Seattle's William Justen thrives on urban energy
Since he left the Green Lake Tudor behind in 1977, Justen was not only a resident of the buildings he has lived in, he was also the developer and a leader in the push to build up and upscale in downtown Seattle.
JUST HOW long has William Justen lived in downtown Seattle?
"Victor Steinbrueck Park was a Mobile gas station when I moved down here," he says.
That would be 33 years. And counting.
"I loved visiting Manhattan and San Francisco, and I love the energy of a city," Justen says. "And I thought that Seattle would get there — eventually."
Justen traces his life downtown by poking a finger at the glass walls of his latest home, the 440-foot tower known as Fifteen Twenty-One Second Avenue, high over the Pike Place Market.
First it's north to the Pike & Virginia Building and Market Place Tower, then south to Pioneer Square and the Smith Tower. Then he swings east, singling out the penthouse of the historic Seaboard Building at Westlake Center. Ten places in all.
"I've never had a regret," he says. "We park the car and leave it for a month. And we just took the light rail to the airport in 30 minutes for $2."
Justen is pretty cosmopolitan for a pioneer. But a pioneer he has been since he left a Green Lake Tudor behind in 1977. Justen was not only a resident of the buildings he has lived in, he was also the developer and a leader in the push to build up and upscale in downtown Seattle. Agree or disagree, zoning has changed and the high-rise, high-density future is here.
"I hate those mailboxes where the hinges get all messed up because the mailman is always opening the boxes. That's why there's one master door so he can load from the back," says Justen, in the lobby of 1521. "Plus, who wants to carry all that stuff upstairs? There's a counter here to sort the junk mail and a shredder."
OK, Justen can't help but pitch product, but this is his house, too. And he has built enough of them to know what he likes — beginning with the childhood treehouse in his Atlanta backyard, to which Justen added screened windows and carpeting. Before the door is even closed to the 1521 unit he shares with his wife, Sandy, it is apparent that what he likes for himself is art.
"This is a very old Dale Chihuly," he says of the giant painting at the end of the entrance hall, past the colorful splashes of Tomas Spangler photographs. A turn to the right and there in the living room stands a human-high Julie Speidel bronze. Behind it, with glazing that wraps this 2,000-square-foot, two-bedroom condo, are the usual waterfront goings-on: spanking-white cruise ships, tough-little tugs, mountains being majestic. And because of the condo's northeast siting, from other window-walls there is Westlake Center, Lake Union, the Space Needle, Magnolia, Queen Anne and beyond.
"It's such a jewel at night," says Sandy, standing in her favorite space, the kitchen. "We love to have friends over, and no matter where I put the hors d'oeuvres, people go to the kitchen. They'll even hop up on the counter and sit there.
"The water, the city and the Needle. It doesn't get any more Seattle than that."
Absolutely. The view is so dead-on that the hallway looks like it could thread the eye of the Needle. And, at the end of that hall, in a placement that belies a great sense of humor, is a large photograph of Andy Warhol shooting a Polaroid picture. The eternal tourist.
Over the years, Justen, a former planning director for Seattle and owner of 22 downtown properties, has seen a city become a community.
"It's great to have more people living downtown. Before you felt like you were one of a kind."
Rebecca Teagarden is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.