Believed to have been initially constructed in 1905 (and remodeled/expanded in 1923), the Wilson Ford Co. Building is among the most architecturally distinctive 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 may be 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 confirm the exact construction date, original owner/developer and an architect associated with the design of this distinctive building have been unsuccessful. Early permit records for this address could not be located. Tax records indicate that it was initially constructed in 1905; however, it does not appear on the 1905 Sanborn insurance map and the site is shown as vacant. The Sanborn maps (c.1910) and the 1912 Baist’s real estate atlas both indicate that a masonry building had been constructed on the northern half of the site (5318-20) by 1910. An advertisement for the Oregon & Washington Development Co. (Seattle Times, March 27, 1912, pg.10) indicates that the company operated offices at this address. Thus, the northern portion of the building does appear to have been built in 1905. By 1919, the building was in use by the Ballard Motor Co. for the sale of used cars and trade-ins (Seattle Times, March 30, 1919, pg.96). The Alki Tire Shop (Seattle Times, July 4, 1919, pg.42) and S & K Garage (Seattle Times, Sept. 4, 1921) also operated at this address. Wilson & Kreitle Inc. purchased the building on 10-13-1923 and began to operate a Ford dealership here. They began advertising the new business in the Seattle Times on October 18, 1923 (pg.29). Tax records indicate that the building was remodeled in 1923. It seems highly likely that the southern two bays were constructed at this time and - given the popularity of the Mission Revival style - that the distinctive architectural details/character of the entire building was created then. The auto dealership and service business eventually operated here (primarily as a showroom selling new and used cars) and expanded to additional surface lots and modern facilities located nearby along Leary Way. The business operated here for over eight decades. Later known as Wilson Motor Co. (by 1937), Wilson Ford and New Wilson Ford it closed c.2005. The building has undergone major renovation and selective restoration work since designation.
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.)
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.