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Summary for 605 1st AVE / Parcel ID 8591400075 / Inv #

Historic Name: Yesler Building Common Name: Mutual Life Building
Style: Queen Anne - Richardsonian Romanesque Neighborhood: Pioneer Square
Built By: Year Built: 2004
In the opinion of the survey, this property is located in a potential historic districe (National and/or local).
The building, originally called the “Yesler Building” and now the Mutual Life Building, was built on the approximate site of Henry Yesler’s cookhouse, which served as Seattle’s first public space and restaurant. Henry Yesler commissioned Elmer Fisher to design this building as well as the Bank of Commerce Building, now confusingly called the “Yesler Building.” Emil DeNeuf is now credited with the design of the upper floors in 1892-93, and Robertson & Blackwell for the 1904 (or circa 1904) rear addition to the west and the redesign of the cornice of the original building, which was modified to be horizontal. Henry Yesler was one of Seattle’s early founding settlers, and an influential early Seattle entrepreneur, guiding force and owner of prime real estate in the area around the Public Square (now Pioneer Place) and north of Yesler Way. He owned the Puget Sound’s first steam mill and operated his famous cookhouse, a grist mill as well as a general store. Two of the four mills he owned were located west of the site of the present Mutual Life Building. Only the basement and first floor of Elmer Fisher’s design were actually built. The first floor rusticated stone cladding was smoothed over in 1904. Fisher had grand plans for the building, which included two major towers. A quote from the March 1891 Northwest Real Estate and Building Review read: “ When completed the building will present one of the most showy [sic] exteriors in Seattle. Its design is semi-Romanesque, with two red tile-covered towers on the broad eastern front.” The first floor was temporarily roofed over in 1891. Henry Yesler died in 1892 and economic conditions were also poor in this period. In 1892, five floors were added by Emil DeNeuf. DeNeuf did not follow Fisher’s original design exactly, although he was responsible for two towers. Instead he created a more unified design of repeated arches. Based on other works such as the Lowman and Hanford Building and the First Avenue South façade of the Schwabacher Building, the more unified design and the use of light colored brick, seem to be hallmarks of DeNeuf’s work. The upper parts of the sixth level of the building were lost during the 1949 Earthquake, oddly enough giving even more consistency to DeNeuf’s design. In some historical studies, James Blackwell is credited with the five floors, added by DeNeuf. More recent studies credit Robertson and Blackwell for the western addition near the Post Hotel and a new horizontal cornice for the original building. Elmer Fisher produced an incredible number of buildings, especially between 1889 and 1891 His most well-known work in Seattle is the Pioneer Building, which he also designed for Henry Yesler. By 1891, despite the accolades the Pioneer Building received in 1892, he had abandoned his career as an architect to run the Abbott Hotel in Seattle, which he had also designed and built. Information concerning Emil DeNeuf arrived in Seattle in 1889 and began his career as a draftsman in Elmer Fisher’s office. He had an independent practice by the end of 1891. He also was the designer of the Lowman and Hanford Building. (For more complete information on Fisher and DeNeuf, please see the context statement.) In 1895, the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York bought the building and it has been named the Mutual Life Building (or some variation) since that time. This insurance company occupied the southeast corner of the second floor until 1916. The main floor was occupied was the First National Bank, which incorporated on this site in 1892 and in 1929 merged with other local Seattle banks, the Dexter Horton Bank (originally in the Maynard Building) and the Seattle National Bank to form the Seattle-First National Bank, then Washington State’s largest financial institution. In the 1980s, Historic Seattle, which had entered into a long-term lease agreement with the Emerald Fund, put together a plan for a $ 3.6 million rehabilitation of the building. The rehabilitation by Olson/Walker architects was completed in 1984. It included a major overhaul of the building’s interior spaces and new storefronts, some with arched forms, recalling the original arches that flanked the main entry portal. Despite the changes over the years, the basic integrity of this building has been kept. This is a Pioneer Square building of major architectural and historical importance.
The Mutual Life Building, formerly called the Yesler Building, is rectangular in plan and six stories in height. It is clad in red sandstone at the ground level and buff colored brick on the upper floors. According to an historical photo at the Museum of History and Industry, the sixth story used to rise on the northeast and southeast corner, defining two towers. These portions of the sixth were lost as a result of the Earthquake of 1949. On First Avenue, two projecting bays, which used to be part of the tower-like structures, flank three recessed bays. Above the ground floor level, each typical bay consists of a tall wide arch, two stories in height at the second and third floors, then a red sandstone stone belt-course. Just below another belt-course, three tall linked arches, also two stories in height, complete the fourth and fifth levels of the façade. At these levels, the wide pilasters that define the bays have carved red sandstone capitals. The series of arches are topped by a series of trabeated window openings on the top floor, surmounted by a generous classically detailed sheet metal cornice. Red sandstone is used liberally as trim, rusticated or carved with floral motifs throughout the upper levels of the building exterior. The original Yesler Way elevation has a projecting bay to the east, and then one single typical recessed bay. Two more identical bays, set next to the Post Hotel Building, were apparently added subsequently. The main entry to the building is on the First Avenue elevation. It has a wide low- slung arch supported on flat pilasters and wide, flat capitals with Romanesque Revival floral patterns, all in red sandstone.

Detail for 605 1st AVE / Parcel ID 8591400075 / Inv #

Status: Yes - Inventory
Classication: Building District Status: NR, LR
Cladding(s): Brick, Metal, Stone - Ashlar/cut Foundation(s): Concrete - Poured
Roof Type(s): Flat with Parapet Roof Material(s): Asphalt/Composition
Building Type: Commercial/Trade - Financial Institution Plan: Rectangular
Structural System: Masonry - Unreinforced No. of Stories: six
Unit Theme(s): Architecture/Landscape Architecture, Commerce
Changes to Windows: Slight
Changes to Plan: Intact
Storefront: Moderate
Changes to Original Cladding: Slight
Major Bibliographic References
Luxton, Donald, editor,, Building the West: the Early Architects of British Columbia. Vancouver B.C.: Talonbooks, 2003, 244-5.
"Three Fine Buildings Almost Finished,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2 April 1892, p 5. Three Fine Buildings Almost Finished,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2 April 1892, p 5.
Olson/ Walker. “The Mutual Life Building - Historic Significance and Existing Conditions, Part 1,” ca. 1983.

Photo collection for 605 1st AVE / Parcel ID 8591400075 / Inv #

Photo taken May 24, 2004

Photo taken Dec 08, 2004
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