A new history about Seattle's apartment houses
Diana James' book has a confident clarity that shares the author's delight in her subject. Her scholarly insights into both the building and using of Seattle's apartment houses are, Now & Then's Paul Dorpat suspects, applicable to almost anywhere.
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DIANA JAMES' new history of Seattle apartment houses has a confident clarity that shares the author's delight in her subject. Her scholarly insights into both the building and using of Seattle's apartment houses are, I suspect, applicable to almost anywhere.
"Shared Walls," the inspired title for James' book, was suggested by her friend, the Capitol Hill historian Jacqueline Williams. Like James, she lives on the hill, which is well appointed with landmark apartments. (I, too, lived with shared walls for several years in the 1970s on the Summit Avenue trackless trolley line.)
As one of the American West's greatest boomtowns, Seattle was soon in need of shared walls. Not yet 30 years old in 1880, the Queen City (its nickname then) was the largest community in the territory with only 3,553 citizens counted in the U.S. Census. At the turn of the century 20 years later, when the count had swelled to 80,871, the first listings for apartments appeared in the city's 1900 Polk Directory. James found four of them. Forty years later, the number reached about 1,400 — and nearly one-fifth of all Seattle households lived in them.
From these hundreds of apartments, the trained preservationist chose 100 — including the Hermosa Apartments shown here — to explore both by records and on foot. The choices are illustrated with a mix of archival photos and the author's own. Dated 1911, the historical photo shows the Hermosa beginning to add three stories.
McFarland, the publisher, chose to print fewer than 2,000 copies of "Shared Walls," which can be found at the Seattle Public Library and at Elliott Bay Book Co. and University Book Store.
Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard's blog at www.pauldorpat.com.
An earlier version of this story, published on April 14, 2012, misppelled the name of the artist who created the Chief Sealth sculpture. The correct name of the Seattle sculptor is James Wehn. This story was corrected on April 20, 2012.