Originally constructed in c.1903 for James and Welthia Kelsey, the Kelsey Block was remodeled in 1945 for the Olsen Furniture Company and is 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 one-story brick masonry commercial building was reportedly constructed for James and Welthia Kelsey in c.1903 as a real estate investment. Mr. and Mrs. Kelsey were residents of Tacoma and entered into an agreement with Eugene Felt (who constructed the adjacent Felt Block on 20th Ave. NW around the same time) to create an opening that connected the two buildings. According to historic insurance maps its original address was 278-280 Ballard Avenue. By c.1904 both storefront bays – which opened to the sidewalk area – were in use as Bruce Armstrong’s Dry Good Store. As of 4-17-1931 it was owned by Harold Poll, a local real estate investor who acquired other Ballard Avenue properties during this era. During the 1930’s it was the location of Pioneer Clothing and became the location of Olsen Furniture Company in the early 1940s.
Olsen Furniture Company was founded by Harold L. Olsen. He began his career in the furniture business at the age of sixteen when he became an upholsterer for the William French Company in Minneapolis. He came to Washington State where he initially worked in farming and then commercial fishing, based out of Ballard. He returned to the upholstery business where he worked for larger Seattle and Tacoma firms and eventually opened his own small retail shop in early 1933. By 1940, the shop was located at 5224 Ballard Avenue in the Elks Temple Building and also operated out of the Junction Building (5200 Ballard Avenue). By April 1945, they had relocated to this location and remodeled the façade to include a modern black pigmented glass storefront with large picture windows and a prominent “Olsen Furniture Co.” sign. The company continued to manufacture and reupholster sofas and chairs until 1949, when the business turned its focus to retail furniture sales only. The company expanded and eventually operated out of several buildings located near 20th Avenue NW, Leary Way and Ballard Avenue NW, including the Kelsey Block. The family business was a mainstay of the Ballard Avenue commercial district and continued to operate for several decades under the management of Mr. Olsen’s sons, son-in-law and grandchildren.
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.