Written by Atelier Drome Designer, Molly O’Donnell.
As soon as I mention I’m in architecture, one of the first questions I’m asked is “what’s my favorite building in Seattle?” The answer to that is usually a rambling, evolving list of buildings all over the city and the person asking ends up looking dazed afterwards, like they slightly regret asking the question in the first place. So instead, I offer one of my favorite streets in Seattle – 17th Ave between E Union St and E Spring St. The immediate area is a mix of single-family, low-rise residential, with pockets of commercial increasing as you move east towards the 23rd and E Union intersection. For the most part, the neighborhood maintains a small scale, single family feel that has seen increased development – which is sure to continue with the larger multi-family development happening along 23rd Ave.
This pocket of 17th feels like secret multi-family, like you can walk the street many times over before realizing most of the buildings are apartment or condo buildings. Many blocks around this area contain one, maybe two older apartment buildings, typically at the ends of the blocks, with newer townhouse developments mixed with remaining single-family homes between.
I’d always noticed the entries along the street – it seemed every building offered a unique spin on your typical apartment entry- and the distinctive mix of architecture. After a little digging, it turns out eight of the apartment buildings are collectively known as the “International Village” due to that mixture of international architectural styles, built right before the Great Depression (between 1927 and 1929). The International Village buildings are remnants of another Seattle housing boom around the 1920s. The neighborhood was known as Renton Hill, with a largely single-family home typology. Due to the increased housing needs, many multi-family structures were introduced to Seattle neighborhoods (sound familiar?) around this time – either by converting single-family homes or building new apartments. The developers and builders introducing the apartment buildings often used a variety of styles and paid careful attention to the details and materials, trying to mitigate the impact of these larger structures. This was especially evident in the International Village.
If you’re wandering through this block, here are the eight buildings of the International Village:
(1133 17th Ave)
Edward Merritt, Art Deco
The brick detailing around the entrance first caught my eye – three shades of brick arranged in a parquet pattern. Decorative medallions mark the windows and top border of the building.
(1121 17th Ave)
Samuel Anderson, Mediterranean Revival
The Mediterranean style immediately sticks out – you certainly don’t see many red tile roofs in the City! The entry offers ornate metal work – on the doors themselves, the pole lights, the balcony and spear-like window detail above. A partner building built in 2000, the Carmona Courts, offers a more modern take on the Mediterranean style (with what appears to be a salmon capping the building!).
Martha Anne Apartments
(1115 17th Ave)
Schack & Young, Art Deco
The red entry is highly detailed and decorative with stained glass windows above. The top coursings are arranged into a herringbone pattern, adding yet another level of brick texture. I especially like the building’s typical windows – a simple pattern with a nicely concealed casement in the middle.
(1109 17th Ave)
Schack & Young, Art Deco with Mayan Detailing
The ornate, Mayan detailing above the entry and windows immediately stand out. But I also like the subtle brick work at the corners of the building, creating the impression of the corner opening or unfolding as your eyes move up the building.
(1101 17th Ave)
E.A. Gabryel, Tudor Revival
The Tudor style is another style a bit uncommon to the area. The building is one of the quieter ones on the block, with a simple pattern of brick and yellow stucco bay windows – although the castle-like parapets are a bit of a surprise! The flower caps on the tension rods add a delicate detail to the simplicity.
Betsy Ross Condominiums
(1120 17th Ave)
Samuel Anderson, Colonial Revival
Dramatic entries are a theme through the village, and the Betsy Ross offers a stately version with a white portico and a large, arched window above. Even the basement window well covers are ornate!
Fleur De Lis Condominiums
(1114 17th Ave)
Samuel Anderson, French Provincial
Buildings on both sides of the street offer well-accentuated and prominent entries, but I feel the east side’s versions are slightly more dramatic. For the Fleur De Lis, there is a triple height green stone center accent with carved inlay details. But I particularly like the window details – all red framed with either stained-glass or diamond panes.
Barbara Frietchie Cooperative
(1100 17th Ave)
Samuel Anderson, Colonial Revival with ZigZag Moderne detailing
Speaking of dramatic entries, this building is the most “extra” on the block. After a grand procession of landscape steps, you reach a double height portico and a stained-glass entry door. The vertical brick stripes provide a nice accent to an otherwise subdued façade, but the vents are probably my favorite feature here. At a quick glance, the vents almost look like a brick inlay detail and blend quietly into the façade.
What are your favorite streets in Seattle? What details keep you coming back?
Written by Molly O’Donnell, an Atelier Drome designer who is driven by curiosity and believes that exploration and constant education is the foundation to design.