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  • John M Feit

17th Avenue is as Good as it Gets

Great urban landscapes are typically comprised of a collection of good buildings and landscapes instead of superlative singular designs. Seventeenth Avenue, between E. Union Street and E. Spring Street, is just such a landscape and warrants a visit. On this stretch of 17th, one will find a half dozen apartment buildings which individually may stir only a passing (if admiring) glance, yet as an ensemble are a gift to behold. Many of the buildings were built (and perhaps designed?) by the same developer, Samuel Anderson, in the 1920s.

The most conspicuous of the apartments, owing both to its advantageous corner location at the intersection of 17th and E. Spring and to its equally proud corner entry, is The Barbara Frietchie. It is one of the very few co-ops in Seattle. More common in New York City, co-ops were a form of apartment ownership that pre-dates condominiums. Perhaps its New York roots account for its being the most visible – ostentatious, even – of the bunch? Its unique quarter-round entry portico set in a subtractive corner is another feature that hints of its big-city aspirations.

Next door to Barbara F is a building whose airs come not from its dominant position in the landscape but from its French name, the Fleur de Lis. In addition to the eponymous adornments gracing its entrance, there are a few other features of French derivation including the charming, diagonally leaded windows and green and orange accent colors. The Fleur de Lis is as impeccably well dressed as any haute couture Parisian fashionista.

Across the street from the Fleur is another edifice of Gallic derivation, the delightful, art deco, Margola. Its teal-colored accents and Mayan-inspired accoutrements add whimsey to its street façade and speak to its joie de vivre.

Aside from being all quality buildings with luscious landscapes, most of the apartments are named after women, including the Margola’s neighbor, the Martha Anne. It is refreshing when a building has a proper name rather than just an address, and better still when it is named after someone. Was Martha Anne a sister, a mother, a good friend? Martha’s design is the most robust of the apartments, having a strong, cast-in-place concrete entry, very deep-set windows, and multi-sashed steel windows, as well as corbelled brickwork. There is, however, a lighter touch to be found as well: stained-glass windows, rose-colored accents (including the rose and green colored clay used in the brick), and a terra-cotta cornice. This complex mixture of traits leads one to speculate is the Martha Anne may be one of Seattle’s first gender-neutral apartments?

Next to Martha and still on the west side of 17th is Carmona, a building with so many fine architectural details it merits a blog post of its own. With a Juliette balcony, stained-glass windows, twisty column shafts, the largest cornice of the bunch, and arched windows, Carmona is a fine example of eclectic design.

Across from Carmona is the Betsy Ross. In keeping with her historically-inspired name, Betsy has an elegant arched window and Doric column entry as well as another well-coiffed landscape.

The last of the apartments on the tour is the Dixonian whose outstanding feature is its enormous windows, which bathe its interiors with daylight. As do its neighbors, it has fancy brickwork, an interesting entrance, and, of course, fastidiously trimmed topiary. A bit smaller than the other buildings, its stature is increased by four pilasters crowned with stream-lined capitals.

While some of our streets may be able to boast of a fine building or two, we should be thankful to have a street to stroll such as this section of 17th Avenue, where eyes and imagination are free to wander and be delighted by so many good works.

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