George Stetson and his business partner, John Post, built Seattle’s first apartment house in 1883 (though the five units might more accurately be called row houses).
THIS BUILDING, with its quintet of front doors beneath a central tower shaped like a bell, and a mansard roof that billows like a skirt in a breeze, was long claimed to be Seattle’s first apartment house. (It might, however, be better to call these row houses, each having its own front door.) It was built at the northeast corner of Second Avenue and Marion Street in 1883, a busy year in which Seattle also acquired street numbers and 59 neighborhood additions.
It is named for its builders, George W. Stetson and John J. Post.
Stetson and Post, renting a shed on Henry Yesler’s wharf in 1875 and using Yesler’s hand-me-down boiler, constructed a gristmill for grinding grain into feed and flour. Soon they switched to making doors and window sashes. By 1883 they had the largest lumber mill over the tideflats south of King Street.
The partners lived in their stately building, as did lawyer and future judge Thomas Burke, perhaps the most outstanding among the city’s second wave of pioneers.
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Following the Great Fire of 1889, which the wooden row houses escaped, the city rapidly rebuilt in brick and stone. The Stetson & Post Block, an elegant landmark visible from Elliott Bay, was soon in the shadow of a seven-story business block across Second Avenue, named for Burke. The row houses added commerce. In place of the grand stairways to the five apartments, five uniformly designed storefronts were built facing the sidewalk on Second.
In 1919, Stetson died at age 75. That was the same year the apartments he built with Post came down. Twelve years earlier, F.M. Foulser wrote an essay in the Dec. 8, 1907, issue of The Seattle Times titled “How Apartment Houses are Absorbing Seattle’s Increasing Population.” Foulser imagined the Rainier Block (the last of the Stetson & Post Block’s three names) as “some aristocratic little lady of bygone days, who has been compelled to remain among the influx of vulgarly new associates.” Some day, the essayist mused, the Rainier “will give way to a modern skyscraper.”
It took some time. The first replacement of 1919 gleamed behind terra-cotta tiles but was still shorter than the row houses. The 47-floor First Interstate Center (now the Wells Fargo Center) wasn’t built until 1983.