AKA: St. James Cathedral, First Hill, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - religious structures - cathedrals

Designers: Heins and La Farge, Architects (firm); Joseph Simon Cote (architect); George Lewis Heins (architect); Christopher Grant La Farge (architect); Woodruff Marbury Somervell (architect)

Dates: constructed 1903-1907

First Hill, Seattle, WA

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Building History

The design for this church was done by the New York firm of Heins and LaFarge. Heins and LaFarge employee, W.M. Somervell, came to Seattle, WA, to supervise the construction of the Saint James Cathedral, and chose to stay for a number of years. Bishop Edward J. O'Dea moved to the Seattle Archdiocese from Vancouver in 1903. Shortly thereafter, he resolved to erect the Greatest Cathedral in the West, and retained the New York architects, Heins and Lafarge, to do the work.

Heins and LaFarge opened a Seattle office to supervise work on the cathedral, with employees Joseph S. Coté (1874-1957) and W. Somervell Marbury (1872-1938), in charge. Somervell and Coté would operate a productive, if short-lasting, office in Seattle between 1906 and 1909, responsible for many civic landmarks, including Seattle's main Carnegie Library (1906), three Seattle Public Library neighborhood branches, and two large buildings at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909.

Building Notes

The building featured two 175 foot-tall towers on its main facade.


The huge dome of the church collapsed under the weight of a large snowfall on 02/02/1916. Historian Paul Dorpat said of the collapse: "Since 1907, the grandest interruption of Seattle's skyline has been the Roman Catholic St. James Cathedral at Marion Streeet and Ninth Avenue. Before Feb. 3, 1916, St. James had three landmark elevations: two Renaissance towers and the cathedral's centered dome. On Feb. 2 of that yeat, it lost the dome. The architects who examined the crashed dome on the chancel floor concluded that the sanctuary's roof was five times stronger than needed to hold even the heavy, wet snow left by the blizzard. The engineering culprit was a weakness in one of the dome's steel supports." (See Paul Dorpat, "A colossal snow and a doomed dome," Seattle Times Pacific Northwest, 01/20/2019, pp. 18-19.)

it was rebuilt in 1916-1917.

Seattle Historic Landmark: ID n/a

PCAD id: 4742