AKA: Unico Properties, LLC, Cobb Building, Downtown, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings; built works - dwellings - houses - apartment houses

Designers: Gaylord, Grainger, Libby, O'Brien-Smith (GGLO), Architecture and Interior Design, LLC (firm); Grant, Smith and Company, Building Contractors (firm); Howells and Stokes, Architects (firm); Magnusson Klemencic Associates (MKA) Structural + Civil Engineers (firm); Metropolitan Building Company, Developers (firm); Seattle Cornice Works (firm); Unico Properties, LLC (firm); Abraham Horace Albertson (architect); John Francis Douglas Sr. (developer); Grant (building contractor); John Mead Howells (architect); Ronald Klemencic (structural engineer); Jon Magnusson (structural engineer); Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes (architect); Victor G. Schneider ; Smith (building contractor)

Dates: constructed 1909-1910

11 stories, total floor area: 123,897 sq. ft.

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1301 4th Avenue
Downtown, Seattle, WA 98101-2503

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Northwest corner of 4th Avenue and University Street;

Overview

The Cobb Building was the third element within the Metropolitan Tract, a grandly-scaled example of early-twentieth century ensemble urban planning. The building was designed by the notable New York architectural firm of Howells and Stokes, whose on-site supervisor, Abraham Horace Richardson, would settle in Seattle, WA, becoming a significant designer of large-scale buildings for the Metropolitan Building Company and other institutional patrons. According to writer David B. Williams, it was "...the first on the West Coast devoted exclusively to doctors and dentists." Others appeared in San Diego, CA, and Palo Alto, CA, by the 1920s, but this building was probably the earliest dedicated to serving medical professionals on the Pacific Coast.

Building History

The 11-story Cobb Building was the third erected in the Metropolitan Tract, a 10-acre parcel formerly containing the original campus of the University of Washington (UW). While the University moved to a new site in Seattle’s Montlake neighborhood in 1895, its law school remained in one part of the former main university building until 1903, the Seattle Public Library using another portion. By this time, however, the original building had fallen into disrepair, and the UW regents voted to demolish it and lease the tract to developers who could create large-scale income properties for the school. (A northern portion of the Metropolitan Tract, approximately one-third of its total, was sold at low cost to the US Government for its use as a US Post Office or other Federal office building.)

The first lessee was the Portland, OR-based University Site Improvement Company, led by the mysterious Jacob C. Levold (born c. 1857 in Norway), which tried to erect a new office building for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper in 1902. (According to theSeattle, WA, City Directory, 1903[p. 736], Levold worked as a promoter, and in 1905 as the Secretary and Treasurer of the Gold King Mining Company [p. 441].) This first building campaign failed, and the University Site Improvement Company's forfeited lease agreement went to the well-known and respected Seattle developer, James A. Moore (1861-1929). Moore completed the Post-Intelligencer Building, but could not finish other components in his master plan for the site. Moore had too many development projects going on at one time, and, therefore, began talks with the regents for revisions to his lease in 1906. A year later, he agreed to sell most of his tract interests for $250,000. A new consortium of local lumber men and lawyers and two outside interests, one from Boston, MA, one from Park River, ND, formed the “Metropolitan Building Company” (MBC), to raise money to buy Moore out. Within the group, lumberman Chester F. White (d. 1917) and real estate lawyer John Francis Douglas (b. 1874) emerged as individual catalysts; White supplied much of early financial aid to get the lease and contacts with other moneyed investors. Douglas, received his law degree at Yale in 1898, and in short order developed professional connections on the East Coast and throughout the Pacific Northwest. He had the vision and ambition to direct the MBC’s day-today operations. By 02/1908, Douglas had negotiated with Moore, made the agreed upon payment and became the lessee of the UW land.

Even before the new lease was finalized, Douglas retained the respected New York architectural firm of Howells and Stokes to create a master plan for the Metropolitan Tract. Howells and Stokes produced a revolutionary design, a Beaux-Arts arrangement of ten buildings, including a department store, office towers, a hotel, housing, and a public plaza; each building would conform to a uniform height of eleven stories and remain stylistically consistent with one another. Urban planning was in its infancy in 1908, and this unified ensemble was an early and remarkable attempt at master-planning an existing urban area. The first high-rise office building erected was named for Chester White, the MBC’s cornerstone investor, the second for another partner, Horace C. Henry (1844-1928), a railroad contractor.

The third, the Cobb Building, honored a main contributor, Charles H. Cobb (born 07/31/1853 in Lincoln, ME-d. 11/15/1939 in CA), who had also made his fortune in lumber. In 1905, Cobb served as President of the Port Susan Logging Company and the Snohomish Logging Company, and was the Manager of the Cobb Logging Company, whose President was Albert S. Kerry. See Seattle, Washington, City Directory, 1905, p. 350.) By 1924, he had become the President of the Ebey Logging Company, the Marysville and Arlington Railway Company, International Timber Company, and the Cobb-Healy Investment Company. (See Seattle, Washington, City Directory, 1924, p. 451.) According to the Altadena Historical Society, Cobb moved to Southern California, purchasing land in Altadena, CA. Here, he built a residence on a large estate in 1916. His name continued to appear in Seattle's city directories, but the 1920 US Census indicated that he resided at the head of Lake Avenue in Altadena at that time. He passed away in Southern CA in 1939.

The MBC and the Regents of the UW sought to attract an upper-income clientele to the Metropolitan Tract. For this reason, the Cobb Building, which opened on 09/14/1910, served only physicians and dentists, becoming one of the West Coast's first medical/dental skyscrapers.

Building Notes

A previous brick building existed on the site, demolished in preparation to build the C.H. Cobb Building. Erected in the wake of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, the Cobb Building had a steel and reinforced-concrete frame for seismic strength. Brick faced the exterior which was punctuated by terra cotta ornamentation, seen most notably at the cornice lines on the 9th-11th floors. Remarkably, all of the Metropolitan Building Company's early planning activities occurred during the Financial Panic of 1907 and its immediate aftermath, a depression triggered in part by the San Francisco Earthquake and its resultant capital demands on East Coast insurance companies and banks to rebuild the city. This drain of capital and other factors triggered a string of bank failures in New York in 10-11/1907. Miraculously, the MBC consistently found loan money and constructed the White Building, Henry Building, Cobb Building, Stuart Building, Arena, Stimson Building and Metropolitan Theatre within the Metropolitan Tract between 1909-1915.

Howells and Stokes gave the Cobb Building a distinctly New York-flavored, Beaux-Arts character, separating the elevation’s composition, like a classical column, into three sections: a base, shaft and capital. The base and capital (roofline) sections in the New York manner would have florid, most often classical, ornamentation. In this case, classical ornament mixed with sculpted Native American heads adorned the Cobb Building's 9th floor, attributed to artist Victor G. Schneider (born c. 1865 in Austria). Schneider worked in collaboration with the Denny-Renton Clay and Coal Company, a building sub-contractor. (Schneider also created the Native American heads, supposedly inspired by the contemporary photos of Edward S. Curtis [1868-1952], on the White-Henry-Stuart Building, preserved at MOHAI.) Howells and Stokes sent an associate, Albert H. Albertson (1872-1964), to oversee construction of Metropolitan Tract designs, the Cobb Building included. Albertson would later move permanently to the city and form the respected firm of Albertson, Wilson and Richardson.

The firm of Grant, Smith and Company served as the General Contractor for the Cobb Building. The same King County Parcel Number 0002400002 covers 5 nearby properties all owned by Unico Properties; they include the Cobb Building, Puget Sound Plaza, IBM Building, Financial Tower and the Skinner Building. In 1950, the Cobb Building had 15,828 square feet of retail space and 75,668 of office space. The basement contained 19,386 square feet. It stretched 216 feet across 4th Avenue, 107 feet on University Street.

Tel: 206.628.5090 (2010).

Alteration

A five-story addition, known as the "Cobb Annex" was added to the Cobb Building in 1921-1922. Between 1920-1925, the main Cobb Building had no vacancies, and an annex was viewed as profitable. The annex cost about $300,000 and was located on 4th Avenue. (See ""Seattle Building Program Downtown Four Millions; Major Projects Under Way or Completed Show Uptrend," Seattle Sunday Times, 10/23/1921, p. 18 and "New Stimson Building Adds to Metropolitan Grouping", Seattle Daily Times, 01/25/1925, p. 20 and )

In 2006, Unico Properties renovated the Cobb Building's medical and dental offices to serve as 92 luxury condominiums. This project was submitted for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design" (LEED) consideration in 2005. The Seattle Chapter of the American Institute of Architects toured the Cobb Building with the architects and engineers renovating in, GGLO and Magnusson Klemencic Associates (MKA), on 09/13/2005. The Cobb Building's official re-dedication occurred on 08/01/2006.

Demolition was threatened in the 1970s, but averted in 1984. Early in the 1970s, a controversy developed between the City and the University of Washington over the former's efforts to extend city landmarks protection to buildings in the Metropolitan Tract. A State court case found that the City of Seattle could not landmark properties owned by the University's property management agency, Unico Properties, which itself was owned by the State of Washington. Efforts by the City of Seattle to protect the Cobb Building under its Landmarks Ordinance failed in 1975; The demolition of the White-Henry-Stuart Buildings to make room for the Rainier Bank Tower created bad publicity for the University of Washington in the late 1970s; at this time, interest in historic preservation was high in Seattle, given successful recent renovations of Pioneer Square and the Pike Place Market. Fearing more bad press, the University shied away from any plans to tear down an "outmoded" Cobb Building or the nearby Skinner Building also owned by Unico. As these office buildings still earned profits, the University agreed for the two to be entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. National Register status, however, provides no legal protection from demolition.