IN THE SUMMER OF 1983, I entered West Queen Anne School for the first time. The school had been closed since June of 1981. Desks and chairs were stacked in the corridors. My footsteps on the maple floors echoed in the empty classroom. Light shone through the tall, multipaned windows onto blackboards where the final messages of the school year remained. I leaned against a wall and imagined what the school must have been like nearly 90 years earlier, when it first opened its doors to girls in starched dresses and boys in pressed trousers and bow ties.
West Queen Anne School is a very different place now. Its conversion to residences in 1984 by the architectural firm of Cardwell/Thomas was the largest privately financed rehabilitation and reuse project of its type in the Northwest, and has become a national model for salvaging surplus schools. The lunchroom, auditorium and classrooms of the building are now comfortable studio, one- and two-bedroom units, and the cavernous attic, rising nearly 30 feet to the pitched roofs, easily accommodates two-story living rooms and lofts. Balconies are discreetly slipped into the roofs so they are barely noticeable from the street. And the views are superb.
Still, the building carries its heritage. Copies of vintage photographs by Asahel Curtis line corridor walls, reminding visitors and residents that children once drew and clipped cut-outs, constructed birdhouses and baskets, cooked and quizzed in the
classrooms, and played games on the asphalt playing field that is now landscaped and green over an underground parking garage.
An Oct. 15 open house at the school will give people a glimpse inside many of the units. Here's a preview:
Fourth Floor Under the roof
Dede Kennedy managed to coax some extra square footage out of her top-floor unit by buying into the project when it was still on the drawing board. She came to an open house, walked through the school, and came back later with her daughter. She recalls, "We were brought up to the attic, which was pitch black, and Kathy said, `I'd like this southwest corner.' "
The space had been planned for two bathrooms upstairs and one downstairs. She removed one and had the master bath expanded under the eaves in additional attic space. Since she would be the sole tenant and was not concerned with privacy, she opened up the walls of the two bedrooms upstairs to face out to the central stair and let in more light. One room is now a study. She regrets not having moved the staircase entirely from the center of the space to have one large room upstairs. But she has never regretted the choice of the southwest corner, the only apartment with two balconies facing city and sound. "I have high stools and sit out there. The view at the end of the day is wonderful."
Third Floor Classroom views
Hy and Mae Rita Kurfirst are newcomers to the city. They worked in New York City and lived in a house on Long Island until their move, 10 years ago, to a Manhattan apartment. While they had visited Seattle before on business, it was at their daughter's urging that they considered retiring here. Jill Kurfirst, a local architect, heard of the West Queen Anne School conversion, called her parents, and suggested they take a look. For the past year, she has planned and supervised many changes: walls have been shifted, closets and storage added and the kitchen and bathrooms improved. In March, the Kurfirsts began moving in, although they are still not completely settled in. "The blue china collection arrived a week ago last Friday," Mae Rita says, showing off a tall armoire weighted down with English stoneware. She loves the great light that fills the former classroom, with its panoramic view of downtown. Furnishings have been selected with one guide, she says, "I don't want to tell the two grandchildren, `Don't touch.' My house was like this. It says, `Welcome, sit down, relax, do as you please.' "
Second Floor Eclectic interiors
Laura Dalesandro, the owner of Isadora's Antique Clothing near the Pike Place Market, bought her West Queen Anne studio a year ago. Her unit is trimmed with vertical fir wainscoting that was part of the original classroom and cloakroom walls. Previous owners had taken advantage of the high ceilings to install a sleeping loft at the back of the room, reached from a spiral stair.
This is not the first historic building Dalesandro has lived in. She rented an apartment in the Ballard Mansion on West Highland Drive for five years. At West Queen Anne School, she was lucky enough to find a corner studio with four windows rather than the normal two. "I feel like I'm in a tree house. I can forget I'm minutes from work. That's the beauty of Queen Anne. You can create an illusion of the country in the city. It's perfect for me."
The term "eclectic" barely does justice to Dalesandro's home. Art deco prints, lamps and metalware share the stage with swords, oil paintings, crucifixes, lanterns, textiles and stuffed animals. She goes to Europe about five times a year in pursuit of clothing for her business, but brings back much more than clothes. Her collections reflect her interest in religious art and Native American lore. "People say to me, `Well, where are you going to put that?' I never once have had that thought. I'll find a space."
----------------------------------------------------------------- Lawrence Kreisman is author of six publications on regional architecture and historic preservation. He writes regularly for Pacific Magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a Seattle Times photographer. ----------------------------------------------------------------- School's Open
The public can tour 12 living units at West Queen Anne Condominium, 1401 Fifth West (at Galer Street) on Sunday, Oct. 15, noon to 4 p.m. $10 tickets are available at the door. Information, 622-6952.