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Northwest Living

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Ionic-capped columns frame the entrance porch at the Washington Arms. A leaded-glass door and sidelights beckon visitors to the Classical Revival-style building.
Embracing The Arms
In changing with the times, a condo stays true to its classical roots

Victor Voorhees was a man of many talents. While short on formal credentials, his architectural output during 50 years of practice sometimes eclipsed that of the professional architectural establishment. Don Glickstein sings his praises after several years of research into the man and his work. His interest was not professional but personal — because he happened to live in one of Voorhees' most attractive apartment projects, the Washington Arms.

Voorhees designed big projects and small — the Vance Hotel, the former Georgetown City Hall and Washington Hall as well as auto showrooms and garages, apartment buildings, stores and banks. But his greatest impact was probably in the single-family housing market. As early as 1907, Voorhees was promoting architectural plans for single-family homes. His pattern book, "Western Home Builder," offered a variety of popular designs and had gone into its sixth edition by 1911. The catalogue listed plans (for sale ranging from $8 to $90) that would allow the homeowner to build a house for as little as $850 and on up to $10,000. Through this lucrative media, Voorhees designed hundreds of houses that found their way into Seattle's streetcar suburbs, according to Glickstein.

A study and sitting area opens to the colorful bedroom. The couple increased the number of bookcases.
David and Betty Hannaford's dining and living rooms are opened up to each other with a wider opening than in some units, and the glass corner cupboard that was a feature is no longer here. Instead, bookcases and built-ins fill the space. The tansu chest in the living room is from Betty's sojourn in Japan.
The Washington Arms is a lovely wedge-shaped building south of Volunteer Park. It forms the northern end of what became one of the city's most gracious multifamily streets, where apartment buildings in English, Colonial and Georgian Revival styles are embellished by fine brick and terra cotta, tapered columns, leaded window bays and stained-glass entrance doors. The brick fa┴ade of Washington Arms is simply dressed with brick quoins (wedges), windows crowned with keystones, and original shutters. The odd-shaped property inspired two sharply angled corners in each wing. The courtyard entrance path between them leads to a semi-round porch framed with Ionic columns and a dignified entry door with sidelights in beveled glass. Hardly anything outside seems changed from its original plans, though inside new owners altered things to suit their own tastes.

According to Glickstein's research, Voorhees was hired to design the Washington Arms by Mae Young. In 1919, she was a novelty — a woman doing more than 80 real-estate developments in Green Lake, North Lake Union and Capitol Hill. Her husband, Charles, was in the Army Corps of Engineers at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. The apartment-building venture must have been successful, for several years later Mae had the Washington Arms annex built (now called The Fremont) in the lot to the south. The Washington Arms had four more owners before it was converted to condominiums in 1982.

Glickstein pored over tenant listings in the various city directories and says, "There has always been a very diverse group of renters in this building. It reflects the city. It's been an ethnically diverse building, too." It has housed construction workers, lawyers, doctors, importers, interior designers, stenographers, instructors, auto mechanics and bookkeepers. That diversity of social class and income was probably not intentional. The apartments were beautifully appointed with wood-burning fireplaces with neo-Classical surrounds and corner china cupboards. Rooms in the basement were provided for servants, but they were soon rented out, either because most renters did not bring help with them or because building owners were looking to make more money.

Betty Hannaford, a Bellevue elementary-school principal, is one of the fortunate tenants at the Washington Arms. After moving from Yakima in 1995, she learned about the building because a friend bought a unit upstairs. Hannaford bought her 1,200-square-foot unit in the spring of 1997 after living in a rental unit first. When she was ready to buy something, she remembers, "I searched around Seattle and I kept coming back and wondering, 'Why do I want to move from here?' When I started looking around at what other options there were for condominiums in the city, this, to me, gave a much more beautiful feeling of belonging." She even has a "postage-stamp view" of the city from south-facing windows.
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The Hannafords have used warm colors and French fabrics in their handsomely proportioned living room. All the units have classically decorated fireplace mantels and surrounds. In this unit, the original tile had been replaced with marble.
Several previous owners upgraded the kitchen and bathroom. The two bedrooms are interconnected, creating a bedroom and adjoining study and sitting area. With help from interior designer Carol Piper, Betty and husband David have added color to walls and ceilings. The bedroom and study are painted raspberry; the living, dining and hall areas are in several shades of yellow.

For the most part, the home is furnished with things Betty brought with her, including some from time spent in Japan. But David describes his wife as a Francophile, and she admits that in selecting colors and fabrics, she wished to evoke a French-provincial character. Piper helped her find French fabrics that matched the wall colors. Most are from a French firm, Pierre Frey.

Both Betty and David have embraced this building. Betty says, "I feel it's a home because it's such a friendly neighborhood feeling. The building has an eclectic group of people reflecting all kinds of lifestyles and pairings. To me that's the beauty of the city."

David concurs. "We all get on so well, and everyone is so helpful. It's like a big family, but you do have your privacy and independence. It's really quite a delightful place to live."

Lawrence Kreisman is program director for Historic Seattle. He serves on the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board and is author of "Made to Last: Historic Preservation in Seattle and King County." Barry Wong is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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