AKA: Yesler-Leary Block, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings

Designers: Boone and Meeker, Architects (firm); William Ely Boone (architect); George Cook Meeker (architect)

Dates: constructed 1882-1883, demolished 1889

3 stories

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1st Avenue and Yesler Way
Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA 98104

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The Yesler-Leary Building stood originally on the northwest corner of Front Street and Mill Street, later known as First Avenue and Yesler Way.


Designed by Seattle's most important pre-1889-fire architect, William Ely Boone (1830-1921) and his partner, George C. Meeker, the Yesler-Leary Block may have been the first building designed by the Boone and Meeker partnership. It stood as one of the most significant and modern office buildings in the city c. 1885. It stood at the heart of Seattle's central business district of 1885, on the northwest corner of Front Street (later renamed 1st Avenue ) and Mill Street (Yesler Way). Seen in tandem with the similarly grand Occidental Hotel #2 (1883-1884), these two buildings suggested a more prosperous city of the future to people of the mid-1880s. The Yesler-Leary Building had more than two floors, and was not a crude, wood-frame, false-front store. It was an elaborate, Italianate office block, highlighted by a grand corner tower and turret. Bay windows, lit by narrow, tall double-hung windows, extended the spaces of upstairs offices. Elaborate window millwork and pressed metal ornamentation indicated that the owners wanted the building to appear stylistically and techonologically advanced, particularly in contrast to the rude, utilitarian constructions around it.

Building History

An early design for the early Seattle businessman and booster, Henry Yesler (1810-1892) and his Canadian-born partner, John Leary (1837-1905), the office and retail building occupied a choice piece of real estate, a triangular lot across the street from the venerable Occidental Hotel #2 in Pioneer Square. With its elaborate ornamentation, use of modern materials and larger scale, the building symbolized Seattle's growing sophistication and wealth. It displayed great variety in form and color, the bay windows, long, thin openings, and elaborate molding and cornice work that typified architecture of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The corner facing the intersection of Mill Street and Front Street was adorned with a dramatic, 8-sided cupola topped by a finial.

According to Jeffrey Karl Ochsner and Dennis Andersen, the design of the Yesler-Leary Building "...was derived from the Phelan Block in San Francisco and featured a combination of Second Empire and Italianate detail." (See Jeffrey Karl Ochsner and Dennis Andersen, Distant Corner, Seattle Architects and the Legacy of H.H. Richardson, [Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2003], p. 33.) (The Phelan Building #1, to which Ochsner and Andersen referred, burned in the San Francisco Fire of 04/18/1906.) The Yesler-Leary Building had a cast iron facade, a material that allowed the mass-production of highly ornamented, stamped parts, but one that had a low melting point, making it vulnerable to fires.

A note in the Residence and Business Directory of the City of Seattle for the Year 1882 indicated the prominence the Yesler-Leary Block had in that year: “The year 1882 has so far been the most prosperous one in the history of Seattle. In addition to the encouraging news received with reference to the speedy completion of the railroad—and perhaps inspired by that news—building has been quite brisk. Substantial brick structures are rapidly taking the places of the old wooden buildings which serve the early years of every city. The crowning stroke of this year’s building boom will be the erection of an elegant three story brick business block by Messrs. Leary and Yesler.” (See Residence and Business Directory of the City of Seattle for the Year 1882, [Seattle: Elliot and Sweet], p. 11.)

Building Notes

Between 1883-1886, a box-house theatre, showing often risqué variety revues, operated in the Yesler-Leary Building's basement. It was first called the Maison Dore Garden (between 1883-1885) and the White Elephant Vaudeville Theatre in 1885-1886.

The 1st National Bank of Seattle, owned by J.R. Lewis, occupied space in the Yesler-Leary Building in 1885. (See Seattle City Directory 1885, p. 83.)

In 1885, the Tontine Saloon, operated by George K. Beede, operated in the Yesler-Leary Block. Beede would later become a theatrical impressario, running Beede's Madison Street Pavilion, in Seattle's Madison Park, c. 1890-1914. Many early saloon keepers found that they could increase profits selling drinks if women were placed on the saloon premises to entertain the male drinking population. This prompted the profusion of box houses owned by Beede, John Cort and John Considine, among others in Seattle during the 1880s and 1890s.


The Seattle architectural firm, Boone and Meeker designed the initial three-floor Yesler-Leary Building and also submitted to Yesler and Leary a four-story addition project in 1883 that was never constructed. (A drawing of the Yesler-Leary Block with its addition was signed by a delineator named "Whiting.") A simplified, three-story addition was made to the Yesler-Leary Building c. 1887. This realized three-story brick addition had a tall first floor accommodating retail stores, a second floor with trabeated windows and a third floor illuminated by segmentally-arched windows. Trabeated and segmentally-arched details around the windows were picked out in a light stone that contrasted with the darker brick.


The Great Fire of 06/06/1889 destroyed 120 acres in the Pioneer Square central business district of Seattle, including this commercial block. The Yesler Building, also known as the "New York Mutual Life Building," took its place by 1891.

PCAD id: 5389