AKA: New York Mutual Life Insurance Company, Office Building, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA; Mutual Life Building, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings

Designers: Blackwell, James Eustace, Architect (firm); Fisher, Elmer, H., Architect (firm); de Neuf, Emil, Architect (firm); James Eustace Blackwell (architect); Elmer Horace Fisher (architect); Emil August de Neuf Sr. (architect)

Dates: constructed 1889-1891

6 stories

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605 1st Avenue
Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA 98104-2207

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An address for the Coast Lighting Co. in the Mutual Life Building in 1924 was 92 Yesler Way.

Building History

Several properties--commercial and industrial-- owned by Yesler, such as the Yesler-Leary Building (1882-1883) designed by architect William E. Boone, were destroyed in the Great Fire of 06/06/1889. Seeking to recoup his losses, Yesler planned a new office block. He commissioned the architectural vagabond Elmer Fisher to design it; with the patronage of Yesler and others, Fisher became the most prolific architect in Seattle, WA, just after the 1889 Fire. Fisher worked on the building only until 1891, when mounting professional and personal problems forced him to discontinue the practice of architecture in Seattle. Like so many buildings of this era, the Yesler Building was erected incrementally. Its construction came to a halt prematurely, as the completed one-story portion was temporarily roofed over in 03/1891.

Building Notes

Built just after the 1889 Fire, the Mutual Building was located on the site of Seattle pioneer Henry Yesler's (1810-1892) cookhouse. (See Dotty Decoster, "Mutual Life Building (Seattle),"Accessed 01/13/2011) Historian Clarence Bagley indicated, however, that the Mutual Life Building stood on the spot of the first steam sawmill in the Puget Sound region. (See Clarence B. Bagley, "Seattle of Yesterday," Argus, Christmas Number 1909, p. 16-23.) It is likely that Bagley referred generally to Yesler's Sawmill complex, of which the cookhouse was a part.

In 1892, the Washington Savings Bank operated at 609 Front Street in the Yesler Building. (See Washington Savings Bank advertisement, R.L. Polk and Company's Seattle City Directory, 1892, p. 959.)


As the Yesler Building's construction ended with only the first story (of six) complete. Emil De Neuf (1872-1915), a main assistant of Fisher's, took over the commission in the spring of 1892, and prepared plans to complete three upper stories first and the final two stories later. Yesler decided by 09/1892 that all five office floors should be built in one process, but he didn't live long enough to see its completion, passing away on 12/16/1892. DeNeuf completed the upper five floors of the building by 07/31/1893. As it stood in 1893, the Yesler Block covered 100 feet along Front Street (1st Avenue) and 51 feet along Yesler Way.

After Yesler's demise, the New York Mutual Life Insurance Company purchased the block in 1897 from his heirs. Seattle architect James Eustace Blackwell (1865-1939) undertook additions and alterations for the Mutual Life Insurance Company. Sherwood Gillespy (1853-1912), head of the local Mutual Life office, also procured the lot next to the renamed Mutual Life Building in 1902-1903, on which he located a 30 x 100-foot addition designed by Blackwell. This annex was completed in 1904. At this time, the formerly rusticated masonry of Fisher's original Richardsonian Romanesque design was smoothened to its present texture. Blackwell also was consulted by the Shafer Brothers, Julius (d. 1951) and Isidor (d. 1952), following their purchase of the Mutual Life Building in 1915; for them, Blackwell undertook alterations in 1916. In 10/1955, Dr. S. T. Magnuson purchased the office block from Rebecca B. Shafer (d. 1971), widow of Julius Shafer. Earthquakes on 04/13/1949 and 04/29/1965 damaged the Mutual Life Building; the 1949 tremor caused significant shaking and damage to the top two floors.

Gordon K. Walker, of the Seattle architecture firm Olson/Walker, assisted by Robert C. Wagoner, Project Architect, and Susan D. Boyle, Project Manager, supervised a full-scale renovation of the Mutual Life Building for its new owners, Historic Seattle, which bought the landmark in 1983. Others involved in this renovation included: Architect: Olson/Walker Partners; General Contractor: J.M. Rafn Co., Bellevue, WA; Developer: Emerald Fund, Incorporated, San Francisco, CA; Mechanical Contractor: Air-Con, Incorporated, Redmond, WA; Mechanical Engineer: Richard Stern and Associates, Seattle; Electrical Contractor: Collins Electric Company, Seattle; Electrical Engineer: Travis Design Structural Engineer: Ratti/Fossatti, Seattle; Masonry Restoration: Puget Sound Masonry, Seattle; Tenant Improvements: Wyatt/Stapper, Architects, Seattle; Elevator Restoration: A-1 Ornamental Ironworks, Seattle; Storefront Window Framing: Standard Steel, Seattle; Graphics and Signage: Larry Launceford, Seattle; Glass Work: Ana Gardner, Seattle.

PCAD id: 4912