THEME WEEK: Seattle History! This week we touch on a handful of people and places from Seattle’s history.
Yesler Building, 1920 (by Seattle Municipal Archives)
Proposed in 1904 and completed in 1909, the building at 400 Yesler was originally the Municipal Building, and housed a number of city services: the City’s offices, the city jail, an emergency hospital, police department, and the Health and Sanitation department. In 1912, a penthouses intended as a nurses’ residence was added; in 1916, the City moved its offices to the new County-City Building — later the County Courthouse — leaving this structure as a public safety building.
The construction of the building was a bit storied. The original proposal was for two separate buildings, a city hall and a public safety building; the general election regarding the proposal struck down the city hall but approved a bond issue for a building containing the jail, emergency hospital, and city courtroom. By 1906 the city council had added a police department and health and sanitation department, then city offices. This led to the building plan being amended to four stories from two, with a daylight basement, basement, and sub-basement.
By this point the land for the building had already been purchased on Yesler Way. After work on the foundation had begun, in November 1907 5th Avenue and Terrace Streets were regraded, requiring the foundation to be strengthened. That same month the Oregon and Washington Railroad proposed building a tunnel through that part of Seattle, directly under the building, prompting more work to strengthen the foundations. Of course, the O&W ended up using the Great Northern Railway tunnel, completed in 1905 with one end at the site of King Street Station. By early 1909, however, the ventilation systems were installed, and on April 5th, 1909, the building was opened to the public.
By 1920, when this photograph was taken, the city had moved its offices elsewhere, and a 1917 alteration made the building more convenient for the remaining tenants. The city would continue to run its public safety services from this building until 1951, when they moved to a new location on the site of the Terry Family pioneer home. The building would be sold to private owners in 1957 and languish for twenty years, before pressure from the city led to extensive renovations and the city leasing some space there. In 1991 King County bought the building and restored the aging structure, and has housed a number of county offices there since.
The 400 Yesler Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 19th, 1973.
For more information about this historic building, see the article about this building, from which much here is borrowed, at HistoryLink.org.