Westlake Avenue N. – Historic Context Statement
In the early 1860s, a rudimentary north-south military road was established that connected Lake Union and the initial settlement community on Elliott Bay. The route following an old Indian trail that aligned with what became Dexter Avenue N. and extended northward along the west side of the lake, becoming known Lake Avenue. This transportation route appears to have facilitated the earliest industrial activity along the southern shoreline of Lake Union where tanneries, cooperages and brick yards were established. Eventually portions of this major route north-south route would become known as Westlake Avenue N.
By 1872, a narrow gauge railroad had been constructed that for a short period provided a more efficient link to the coal dock at the foot of Pike Street. A portion of this old route is believed to roughly align with the current route of Westlake Avenue N. (and/or possibly Broad Street). In 1882, a large industrial sawmill was established at the south end of the lake, near the current intersection of Westlake Avenue N. and Mercer Street. The Lake Union Lumber and Manufacturing Co. mill was the first major industrial facility to operate outside the original townsite. This facility and successive mill and manufacturing operations would have a direct influence on the evolution of the cultural landscape of the district and its economic role for the subsequent seventy years.
Beginning in 1907, shore lands around the edge of Lake Union were filled in order to build modern shipping piers and create new railway freight routes. That same year, the current route of Westlake Avenue to the south of Mercer St. was created when a 90-ft. wide arterial roadway was regraded and extended south to Pike Street. In 1909, rail spurs were built along the south and west sides of the lake, as well as a north-south spur along Terry Avenue where a freight depot was constructed in 1914 at Thomas Street. These spur lines, the modernized Westlake route and the freight depot (and distribution center) attracted new enterprises to South Lake Union. New commercial and industrial ventures were connected with Northern Pacific Railway shipping routes and facilitated further development in the area.
The neighborhood adjacent to the Westlake route retained many of the older stables, liveries, wagon works and storage buildings. With the construction of the efficient road transportation route and nearby rail service, new warehouses and livery facilities began to be built including the construction of a large masonry stables (Club Stables, 1909), where Frederick & Nelson delivery wagons and 250 horses could be housed. By 1912, a concentration of such facilities had been established along a portion of Westlake Avenue N. and a significant number of light industries, warehouse operations and small factories were constructed nearby.
Modern industrial use of the lake accelerated between 1907 and 1914 with the construction of modern piers and rail spurs and again in 1917 with the opening of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The Ford Motor Company built an assembly plant in the South Lake Union neighborhood, at Fairview and Valley, in 1913. The presence of this plant, where Ford products were also displayed, appears to have influenced subsequent land use patterns.
During the immediate post World War I era, the established industrial land use patterns began to change as the South Lake Union area attracted commercial business, particularly automobile showrooms and auto-related products or maintenance.
While most of Seattle’s earliest auto showrooms and auto-related businesses had been located in the Pike-Pine corridor, the presence of the Ford Motor Assembly Plant and Showroom, the central location of the district and still undeveloped land in the neighborhood appears to have caused a shift. The 1923 zoning map reflects the continued concentration of industrial and manufacturing uses north of Mercer Street and adjacent to Terry Avenue. However, by this date Westlake Avenue to the south of Republican was targeted for commercial development and use, as was most of the remainder of the neighborhood to the east and south. Despite these uses, the blocks to the east of Fairview Avenue in the Cascade neighborhood remained primarily residential with hundreds of extant family dwellings, double houses and flats.
By the mid-1920s, a string of automobile related businesses, several housed in architect-designed and elaborately decorated terra cotta buildings, had been erected along Westlake Avenue. Chief among these was William O. McKay Ford Sales and Service Building completed in 1925. Adjoining this building was the Ford Auto Sales and Garage Building. Other distinctive buildings that are known to have been associated with this theme and located along Westlake Avenue N. are the Durant Motor Co. Building (1928), the Firestone Tire Building (1929), a building constructed for O. M. Gaudy Company Auto Dealer (1925) and a former Buick auto showroom (1925). In addition to the Ford Assembly Plant, the manufacturing facilities of Kenworth Motor Truck Co. and Mack International Motor Truck Corp. were also located in South Lake Union.
After the WWII, the typical auto dealerships became larger, creating service departments and utilizing exterior lots as well as large interior showrooms, which required additional space. Along with those in the South Lake Union and Denny Regrade areas along Westlake Avenue, an “auto row” also developed along Roosevelt Way. As of 1947, virtually the entire Cascade neighborhood and South Lake Union areas were rezoned for industrial, manufacturing and commercial uses and no new residential buildings were permitted to be constructed in the district. The 1951 Sanborn insurance map is illustrative of the degree of post-war construction of low-scale light industrial service and sales buildings, new automobile-related buildings, and construction-related business that had begun to dominate the neighborhood. Automobile-related businesses, typically one-story in height, were prevalent along the two principal commercial arterials Dexter Avenue N. and Westlake Avenue N.
By 1975, the Historic Seattle inventory and urban design study characterized the neighborhood as "a collection of auto showrooms, small businesses and manufacturing enterprises, and parking lots supplementary to, rather than integral with downtown" (Nyberg and Steinbrueck). In 1994, historic resources in the Westlake corridor were studied as part of the proposed Seattle Commons/South Lake Union Plan. In 1995, as an outgrowth of the failure of that project, an historic district (clustered along Westlake Ave N, and Terry Ave. N between Mercer St. and Thomas St.) of approximately 31 buildings constructed between 1909 and 1963 was proposed. That proposal did not go forward and a significant number of those properties were subsequently demolished. As of August 2014, a small cluster of historic properties – several of which are architecturally distinctive and well-preserved – remain along the Westlake corridor between Mercer St. and John St.
Pande Cameron Building – Durant-Star Co./Dunn Motors Showroom
A boarding house was originally located on this site/at this address. By 1919 a tire store was located on the site. The subject building is directly associated with 1920s era auto-row developmental history of Westlake Avenue. It was originally constructed as the factory branch offices of Westlake Durant-Star Co. the showroom for Dunn Motors, Inc. a dealership of Durant-Star automobiles. The building opening was reported in the March 18 1928 (pg.44) of the Seattle Times. The illustrated article included a photograph of the new store and dealership building with upper floor level branch offices. The lower floor level was devoted to Westlake branch of Dunn Motors, Inc. with a showroom and service area accessible from Harrison Street (said to have light traffic and be safe). The two story design was notable for the amount of window display space.
William C. (“Billy”) Durant served as president of General Motors Corp.; he then went on own in 1920 and launched Durant Motors in 1921. The “Star” was a low-priced model that was popularly marketed in the mid-1920s. The subject building appears to have been built as the “Star” gained wider popularity and after the expansion of Dunn Motors in early 1925 (then operating showrooms at 3rd Ave and Blanchard and 501 East Pike St.) when more space was needed.
The building was subsequently used in the 1930s for various auto-related parts and service/repair businesses. By 1937, it was converted to house an Ernst hardware store, which remained at this location through the 1960s. (Ernst hardware had been previously housed nearby in a four-story building (1926) located at 224 Westlake Ave.)
Reportedly designed by Seattle architect Oscar F. Nelson, of whom limited biographical information has been found. He appears to have been born in Wisconsin c. 1890 and by 1920 was residing in Lake Forest Park and was employed as an architectural draftsman. By 1923 his offices are believed to have been in the Pantages Building and by the late 1920s in the Lumber Exchange Building. Known to have designed the following projects in the Seattle area: Unidentified store and garage building located in International district, 1924; Westlake garage remodel (Dahlhjelm Garage, 2015-25 Seventh Avenue) 1924; Rounds House, Capitol Hill, 1924; Hotel Gowman, CBD, 1925; unidentified apartment buildings, Capitol Hill, 1925 & 1928; storage & loft building, Denny Regrade, 1925; unidentified office/store and apartment group, Northwest Seattle, 1926; Donaphilitia Apartments (1707 Taylor Ave N.), 1927; 60 residences in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood developed by Carl T Storre, 1927; Clauberg House, Beacon Hill,1929. The 1940 US census indicates that he was residing in Bellingham and in private practice as a “Building Architect.”