AKA: King County Courthouse and Municipal Building, Seattle, WA; King County-City of Seattle Building, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - public buildings - courthouses

Designers: Bittman, Henry W., Architect and Engineer (firm); Creutzer, John A., Architect (firm); DeLaney, Paul W., Architect, (firm); Fong, Freeman, Architecture (firm); Gould, A. Warren, Architect (firm); Harmon, Pray and Detrich, Architects and Engineers (firm); McCauley, John L., Architect (firm); Pederson, Hans, Building Contractor (firm); Puget Sound Bridge and Dredging Company (firm); Skanska USA Building Incorporated (firm); Henry W. Bittman (architect/structural engineer); Johan Alfred Creutzer (architect); Paul William DeLaney (architect); Robert Carl Detrich (architect); Freeman Fong (architect); Augustus Warren Gould (architect); Craig A. Harmon (architect); John Lawrence McCauley (architect); Hans Pederson Sr. (building contractor); Roland Gilbert Pray Sr. (architect)

Dates: constructed 1914-1916

5 stories, total floor area: 540,360 sq. ft.

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516 3rd Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104

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The King County Courthouse lies between Third Avenue and Fourth Avenue and Jefferson Street and James Street in the Pioneer Square District of Downtown Seattle, WA.

Building History

Architect Augustus W. Gould (1872-1922) became involved with Pioneer Square property owners who successfully blocked a proposed mixed-use, commercial office building-county courthouse in 1909 for a site at 516 3rd Avenue, the location of the former Henry Yesler House and later temporary commercial buildings. The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYPE) was going on at this time, and boosters wanted the city to present a sophisticated image nationally. As a result, City Beautiful planners--led by the City Engineer Virgil Bogue (1846-1916)--formed the "Civic Center League" and presented a counter-proposal for a grand civic center to be located in the newly flattened Denny Regrade. Gould opposed this as well. He reversed his earlier position about the 516 3rd Avenue location and made news by creating a competing plan for a 23-story city-county office building that he said could be built at a far lower cost than the Regrade Courthouse. Frugal voters rejected the Regrade Courthouse, and accepted a scaled-back version of Gould's plan.

Gould, however, received bad publicity for his proposal's unrealistic, and probably unethical, low-ball estimate. Because of his unsavory practices, the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects drummed him out of the organization. Ironically, he kept the contract for the King County Courthouse commission, but lived only six more years after its completion. Construction of this original section, standing 5 stories, began in 1914 and concluded on 05/03/1916. The original section of the courthouse, composed of steel beams and reinforced concrete, cost $1,271,645.83 in 1916. A King County website indicated who occupied the building at its opening: "The original tenants of the new building in 1916 included the county assessor, the port commissioner, the county treasurer, the county recorder, the county clerk, the sheriff, and the superior court. City and county offices were on the first two floors for easy public access. The second and third floors housed the courtrooms and the county commissioners while the mayor had a suite on the Third Avenue level overlooking City Hall Park." (See King County.gov, "The King County Courthouse: A History, " accessed 07/21/2009.)

In 1917-1918, architect Johan A. Creutzer, (1873-1929), worked on the interior décor of the King County Courthouse. (See Dennis A. Andersen and David A. Rash, “Kreuzer, Johan ‘John’ Alfred,” in Shaping Seattle Architecture, Jeffrey Karl Ochsner, ed., [Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014], p. 429.)

Building Notes

In 1889, a line of approximately 11, one-story, wood-frame shops stood on part of the lot the Courthouse #3 would later occupy. Some of these included shops for the Lowman and Hanford Stationery and Printing Company, the firm of Hardy and Hall and that of Albert Schlossmacher in 1889. (See "Present Site of County City Building," a ccessed 05/27/2011.)

Tel: (206) 296-9100 (2006);

City Hall Park existed before the construction of the King County Courthouse, but was renovated to connect axially with the latter building. In 2010, the courthouse contained 540,360 gross square feet, 482,760 net; it occupied a full city block, 57,120 square feet (1.31 acres) in size.

The King County Courthouse #3 was designated as a King County and Local Landmark in 1987.

In 2014, 53 judges presided over courts in the building.

In 2019, Republican King County Council member Kathy Lambert (born c. 1964) declared that she wanted the King County Courthouse moved out of Seattle, due to the crime, homelessness, tight parking and poor condition of the current courthouse. (See Matt Markovich, KOMO-TV.com, "King County Council member proposes moving courthouse out of Seattle, cites crime issues," published 10/24/2019, accessed 09/30/2020.)


Seattle architect Henry Bittman (1882-1953) associated with architect John L. McCauley to design the addition of six more stories in 1929-1931. With its added stories, the building stood 195 feet high and accommodated sixteen courtrooms.

A renovation occurred in 1967 removing some of the stone detailing of the exterior and adding aluminum-framed windows to the exterior.

Between 2002 and 2005, Skanska Construction worked on a large-scale seismic retrofitting of the King County Courthouse. According to the Skanska web site: “The renovation of the 90-year-old downtown Seattle structure included structural seismic upgrades. Skanska installed a unique performance frame and outrigger system along with hybrid concrete and steel moment frames. Despite the renovation's invasive nature, the busy courthouse remained occupied and functioning throughout the project. Keeping these functions running without interruption was so critical that the county employed three full-time staffers to plan and execute department relocations. Skanska performed noisy work at night and brought steel and concrete into the building using a complex routing system so the courthouse's employees and its users would remain largely unaffected by the renovations.” (See Skanska.com, "King County Courthouse," accessed 09/30/2020.)

Freeman Fong Architects participated in the King County Courthouse Seismic Repair Project, its $3.5 million contract began on 03/15/2001 and ended on 08/15/2004.