AKA: Norse Homes, Incorporated, Norse Home Retirement and Assisted Living Community, Phinney Ridge, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - dwellings - housing - housing for the elderly

Designers: Holm, Sigurd, Landscape Architect (firm); Mahlum, Edward K., Architect (firm); Wick Construction Company (firm); Sigurd Holm (landscape architect); Edward Kristian Mahlum (architect); Peter D. Wick Sr. (building contractor)

Dates: constructed 1955-1957

7 stories, total floor area: 83,008 sq. ft.

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5311 Phinney Avenue North
Phinney Ridge, Seattle, WA 98103-6030

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The Norse Home was a landmark structure, not only for its scale and Modern design, but also because it was the first elderly housing to receive Federal funding from the Housing Act of 1956. Located across the street from the Woodland Park Zoo, in a middle-class neighborhood, this elderly housing was set in a vibrant community, enabling the effortless intermingling of old and young.

Building History

The Scandinavian countries passed communitarian legislation as far back as the 18th century, making public health a high priority. The crown in Sweden, for example, began to shoulder the costs of public health (especially measures to prevent epidemics and infant mortality) through Royal decrees in 1763 and 1766; Norway passed its Public Health Act of 1860 (which drafted measures to prevent contagion, particularly cholera) and the Public Medical Services Act of 1912, legislation that codified the state's responsibilities for maintaining public health. While the 1860 act benefited primarily urban areas, the 1912 act spread health care services to rural districts. By 1912, in Norway and throughout the region, adequate and equal access to healthcare became viewed as a social right.

During the last quarter of the 19th century, the Midwest (primarily Minneapolis) had become the primary immigration center for Scandinavians resettling in America. In general, Washington State's Norwegian-American population burgeoned after 1900. The Pacific Northwest's lumber and fishing industries mechanized and expanded rapidly during the 1880s and 1890s, drawing some early arrivals, but the bulk of Scandinavian immigration to Seattle happened following the turn of the century as these businesses became stable, large-scale employers.

Following this post-1900 influx, Norwegian social networks in the form of mutual-aid groups (often based on the immigrant's regional origins), commercial, trade, or labor organizations, arts groups, and two central sororal and fraternal groups, the Daughters (formed 1905) and the Sons of Norway (1903), helped to spread the community-minded spirit of charity developed in Scandinavia. The formation of bygdelaget, social groups founded on the idea of mutual support during sickness, unemployment, or infirmity, provided a foundation for later charitable work. These groups banded together to raise funds for community resources and facilities, such as Norway Hall in Seattle, opened in 1915, and the foundation of Norwegian newspapers, most notably, Seattle's venerable Western Viking.

This Scandinavian communitarian spirit took hold in Washington State's Norwegian-American immigrant population from an early point. As early as 1908 in the logging town of Stanwood, WA, Norwegian immigrants pooled their resources to build the Josephine, thought to have been the first Lutheran retirement center on the West Coast. A Stanwood resident and lumber mill owner, John Hals, donated $10,000 to kick start the fund-raising effort; he requested that the home be named for his wife, Josephine Tolline Hals (1879-1905), who died prematurely in childbirth. Iniitally, this two-story, wood-frame facility took in twenty-three men and women without the resources to care for themselves. The domestically-scaled first building operated until 1949, when a new brick residence was constructed. In the largely Norwegian city of Poulsbo, WA, the Ebenezer was set up in 1909 as a nursing facility for the elderly. It operated for 71 years.

In Seattle, a fraternal group, the Sons of Norway, began debating the need for a Norwegian-American retirement home in 1928. By 1933-1934, the Sons had taken concrete steps to form a "Sons of Norway Home Corporation," to which individual lodges could contribute. In 1944, in order to stimulate fund-raising efforts, architect Bjarne Moe (1904-1980) produced a preliminary Colonial Revival Style design for an L-shaped retirement facility that was never realized. Financial progress was slow but steady, and by 1949 a preliminary design was released to the local press for the Norse Home, albeit too large and grand to actually build. At a fund-raising program on 10/30/1949, Governor Arthur B. Langlie ([1900-1966] whose father had emigrated from Norway) spoke about the need for elderly housing: "Yes, such homes are needed and the Scandinavian people always have been the most progressive in the country." (See Junius Rochester, Traditions of Caring, [Seattle: Tommie Press, 2012], p. 109.) An optimistic groundbreaking occurred on 12/10/1955, with money in hand only to build kitchen/dining rooms, a heating plant and two floors of apartments.

Seattle Architect Edward K. Mahlum (1909-1998), also of Norwegian extraction, had been selected early on to draft a design for the Norse Home but was also active in fundraising efforts. In a series of articles in the Western Viking published in 1982, Mahlum recalled how important Dr. Trygve W. Buschmann (1888-1973) was in the conception of the Norse Home. He wrote: "In my mind I came to think of this concept for the Norse Home as 'The Dr. Buschmann Dream Project.' He envisioned the home as a 'residential hotel,' or the French 'pension,' or the Norwegian 'pensjonat,' with adequate eating facilities, recreational and hobby areas, and a 'Doctor's work shop,' complete with surgical suite and therapy areas. More than any other individual, he contributed ideas to the programming of the facilities and equipment, and actually worked with us in developing these ideas for incorporation in the project." (See Edward Mahlum, "The Norse Home Breakthrough," Western Viking, 09/03/1982. p. 15.)

While Mahlum credited Trygve Buschmann with conceptualizing the Norse Home, he wrote that the doctor's older brother, businessman August Buschamnn (1880--1964), was equally instrumental in organizing the building's ambitious fund-raising goals. Mahlum stated: "As I worked with August Buschmann, I now came to think of the Norse Home as 'The Buschmann Dream Project' to include both brothers. With just as much energy and enthusiasm as his younger brother, he would let me in on his thinking on how to raise funds. He had very elaborate plans on which he spent lots of time, and I'm sure, lots of his own money. He was saturated with the Norse home fund drive...." Mahlum indicated how August Buschmann donated his own Cadillac to be given away in a raffle, and how he gave oil stock that would ultimately net the Norse Home fund drive $200,000. Despite his best efforts, though, August Buschmann could not, on his own, raise enough money to fund construction, and was actually asked by a banker friend to whom he applied for a loan "...if I am crazy." (See Edward Mahlum, "The Norse Home Breakthrough," Western Viking, 09/03/1982. p. 15.)

Mahlum also lobbied some influential friends to obtain all of the governmental funds required to complete the facility. These included Governor Langlie as well as the state's powerhouse duo of Senators, Henry M. Jackson ([1912-1983] the son of Norwegian immigrants) and Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989). Mahlum hoped that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) could provide financial assistance for projects to house the elderly. Due to Jackson and Magnuson's expert maneuvering, the US Congress passed the $20 million Housing Act of 1956 which enabled the FHA to provide mortgage insurance for housing projects serving retirees. The Norse Home was the first elderly care facility in the US to receive FHA money, $103,863.79. The Norse Home, at this time containing 130 units (120 single- and 10 double-occupancy rooms), opened on 06/15/1957 with a dedication ceremony. (The book, Buildings for the Elderly, [New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation, 1963], p. 106, indicated that the Norse Home could care for 135 patients, and house another 54 in its infirmary.) It contained a dining room for 160, a smaller one for staff, a laundry on each floor, three libraries, a 3200-square-foot, multi-purpose chapel/auditorium, two lounges on each floor, a hobby room, 14 recreation rooms, a tool shop, woodworking room, beauty parlor, barber shop, croquet and bocci courts, and a garden.

Norse Home backers selected Peter D. Wick, Sr., (1892-1988) a native of Syndve, Norway, and his business, the Wick Construction Company, to serve as the building contractor. Wick worked with the Ballard Plumbing and Heating Company and Beckstrom Electric Company on the Norse Home's construction. Sigurd Holm was the original landscape architect. Peter H. Hostmark was the structural engineer, Dewitt C. Griffin, the mechanical and electrical.

Building Notes

Set on 34,000 square feet of land (0.78 of an acre), the Norse Home occupied a lot that sloped 20 feet in 17 at the top of Phinney Ridge, and, to the west, had a panoramic view of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains. It stood across the street from Guy Phinney's old estate, on land that would become the Seattle Zoo and Woodland Park. Constructed of seismically-strong and fireproof reinforced concrete, the Norse Home had a modern appearance, suggesting an elder care center that was up-to-date and progressive; its appearance differed from an earlier, proposed, four-story American Colonial Revival design prepared by Seattle architect Bjarne Moe in 1944. Dating from 12/1949, architect Edward Mahlum's early presentation sketches for the Norse Home demonstrated a new clarity of form, but the building's floor plan changed greatly before construction began in 1955. The Norse Home Won a Citation for Design at the 12th Annual Conference on Aging, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1958.

The land on which the Norse Home stands was bought by the Sons of Norway organization for $8,000 in 1937. Early fund-raising for the Norse Home included investment in oil stocks which netted over $200,000. Original officers of the Norse Home included: Dr. Trgyve W. Buschmann, Albert S. Ryland, H. Ragnar Olsen, Jacob Samuelson and August Buschmann. Tel: 206.781.7400 (2015).


The Norse Home underwent large-scale renovations c. 2013.