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Summary for 5500 Phinney AVE / Parcel ID 0725049001 / Inv # DPR105

Historic Name: Woodland Park Zoo Administration Building Common Name: ARC
Style: Modern, Modern - International Style Neighborhood: Green Lake
Built By: Year Built: 1948
This architecturally distinctive Modern building was completed in 1948 as the first administration building for 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. In 1922, Dr. Gustaf "Gus" Knudson, DVM, was appointed as the zoo’s first director after working for more than a decade as the Animal Keeper. Unfortunately, this program of improvements came to a halt in the early 1930s due to the financial difficulties brought on by the Depression. For almost two decades, the only improvements made were those constructed as projects of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the later 1930s and early 1940s. Shortages of labor and materials brought on by the Second World War also halted construction of any new buildings for most of the 1940s. By the late 1940s, major improvements were necessary to transform the zoological garden into a modern facility. Upon his retirement in 1947 after forty years at the zoo, director Gus Knudson took advantage of the opportunity to vent years of frustration by harshly criticizing the Park Board for micromanagement and the City of Seattle for their lack of financial support. Fortunately, the zoo’s next director, Edward J. Johnson, was able to lead the zoo through more than decade of unprecedented building, resulting in phenomenal improvements to the facility. Johnson, who became Parks Superintendent in 1960, may have been the catalyst for the construction of the zoo’s first administration building in 1948. Previously, the zoo director’s office had been accommodated in the Primate House. At the same time, the Parks Department had gained enough stature and staff plus the newly permanent position of Parks Superintendent to build its own Administration Building at Denny Park, at which time it ceased moving about in rented offices. In the 1970s, the Administration Building was remodeled and enlarged, and later became the ARC building. With its modern design, this building is significant for its design and for its association with the development of the Woodland Park Zoo.
Completed in 1948, this Modern office building occupies a site within the grounds of the Woodland Park Zoo near the west entrance on Phinney Avenue North at North 55th Street. The original one-story flat roof structure featured an L-plan with a slightly higher block at the southwest corner. In the 1970s, a large addition was constructed on the west elevation, creating an irregular footprint. On the principal south elevation, an attractive roughcut Wilkenson sandstone set in random-coursed ashlar masonry covers the wall of the higher block at the western end of the elevation. An overhanging flat roof covers a recessed area east of this blank wall, which contains the main entrance to the building. Stone clad side walls frame the rear wall of the recessed area sheathed with darkly stained vertical board. A door at the western end adjoins two metal sash windows at the eastern end. The east elevation has a band of similar windows lining most of the southern half under the flat roof overhanging the entire elevation. The windows are set within a wall of the same stained vertical board. The northern half of the elevation projects slightly and contains five windows within a wood clad wall between stone clad end walls. The wall at the northern end of the elevation extends as a low wall beyond the façade on the north elevation. The wall encloses one end of a small concrete patio along the eastern end of the north elevation. An entrance door within the wood clad wall opens onto the patio. Two bands of windows line the upper wall on either side of the entrance. Dense landscaping obscures much of the east elevation of the building as well as a portion of the south elevation. This building retains good physical integrity despite the later addition and some window alterations.

Detail for 5500 Phinney AVE / Parcel ID 0725049001 / Inv # DPR105

Status: Yes - Inventory
Classication: Building District Status:
Cladding(s): Stone, Vertical - Boards Foundation(s): Concrete - Poured
Roof Type(s): Flat Roof Material(s): Unknown
Building Type: Government - Government office Plan: L-Shape
Structural System: Unknown No. of Stories: one
Unit Theme(s): Architecture/Landscape Architecture, Agriculture, Community Planning/Development, Entertainment/Recreation, Politics/Government/Law
Changes to Windows: Slight
Changes to Original Cladding: Intact
Changes to Plan: Moderate
Major Bibliographic References
Sherwood, Don. Seattle Parks Histories, c. 1970-1981, unpublished.
The History of the Zoo, Woodland Park Zoo Website (

Photo collection for 5500 Phinney AVE / Parcel ID 0725049001 / Inv # DPR105

Photo taken Nov 27, 2000
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