The story of the Queen Anne High School building

The Queen Anne Historical Society is going back to school! Come join us and learn about its amazing faculty, some of its notable students more about the history of our beloved landmark. Queen Anne grads will present 72 years of school history and touch on its adaptive use since 1981. Meeting starts at 7 p.m., Thursday, February 8, Aegis Living of Queen Anne on Galer, 223 W. Galer. Free with Light refreshments.

In 1908, when the Queen Anne High School was built, America was conflicted over the purpose of high school. Public education was a possible cure for America's social ills. Some believed there should be an emphasis on liberal arts, while others wanted to use the system to assimilate a surging immigration population. Another push was for vocational training.

In Queen Anne, the demand for a high school came from Seattle’s rapid population growth during the years following the Alaska Gold Rush. Between 1902 and 1910, Seattle's total high school enrollment leapt from approximately 700 students to 4,500. Several elementary schools were constructed on Queen Anne Hill, and it was evident that a new high school would be needed.

James Stephen, the architect of Queen Anne High School, was hired by the Seattle’s Board of Education in 1901. He prepared a first model school plan whose resulting schools were wood frame designs. The Summit School of 1904/5 and the John Hay School of 1905 are great examples. A second model school plan, adopted in 1908, used fireproof materials, such as brick, terra cotta and cast stone. Adopted by the school district in 1908, the second plan produced buildings designed in Gothic Revival or late Jacobean styles. In 1908, Frederick Bennett Stephen returned to Seattle after receiving a degree from the University of Pennsylvania and joined his father in the architectural partnership of Stephen and Stephen. The new firm widened its influence and designed schools all over Washington State. One of the most striking examples is the Everett High School, influenced by the Beaux Arts style and completed in 1910.

Construction of the Queen Anne High School began in 1908 and classes began the following autumn with 613 students and 33 teachers. Originally named Jefferson High School, the School Board renamed it Queen Anne High School following community protests.

A School Board Report claimed this Neo-classical building, situated atop the crest of Queen Anne Hill, "marked the summit of achievement thus far in Seattle school architecture." Edgar Blair, a school board member and later the School District architect, noted "it is the most modern and costly building in Seattle … [Providing] spacious corridors, ample exits, abundant light and fresh air … and toilet facilities on every floor."

In 1928, with rising enrollment and overcrowding, construction began on 10 additional classrooms, a boys' gymnasium, an auditorium and a botany laboratory and greenhouse. The addition carried on the structure and ornamentation of the original building. The new auditorium was considered the finest in Seattle schools.

During World War II the priority of a high school education changed, "[t]here was a whole group taking extra classes, so we could graduate early and join the service," a graduate explained. During the war enrollment dropped from 1,872 in 1942-43 to 1,426 the following year. To take advantage of the extra space, in September 1943 an 8th grade center was established to relieve overcrowding in Lawton and Magnolia schools.

After World War II, a burgeoning population required a second major addition. A 1955 addition included an Industrial Arts Building. A freestanding cafeteria and music building was also built. Funds raised for student activities paid for relocating a pipe organ from Everett to the existing auditorium. In 1958, across Galer to the north, an athletic field named for Otto L. Luther took the place of the old Grizzly Inn, which closed in 1954.

In 1961, a 2,200-seat gymnasium was constructed on 2nd Ave, replaced the old Beanery which had long provided students with penny candy, popsicles, pencils, paper, and hamburgers.

In the early 1960s, the school now known as Queen Anne Junior-Senior High School enrolled 2,850 students in grades 7-12. Younger students left the school with the opening of nearby McClure Junior High in September 1964.

By 1980-81 enrollment had dwindled to only 850 students so that by the end of the school year the School Board, giving declining enrollment and the deteriorated condition of the building as their reasons, closed the school. Despite objections to the closure, students and the historic pipe organ were transferred in fall 1981 to Franklin High School.

In 1984, the Seattle School District in cooperation with Historic Seattle, chose Lorig Associates, a local development company, to lease the site and convert it for residential use while preserving its historic character. Classroom space was transformed into 139 apartments.  Historic Seattle provided some financial assistance. The project also used the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program to unlock $1.6 million in tax credits. During the adaptive reuse process, the building was designated a Seattle Landmark and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

During the renovation, the boiler room was adapted into a party room. The 1929 auditorium-gymnasium was demolished to create a circular driveway and entrance. Much of the interior of the building was altered, but features such as the Galer Street entrance, the tall windows, and blackboards survived. In 2006, Legacy Partners converted the apartments to high-end condos.

Nicole Demers-Changelo is Vice President of the Queen Anne Historical Society, a real estate broker and a licensed architect.