West Seattle School, ca. 1910
West Seattle School, aka “The Castle,” survived decades of student growth until the huge 1949 earthquake damaged it beyond repair.
Special to The Seattle Times
WEST SEATTLE School, known popularly as “The Castle,” was built in 1893 with a bell tower but no bell and eight classrooms for 20 students. For so few scholars and so many bricks, the price of $40,000 seemed steep, especially after the national economy tanked with the 1893 financial panic.
Later, Whitworth College proposed to take “The Brick School” (another popular name for the building) off taxpayers’ hands for $20,000, but voters prudently determined to keep it, for West Seattle’s student population grew rapidly.
In 1909, or two years after West Seattle was incorporated into Seattle proper, eight classrooms were attached at the school’s north end. That addition is part of the broad-shouldered landmark pictured here in 1910 by “real photo postcard” purveyor Otto Frasch. Still, the facility was so packed that in January 1912 the district opened another three-story brick primary, Jefferson School, one mile and a few blocks to the south.
The squeeze was also lightened in 1917 when West Seattle High School opened a block to the south. The Castle’s name was changed then to West Seattle Elementary School and one year later was changed again to Lafayette Elementary, after the French general who helped the colonists fight the British.
That name still holds on the northwest corner of California Avenue and Lander Street, although the structure was replaced in 1950 with a rambling, one-story building. It opened with 775 pupils in 19 classrooms.
The Castle’s demise was a result of the big earthquake of April 13, 1949 — fortunately during spring vacation. The earthquake danger was anticipated in 1923, when the bell tower was removed and the third floor — with the school’s gymnasium — closed over safety concerns.
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