Photo courtesy Michael Herschensohn: When city staff opted to partially restore the Willcox walls in Queen Anne through the 1989 parks levy, the Parks Department decided not to repair the original lampposts, but replace them with new ones, like the one seen here. The original lampposts can be seen scattered throughout the neighborhood, however, and one even wound up in Marysville.
Photo courtesy Michael Herschensohn: When city staff opted to partially restore the Willcox walls in Queen Anne through the 1989 parks levy, the Parks Department decided not to repair the original lampposts, but replace them with new ones, like the one seen here. The original lampposts can be seen scattered throughout the neighborhood, however, and one even wound up in Marysville.

This story started out as a little snippet about the lampposts on the Willcox Walls along Seventh and Eighth avenues west.

Now it’s turned into an article exploring the history of these beautiful bits of street furniture; their marvelous reconstruction; their curious new sites in street ends, front yards and back; the countless varieties of restoration; the best preserved examples and recently discovered examples.

In 1906, the Queen Anne Club, a group of influential residents (the record only mentions men), lobbied the city’s Parks Board to build Queen Anne Boulevard. Queen Anne had been left out of the Olmsted Brother’s boulevard plan. These rich and powerful folks angrily demanded inclusion in the plan. Eventually, they got their way.

The city’s plan for Queen Anne Boulevard included the West Queen Anne retaining walls designed by W.R.B. Willcox and constructed in 1914. The walls are extremely popular. As a result, in 1975-76 they were among the very first designated city landmarks. It helped that Earl Layman, the person who prepared their nomination, was the city conservator and a Queen Anne resident who lived just down the hill. As a young man, he had studied with Willcox at the University of Oregon.

By 1982, shortly after their designation as a city landmark, the lampposts had deteriorated. and the city had altered their historic appearance. One lamppost I thought poorly restored had been in fact severely altered by the city before its removal.

The walls’ popularity led to their partial restoration as part of project funded by the 1989 parks levy. At that time, the Parks Department decided not to repair the original lampposts, but to replace them with new ones. The laurel leaf decorations down the legs of the lampposts apparently rusted off most of the posts before their removal from the wall. The missing metal parts may have forced the decision to replace the fixtures. Apparently, a cast was made of the best-preserved lamppost to serve as the form for all the new ones. (More research needs to be done on this). Aside from an electrical cover, the replacement lampposts appear to be cast in one piece.

Legal constraints probably prohibited the city from selling the lampposts, so it gave all or some of the original lampposts to the Queen Anne Community Council, which in turn sold them to interested neighbors. There doesn’t seem to be record of how many were sold. If you look hard you may find some of the 65 historic lampposts scattered around the neighborhood.

In a couple of recent ambles about Queen Anne inspired by Covid-19 confinement, I’ve found four pairs of these lampposts and three singletons. Three of the pairs and two of the singletons were unknown to me before I started to hunt them down.

One restored lamppost sits on Second Avenue West, near Crockett. Bruce Jones, a former member of the board of the Queen Anne Historical Society, acquired it from his neighbor in 2016 and set it up in his front yard. Jones removed the egregious bracket and cables the city had installed. He had no way of recreating the laurel leaf decorations running down the lamppost sides. There is another lone lamppost at 1616 Fourth Ave. W. next to the former Masonic center and across from the library. It has been painted but not restored. I like it because the laurel leaves down the (now) northern side are rusting and pulling away from the post providing evidence of how all the lampposts deteriorated. They simply rusted apart over time.

I guess the laurel leaves are Neo-Classical reminders of the crown worn by Roman emperors. In 1914, when the walls were built, the Beaux Arts Movement popular in the United States from about 1880 to 1930 and favoring classical styles was all the rage. Architect Willcox added Neo-Classical features to other works during this period.

The last lone lamppost I found has moved to that curious part of Queen Anne Boulevard that wraps to the north from West Wheeler Street along Tenth West. It retains the anachronistic brackets holding the globe. It ties this often-neglected part of the landmark boulevard and its modest homes to its more famous sections along the Willcox Walls and Highland Drive.

I discovered my first pair of lampposts in a garden on Seventh West where West Comstock plunges down the hill. Its globes are a disquieting choice, but they underscore the difficulty in finding replacements for the ones Willcox chose. I am glad to see them saved, in fairly good shape and at the ready for restoration. Like the ones on Second West and Fourth West, this pair is missing the decorative laurel leaves.

Another pair is hiding in a back yard on Seventh Avenue West. A friend lives next door and alerted me to their survival. Like many of the survivors, they look out of place in their new location. These two are pretending to be flowers in the middle of a carefully tended garden.

Two of the weirdest pairs I found at dead ends overlooking Aurora Avenue. The pair at the end of McGraw are in terrible shape and got horribly bastardized with modern lamps on poles stuck through their hearts. Both this pair and the one at the end of Boston Street in the laurel hedge strike me as illegal installations. It looks like some private folks acquired the lampposts when the city took them down and propped them up on public walls. I may be too quick on the draw here, for snooping in the laurel bushes that hide the Boston Street pair, I discovered official City Light stickers on them. City Light hasn’t gotten back to my inquiry about the stickers. This last pair is in super condition, as if the laurel bushes know they are protecting one of their own.

Amazingly, these incredible lampposts keep on popping up. In late April 2020, Sally G., wrote from Marysville with news of one of our historic lampposts. Sally reported she “grew up in QA Hill (9th & Wheeler), and my dad bought one of the lampposts that had been on Highland Drive (sic) a couple decades ago. I’m now the proud owner of this beautiful piece of history, and my husband and I are restoring it to its glory. We grew up at 2509 9th Ave. W., and Yantis is my maiden name. My dad was a Seattle firefighter and was in the very first class of the Medic One EMT training program. His main station was Station 8, near Queen Anne High School. (…) He retired as a lieutenant after 25 years and then went to work at the UW in their fire marshal’s office for another 25. My mom’s name was Ruth Yantis, and my dad’s name was Stanley Yantis Sr.”

Like almost all the historic lampposts, the Marysville example arrived at Sally’s missing the decorative laurel leaves. Fortunately, either her father or her sister who had stored the lamppost for decades had snagged four perfectly good sets of leaves that she plans to reattach.

Without looking in every backyard, and not counting the Marysville example, I’ve found 11 lampposts. Maybe like Stanley Yantis, you have one buried under some egregious tangle of ivy. Maybe you have one awaiting restoration in your basement and didn’t know what it was or where it was from. The Marysville story gives hope that someday all 65 lampposts will see the light of day. If you find one, let us know at info@qahistory.org.