and Ravenna Parks followed a policy to build only structures that would be pleasing in design and permanent in nature. With its distinctive Colonial Revival stylistic features, this building is significant for its design and for its association with the development of the Woodland Park Zoo.
Completed in 1931, this one-story brick comfort station occupies a site along the western margin of the Woodland Park Zoo south of the west entrance on Phinney Avenue North at North 55th Street. A circular path leads up to the structure situated on a slight rise above the main path located to the east of the building. Dense landscaping obscures views of the building from the main path. The side gable building has a rectangular plan with a projecting gabled pavilion on the principal east elevation flanked by flat roof entrance wings. Its distinctive Colonial Revival stylistic features include a symmetrical and balanced façade composition, quoins created by recessed brick courses at the corners, and abbreviated returns within the gable ends. On the east elevation, wide horizontal boards cover the projecting pavilion and simulate a stone masonry exterior. Corner pilasters line the outer edges and frame a wide 8/12 double hung window within an elaborate surround at the center. Slightly raised, this surround has a simple broken scroll pediment over the simulated voussoirs along the top of the recessed window opening. The small wings adjoining the pavilion contain entrances to the restrooms on the east elevations and multi-paned pivot windows on the north and south side elevations. The north and south elevations of the main block each have three identical multi-paned pivot windows across the center below a narrow arched louvered opening at the peak of the gable end. The rear west elevation has a small gabled dormer above the center entrance flanked by two narrow multi-paned windows. This entrance provides access to a maintenance room. The north and south ends of the elevation each have two multi-paned pivot windows. This exquisitely detailed building retains excellent physical integrity and is very well maintained in great condition.

Detail for 5500 Phinney AVE / Parcel ID 0725049001 / Inv # DPR108

Status: Yes - Inventory
Classication: Building District Status:
Cladding(s): Brick Foundation(s): Concrete - Poured
Roof Type(s): Flat, Gable Roof Material(s): Asphalt/Composition, Unknown
Building Type: Other Plan: Rectangular
Structural System: Unknown No. of Stories: one
Unit Theme(s): Architecture/Landscape Architecture, Community Planning/Development, Entertainment/Recreation
Changes to Windows: Intact
Changes to Original Cladding: Intact
Changes to Plan: Intact
Major Bibliographic References
Sherwood, Don. Seattle Parks Histories, c. 1970-1981, unpublished.
Seattle Department of Parks. Annual report/Department of Parks. Seattle, WA: 1909-1955.
The History of the Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo Website (

Photo collection for 5500 Phinney AVE / Parcel ID 0725049001 / Inv # DPR108

Photo taken Nov 12, 2000

Photo taken Nov 12, 2000

Photo taken Nov 12, 2000
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