AKA: University of Washington, Seattle, Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - exhibition buildings - museums; built works - public buildings - schools - university buildings

Designers: Chiarelli, James J., Architect (firm); James Joseph Chiarelli (architect)

Dates: constructed 1962, demolished 2019

2 stories, total floor area: 68,916 sq. ft.

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17th Avenue NE and NE 45th Street
University of Washington Campus, Seattle, WA 98195-3010

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On University of Washington, Seattle, Campus, at 17th Avenue NE and NE 45th Street.


Funded as a memorial for Judge Thomas Burke, early Seattle promoter and associate of railroad baron James J. Hill, the Burke has developed collections that explore the cultural and natural history of Washington State.

Building History

Both chambers of the Washington legislature authorized the establishment of the Washington State Museum on 03/06/1899. Its purpose, according to the original law was as follows: "The museum of the university of Washington is hereby constituted the state museum as a depository for the preservation and exhibition of documents and objects possessing an historical value, of materials illustrating the flora, fauna, anthropology, mineral wealth and natural resources of the state, and for all documents and objects whose preservation will be of value to the student of history and the natural sciences." Initially, items from the museum's collections were displayed in Denny and Science (Parrington) Halls, but spaces for storage and exhibition increased dramatically following the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYPE). After the fair's closure in 1910, the California Building received the ethnographic collections and the former Forestry Building received the natural specimens.

The California Building developed significant structural problems by 1914, and the ethnographic items were relocated to the Forestry Building where the entire collection remained until 1923 when the colossal timbers of this AYPE pavilion began to show significant deterioration. The collection was removed from here and stored until 1927, when the museum opened in the Washington State Building. It remained here until the UW Faculty Senate formally requested a replacement museum, starting a process that was not completed until nine years later.

In 1958, Seattle architect James Chiarelli (1908-1990) produced plans for a $900,000 design for the Thomas Burke Memorial Washington State Museum, for which construction was to have begun in 02/1959. According to the Seattle Times of 09/15/1959, this 1958-1959 design "'was too much building planned for the money available....'" The article continued, "The difficulty apparently was over what other facilities would be contained in the building in addition to the museum." The article indicated that Chiarelli would aim to present new, less expensive plans before the UW Board of Regents at their 12/1959 meeting. It also stated that the UW authorized Chiarelli to renew work on the plans in 09/1959, suggesting that the architect spent nearly 3/4ths of 1959 waiting for the university's decision about whether to proceed or not.

The Estate of Caroline McGilvra Burke, Thomas Burke's wife, provided most of the funds for the museum's construction, and the Burkes' collections of Northwest Indian objects were also part of the donation. She made this bequest at her death in 1925. By 1959, the interest on the estate gift had probably grown to the point where a museum of modest size could have been built.

Building Notes

Tel: 206.543.5590 (2007).


In 2015, plans for the demolition of the Burke Museum #1 were disclosed. A new museum, three stories in height, would replace it containing 105,387 square feet of space.

The Burke Museum #1 was torn down between 03/30/2019 and 04/02/2019.

PCAD id: 6730