AKA: Young Women's Christian Association, Building (YWCA), Downtown, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - social and civic buildings - community centers

Designers: Champney, Edouard Frere, Architect (firm); Durham, Robert L., and Associates (firm); Édouard Frère Champney (architect); Robert Lewis Durham (architect)

Dates: constructed 1912-1913

9 stories, total floor area: 107,572 sq. ft.

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1118 5th Avenue
Downtown, Seattle, WA 98101-3001

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This Italian palazzo was designed by the talented, Beaux-Arts-trained archtiect Édouard Frère Champney, who arrived in Seattle, WA, in 1907. The funde-raising period for this YWCA occurred around 1909 a crucial date for women's rights and suffrage in WA State. At this time, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Expostion (AYPE) focused national attention on the city, and energized local activities of women's rights and temperance advocates. (Fund-raising for this YWCA Building occurred at the AYPE.) By 1909, the WA Anti-Saloon League had succeeded in passing local-option, alcohol prohibition in WA, and by late 1914, voters enacted legislation prohibiting state-wide manufacture and sale of alcohol (but not its consumption). In 1910, women also obtained the right to vote in WA State, overturning twenty years of judicial nullification of earlier legislation to enact suffrage rules. This grand building embodied the increasing political vigor exercised by women in a rapidly industrializing WA State.

Building History

The Seattle architect Édouard Frère Champney (1874-1929) designed this multipurpose building to serve as a lodging, recreation and socializing spot for young women in the rapidly industrializing city of Seattle, WA. Planning for this building began around 1909, when the capacities of earlier rented quarters for the YWCA were overtaxed. This enlarged palazzo was the group's fifth main building in Seattle, and the first to be purpose-built. The City of Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods said of the group's previous quarters: "The organization was first located during the 1890s in a small storefront space where they provided a lounge and operated a cafeteria at 1104 ½ Second Avenue. In 1901, the operation moved to the Curtis Building at Second Avenue and Union Street and in 1904 moved to the former quarters of the Rainier Club in the Seattle Theater building on Third Avenue and Cherry. By 1906, the organization had a membership of nearly 1400 women. During this period they acquired several houses – some on Queen Anne Hill – in order to provide boarding facilities for girls and purchased 18 acres of property on Bainbridge Island for use as a summer camp (Camp Yeomalt) facility. By 1909, the YWCA was housed in a cottage located on the current site at Fifth Avenue and Seneca Street. Under the leadership of board president Mrs. Emma Wood the YWCA board devised a fundraising campaign in order to construct a new permanent building in downtown Seattle. They established a restaurant and hostess house at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition during the summer of 1909. This enterprise netted a profit of $12,000 and enabled the organization to make a down payment on the building lots at Fifth Avenue and Seneca Street, which cost $60,000. The organization then undertook a whirlwind fundraising drive by canvassing downtown businesses and working women for contributions. They promoted a 'Buy-a Brick' campaign - selling individual bricks for a dollar - and were able to sell all 93,000 bricks required to clad the new building. The building was completed at a total construction cost of between $325,000 and $350,000 and dedicated on May 24, 1914." (See City of Seattle, Department of Neighborhoods, "Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Seattle Historical Sites Summary for 1118 5th Avenue," accessed 02/11/2020.)

This approximately $350,000 constructed a durable and versatile facility that remains the oldest and most capacious YWCA in the State of WA. The Department of Neighborhoods web site described its features: "The new YWCA building housed a wide range of services and activities offered for women and girls, including: a large theater/meeting room; hotel accommodation for 180 short-term transient guests and permanent boarders; a public tea room; a large cafeteria; two private dining rooms; social rooms; a basement level swimming pool; a two-story gymnasium; a chapel; and childcare facilities, in addition to office, club and classroom spaces. The vocational training program held classes in millinery, dressmaking, cafeteria work, manicuring, and salesmanship. A home economics program prepared girls for marriage or for domestic work. The YWCA also developed relationships within the local business community in order to arrange for job placements and promote better workplace conditions for women." (See City of Seattle, Department of Neighborhoods, "Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Seattle Historical Sites Summary for 1118 5th Avenue," accessed 02/11/2020.)

Organizers of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) hoped to shape the moral choices of young women flooding into large industrial cities during the 19th century. The City of Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods' analysis of this building stated of the YWCA: "The YWCA was originally established in Great Britain in 1855 with a mission of dedication to serve the needs of working class women throughout the world. In 1866, the first YWCA in United States was founded in Boston. The Seattle YMCA was established in 1894 by a group of 28 women in order to provide a wholesome environment for young women, and to assist 'the working girl' toward self-reliance and independence. The Association’s mission was to provide a secure environment for the ever-increasing number of self-supporting women who were migrating to fast-growing urban centers - like Seattle - during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries." (See City of Seattle, Department of Neighborhoods, "Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Seattle Historical Sites Summary for 1118 5th Avenue," accessed 02/11/2020.)

HistoryLink.org historian, Mildred Andrews, discussed the YWCA's social role in her 1998 article on the organization: "Turn-of-the-century Seattle was a wide open town, rife with bawdy houses and saloons. From its early history, the YWCA organized clubs to keep young women and girls 'interested in the best things,' according to Secretary Emily Southmayd, 'and thereby prevent their being attracted by questionable amusements.' There were clubs for young married women, factory workers, domestic workers, and office workers (the forerunner of the local chapter of Business and Professional Women). The Cosmopolitan Club focused on world fellowship. African American women joined the Culture Club, and women of Japanese, Chinese, and Russian descent met in their respective clubs. High school girls joined the Girl Reserves, and younger girls joined Bluebird or Rainbow Clubs. In the early teens, the YWCA launched a whirlwind fund-raising drive for its own building. Working women throughout the city made their own contributions and canvassed businesses for funds. Designed by E. Frere Champney, the eight-story brick building located at Fifth Avenue and Seneca Streets in downtown Seattle opened in 1914. It provided a tearoom, a cafeteria, Turkish baths, a swimming pool, a gymnasium, a hotel, clubrooms, and a vocational school." (See Mildred Andrews, HistoryLink.org, "YWCA — Seattle-King County/Snohomish County," published 10/13/1998, accessed 02/11/2020.)

Building Notes

In 2010, the 9-story YWCA covered a 14,400-square-foot lot. It had a steel-and-concrete frame and contained 107,572 gross square feet, 94,038 net. It had a 120-foot by 120-foot base.

As Dennis A. Andersen has noted, the original design for the YWCA called for a roof garden and tower to be constructed. For cost reasons, these were shorn off, leaving a cubic, Italian Renaissance palazzo. (See Dennis Alan Andersen, "Édouard Frère Champney," in Shaping Seattle Architecture, First Edition, Jeffrey Karl Ochsner, ed., [Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994], p. 136.)


Like a great number of buildings in Downtown Seattle, the YWCA had ornamental elements of its roofline removed after the Olympia Earthquake of 04/13/1949. In this case, building maintenance workers removed a balustrade above the parapet.

Many modifications have occurred to the YWCA, principally during remodeling efforts during the 1950s and 1980s. In the earlier work, new doors replaced the ornate originals. Architects truncated the lobby's double-height proportions, and removed a large fireplace that occupied a central space in it. The designers added a new plaster ceiling over the first level, and utilized the lobby's mezzanine level, turning it into office space. The first-floor music and reception rooms were also transformed into offices. A large first-floor assembly space was renovated to become a daycare center. Three rooms on the second floor aligned with Seneca Street, the library, lounge and a tearoom, were remodeled to become a conference room and offices. High-efficiency fluorescent lighting was introduced in various locations.

In this 1950s building reconstruction, a hospital unit on the fourth floor was closed as were the cafeteria, dining room and kitchens on the sixth and seventh floors. A double-height gym on the seventh and eighth floors was altered to provide more residential units. Additional apartment spaces were create on the third and fourth levels in what were job-training spaces. The rooftop tennis court, in space that was to have been a garden in Champney's original conception, was also closed in the 1950s.

A Seattle Sunday Times article of 02/01/1953 indicated that work on two YWCAs would begin directly. The Downtown YWCA would be remodeled Robert L. Durham and Associates and a new building serving the Central District would be designed by Benjamin F. McAdoo, Jr., (1920-1981). It wrote: "Plans have been completed for a new East Side Y.W.C.A. at 29th Avenue and East Cherry Street and for remodeling of the downtown Y.W.C.A., it was announced yesterday. Architects have been authorized to apply for building permits and take bids for the jobs. Robert L. Durham & Associates will design the downtown remodeling. Benjamin F. McAdoo is architect for the new East Side building. The East Side Y.W.C.A. will open a membership drive tomorrow. The downtown Y.W.C.A. will be open during the remodeling, which is expected to take a year. All rooms will be redecorated and each floor will have a community kitchen and adjoining lounge for residence girls." (See "East Side Y.W. Plans New Building," Seattle Sunday Times, 02/01/1953, p. 27.)

A 1980s renovation sought to reexpress some of the historical features around the main entry lost in the 1950s remodeling. New front doors, more compatible with the originals were introduced and new flat canopies were added to shelter those entering the building.


The Erastus Brainerd House, standing at 1116 5th Avenue, was one of several buildings demolished to make room for this YWCA.