THE FAMILY NAMES associated with palatial residences on Seattle's Millionaire's Row recall the days when lumber, banking, shipbuilding and retail were rapidly turning the city into an up-to-date metropolis. Stretching along 14th Avenue East leading into Volunteer Park, from East Aloha to East Prospect streets, were the homes of Nathan Eckstein, a vice president of Schwabacher Brothers Hardware; Thomas Russell, the owner of Tenino Stone Quarries; Cyrus Clapp, of a major investment company; David Skinner, the founder of the Port Blakely Mill Company and Skinner & Eddy shipyard; W.A. Stuart, founder of Pacific Coast Condensed Milk Company (later to become Carnation); and C.H. Cobb, lumber company owner. Topping the list was James Moore, the developer of much of this area of Capitol Hill.
While these homes were distinctive, none got into the press in as infamous a way as did the $100,000 home of George H. Parker, completed in 1909 by architect Frederick Sexton. At more than 7,500 square feet, it was one of the most impressive Colonial Revival houses in the city. But of more interest to readers was that the monies that built the house had come from a stock embezzlement scheme colorfully reported in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of Aug. 31, 1911:
Broken in spirit and with the pallor of three months' confinement in the Tombs of New York, George H. Parker, high financier of the get-rich-quick wireless scheme, landed on McNeil Island yesterday and began his sentence of two years. His identity as a man of wealth, skillful salesman of worthless stock and suave and convincing promoter will be lost for that length of time and he will be known as No. 2040. From his cell on the green island No. 2040 can see the steamers pass in the racing channel on their way to his former home in Seattle, where he has a palatial home on Capitol hill and real-estate holdings valued at $300,000.
But Parker's death in 1926 was just the beginning of another colorful chapter in the history of the house. In 1929, his widow sold it to Eugene Fersen, a Russian baron and the only acknowledged out-of-wedlock son of Czar Nicholas II. He brought a large amount of furniture from his Paris apartment, where he had the good fortune to be staying at the time of the Russian Revolution. The 1,000-room family castle in St. Petersburg had been confiscated by the Bolsheviks, and this Capitol Hill house became its substitute - bedecked with red and purple satin festoons - the colors of the Russian royal family.
In the 1940s, Fersen founded a religious organization called "The Lightbearers," and the house became its headquarters for the next 40 years.
Enter David and Ruth Walsh McIntyre in 1987 - house hunters in search of their dream home. When Ruth first saw the house, its draped and darkened interior was filled with equally dark, heavily carved furnishings.
Fortunately for the McIntyres, the house had been maintained in a state of benign neglect - what the new owners refer to kindly as "a patina of grime." They saw past that to appreciate rooms that combine the formality of classical revival style and beautifully finished hardwoods with the informality and rustic qualities of the American Arts and Crafts period.
The drawing room and the library are dressed in mahogany. In the drawing room, Moravian tile designed by Henry Chapman Mercer brings the Arts and Crafts to the formal classic revival mantel. The room had originally been furnished with Mission oak.
In the bookcase-lined library with its Romanesque hearth, Rockwood scenic tiles of shoreline, trees and distant mountains are catalog items that resemble Lake Washington Boulevard. For the McIntyres, the tiles were a surprise that came with repeated washing. "We had no idea what was there, it was dirty with black soot." Also original to the room are lighting fixtures with scenic painted shades.
In the oak-paneled dining room, the splendid painted ceiling consists of oak leaves, palms and roses. The fireplace surround is composed of Rockwood glazed tile in a fruit pattern. An Art Nouveau Arts-and-Crafts-period bronze chandelier hangs above the dining-room table.
In the entry hall, a mirrored glass ceiling was an early-day change made by Parker. He had gone on an ocean voyage, and decided upon seeing the captain's dining room that he wanted this mirror treatment. Two granddaughters, still living, remember the house when they were little girls, and heard stories passed down. There was a furor over that change, but he had stood his ground. Fortunately, his pleasure in the stained-glass window in the stair landing did not waiver, and it still exists. Parker's granddaughters recall that grandfather insisted on the Tiffany Company doing that and the fixtures.
The baron covered up the magnificent hand-painted and stenciled pendant designs by gluing red velvet onto the walls of the entrance hall, now the focus of restoration efforts. When the tattered fabric was removed from the stair-hall walls, damage occurred to the stenciled pattern work beneath. Artist Debbie Huls is recreating them here to match the intact ones surrounding the entrance door. She has brought the pattern into the main-floor powder room as well.
Huls tested out her talents in the oak-paneled breakfast room, which had been a damp space with peeling canvas wall coverings. The McIntyres wanted to carry the theme of flowers and palms in the painted ceiling of the dining room.
While restoration is the intent in the principal rooms, the McIntyres have had to reconstruct the kitchen based upon clues in the butler's pantry, where the cabinetry and flooring were intact. Cabinets were designed to match the pantry cabinetry. David McIntyre made molds of original hardware in order to duplicate this for the new cabinets.
The McIntyres have just scratched the surface of repairs and restoration. But as they move from room to room and recount the before and after stories, it's clear that they enjoy watching rooms come out of the dark ages of the baron into the polish and shine that greeted the Parkers in 1909.
Lawrence Kreisman is director of "Viewpoints" Seattle Architecture Tours and is author of six publications on regional architecture and historic preservation. Benjamin Benschneider is a Seattle Times photographer. ----------------------------------------------------------------- Viewpoints 1996
The Seattle Architectural Foundation architectural tour program, Viewpoints, begins its sixth tour season April 20 with a walking tour of northeast Capitol Hill that includes the Parker/Fersen/McIntyre residence, as well as St. Joseph's Church and some wonderful houses and apartments. The new season includes:
Three new out-of-town tours, in Victoria, B.C., Bainbridge Island and Olympia. Four new weekend walking tours, including Houses of Worship, Seattle Center, Montlake and Anhalt Apartments. Encores of tours from past seasons, including Bungalows and Craftsman Homes, Mount Baker, First Hill, Art Deco Seattle and Historic Theatres. Plus two mid-week hour-long tours of historic and new buildings.
For information contact the Seattle Architectural Foundation at 667-9186.