Structure Type: built works - dwellings - housing - affordable housing

Designers: Kirk, Wallace, McKinley AIA and Associates, Architects (firm); Paul Hayden Kirk (architect); David A. McKinley Jr. (architect); Donald Sheridan Wallace (architect)

Dates: constructed 1968-1969

8 stories, total floor area: 139,530 sq. ft.

2121 26th Avenue South
Rainier Valley, Seattle, WA 98144

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When it was completed in 1969, the Seattle Housing Authority's Center Park was hailed as one of the most progressive, barrier-free apartment buildings in the United States. Designed by the Seattle firm of Kirk, Wallace McKinley, AIA, and Associates, the 150-unit Center Park tower was influenced by the ideas of Ida May Flagler Daly, an important advocate for the physically challenged.

Building History

Ground-breaking for Center Park occurred on 05/01/1968, and construction completed in 10/1969. The architectural firm was Kirk Wallace McKinley, AIA, and Associates of Seattle. Paul Hayden Kirk, founder of the firm, overcame polio early in life, and was left with his right arm and leg incapacitated by the disease. Kirk biographer Dale Kutzera said of Kirk: "At the age of three, Kirk contracted polio that paralyzed his right arm and affected his legs. Kirk drew with his left hand, using a system of weights to hold down the large sheets of paper used for architectural renderings." (See Dale Kutzera, Paul Kirk / Dale, "Paul Hayden Kirk 1914-1995," accessed 07/28/2022.) The architect knew better than most the frustrations of having to adapt to architectural conditions not considered for those with physical impairments of various kinds.

Center Park was erected on the site of a former Seattle Handicapped Center on South Hill Street. It was one of three Seattle Housing Authority facilities opened in late 1969, the other two being Denny Terrace and Ballard House. (See "Denny Terrace Now Open for Occupancy," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/05/1969, p. BM 59.)

In 11/1969, a coaltiion of groups, including the American Institute of Architects (AIA), General Services Administration (GSA), Easter Seal Society of Washington, Department of Health and Welfare's Rehabilitation Services Administration and the Governor's Committee for Employment of the Handicapped, staged a conference in Seattle on "barrier-free" design. This ground-breaking meeting concluded by touring Kirk Wallace McKinley's Center Park apartment tower. An article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported: "Architects from five Western states ended a two-day workshop on 'Barrier-Free architecture' on an emphatic note--an opinon shared by most of the delegation that designers of buildings had failed to meet the needs of the handicapped. This is particularly true, it was pointed out, in regard to housing. Standardization of manufactured products used in buildings for the handicapped was mentioned as a vita ingredient in the eventual solution as was the incorporation of the American Standards Association specifications into building codes. The two-day meeting, held at the University Tower Wednesday and Thursday, was one of 10 in the nationa sponsored locally by AIA in cooperation with the Easter Seal Society of Washington, the Rehabilitation Services Administrtion of the Department of Health and Welfare, GSA, and the Governor's Committee for Employment of the Handicapped. Under RSA a National Commission on Architectural Barriers to Rehabilitation of the Handicapped was set up in an effort to eleminate the barriers in existing buildings and in future construction. Seminars such as the one conducted here, Seattle's AIA president William J. Bain, Jr. said serve to alert the profession to their role in solving these problems. 'We are a socially responsible group and by thinkg ahead as we design we can avoid the barriers with very little added cost,' Bain asserted. He believes the AIA should undertake a national study to review the desired standards for barrier-free architecture and compare them with typical building in an effort to arrive at recommendations which could be passed on to propert enforcement agencies"

The article continued: "The sessions were climaxed by a tour of Center Park, the Seattle Housing Authority's newly completed 150-unit apartment for the handicapped. A national prototype in design for the handicapped, the building is attracting interest throughout the country. Many of the features which this building has could be incorporated in all building design, one architect on the tour pointed out. 'Units could be equipped for easy conversion, and adding to for the handicapped or a taking from for the normally able person,' he explained. 'And there are compromises we could reach between the ideals for each group, counter heights for example. Design features which help the handicapped can also be advantageous for children and older persons.'" (See J.H.L., Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "Barrier Free Architecture for Handicapped Eyed Here," 11/09/1969, p. 30.)

Planning for Center Park was heavily influenced by the ideas and lobbying of Ida May Daly (born 05/10/1901 in Cedar Rapids, IA-d. 04/30/1985 in Seattle, WA) and her group, the Seattle handicapped Club. She worked with city officials and Kirk Wallace McKinley to develop the standards for Center Park. Daly also paid tribute to Myrtle Edwards (1894-1969), Seattle City Councilwoman, who assisted Daly's efforts. After her death in 1969, Daly wrote a letter to the editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that said: "The Board and members of the Seattle Handicapped Club, wish to pay tribue to Mrs. Harlan Edwards for the understanding and consistent support she gave to our program for the physically disabled. Her voice and vote were always ready to help us at each step in the development of the 'OLD' Handicapped Center on South Hill Street and in many problems of land use and construction of Center Park Apartments for the handicapped, erected on the site this year by the Seattle Housing Authority. She was a firm supporter, also of out plans to build an adjacenty new Handicapped Center of Rehabiliation, Recreation and Research. Her death is a personal loss to ahll of us who knew her as a friend and co-worker." (See "Tribute to Mrs. Edwards," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 08/29/1969, p 8.)

Building Notes

In 2022, Center Park had 150 apartments, with an average size of 650 square feet. In total, the apartment building contained 139,530 gross square feet, 94,500 net, and occupied a 121,031-square-foot (2.78-acre) property.

PCAD id: 24417