This commercial building was constructed in 1957 for American Optical Co. On May 18, 1958, an advertisement appeared in the Seattle Daily Times announcing the opening of American Optical Co.’s new laboratory at 312 Dexter Av. In the advertisement, H.H. Bullock, the firm’s Seattle manager, said the firm was celebrating its 125th anniversary that year (Seattle Times Archives, 1958). An early building floor plan shows a sales and display area in the front with a stock area behind, shipping and receiving in the rear, and a lab area along the building’s south end. American Optical Co. appears to have occupied the building into the 1970s. (Polk 1959, 1960, 1965, 1970 and Seattle Times Archives). Pearl Electronics moved into the building in 1981 (Seattle Times Archives, 1981). The current tenant is GCA Services Group.
This building was constructed during the post-World War II era, which was an important period of industrial, commercial and warehouse development in the South Lake Union area. It displays characteristics of the Mid-Century Modern or simply Modern style. The Modern style grew out of construction techniques and materials technologies that developed during and immediately after World War II in response to the need to build economical and easily assembled structures. While these techniques were initially used in the construction of military and mass housing structures, they quickly spread to other building types. Characteristics of Modern commercial vernacular buildings during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s include modular building systems with cladding materials that could be pre-fabricated and assembled on-site. Common cladding materials included brick (frequently Roman brick), formed concrete, simulated stone, aluminum, Vitrolite (opaque glass), glass block, and small mosaic tile. Modern commercial storefronts often featured an “open front” design, which celebrated the display window as the most prominent storefront element in contrast to earlier storefront designs which placed more emphasis on the wall that framed the windows. Windows were typically plate glass with narrow aluminum frames. Plate glass afforded large, uninterrupted expanses of windows that could extend from floor to ceiling, ideal for displaying merchandise. Storefront bulkheads and enframements were commonly clad in brick, stone, or tile.
This 6,500 square foot one story building retains very good integrity, featuring its original storefront with regularly spaced, geometrically patterned windows with aluminum sash and a recessed glazed entry. According to historical tax records, the original cladding material was “tilt up concrete” panels, which appears to be intact. A newer, standing seam aluminum-clad warehouse structure abuts the original 1957 building at the northeast corner and occupies the northeast portion of the site.
This building was designed by architects John Detlie and Raymond Peck, during a period of brief collaboration in the late 1950s. John Stewart Detlie, (1909-2005), received an undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of Alabama and a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1933. After graduation, he spent a short time working in the office of Albert Kahn, then for the firm of Zantzinger, Borie & Madacy in Philadelphia. Detlie then moved to Hollywood and spent seven years working for the movie industry. In 1940, he was nominated for an Oscar for his work as production designer on the film, "Bitter Sweet." Among his art-director credits were "A Christmas Carol" and "Captains Courageous."
While serving in the Army, in 1942, he left Hollywood's Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios to manage a camouflage project in Seattle. To confuse enemy bombers, the Boeing Company camouflaged nearly twenty-six acres of their Seattle B-17 plant. Detlie used his skills as a set designer to cover Boeing's Plant 2 with three-dimensional wire, plywood and canvas structures that were made to look like a town, including trees, houses and schools, instead of a wartime airplane factory. After the war, in 1946, Detlie joined the architecture firm of Young & Richardson and became a full partner in 1952.
Under the name Young, Richardson, Carleton & Detlie, the firm produced a wide variety of projects. Among their more notable work is Gaffney’s Lake Wilderness Lodge which received a National AIA Honor Award in 1952. Additional projects include Terry-Lander Hall (1953, 1957) and McCarty Hall (1963) at the University of Washington, the Seattle Parks Department Administration Building (1948), Children’s Orthopedic Hospital (1953), an addition to St. Mark Episcopal Cathedral (1958), and the National Bank of Commerce in Renton (1960-61). At some point in the late 1950s, Detlie formed a brief and limited collaboration with fellow architect Raymond H. Peck.
Detlie left the firm of Young, Richardson, Carleton & Detlie in 1960 and went on to become a noted architect in Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Honolulu before retiring near Palm Springs. He was a pioneer in the Seattle arts movement in the 1950s and helped form the Allied Arts Club of Seattle becoming their first president.
After Detlie left, the firm of Young, Richardson, Carleton & Detlie became The Richardson Associates, known today as TRA.
Raymond Holmes Peck, (1917 – 1998), received his formal architectural training at the University of Idaho graduating in 1940. He received his architectural license in 1943. A simple minimal traditional house featured in a 1947 issue of the Pacific Northwest Book of Homes brought Peck some notoriety and commissions following World War II.
Early projects include the conversion of a 1908 livery stable into a parking garage in 1949 in downtown Seattle; a house in the Wallingford neighborhood (c. 1950); and the Les Teagle Restaurant (c. 1955) in Seattle.
In 1955 Peck designed and built an office for his growing business. He shared the space with fellow architect John C. O’Brien, whom he collaborated with periodically on projects. The flat roof Miesian style office building was featured in the November 1955 issue of Pacific Architect & Builder and shows Peck’s increasing bent toward European International Style. The only documented project by Peck and O’Brien to date is the Casa Del Rey Apartments (c. 1952) in Seattle, which was featured in a Concrete Products Association of Washington advertisement.
In the late 1950s, Peck formed a limited collaboration with fellow architect, John S. Detlie. This brief partnership culminated in a design with architect B. Marcus Priteca for the Temple de Hirsch Sinai (1960) on Capitol Hill. The space-age cast concrete building received an AIA Honor Award in 1962. Other joint efforts included the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity house (1960) in Seattle; the Bellevue Christian Church (1960); and the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. store (1958) near Northgate Mall, and the American Optical Co. building in 1957. In 1960, Detlie returned to Los Angles to practice, and Peck continued his own independent practice.
His most notable project was the Polynesia Restaurant (1961) on Pier 51 near the Seattle ferry dock. The restaurant, demolished in 1981, consisted of three attached A-frame structures, lavishly ornamented with Hawaiian lava rock, Asian woods and heavy posts and beams all carved with Peck’s Polynesian designs. Peck also served as the associate architect and construction supervisor for Seattle’s Cinerama Theater (1963). Peck also designed a model home for the 1956 Parade of Homes in Bellevue, and several of Dick's Drive-Ins.
Peck passed away in Seattle on June 12, 1998. (Credit: Docomomo WEWA Website)
Jackson, Mike, FAIA. “Storefronts of Tomorrow.” Preserving the Recent Past 2. Eds. Deborah Slaton and William G. Foulks. Washington DC: Historic Preservation Education Foundation, National Park Service, Association for Preservation Technology, 200. 57-65.
DocomomoWEWA Webpage: http://www.docomomo-wewa.org/architects_gallery.php
King County Property Record Card (1937-1972), Washington State Archives
City Directory of Seattle. R. L. Polk & Co., Seattle, 1959, 1960, 1965, 1970
Seattle Times Historical Archives, July 24, 1958, p. 38
Seattle Times Historical Archives, August 12, 1981, p. 112