Home Page
Link to Seattle Department of Neighborhoods home page

Seattle Historical Sites

New Search

Summary for 1414 NW Leary WAY NW / Parcel ID 2768302550 / Inv # SCL008

Historic Name: Leary Substation Common Name:
Style: Art Deco - Streamline Moderne, Modern Neighborhood: Ballard Interbay Manufacturing Industrial Center
Built By: Year Built: 1954
This rectifier substation was constructed in 1954 in order to convert conventional Alternating Current (AC) to the Direct Current (DC), which powered the Seattle Transit System’s electric trolley buses. More than a decade earlier, the City had converted its electric streetcar system of public transportation to the trolley buses. 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 with a loan secured from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1939. 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. 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 Leary, the new rectifier substation was constructed in 1954 with one 1000-kilowatt rectifier, providing the 600-volt Direct Current. 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 modernization during its years of operation.
Completed in 1954, this typical one-story rectifier substation is situated on a small parcel on the northern side of NW Leary Way near the intersection with 14th Avenue NW. Electrical equipment fills the fenced yard at the rear of the substation. This reinforced concrete building has a rectangular plan, which measures approximately 46 feet by 35 feet. The Modern design of this flat roof building displays some Streamline Moderne stylistic influences. These include 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 south elevation. In addition to this entrance door at the western end, the south elevation has a window opening set high on the wall at the center, now containing a modern metal vent. Two concrete piers divide the east and west elevations into three bays. The west elevation has a single window opening within each bay, which retains a glass pivot window. The east elevation has a streamlined flat roof over the large opening in the center bay, which has been filled with concrete blocks. The north elevation presents a blank wall. Unlike other similar substations, the coping of the roof parapet is not lined with sheet metal. Despite these alterations, the building retains good physical integrity.

Detail for 1414 NW Leary WAY NW / Parcel ID 2768302550 / Inv # SCL008

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: Rectangular
Structural System: Concrete - Poured No. of Stories: one
Unit Theme(s): Architecture/Landscape Architecture, Science & Engineering, Transportation
Changes to Plan: Intact
Changes to Windows: Extensive
Changes to Original Cladding: 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 1414 NW Leary WAY NW / Parcel ID 2768302550 / Inv # SCL008

Photo taken Oct 31, 2000
App v2.0.1.0