Nestled just east of Tenth Avenue East, one of north Capitol Hill's busy arterials, Federal Avenue East, is one of the city's most "stylish" streets.

Share story

“What style is it?” Practically every homeowner at one time or another asks this question, but the answer isn’t always an easy one. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American architects mastered a mind-boggling vocabulary of columns, cornices, quoins and pediments. Smitten by what they saw in Europe and Great Britain, they came home with drawings, photographs and books on their favorite castles, country manors and town houses. Their commissions could be straightforward and accurate duplications or freely drawn combinations of elements from different periods, styles and countries.

Nestled just east of Tenth Avenue East, one of north Capitol Hill’s busy arterials, Federal Avenue East, is one of the city’s most “stylish” streets — in more ways than one. It is chock full of beautiful houses designed by local architects in every imaginable traditional style popular in America in the first quarter of the 20th century.

First and foremost, Federal Avenue East is a street of “Revivals.” Architects looked back to earlier house forms and embellishments, and created distinguished, elegantly proportioned buildings to appeal to the growing, more affluent middle class. New England Colonials and Dutch Colonials shared the avenue with half-timbered English Tudors, Norman French manors, English country cottages and Spanish and Mediterranean villas. At the same time, large, informal Craftsman-style homes made inroads into the streetscape, bringing their rusticity to contrast with the formality of their more pedigreed neighbors. Another popular, less high-style form — the Classic Box or American foursquare — also shows itself on Federal Avenue East, though it became far more common in the subdivisions east of Volunteer Park. Wedged in between are small, simple workers’ cottages that have miraculously survived to this day.

A stroll along beautifully manicured Federal Avenue East reveals that, while contemporary buildings intrude here and there, for the most part the experience is hardly changed from what it must have been like back in 1930. If you want to know “What style is it?” you can start with a comparison of the popular styles shown here.

Lawrence Kreisman is program director of Historic Seattle and author of “The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Pacific Northwest.”