AKA: Seattle Public Schools, District Warehouse, South Lake Union, Cascade, Seattle, WA; Central Supply Center for the Seattle Public School District No. 1, Cascade, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - industrial buildings - warehouses

Designers: Maloney, John W., Architect (firm); Witt, W.H., Company (firm); Wright, Howard S., (HSW) Construction Company (firm); John Valdemar Christiansen (structural engineer); John W. Maloney (architect); William Henry Witt Sr. (civil engineer); Howard S. Wright (building contractor/developer)

Dates: constructed 1955-1956, demolished 2016

1 story

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1255 Harrison Street
Cascade, Seattle, WA 98109

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This Modern warehouse building was completed in 1956, replacing the Cascade School (built 1894) that stood on this property until 1955. Its primary engineering and aesthtetic feature is the repeated thin-shell, barrel vaults covering the interior, whose long axes stretch east and west. These barrel vaults have a very flat arch and were constructed using a minimum of concrete. This thinness of each vault provided a delicate and graceful visual appearance and meant that little material had to be used, cutting costs for the building owner.

Building History

This concrete building was topped by a succession of nine concrete barrel vaults, and was one of the earliest experiments with thin shell concrete roof forms by the firm of W.H. Witt Company and its star engineer, John V. Christiansen (b. 1927). W.H Witt, (to be renamed Worthington and Skilling in 1955), worked with the Seattle architect John W. Maloney (1896-1978) on the warehouse's design; Maloney was a designer of modest reputation, while Christiansen was a giant in the field of structural engineering whose works included the Pacific Science Center (1961), Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis (1973), New York's ill-fated World Trade Center (1973) and the Rainier Bank Tower (1977). His contributions to design in Seattle are, in 2014, sadly under-appreciated. The Howard S. Wright Construction Company erected the warehouse.

The building may have been conceived of in two phases, both built contemporaneously. A 227-by-255-foot building had a smaller 132-by-127-foot space appended to its southwest. An interior cinderblock wall separated the two spaces. Due to the change in grade, the southwest section stood three feet lower than the larger. The warehouse's segmental barrel vaults ranged in height from 21 feet at their base to 27 feet at their apex. Only three inches thick, the remarkable vaults enabled long, internal spans using a minimum amount of concrete. In order to cut costs and shorten construction time, the designers specified that reinforced, tilt-up, concrete exterior walls to be positioned between cast-in-place piers. As noted by the historian David Peterson, "The building is largely intact. Very few alterations appear to have been made to the exterior over time." (See David Peterson, "Seattle School District Warehouse Seattle School Landmark Nomination," p. 7, Accessed 02/06/2014.)

The insurance company, PEMCO, obtained the property from the school district in 09/1988, as part of a land swap. Since 2014, the insurance company has been considering demolishing the warehouse. In 05/2015, a PEMCO blog, eager to devalue the building's historic value, stated of the engineering landmark: "The structure remains today, derided by some as 'the ugly yellow building' just west of PEMCO Insurance’s parking garage." Apparently, PEMCO's parking garage was considered, by comparison, breathtaking. Regardless of such dismissal, the building has historical value for its contribution to the history of thin-shell concrete design in the Puget Sound region and could be adaptively reused to create an exciting new space. Interestingly, the City of Seattle Historical Site Summary fdescribed it in more positive terms: "It mainly served as a warehouse for supplies and books for the School District. It is also significant because of the nature of its construction. This is a warehouse building, clearly designed according to International style/Modernist notions, as well as innovative construction practices: repeated concrete barrel shell vaults and tilt-up concrete walls, ribbon windows. There seems to only one other known industrial building of this type and from this period in Seattle (built later in 1963 by the Concrete Technology Corporation, known for industrial warehouse design and construction). In addition, this building is a remarkable and noticeable building in the Cascade District that helps residents and non-residents alike orient themselves." (See "Seattle Historical Sites Summaryfor 1255 Harrison ST," accessed 01/13/2016.)

In 2014, Pemco had leased the space toEvergreen Wholesale Florist, for use as a warehouse.

Building Notes

Seen from the intersection of Pontius and Harrison Streets, looking south, one can see that the building consisted of nine barrel-vaulted bays connected to three unvaulted spaces on the north end. A single ribbon of clerestory windows runs the length of the west facade on Pontius, giving the building a Modernist character. The reinforced concrete posts supporting the warehouse have been expressed, and the stucco infill panels cover the walls of each bay. Periodic graffitti has been covered over by paint of a slightly different color leaving a patchwork visual effect.


According to a City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Historical Sites Summary for the warehouse, "Several bays were added shortly thereafter by 1956." (See "Seattle Historical Sites Summaryfor 1255 Harrison ST," accessed 01/13/2016.)


The historic value of this warehouse's graceful thin shell roof has been overlooked. Its possible demolition has been considered twice. A negative nomination was prepared by BOLA Architects for the City of Seattle Landmarks Board in 2006; the Landmarks Board voted to deny the nomination for landmark status, 7-1. As more than five years had passed, the building's landmark significance was again considered on 01/15/2014. Its current owner, City Investors XXIV, LLC, seeks to demolish the building, and a landmarks nomination report was prepared by David Peterson of Nicholson Kovalchick Architects at this time. Since the early 2000s, the Cascade/South Lake Union neighborhood has undergone a development boom, one that continues to the present. City Investors XXIV, LLC, joins other real estate developers seeking to cash in on this Cascade building frenzy to serve current, but highly volatile, business needs. In this process of rapid development, some historically significant buildings, such as this one, could be removed. During this 01/15/2014 meeting, the Seattle Landmarks Board voted narrowly to deny landmark status to the Seattle Schools Warehouse, clearing the way for its possible demolition.

This excellent candidate for adaptive reuse was torn down on 08/01/2016-08/04/2016. It was replaced by another Modernist, mixed-use box that has quickly made this neighborhood (and nearby South Lake Union) two of the most homogeneous in the city.