AKA: First United Methodist Church, Downtown, Seattle, WA; Daniels Recital Hall, Downtown, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - religious structures - churches

Designers: Graham, John and Company, Architects and Engineers (firm); Schack and Huntington, Architects (firm); Schack, James H., Architect (firm); John Graham Jr. (architect); Olof E. Hanson (architect); Daniel Riggs Huntington Sr. (architect); James Hansen Schack Sr. (architect)

Dates: constructed 1907-1910

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811 5th Avenue
Downtown, Seattle, WA 98104-1608

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Occupying the southwest corner of 5th Avenue and Marion Street, this important landmark church was largely designed by the Seattle architect James H. Schack and his firm between 1906 and 1907. In 1908-1909, Schack incorporated with Daniel R. Huntington, who may have had some impact on the overall design, but likely had more influence on construction decisions during the year or two of partnership. The church was under construction during most of the year 1908, and was ready for use by early 1909.

The previous church had stood at the intersection of 3rd Avenue and Marion.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the 1st Methodist Episcopal Church #3 became embroiled in a landmark historic preservation case that went all the way to the Washington Supreme Court. The court ruled that churches in WA State could not be designated as civic landmarks without the approval and consent of their congregations.

Building History

The Seattle architect James H. Schack (1871-1933) received the commission for the 1st Methodist Episcopal Church #3 in either late 1905 or early 1906, probably the former. (Sale of the previous church had occurred in 10/1905 and a new site was obtained at about that time. See "New Church To Be One of Finest in the Country," Seattle Daily Times, 04/26/1906, p. 13.) Just after obtaining the job, in 01/1906, he and five members of the congregation's building committee embarked on a tour of other churches in at least six other Western American cities. An article in the Seattle Daily Times said of this fact-finding excursion: “James H. Schack has been chosen by the building committee as the architect for the new edifice which the First Methodist Episcopal Church is to erect on its new site at the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and Marion Street. Almost immediately construction of the church, at a cost which will reach the sum of $100,000, has been determined upon by the committee. In furtherance of this purpose, the members thereof, consisting of T.S. Lippy, J.W. Efaw and Rolland Denny, together with Architect Schack, left this city on Tuesday last for a hasty tour of the principal cities of the West, during which time they will visit the churches most attractive in design and most useful in construction and gather material for suggestion to Mr. Schack as to possible features of the local edifice. The party from this city went to Portland. The route then will be to Denver, Omaha, and Lincoln, Nebraska. There the party will turn southward, visiting Los Angeles and San Francisco. The return should be about two weeks hence. As soon as he reaches his office Architect Schack will set about the drawing of the necessary plans and the active work of construction will begin at the earliest convenient date. The church edifice will be one of the most costly and handsome in all the West, and will be strictly up-to-date. It will occupy practically all of the site, 120x128 feet. The entire walls will be of granite. The building will be arranged for both the old and new street grade.” (See “To Build a Fine Edifice at Once,” Seattle Daily Times, 01/07/1906, p. 21.) A fifth member of the church building committee, Mrs. J.S. Atwood, did not accompany the men on the trip.

The trip took three weeks, and provided initial inspiration for the architect and committee. An 04/26/1906 article in the Seattle Daily Times described its impact: “As a result of this tour, the committee finally decided on a plan which embraces a combination of leading features of three churches visited by the committee: the First Methodist Church of Pasadena, the First Methodist Church of Los Angeles, and the White Temple of Portland. Architect Schack has since then been steadily at work on the plans, and now three things, the completion of the details, the raising of a certain proportion of the necessary funds and the letting of the contract, alone intervene before the beginning of the actual work.” At this time, the church needed to accommodate about 2,200 parishioners and its exterior walls were to be faced in granite, a costly proposition. (See "New Church To Be One of Finest in the Country," Seattle Daily Times, 04/26/1906, p. 13.)

Architect Schack described how the new church would be configured: “The Sunday school will be so arranged that it may be thrown into the main auditorium. There will be a glass dome over the auditorium thirty-eight feet in diameter. There will be twenty-five class rooms with running partitions that will permit of their bethrown into the Sunday school. The main auditorium will have five exits. Beside the organ loft there will be a pastor’s study and the choir rooms. Downstairs there will be two banquet halls, a kitchen and pantry, toilet and cloak rooms, a reading room, two class rooms and the heating and ventilating apparatus.” (See "New Church To Be One of Finest in the Country," Seattle Daily Times, 04/26/1906, p. 13.)

The process of design and construction on the church proceeded deliberately. An initial design concept was published in the Times article of 04/27/1906, a proposal notable for its retardataire Richardsonian Romanesque styling, which was popular in the 1880s and 1890s. At this time, plans to begin construction were set at mid-1906, but the actual ground-breaking did not occur until 02/1908. During this interval, the 1st Methodist Episcopal Church #3 underwent a process of change in both styling and budget. This 04/27/1906 article indicated that the church would cost an estimated $100,000, although estimates from 1908, set the budget at around $300,000. This inflation may have been due to fund-raising success and the greatly increased pace of construction during the period between 1907 and 1910 along the West Coast (particularly in earthquake-ravaged San Francisco).

A cornerstone was laid in the rain on 02/23/1908 in front of "hundreds of people" according to a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The paper reported: ""The edifice is to cost $300,000. Since the exercises came on the Sabbath, the actual placing fo the stone had been done the day before. The exercises confirmed with the ritual of the Methodist church, and the copper box in which the church papers are placed was dropped in a hollow in the stone by members of the building committee. It had been hoped to have Mrs. David E. Blaine, wife of the first pastor, present at the exercises, but she was not able to come out. Though physically feeble, she is still alert and active in mind. However, her son, E.L. Blaine, chairman of the church finance committee, took a prominent part in the ceremonies. It is the plan to place a memorial window in the new building in honor of the church's first pastor." At the dedication a history of the congregation was read to those in attendance." (See "Cornerstone of New Church Laid," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 02/24/1908, p. 9.)

Olof Hanson, while in the employ of James Schack and Daniel Huntington, contributed to the design of this third building for the 1st Methodist Episcopal Church in Seattle, WA. Architect and historian Susan Boyle has noted that during the brief partnership of Daniel Huntington and James H. Schack, Sr., Schack was probably responsible for the design of this church: "Records from City of Seattle Landmarks Nominations and other sources suggest Schack was the designer of these two buildings [1st Methodist Episcopal #2 and the Arctic Club Building #1]." (See Susan Boyle, BOLA Architects, "The Baroness Apartment Hotel 1005 Spring Street, Seattle Landmark Nomination Report,"Accessed 06/03/2010.)

The official name of this congregation had been, since its establishment in 1853, the "1st Methodist Episcopal Church of Seattle," but this was changed in 1968 to the "1st United Methodist Church of Seattle."

An article in the Seattle Daily Times of 04/19/1910 indicated that the Assistant Pastor Harry C. Wilson of the 1st Methodist Episcopal Church was heavily involved the fundraising campaign for this third church: "Harry C. Wilson, formerly assistant pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church, who had charge of the building fund for the new edifice dedicated Sunday, has been appointed from the 1911 class of the Boston University school of theology, to the pulpit of the Methodist Church at Jamaica Plains, Boston. He left this city two years ago to complete his education at Boston. His first pastorate was at Wallace and Sultan, in Snohomish County. Later he went to Hillman City." (See "H.C. Wilson Gets Charge," Seattle Daily Times, 04/19/1910, p. 24.) From this article, the church was dedicated on Sunday, 04/17/1910.

Between 1968 and the 1985, Seattle's downtown grew in scale dramatically, with an increase in the area's homeless and disadvantaged communities. At the same time, the 1st United Methodist Church's congregation dwindled in size. Because the church's membership had dropped and because it wanted to provide new facilities for public service, church officials considered their options to either demolish the 1910 facility and rebuild in place or sell out to a office tower developer and find another church site. In order to prevent the church's demolition, the City of Seattle's Office of Urban Conservation (active between 1975 and 1992) nominated both the interior and exterior of the church for landmark designation under the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, Sattle Municipal Code (SMC) 25.12. The nomination process began in 12/1984, with a formal nomination happening before the Landmarks Board in 02/1985 and, after a pitched battle, the designation of landmark status occurring in 11/1985.

Following the Landmarks Board's decision to designate 1st United Methodist Church of Seattle a City of Seattle Landmark, the congregation sought relief from the City of Seattle Hearing Examiner. It argued that the church sancuary's old-fashioned 1910 design "... prevents the Church from adapting to current Church liturgy...." It stated that "The present sanctuary is too large to foster as dynamic and meaningful worship services as desired. Membership of this Church today is one-half or less than that of only 30 to 40 years ago. The expansion of the commercial core of the city, the construction of the freeways, the construction of vastly expanded medical and commercial facilities on First Hill are some of the changes in Seattle which have contributed to the decline in the Church's membership." (See Leagle.com, "First United Methodist vs. Hearning Exainer, accessed 07/20/2015.) The Hearing Examiner sided with the Landmarks Board, causing the church group to file suit in Seattle Municipal Court.

Over a decade, 1st United Methodist continued its appeals of decisions that went against it, taking the case to the Washington Supreme Court in 1995. On 05/09/1996, the court issued a 5-4 decision overturning the Court of Appeals verdict, upholding the congregation's right to resist landmark designation. Its majority opinion stated: "In the present case, United Methodist has demonstrated that the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, SMC 25.12, severely burdens free exercise of religion because it impedes United Methodist from selling its property and using the proceeds to advance its religious mission. Thus, the City's attempts to designate United Methodist a landmark violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I of the Washington State Constitution. We reverse the Court of Appeals and hold landmark designation of United Methodist unconstitutional." (See Leagle.com, "First United Methodist vs. Hearning Exainer, accessed 07/20/2015.) This decision has made it impossible for city landmarks boards in Washington State to designate a church a landmark without the congregation's approval.

In 05/2002, First United Methodist Church made an agreement with the Seneca Group, a development firm, to raze the church and build on the 1910 church site. (See Greg Lange, HistoryLink.org, "Washington State Supreme Court rules against Seattle landmark designation of First United Methodist Church on May 9, 1996." accessed 07/20/2015.) The developer filed for a Master Use Permit to build on the site. According to 2004 City of Seattle records, "First United Methodist Church (Church) and The Rainier Club, a private club, applied for a Master Use Permit (MUP) to establish use for a 33-story, 590,000 square foot office tower, with a small amount of retail at street level and a below gradeparking garage for approximately 538 vehicles. The office tower would also house the Church"s office and human service uses and would connect to a new Church sanctuary to the south. Church-related uses would be approximately 42,000 square feet. In addition, the project includes a 7,500 square foot addition to the Club for a fitness center and expansion of other Club uses." (See City of Seattle Muncipal Archives, "In the Matter of the Appeal of FRIENDS OF FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, ET AL. from a decision by the Director, Department of Planning and Development, regarding the EIS issued for the 811 Fifth Avenue Project," accessed 07/20/2015.) This plan would be increased in scale when the city changed its zoning laws governing high-rise heights in 2006.

Between 2002 and 2004, an opposing preservationist group, the "Friends of First United Methodist Church," (composed of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, and Historic Seattle) coalesced and filed a grievance with Seattle's City Hearing Examiner against the Director of the Department of Planning and Development, for accepting the developer's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and for allowing the demolition to occur. In this case, preservationists were again dealt a setback. On 09/27/2004, the Hearing Examiner agreed that the Friends' multiple objections to the adequacy of the EIS were not substantial, and that they did not outweigh the congregation's contention that "...the building no longer meets the liturgical and ministerial needs of the church." Behind the scenes, however, efforts to save the church continued, as public officials met with developers to encourage the 1910 building's preservation.

On May 20, 2007, members of the First United Methodist Congregation voted to sell their church property to Nitze-Stagen and Company, Incorporated, of New York and Seattle, real estate developers. Under the deal, the church sanctuary was to be saved, and a 40-story building would be erected elsewhere on the same site. Nitze-Stagen had developed a reputation as a development company that made efforts to renovate and reuse historic buildings. This project was revived in 2012 when financing capital became available. The Seattle City Council passed an additional ordinance about the church's preservation on 05/10/2010.

Between 2009 and 2012, 1st United Methodist Church was used as concert hall, the "Daniels Recital Hall," named for Kevin Daniels of Nitze-Stagen. In 2012, the rapidly growing Mars Hill Church, led by charismatic Pastor Mark Driscoll (born 10/11/1970), occupied the building until 2014, when the church dissolved.

Construction of the high-rise development at 801 5th Avenue, delayed by the Recession of 2008, began in 03/2015. By this time, it had become known as "The Mark." (It has also become known as the "5th and Columbia Building" and the "F5 Tower.")

Building Notes

The 1st Methodist Episcopal Church #3 was registered on the National Register of Historic Places and as a City of Seattle Landmark; in 2009, Historic Seattle, a preservation advocacy group, planned (along with the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation) a symposium entitled "The Public Value of Sacred Places," to be held at the Good Shepherd Center, Wallingford, Seattle, WA, 09/12/2009.


A chapel/community center wing to the 1st United Methodist Church designed by John Graham and Associates and completed in 1950, was demolished in mid-2008. Although not appreciated by most contemporaries, this small modern building was a fine work by the Graham firm. This addition was removed to clear land that would enable the erection of a 660-foot building, the 5th and Columbia Tower. The profit generated from the skyscraper income allowed Seattle development firm Nitze-Stagen to retain the 1st United Methodist Church and renovate it.

Seattle Historic Landmark (1984-09-10): 111882

PCAD id: 6224