Two small houses were built on Eastlake in 1890, but one was leveled in 1906 to make way for an apartment building. About half a century later, the other twin went down.
FOR THIS WEEK’S “then,” we have picked another of the tax photos saved from the county assessor’s wastebasket. About 60 years ago, Stan Unger, then a young King County employee with affection for the built city, salvaged about 3,000 of these prints.
Like this portrait of 615 Eastlake, most were copied from 2½-by-4-inch negatives, originally exposed for the late 1930s Works Progress Administration’s survey of taxable structures in King County.
This ambitious study was the work of skilled WPA workers using good cameras with sharp lenses. For the most part, however, the tax cards and files that described the measurable qualities — including lot sizes, fixtures, building materials, architects, values and much more — were destroyed, including those for this charming home yearning to be enjoyed as a Victorian landmark. Often the subject’s date of construction was hand-printed on the back of the surviving prints, but not on this one. We will need to use other sources to summon an outline of the home’s history.
From other photographs, we learn that 615 Eastlake had a twin standing beside it from at least the early 1890s until 1906. The twin was removed for construction of the three-story Jensen Apartments and storefronts (601 to 611 Eastlake) at the corner of Eastlake Avenue and Mercer Street. The Jensen, restored in the 1990s, stands on the left of our “now.” The surviving Victorian cottage, shown in our “then,” was moved back in 1905 or 1906 to create more open space between the new apartment house and the substantial frame residence (617 Eastlake) on the right.
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Built on the lowest part of Denny Hill’s western slope, and from their many windows looking east over the Cascade neighborhood “flats,” these charming Gothic twins were not dainty. Their daylight basements served more like lower main floors, and were fitted with about 10 windows each. Still, it was their well-ornamented east facades that these Victorians showed off to Eastlake Avenue. And on the evidence of the 1893 Sanborn real estate maps, they were also originally closer to the avenue. Beginning in the mid-1880s, Eastlake was the railed route for horse-drawn cars carrying picnickers and others to Lake Union. With visitors assured, immigrant William Jensen developed Jensen Grove — a German beer garden, boat rental, bowling green and swimming beach attraction at the southeast corner of the lake.
When built (we speculate in 1890), the Victorian twins were set at the center of the block between Mercer and Roy streets with the property line squeezed between them. But who built the twins, and who first lived in them? The 1892 Colbert Directory has German immigrant William Koch at home in the north twin, while living in the snuggling south twin was William Jensen, the same Jensen of the Grove. Most likely they built them, too. In the 1908 Baist Real Estate Map, Jensen’s name is printed on his south side of the block.
The two Williams, neighbors Koch and Jensen, were partners in the Louvre, a popular café-tavern built quickly at Madison Street and First Avenue after the 1889 Great Fire. The partners were also brothers-in-law. Koch’s sister Hulda arrived in Seattle two weeks after its Great Fire, and soon married her brother’s business partner. In fall 1909, The Times reported, “Mrs. William Jensen (Hulda) was hostess at a very pretty reception given in honor of their daughter Gertrud’s eighteenth birthday.”