Downtown Seattle has a wealth of interesting architectural sites. The following list, grouped by stylistic period and date, is designed to give you some downtown highlights that you could see on your own.
Most of the building names link to entries in the Pacific Coast Architecture Database that provide additional detail. This Google Map should help you find them. A more detailed guide to Seattle architecture and map can be found under About Seattle on the conference home page.
Gothic Romanesque Revival 1890s
Pioneer Building (1892), Elmer H. Fisher, Architect, 600 1st Avenue
This building, built on the site of pioneer Henry Yesler’s first steam-powered lumber mill, remains at the heart of Seattle’s cultural history. Built just after the devastating Fire of 1889, the charismatic vagabond architect Elmer H. Fisher designed this eclectic, 6-story office building, strongly influenced by the work of H.H. Richardson. More than any other single designer, Fisher placed his stamp on the Pioneer Square central business district after 1889.
Squire-Latimer Building (1890), a.k.a. the Grand Central Building, Comstock and Troetsche, Architects, 208 1st Avenue South, Pioneer Square.
This large asymmetrical building contains a delightful central atrium that is worth a visit. It was the original home of the Grand Central Baking Company, a delicious destination.
Union Trust Building (1893), Skillings and Corner, Architects, 119 South Main Street; Annex (1902) at 117 South Main, Pioneer Square.
Like the Squire-Latimer Block, this former bank building fell on hard times by the 1950s , but was rehabilitated by the architect Ralph D. Anderson in 1965.
Austin Bell Building (1890), Elmer H. Fisher, Architect, 2326 1st Avenue
This Gothic Revival building has a quirky eclecticism to it. It suffered a large fire in the late 1990s after which it was gutted and turned into apartments. Belltown is filled with renovated and new apartment buildings for downtown workers and those who work in South Lake Union.
Savings Bank of Puget Sound (1909), John Graham and Company, Architect, 815 2nd Avenue
This section of 2nd Avenue became Seattle’s banking district in the early 1900s. This templar bank facade was designed by the versatile, English-born architect, John Graham, Sr, who built a long-lasting firm that would eventually design many Seattle landmarks, including the Space Needle 50 years later.
Coliseum Theatre #2 (1916), B. Marcus Priteca, (1916), 500 Pike Street
Seattle architect Benjamin Marcus Priteca, an important designer of movie palaces on the West Coast, designed the Coliseum Theatre #2. The theatre was removed to accommodate a Banana Republic store in 1994. The building’s exterior demonstrates the delicate and orderly terra cotta classical ornamentation at which Priteca excelled.
Terra Cotta Buildings 1900s-1920s
Cobb Building (1910), A.H. Albertson, Architect, 1301 4th Avenue
Located in Seattle’s Metropolitan Tract, original site of the University of Washington, the Cobb Building was one of the first skyscrapers in Downtown Seattle designed to cater to doctors and dentists for their offices. Its elaborate terra cotta, including the heads of an American Indian chief, is remarkable.
Smith Tower (1914), Gaggin and Gaggin, Architects, 506 2nd Avenue
L.C. Smith, a typewriter magnate from Syracuse, NY, saw Seattle as a fine spot to invest in real estate. He wanted to make a real estate splash here in this booming young city. The Smith Tower was, from 1914 until 1968, the tallest building on Seattle’s skyline, and one of the tallest west of the Mississippi River. Its composition represented an amalgam of the Singer Building and the Metropolitan Life Building, both in New York City.
Arctic Club Building #2 (1917), Augustus W. Gould, Architect, 700 3rd Avenue
This was the second club building for the Arctic Club, a group founded in 1908 composed of businessmen who had struck it rich in the Klondike Gold Rush. It is noted for the terra cotta walruses on its exterior.
J.S. Graham Department Store #2 (1915), a.k.a. the Doyle Building, Doyle and Merriam, Architects, 1527 2nd Avenue
This small, four-story department store is one of the finest terra cotta buildings in Seattle. It was one of a handful of buildings in Washington State designed by A.E. Doyle, the prominent Portland architect.
Eclectic Revivalism 1900s-1930s
Rainier Club (1904), Kirland Kelsey Cutter, 820 4th Avenue
This exclusive, private club was designed by one of Spokane’s finest architects, Kirtland J. Cutter, who later migrated to Seattle and then to California. It had its stylistic roots in English Jacobean residential architecture. It is the site of the Donor Recognition and International Guests Reception on Thursday, March 10.
Camlin Hotel (1926), Carl Linde, Architect, 1619 9th Avenue
Tudor Revival architecture was very popular in Seattle during the 1910s-1920s, and this 11-story apartment hotel, built during the Roaring ‘20s, is one of Downtown Seattle’s most ornate examples.
Great Northern Railway, King Street Depot #2 (1906), Reed and Stem, Architects, 303 South Jackson Street
This magnificent train station, designed by the Minneapolis and New York City architectural firm of Reed and Stem, recently had its waiting room renovated, making it a must-see space. Reed and Stem designed Grand Central Station (1913) in New York and the Michigan Central Station in Detroit (1913). It has classical elements as well as a tower inspired by the Campanile di San Marco in Venice.
Fifth Avenue Theatre (1926), Richard Reamer, Architect, Gustave Liljestrom, Designer, 1308 5th Avenue, Rainier Square
This is one of the finest and most unusual movie palaces in the U.S. Robert Reamer and Gustave Liljestrom collaborated on the theatre, with the latter designing the interior patterned on the throne room of the Imperial Palace in Beijing’s Forbidden City. Its scale was doubled from the original.
Merrill Place (1905), Multiple architects, 1st Avenue South and South Jackson Street
Merrill Place is a conglomerated office building composed of four buildings, Schwabacher Hardware Company Building (1903-1905), Seller Building (1906), Hambach Building #4 (1913) and Schwabacher Warehouse Annex (1909). The former Schwabacher Hardware Company’s Warehouse has one of the city’s finest Sullivanesque friezes over the front door.
Corona Hotel (1903). Bebb and Mendel, 606 2nd Avenue
This small, four-story building has some of the finest Sullivanesque ornamentation in Seattle. It makes a beautiful pair with the smaller, Art Deco Hartford Building next door.
Art Deco 1920s-1930s
Northern Life Insurance Company, Office Building #2 (1929), Albertson, Wiison and Richardson, Architects, 1218 3rd Avenue
This is probably Seattle’s greatest Art Deco gem. Its architect, A.H. Albertson, sought to mimic the color recession that he saw in a view of Mt. Rainier. Composed of 10 color zones, tts brickwork goes from a darker concentration at the base to a lighter brick mix at the top. Like many Art Deco skyscrapers, its exterior resembled that of Eliel Saarinen’s second-place Chicago Tribune Tower entry. Check out the ornate lobby and its gold light.
United States Government, Federal Office Building #2 (1933) a.k.a. the Old Federal Office Building, James A. Wetmore, Acting Supervising Architect of the Department of the Treasury, 909 1st Avenue
This was one of the first federal government experimentations with a style other than Classicism during the 20th century. Taking up an entire city block, it occupies the site where the Great Seattle Fire started on June 6, 1889.
Woolworth Building (1935), Harold B. Hillman, Architect, Woolworth Construction Department, 301 Pike Street
This was the second F.W. Woolworth five-and-dime in downtown Seattle, and was one of the few non-governmental buildings erected here during the Depression. Woolworth occupied it from 1935 until 1994, when it closed and became a Ross Department Store.
Seattle Asian Art Museum (1934), Bebb and Gould, Architects, (1934), 1400 East Prospect Street
Although located outside Downtown Seattle’s confines, it is one of the loveliest Art Deco museums in the U.S. Within the Bebb and Gould office, Walter Wurdeman, who would go on to a brief but successful career in Los Angeles, served as the chief designer.
Norton Building (1959), Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, SF Office, and Bindon and Wright, Architect, 801 2nd Avenue
This is the finest International Style skyscraper in Seattle, and one of the best on the West Coast. It was designed by Alan S. Robinson and Myron Goldsmith of the SOM San Francisco Office, were thought to have worked on the project.
Columbia Center (1985), Chester L. Lindsey, Architect, 411 Columbia Street
This minimalist tower composed of intersecting arcs, is the tallest building on Seattle’s skyline and is the second tallest on the Pacific Coast. Its form enables extensive surface area for windows. In a tall building, good windows and a view sell office space.
Rainier Bank Tower (1977), Minoru Yamasaki, Architect, 1301 5th Avenue
Yamasaki, a graduate of the University of Washington’s School of Architecture, designed this spectacular building. Hoisted high on a curving plinth, the tower was meant to maximize office space at the higher levels, where rents could command more. Storage space exists within the plinth. The shops of Rainier Plaza, under the bank tower, are to be demolished soon.
Washington Mutual Bank Tower (1988), Kohn, Pedersen, Fox, Architects, 1201 3rd Avenue
Seattle architects resisted Post Modernism, and it is fitting that two of its best downtown examples are by East Coast firms. This tower, built for the then-burgeoning Washington Mutual Bank, has some of the presence of a 1920s skyscraper, and is a notable addition to the skyline. At the very least it represents its stylistic moment well.
Seattle Art Museum #2 (1991), Venturi, Scott Brown Associates, (1991), 100 University Street
This textbook Post Modern building has a lot of the ingredients of the style as defined by Venturi in Learning from Las Vegas, including complex architectural references, super-graphics, and flat ornamentation. You’ll see this at the Wednesday night Welcome Reception, March 9.
Seattle is undergoing an historic building boom, in which real estate investors from across the U.S. and the world are investing in Downtown Seattle. Count the cranes on the skyline and recall if you have ever seen more in one place.
Seattle Public Library, Main Library #3 (2004), Rem Koolhaas + OMA, (2004), 1000 4th Avenue
Four international architectural firms and one regional one competed for the rights to design this third main library in Seattle. OMA, the avant-garde Rotterdam firm, won the competition and produced this extraordinary and unorthodox composition. Its glass skin admits large amounts of light, welcome in Seattle’s overcast winter months. The building was one of the most-discussed buildings of the mid-2000s, and does not fail to engage the visitor with its bold geometry, huge “living room,” unusual circulation patterns and diverse sets of spaces dedicated to specific tasks. You’ll get a chance to visit SPL’s main library at the Convocation Reception on Friday night, March 11.
Experience Music Project (EMP) (2000), Frank O. Gehry and Partners , 325 5th Avenue North
This radical design follows in a series of deconstructionist experiments by Gehry, done from the mid-1980s until the present. Its forms resemble crumpled pieces of colored foil; the crumpled sections’ interiors have a free-form fluidity that suggests the rock music it commemorates. Built for the Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, this museum was originally supposed to house a collection focused on the life of Seattleite Jimi Hendrix, but disputes with the family stopped this. In the end, it serves as a monument to rock and to Allen’s eclectic collections of pop-culture memorabilia. Don’t miss Captain Kirk’s command chair from the original Star Trek.
The Wave (2014), ZGF Architects with Ankrom Moisan Architects, 521 Stadium Pl South
This complex consists of two connected buildings, NOLO and The Wave, opened in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Built on an underutilized section of the Seahawk Football Stadium north parking lot, the Wave’s overall Modernist simplicity disrupted by canted elements became a familiar architectural direction c. 2010. Another faceted building by ZGF, this one 660-feet high, is currently going up, just above the Rainier Club at 5th Avenue and Columbia Street.
Vulcan Incorporated, South Lake Union Discovery Center (2005) Miller Hull Architects, (2005), 101 Westlake Avenue North
This small demountable building represents a growth effort by Seattle architects to create sustainable and reusable buildings. In this case, this modular, timber-framed visitor center comes apart in four components which can be taken apart and trucked to a new site.