Constructed in 1905, the Theisen Block is a heavily altered one-story building that was originally a two-story structure, which functioned for retail and hotel purposes. However, it is partly intact and among the oldest historic buildings within the Ballard Avenue Landmark District. The Ballard Avenue Landmark District encompasses a particularly well preserved section of one of several successful small towns that flourished around the perimeter of Seattle in the late nineteenth century and would be subsequently incorporated into the metropolis. Ballard Avenue is lined with an intact collection of modest scale commercial buildings that reflect the development of the community’s main commercial street between 1890 and 1930. The character of this distinctive historic streetscape was primarily preserved because it was by-passed by Post-War era development that instead occurred along modern arterials - Market Street and 15th Avenue, to the north and east. In 1976, the Ballard Avenue Landmark District was formally designated a local historic district by the City of Seattle and was also listed in the National Register of Historic Places (Ballard Avenue Historic District).
This historic property is directly associated with a crucial era in the commercial and industrial development of Ballard (1900-1907) when the commercial district along Ballard Avenue was fully established and a significant number of permanent buildings were constructed. By the early 1900s Ballard became known as the “Shingle Capital of the World” with approximately twenty lumber and shingle mills in full operation. In addition to the mill operations the industrialized shoreline included iron foundries, machine shops, paint manufactures, shipyards, pipe making plants and boiler works. Substantial commercial buildings were constructed along Ballard Avenue as the local population grew to over 10,000 residents (including 3,400+ school age children) by 1904. During this era Ballard Avenue functioned as a full service commercial street populated by numerous boarding houses, hotels and lodging houses, clothing merchants, banks, hardware dealers, druggists, dry good stores, laundry businesses, meat markets, restaurants, theaters and saloons. Gradually, the earliest wood-frame structures were replaced by more permanent – often architect designed – commercial buildings. Among the distinctive masonry and stone buildings that date from this era and most of which continue to characterize the streetscape are the G.B. Sanborn Block (1901, Portland Building (1901), Felt Block/Jones Building (1901, demolished), St. Charles Hotel (1902), Deep Sea Fisherman’s Building (1902), Scandinavian American Bank (1902), Matthes Block (1903), Kelsey Block (1903), Junction/Lombardini Block (1904), Kutzner Block (1904), Barthelemy Bros. Hardware Building (c.1904), Ernst Brothers Hardware Building (1904, demolished), A.L. Palmer Building (1905), Theisen Block (1905), Ballard Hardware Supply (1905), Peterson Hardware Co. (c.1905), Markussen Building (1905), and the Enquist Block (1906). In late 1906 Ballard residents approved annexation and the town became part of the City of Seattle on January 1, 1907. The boom era of major commercial construction began to lessen after the annexation.
This building is believed to have been constructed for Nicholas Theisen in 1904-05 and appears to have been designed to function for hotel/lodging purposes with two ground floor retail spaces. Efforts to identify an architect responsible for the design have been unsuccessful; however, given the quality of the original façade design it appears likely that an architect or highly skilled builder was involved. The original two-story structure utilized a very common central entry/stair passage plan for access to second floor level and exhibited a prominent central arched entry bay; numerous other historic properties on Ballard Avenue followed this same scheme.
In c.1904 the adjacent Chopard Block (constructed 1894) was acquired by Nicholas Theisen who had operated a liquor store there since 1901. Known as in California Wine Co. – it featured “a high grade of California wine.” With the success of this business, Theisen was able to both purchase the Chopard Block as well as construct the Theisen Block in 1904-1905. The two buildings have functioned in tandem and under tandem ownership since then. The 1905 Baists real estate atlas noted the “Theisen Block” (the address was then known as 192-194 Ballard Avenue) – the California Wine Co. was located at 194. A telegraph office was also located in the building in 1905. After the construction of the Theisen Block the two buildings functioned together as the 26-room Theisen Rooming House and then as the Theisen Hotel (operated by Mrs. Susanna Theisen). Both properties were acquired by H.I. Poll in 1945 and appear to have continued to function for lodging (providing furnished rooms) purposes until at least 1951. The entire original upper floor level of the Theisen Block (and the Chopard Block) was removed sometime prior to c.1966 based on the reduced improvement value included in the tax record. The entire building underwent major renovation/partial façade reconstruction since designation and was adapted for retail and office purposes in late 1990s.
Property Record Cards (1937-1972). Washington State Regional Archives, Puget Sound Regional Branch, Bellevue, WA.
“Ballard Avenue Historic District” National Register of Historic Places – Nomination Form (Prepared by Elisabeth Walton Potter, OAHP, April 1976.)
Ballard Historical Society, Ballard Avenue Landmark District Plaque Project records.
Baist’s Real Estate Atlas of Surveys of Seattle, Wash. Philadelphia: W.G. Baist, 1905, 1912.
Sanborn Insurance Maps, 1884-1951. Digital versions available via Seattle Public Library - www.spl.org.