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Now & Then
An Art-full Restoration

A century separates these two views of the Collins Building. In the circa 1902 scene, the top floor is taken by Wilson's Modern Business College. Below it are a dozen or so doctors and dentists, and one architect, E.W. Houghton, who once hired as draftsman Arthur Bishop Chamberlin, the architect of the Collins Building. At the sidewalk, the proprietor of The Lace House was J.A. Baillargeon, son-in-law of the building's namesake, John Collins.
John Collins, a runaway from the Irish isles at the age of 10, built it in 1893 where the city's "Great Fire" destroyed his family home in 1889. Sam Israel, a cobbler from the Mediterranean island of Rhodes, bought it in 1958.

Like many other Pioneer Square landmarks, the Collins Building at the southeast corner of Second Avenue and James Street was saved for restoration by the "benign neglect" of Sam Israel. After making sure the roof did not leak, Israel sat on his historic-district buildings and thereby preserved them. He left the Collins to the creative care of artists like William Ivey and Paul Havas. Since Israel's death, Samis (for SAM ISrael), the corporation left to manage his properties, is fixing up many of these landmarks. And the Collins Building, with its beautiful brick cornice, is one of the restoration's showpieces.

Collins was an entrepreneurial dynamo, investing in coal, cable cars, gas lighting, tidelands, Yakima Valley irrigation, banking, hotels and books. He was also Seattle's fourth mayor — a rare Catholic Democrat among the city's Protestant Republican ruling class. Columnist C.T. Connover said of him, "Some timid souls considered him a plunger — he simply had vision and was not afraid to take a chance." But in 1893, the year Collins built his namesake business block and bought a newspaper, he took a plunge in the "Great Panic" economic crash.

By the time he died in 1903 he left an estate that included the Collins Building. Its restoration completed in 2001, the building got what historically speaking is the perfect principal tenant. Not only did the law firm Cairncross & Hempelmann name rooms after former tenants, it also installed an art collection that includes paintings by Paul Havas and William Ivey.

Paul Dorpat has published several books on early Seattle.

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