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Tuesday, August 19, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Chester Lindsey, 1927 - 2003: Noted architect reshaped city's skyline

Seattle Times staff reporter

Chester Lindsey conceived of some of Seattle's tallest and most-controversial buildings, their imposing height and glass and steel designs in part leading to an activist movement that likely ensured that no building will ever eclipse them.

Mr. Lindsey, architect of the city's tallest building, the 76-story Columbia Seafirst Center (now known as the Bank of America Tower), died Saturday. He was 76.

Called a mentor and great human being by those who knew him, Mr. Lindsey and his client Martin Selig are as responsible as anyone for the shimmering glass of the Seattle skyline that thrusts above Puget Sound — a sight visible from miles away.

"The Space Needle told people where Seattle was. Columbia Center tells people Seattle has arrived," Selig said in 1987.

A public poll fielded by the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects when the building opened in 1985 ranked it as the third-favorite in Seattle.

But the landmark, which currently has a 25 percent vacancy rate, was by no means universally popular. The late Victor Steinbrueck, former dean of the University of Washington School of Architecture, said according to Historylink.org: "It's terrible. A flat-out symbol of greed and egoism. It's probably the most obscene erection of ego edifice on the Pacific Coast."

The building set off a bout of civic soul searching culminating in a building code said to reflect a desire for a city of a smaller scale.

A group of Seattle denizens, including current City Councilwoman Margaret Pageler, formed Vision Seattle in 1987, in part in response to the $200 million skyscraper.

In 1989, voters approved the so-called CAP Initiative, which limited the height of downtown buildings to 36 stories and forced developers to go through a stringent design-review process.

Current Seattle City Council President and architect Peter Steinbrueck said he can't imagine those restrictions being lifted, unless the entire building code is abandoned.

Mr. Lindsey worked with Selig on shopping centers all over the Northwest before designing numerous office buildings, including those at Fourth Avenue and Battery Street and Fourth Avenue and Blanchard Street — the structure there known to some locally as the "Darth Vader" building. Mr. Lindsey also designed many buildings in lower Queen Anne.

Mr. Lindsey was born in Yakima Jan. 18, 1927. He attended Washington State University, where he studied architecture and structural engineering, his course of study interrupted by a two-year stint in the Army.

He met his future wife, Tulle, on a blind date in 1955, and they were married the next year. "He was very exciting because he was a visual person, and that widened my horizons," she said last night. Mr. Lindsey loved walking her through his buildings and making her part of the process. They used to hunt, fish and travel together.

"He made me laugh," she said. "He really lived life."

He was excited about the Bank of America Tower because of the new technologies used in the building process, she added.

Selig said Mr. Lindsey was an important mentor to many in the Seattle architecture community.

Paul Brenna was one of those young architects. He worked for Chester Lindsey & Associates for 12 years beginning in 1966. Mr. Lindsey liked to pass his knowledge to young architects, Brenna said.

"Chet made a lasting impression on me," Brenna said.

Specifically, Mr. Lindsey refused to ignore the functionality of a building, Brenna said. ". He always insisted that his projects have function as well as beauty and would never sacrifice function."

Mr. Lindsey was preceded in death by a sister, Doris Young. Besides his wife, of Seattle, he is survived by son Mark Lindsey of Spokane; daughter Karina Briscoe of Seattle; and six grandchildren. The family asked that donations be made in his name to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center or the Jacobsen House, a residential-care facility in Seattle.

J. Patrick Coolican: 206-464-3315 or jcoolican@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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