The Unlikely Chalet -- A Vision Of French, Swiss And Norwegian Individuality Survives In Ballard
THOUGH HAZEL NORVELL remembers it as if it were yesterday, it was 50 years ago when she and her husband, James, were house-hunting and he happened upon the remarkable building she has called home since then.
"It wasn't the kind of house people wanted at the time," she recalls, meaning that it was old and out-of-date for postwar families craving ramblers, modern conveniences and a two-car garage.
With its ornate brackets and turrets, its gingerbread balconies and the asymmetry of its roof lines and windows, their two-story residence is a free adaptation of French and Swiss chalets. It would be easy to assume it represents a vernacular Norwegian house form - after all, this is Ballard. In fact, Norwegians actually borrowed heavily from the Swiss in their 19th-century romantic architecture.
The individual elements are fanciful to an extent rarely found in a Seattle house. Features include broad roofs and wide overhanging eaves with carved roof rafters and zigzag-patterned diagonal struts for support.
The building's most notable eccentricity is a turret popping through the sloping roof and capped by a four-sided, flared cupola resting partly on the roof and partly on brackets. The form resembles that of the old clock tower in Bern, Switzerland. Less noticeable, but equally eccentric, is a small bay on the west side of the house which, like the turret, juts out of the wall at an angle and is topped by a tiny triangular crown. An adjoining stable is a miniature of the house designed in the same style, with elaborate bracket consoles beneath the overhanging eaves of the roof.
It is not a big house. A large living room and dining room/kitchen are on either side of a central stair hall. Interior finishes reflect the eclectic influences of the first quarter of the century, combining classical revival columns and beveled glass, art nouveau stained glass and Arts and Crafts period trim and moldings. Three bedrooms and one bathroom occupy the second floor. But from outside, it looks much larger because of the porches. All three bedrooms open out to porches that doubled as sleeping porches during warm weather.
The 1908 house was completely built of fir from the Stimson Lumber Mill, a leading Ballard business at the turn of the century. That was appropriate, since it was built by the manager of that company at the time. Interior woodwork - fir floors and trim - would also have come from the mill.
By the time the Norvells bought the house, previous owners had spray-painted everything white. Even the doorknobs and ornamental glass had not escaped. Art nouveau stained-glass windows on either side of the fireplace in the living room had been painted on the outside and covered with plywood inside. Interior woodwork had also been painted white.
After many years of living with the white-washed exterior, the couple finally selected a color scheme that brought it back to an approximation of original colors. They chose not to strip the paint from the interior, nor to strip it from what had been highly varnished porch ceilings.
Four families occupied the house before the Norvells. The builder who managed the mill didn't live there very long. Next came the president of Seattle-First National Bank, followed by two other families that each stayed only for a short time.
"One was an artist," Hazel Norvell said. "He didn't like it. His wife loved it. They stayed a year or so. The next family that bought it, the wife hated it. They were planning to cut off the eaves. Then we came along and saved it. We were happy we did that."
Her husband, who died in 1986, was interested in historic preservation and approached the city of Seattle to find out about the landmarks program. Their house sat on two lots; another lot provided them with garden and open space. Though they knew the house was safe in their hands, they were concerned for its future.
"We didn't want the extra lot built on or the house torn down for three houses," Hazel said. The property was designated a city landmark in 1978.
Lawrence Kreisman is program director for Historic Seattle and director of "Viewpoints," the tour program of the Seattle Architectural Foundation. Barry Wong is a Seattle Times staff photographer. ------------------------------- Historic Ballard
Incorporated in 1890, Ballard was a prosperous and modern municipality. In fact, before it was annexed to Seattle in 1907, Ballard was one of the largest cities in Washington state and one of the largest shingle-manufacturing centers in the world.
Its rapid growth and commercial success lay in its fishing fleet, lumber and shingle mills, boat-building and in a steady stream of immigrants from Northern Europe. They shaped the character of its neighborhoods and continue to make the area the Scandinavian capital of the Northwest. Ballard Avenue was the business district before Market Street took that role and was once known to have more saloons in a four-block stretch than any other community west of the Mississippi. Today, Ballard Avenue is a Historic Landmark District.
Next Saturday, the Ballard Historical Society will present the First Annual Ballard Old House Tour, including the Norvell home and four other houses, a designated landmark church and a pair of Ballard Avenue Landmark District establishments from the saloon era. Hours will be 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tickets at $12.50 a person are available at a number of businesses in Ballard. Information: 206-782-6844.
Copyright © 1999 The Seattle Times Company