The innovative, influential and imaginative Seattle architect, whose designs earned international and national awards, passed away Aug. 10.

Share story

Carl Arnold (Arne) Bystrom, an innovative, influential and imaginative Seattle architect whose designs earned international and national awards, died Aug. 10.

“He passed away very, very peacefully at home,” said his daughter, Ashley Bystrom-McConnaughey, of Whidbey Island. “He turned 90 in June and had a farewell birthday party. He was wearing a lei.”

A widely recognized leader in Northwest modern architecture, Mr. Bystrom was known for his use of post-and-beam structural frameworks and wood detailing.

“The thing that people in Seattle probably aren’t aware of is that he was behind saving Pike Place Market,” Bystrom-McConnaughey said. “He did the Soames-Dunn Building and also was responsible for saving and restoring the Seattle Garden Center building — now Beecher’s (Handmade) Cheese.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

“The city was going to tear it down. He and an engineer figured there were so many people, and so much had happened in that building, it’d probably stabilized the dirt by compacting the site.”

Eventually, she said, Mr.  Bystrom sited his office on the third floor of the building, above Sur La Table, “with panoramic window walls looking out over Elliott Bay and the neon Public Market sign. He had one of the most spectacular offices in Seattle for a number of years.”

Sometime around 2000, Mr. Bystrom moved his office to his 1888 Landmarked family home on Capitol Hill, where he’d lived since 1962 with his wife, Valerie Bystrom.

“He never really retired,” Valerie said. “He said, ‘I didn’t retire; the phone just quit ringing.’ ”

Mr. Bystrom grew up in Ballard, the son of a Swedish father and a Norwegian mother, Bystrom-McConnaughey said; his photo hangs on the Wall of Recognition at Ballard High School, where he played football and turned teammates into lifelong friends.

“He’s really a Northwest person,” Valerie Bystrom said.

After a youthful introduction to hiking during a stay at Camp Parsons on the Olympic Peninsula, Mr. Bystrom and his brother signed up for one of REI’s earliest cards: number 828, she said. He also was a skier (and, at 80, raced his granddaughters down a run at Sun Peaks), a sailor and 505 dinghy racer, “a terrific cook,” and a carpenter and woodworker. “He was a man who could do anything with his hands,” she said, “but the things he did with his family were particularly meaningful to him.”

After serving in the U.S. Army from 1945 to 1946, Mr. Bystrom graduated from the University of Washington School of Architecture in 1951 with the American Institute of Architects Medal for Excellence in Design, according to Archives West, and earned more than 30 awards for design excellence, including two National AIA Honor Awards, a Progressive Architecture Design Award and the AIA Seattle gold medal.

In a 2008 NW Living story, Mr. Bystrom recalled that he earned his first international award for the Century Building, designed with James Greco, at the foot of Queen Anne.

“It was from the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute,” Valerie Bystrom said. “That building doesn’t have a whole lot of fans, I have to say, but the Prestressed people thought it was terrific — after all, it had all that concrete on it. I remember Arne got a new suit to accept the award — the first suit he bought when we were married.”

Mr. Bystrom also designed the Seward Park Cultural Arts Center and Madrona Dance Studio, and renovated the Green Lake Bathhouse Theatre, according to the Pacific Coast Architecture Database.

He was president of the Seattle Chapter of AIA in 1984; served two terms on the Seattle Planning Commission; was a member of the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board and a founding Member of the Pike Place Market Historical Commission; and was elected to the College of Fellows, the highest rank in the AIA.

Said Grant Hildebrand, who co-wrote the book “A Thriving Modernism: The Houses of Wendell Lovett and Arne Bystrom”: “Arne Bystrom was an architect of remarkable ability, and the Sun Valley Residence is one of America’s great houses.”

“The Sun Valley house is probably his most renowned work,” his daughter said, in part for its meticulous woodwork. “Master craftsmen, masons and woodworkers, just because of the detail in the house and the level of construction, came to Idaho for the opportunity to use their crafts on this house. He was actually teaching them how to build some of this amazing stuff.”

Another of Mr. Bystrom’s famous residences, Whidbey Island’s Cliff House (according to Travel & Leisure, one of the 50 Most Romantic Places on Earth), currently is for sale.

Mr. Bystrom is preceded in death by sister Myrtle and brother Albin. Besides his wife and daughter, he is survived by sister Eleanor; son Carl Bystrom Jr.; and grandchildren Arne, Tava, Hannah and Haley.

Valerie, his wife of nearly 57 years, was holding his hand as he passed.

“Frankly,” she said, “I didn’t want to let it go, and I didn’t for a long time.”