Making Apartments Work -- Fred Anhalt's Designs Offer Contemporary Lessons For Urban Living
IF YOU HAVE EVER given up your family residence for an apartment, you know how disappointing it can be. You hold on to the memories of home - the hearth, a separate dining room, a library or work room, the luxury of storage, and even the privacy of your own laundry room. You try to find the same amenities in new apartments and come up short. Or if you do find them, you pay more than your monthly payments would have been had you stayed put. What's more, you have far less usable space than you left.
But there are some great alternatives still, and they are usually in solidly built, traditional-looking apartment buildings constructed prior to the 1940s.
They sprang up in "streetcar suburbs" as Seattle pushed its growing population into residential neighborhoods. While single-family housing dominated, a variety of apartment choices emerged through the creativity of local developers. They range from simple bungalow courts and three- to five-story brick buildings with central stairs and mirror-image apartments to attached townhouses surrounding landscaped grounds and luxury high-rises that modeled themselves after up-to-date Eastern cities.
Some elements of these early housing options are good learning opportunities, particularly in the way they created private, semi-private and public space and engendered a sense of community within the larger neighborhood.
On north Capitol Hill is an example of an apartment that succeeded in replacing the single-family home in its owners' minds.
Fred Anhalt's late 1920s apartment-homes are wonderful expressions of a self-taught builder's rapture with European vernacular architecture. "Castles in Seattle" are the way they are lovingly referred to. While their charm and romantic ambiance made them desirable, it was their individualized floor plans, efficient and up-to-date amenities - including the city's first apartment-building parking garage - and gracious home-like touches (including separate entrances off a semi-private landscaped courtyard) that brought in the renters.
With only six units, Oak Manor is one of Anhalt's smallest buildings, and its appearance from the street is most like that of a large English country manor.
Set on a gently sloping lawn grounded by a fine old oak tree (Anhalt refused to remove it when he designed the building), this group of apartments reflects quality workmanship. Herringbone brickwork, a freestanding concrete spiral staircase, stained glass, inlaid mahogany entry doors, elaborately forged brass keyhole lids, and copper gutters and downspouts make this building delightful. So pleased was Anhalt that he chose it as his own home.
Ted Watson and Ted Sive share one of the building's four townhouses, with pegged flooring, a cedar-paneled living room and French doors opening onto balconies off the living and breakfast rooms. Both owners are in the design fields. Sive is director of research at Meng Associates. Watson represents artists and manufacturers who specialize in gifts and decorative accessories. Their home is a mini-showroom, with candlesticks and metalwork by David Howes, table runners by Janell, candles by Artisan and pillows by Richard Fischer and Plumage.
They were accustomed to apartment living, having for several years lived in the Gainsborough on First Hill. But when they came across an advertisement for this 1,300-square-foot townhouse, they had no hesitation. They saw it on Sunday and made an offer the next day. They saw through the former owners' smoke-covered floral wallpapers and Victorian kitsch.
For them, it offered a real dining room and generous outside space for entertaining, screened by trees from the busy street - so much so that they have hardly any window coverings. And because it is one of the end units with windows on three sides, it has a tremendous amount of light. Watson says, "The pattern of living and flowing is so well planned. And there's a wonderful variety of space." Despite their location in a very urban setting, their home has a bucolic feeling.
Initially, they cleaned and painted the principal rooms and upgraded the kitchen and bathroom. While they kept the sink and some of the original cabinets, they took advantage of the building's gas furnace to bring in gas for a new stove. Sive took his cue from the original colored-tile wall borders in designing linoleum-tile flooring. The couple also decided that they probably wouldn't use the breakfast room as intended. Instead, they installed cabinets, wine storage and a counter that serves well for entertaining. In the bathroom, they removed a late-period vanity and replaced it with a sink from the Gainsborough dating from its completion in 1929, the same year as the Anhalt building.
"I'm inclined to have a house, with a front door and back door, an upstairs and downstairs, and no one above and no one below. The whole feeling of this place is of a house," Sive says.
Watson, more comfortable with apartment living, admits, "This is a perfect combination of both. We don't worry about a yard, but it still has the feel of a home." Of course, they've been known to expand their parties onto the shared courtyard lawn. For the afternoon or evening, at least, it becomes their private castle grounds.
Lawrence Kreisman is director of "Viewpoints" Seattle Architecture Tours and is author of six publications on regional architecture and historic preservation. He writes regularly for Pacific Magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a Seattle Times photographer. ----------------------------------------------------------------- Anhalt tour
The Seattle Architectural Foundation showcases the apartment-homes of Fred Anhalt on a three-hour walking tour Saturday, May 4. For information and registration, contact Viewpoints at 667-9186.
Learn about the neighborhoods
"City Living: Seattle Housing of the Streetcar Era" is a four-part lecture series and tour on the housing available in Seattle during the early decades of the century. Historic Seattle Preservation and Development Authority has organized the program, which deals with what made these buildings work and how we can learn from them in planning new housing in our community.
Lectures are Monday evenings, April 8 to April 29, at the Museum of History and Industry auditorium. The tour, which includes this apartment and others, is Saturday, April 27. Tickets for the series are $60 general admission, $45 for Historic Seattle members and $30 for students and seniors. The tour is available only to full-series subscribers. For information, contact Historic Seattle Preservation and Development Authority, 605 First Ave., Suite 100, Seattle, WA 98104; 622-6952.
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