Constructed in 1902, the Scandinavian-American Bank Building is among the oldest and most architecturally significant 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.
Efforts to identify an original architect or builder associated with the construction of this distinctive two-story bank building have been unsuccessful. It was constructed in 1902 as the Ballard branch offices of the Scandinavian-American Bank; the main offices were located at the SW corner of First Avenue and Yesler Way in the old Bank of Commerce Building. The bank was originally incorporated in 1892 by A. Chilberg, Pres. and A.H. Soelberg, V.P. The 1905 Sanborn insurance map noted the building as a “Bank” at 236 Ballard Avenue and indicated that the upper floor level was offices (with a stairwell from Jefferson [Vernon] Place) and a plumbing store was located in the northern bay on Jefferson Place along with other shops (155-157). The exterior and the interior of the building were remodeled for the bank in 1911 (Seattle Times pg.4, col.3-5). By c.1917 a restaurant was located at the rear of building on Vernon Place. The Canal Bank was subsequently located here (c.1926) as well as Ballard First National Bank and a branch of Seattle First National. Tax records from 1937 indicate that there were 14 rooms upstairs and a later note identified them as “sleeping rooms.” They may have operated in tandem with the adjacent Harvey Rooming House (5304-1/2 Ballard Avenue) by the mid-1930s. Tax records indicate that the storefront was remodeled and modernized in 1947 and the upper floor level housed dentist and doctor’s offices as of that date. The upper floors later functioned as the Starlight Hotel for several decades.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Pheasant-Albright, Julie D. Early Ballard (Images of America), Arcadia Publishing, 2007.
----------. Passport to Ballard, Ballard News Tribune, 1988.
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.