John Parkinson designed several Seattle buildings the five years following the Great Fire of 1889. At least four still stand, including structures on the Seattle University and Seattle Pacific campuses.
A MANIC RECONSTRUCTION of Seattle followed the Great Fire of June 6, 1889. A new brick business district was built that with only momentary slackenings — in 1893 and 1907 — continued expanding for a quarter-century. Although it first centered on Pioneer Square, buildings spread north up First, Second and Third avenues, steadily transforming the city’s residential neighborhood there to commerce. Still, most of the new brick blocks were modest, from one to five stories, like those shown here.
This photograph includes all or parts of the four post-fire buildings that filled the west side of Second Avenue, from Columbia Street on the left to Marion Street on the right. Beginning on the left, their names were the Haller, McDonald, Epler and Poncin blocks. We will concentrate on the Epler, owned by real estate agent William F. Epler. He held rooms 40 and 41 as offices for him and his son, lawyer James M. Epler. I assume their quarters are on the fourth floor behind those crowning windows with the date of construction, 1890, centered above.
The architect was John Parkinson, an Englishman who fortuitously arrived in Seattle in January 1889, five months before the fire. Parkinson’s career flourished during the five years he lived and worked in Seattle designing buildings, managing the construction of many.
Dennis Alan Andersen and Jeffrey Karl Ochsner, who wrote “Distant Corner” (2003) and “Shaping Seattle Architecture” (2014), are our usual sources for studying Seattle’s built history. Ochsner clearly admires Parkinson’s contributions, describing his work as “displaying a remarkable level of coherence and repose in contrast to the agitated work of so many of his contemporaries.”
I have, in 33 years of this weekly feature, included illustrated essays on approximately nine of Parkinson’s creations. At least four survive: the Interurban Building at Yesler Way and Occidental Avenue, the Garrand Building on the Seattle University campus, Alexander Hall on the Seattle Pacific University campus and the BF Day School in Fremont. This survival rate for schools is explained, in part, by Parkinson’s additional role as the first architect for Seattle’s public schools.
The Epler Block was a victim of success — not its own, but that of local bankers. Beginning in 1919, they began seriously footprinting the city’s financial district with grandiose structures, such as the Bank of California building, for which the Epler was razed in 1923. Parkinson moved to California in 1894. He designed landmarks into the 1930s, including, notably, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and L.A.’s City Hall.