Capitol Hill Modern: Final Report

Updated: Apr 14


Cirque Apartments, 621 Harvard Ave E
Cirque Apartments, 2021, Lana Blinderman

For those not already familiar, Capitol Hill Modern is a 4Culture-funded historical survey of Mid-Century Modern apartments built on Seattle's Capitol Hill between 1945 and 1978. The survey began in May of 2020 and although the project officially concluded in early January, it's amazing to think it is already over... except for one crucial task: publishing the final project documentation. This documentation includes a full list of identified buildings, context statement, intensive survey, and architectural photographs. So if you are already familiar with the project, skip ahead to section II where you can find some concluding thoughts followed by links to our final documentation. However, if you're new to Capitol Hill Modern, here is a brief overview.


I. Recap


The project originated in 2019 when the project photographer, Lana Blinderman, first proposed it. A year later, historian Tom Heuser partnered with Lana under the auspices of Capitol Hill Historical Society to apply for a $10,000 4Culture Preservation grant. 4Culture generously awarded CHHS the grant that April.


The project serves several purposes:

  1. To raise awareness and appreciation of this style/era of architecture on Capitol Hill. Often neglected and written off as insignificant or non-contributing, these resources play a significant role in our architectural and cultural heritage and are fast deteriorating and disappearing.

  2. To create a photographic record of this style of architecture on Capitol Hill.

  3. To provide a foundational study intended to be edited and further developed.

  4. To inform future historic preservation efforts.

  5. And to generally facilitate future scholarship on the history of Capitol Hill in the second half of the 20th century, for example, a sequel to Jacqueline B. Williams’ The Hill With A Future: Seattle's Capitol Hill 1900-1946 or something similar.

Now complete, Capitol Hill Modern has identified nearly 270 Mid-Century Modern Multi-Family buildings (both existing and demolished) constructed between 1945 and 1978. The accompanying context statement describes the circumstances in which these buildings emerged and how designs changed over time. The accompanying intensive survey provides stunning photographic documentation, detailed architectural descriptions and the historical backgrounds of the eleven most representative / outstanding buildings.


Yes, this survey does go to eleven, but why?

Ben-Mar Apartments, 315 23rd Ave E (Lana Blinderman, 2021)

The survey originally focused on ten buildings, but upon later discovering just how significant the Ben-Mar Apartments (now Capitol East) are, there was no question. It had to be included for that proverbial extra push over the cliff.

Now with that cliffhanger, for those interested in learning what made the Ben Mar (and its ten companions) so significant and in learning more about the project methodology, please proceed below.

Historian Tom Heuser (center left) watches as Photographer Lana Blinderman (center right) shares her experiences with documenting the Red Lion Apartments. Capitol Hill Modern Walking Tour, December 5, 2021. (Photo by Marissa Hiller)

II. Concluding Thoughts


Tom

This is likely the most extensive project I have taken on outside of co-founding Capitol Hill Historical Society and managing it for five years. And for most of those five years, I tended to turn a blind eye to Mid-Century Modern architecture. I was a purist. However, Lana and this project changed my mind. I have come to have a deep appreciation for it now that I have a much greater understanding for the influences and thinking behind the designs. I have also come to have a much greater appreciation for the craft of capturing these designs in photographic form and look forward to more opportunities to continue doing historical survey work, both on Capitol Hill and elsewhere.


Lana

At the conclusion of this project, I feel more knowledgeable about the history and styles of mid-century modern apartment buildings on Capitol Hill and more connected to my neighborhood than ever before. I have also grown in the art and craft of architectural photography in a context of a dense and busy neighborhood. Going forward, I recommend completing basic photographic documentation of all the remaining mid-century modern apartment buildings this research identified, followed by in-depth documentation of the most representative buildings.


III. Final Project Documentation