A Seattle woman’s focus on ‘Early-Day Mansions’ featured one downtown that was owned by one of the city’s most powerful and popular couples.

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DURING THE LAST year of World War II, Margaret Pitcairn Strachan, a Seattle Times contributor, made a wise choice for a weekly serial subject. She named it “Seattle’s Pioneer Mansions: And Some of the Events They Saw.” It was an illustrated weekly feature that ran about five times longer than this one. (The feature was renamed “Early-Day Mansions” beginning on Week 2.) The author interviewed many of the surviving pioneers — most often their children — and the families often held cherished photographs they shared with Strachan.

One of my earliest mentors — Lawton Gowey, the Seattle organist, historian and collector of Seattle historical ephemera — introduced me to Strachan’s series, letting me take his perfectly preserved collection home. Through my now 37 years of writing this feature for Pacific NW magazine, I have used many of the 52 features Strachan researched, wrote and illustrated for The Seattle Times. The series began on Sept. 3, 1944. The Times’ front-page headline that Sunday was encouraging. It reads, “Germans In Disorderly Retreat as 2 Yank Forces Enter Belgium.”

Strachan’s last feature on mansions appeared on Aug. 26, 1945. By her study of the then-surviving array of Seattle’s historic homes — and their stories — “Peg” Pitcairn Strachan has made a profound and lasting contribution to our understanding of Seattle history. I strongly urge readers to seek out the Strachan originals with the help of the Seattle Public Library’s copy of The Seattle Times archives. (If you have a library card, a Seattle Public Library librarian can lead you in its use both online and over the phone. If you have no card, now is a good time to get one.)

The small mansion nestled here in a copse of its own maples was built in the early 1870s at the northwest corner of James Street and Third Avenue by one of Seattle’s truly powerful pioneer couples, Bailey and Barbetta Gatzert. For the Strachan series, the Gatzert Mansion is No. 19, and appeared in The Times on Jan. 7, 1945.

Bailey, who was born in Germany, was Seattle’s eighth mayor, in 1875-76. He died in 1893, at the age of 63. The Gatzert home had been converted into shops at the turn of the century, before this photo was taken, shortly before the Third Avenue regrade began in 1905. A row of the shops running north on Third Avenue from the corner with James Street is easily seen here. (The print has a metropolitan French name, “Bloc de Lyon,” lower-left corner, because the major investors in the Gatzert block were French citizens.)

Bailey and Barbetta built a summer retreat on the east shore of Lake Washington and called it Lucerne after the Swiss lake they admired. Barbetta moved there after Bailey’s death.

The accomplishments, businesses and charities of the Gatzerts were so extensive that we will list a share of them in our blog.