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The Seattle Times | Pacific Northwest
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Northwest Living Lawrence Kreisman

Building Character

At last, a guide to the structures that shape our downtown

Earlier this year, Pacific Northwest magazine offered up several weeks of cover stories that focused on the changing state of Seattle: what it was, what it has become, and what the future might hold. While the pace of development can sometimes overwhelm us, a new book offers a wonderful way in which old-time city dwellers and newly arriving transplants can become acquainted with — or rediscover, renew and gain appreciation of — the architectural gems the city still has and learn more about what makes each section of downtown special.

"Seattle Architecture: A Walking Guide to Downtown" by Maureen R. Elenga (University of Washington Press, $19.95) is a book that has been waiting for someone to tackle for decades. In that time there have been a number of tour guides to downtown, most of them sections of larger books covering the city or the entire state. "Seattle Architecture" is the first effort to assemble an up-to-date, factually accurate review of buildings downtown that is also compelling, readable and celebratory. The book grew out of valuable information Seattle Architecture Foundation volunteers have compiled during 18 years of researching and producing walking tours. Elenga did much additional research and fact-checking as part of her master's degree project in the art history department at the University of Washington. The joy of discovery that comes when someone remarks "I never noticed that before" is now in the hands of every resident of and visitor to Seattle.

The book divides downtown into nine easily traversed districts from Pioneer Square to the Seattle Center, the waterfront to the freeway. More than 360 buildings are described within their historical, social and economic context. A sampling:

INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT

With completion of the Jackson Street regrade in 1908, the present-day Chinatown International District developed as a home to immigrants from many countries — China, Japan and the Philippines included. In recent years, the area has expanded eastward to accommodate new Far East populations. With the exception of several terra cotta commercial buildings, the district is largely composed of brick, single-room hotels that incorporated retail as well as family association halls. Among the buildings of note here:

Celebrate and get the guide

The Seattle Architecture Foundation celebrates its 25th year with the launching of "Seattle Architecture: A Walking Guide to Downtown" by Maureen R. Elenga (University of Washington Press, $19.95). Order online at www.seattlearchitecture.org, or by calling 206-667-9184.

Join the festivities with food, drink and a book signing beginning at 6 p.m. Nov. 10 in the Rainier Square Atrium, first level, 1333 Fifth Ave.

• The Main Street School Annex

CIVIC AND FINANCIAL DISTRICT

The district north and east of Pioneer Square includes early banking headquarters in handsome brick- and terra-cotta-clad buildings from the first quarter of the century, along with modern high-rises that redefined the city's skyline from the 1960s through the 1990s. As older government buildings are replaced, a new civic campus is emerging. Among the buildings to see:

• The Rainier Club

RETAIL DISTRICT

This is a vibrant center with theaters, shops, restaurants, hotels and office towers — and, more recently, residential development. Its buildings include handsome Beaux Arts-period landmarks such as the Cobb Building, the oldest — and last remaining vestige — of the Metropolitan Building Co. plan for a commercial center on the original grounds of the territorial university, and the former Seattle Times headquarters at the district's northern edge. The retail core along Pine Street is grounded by the city's significant department stores, Frederick & Nelson (now Nordstrom) and the Bon Marché (now Macy's). Among the highlights:

• Banana Republic

• The Doyle Building • The Cobb Building

WEST EDGE

A new name coined by the Downtown Seattle Association in 2001 encompasses the waterfront east to Third Avenue and extends from Pioneer Square north through Belltown. Its buildings from the late 19th century through the Depression years reflect the Klondike boom, the grand era of shipping, rail and freight into and out of the port and the need for warehouses to store goods, as well as the important banking, finance and retail center before these functions moved north and east. Significant buildings include:

• Benaroya Hall

• 1201 Third Avenue Building

BELLTOWN

Originally a narrow, underdeveloped stretch of property between Elliott Bay and Second Avenue, the larger neighborhood now referred to as Belltown has filled with apartments and condominium towers that share the street with workingmen's hotels and an eclectic assortment of shops, galleries, artists' studios, cafes and nightclubs. Architecture, too, is eclectic, representing many building periods from late Victorian through Art Deco and modernism. Of interest:

• The Austin A. Bell Building

• The Rivoli Apartments

• Mosler Lofts

Lawrence Kreisman, Hon. AIA Seattle, was co-founder and director of the Seattle Architecture Foundation Viewpoints tour program from 1991-2000. Since 1997, he has been Program Director for Historic Seattle.

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