Duck Duck Book

26 – classic houses
11.22.2005, 12:04 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

Classic houses of Seattle : high style to vernacular, 1870-1950 / Caroline T. Swope.
Portland, Or. : Timber Press, 2005.
[MCL call number: 728.37 S979c 2005; nine copies, one hold]

If you are interested in the minutiae of U.S. domestic architecture, with careful discussions of questions like the difference between the four square and the craftsman house, this book is for you. It focuses on the houses (mostly the fancy ones) of one city, Seattle, and discusses them by period and architectural style, from Victorian to modern. There are hundreds of beautiful black and white photographs (mostly exteriors), detailed descriptions of specific notable houses, and an excellent chapter on researching your own house's history. The book's appendices provide a house locating tool (by neighborhood and by chapter), a map of Seattle neighborhoods, a glossary, an index, and a very solid bibliography.

Despite all this, the book has somehow raised my hackles slightly. Maybe it's just the competitive crankiness that comes from living in and loving the lesser-celebrated of two cities which are much compared, but when I look at the (mostly) grand houses described in this book and consider where they might be located, I think of Portland and not Seattle. In my mind, Seattle's housing is best characterized by vast and now-dingy tracts of as-small-as-possible houses, with no dining rooms and no basements, erected in haste to contain wartime workers and the many other folks who streamed into the city in the 1940s and 1950s (Seattle's population grew by 190,000 people in that time!).

But nothing smacks of small-minded provincialism more than a tendency to deride other cities as a way of championing my own, so I shall quit before I walk any further down that road.

I will leave you with this: Classic Houses of Seattle is a lovely picture book, useful for anyone interested in 20th century domestic architecture. It provides substantive and interesting information supplemental to its illustrations. But it focuses too much on the highfalutin and the expensive — the book has no substantive discussion of those as-small-as-possible houses with no basements, though I would argue that they, also, are classic Seattle. However, the pictures are still pretty, the supplemental matter and how-to-research information are still invaluable, and Classic Houses does provide a nice, if slanted, introduction to a portion of Seattle's material history.


Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: