Looking Back: Our Building
By Darrick Meneken
As we reach the midway point of our 85th year, it seems a wonderful time to honor the physical structure so emblematic of the Washington Athletic Club. As an early entry among Seattle high-rises, the WAC continues to represent one of the most dynamic eras of city development. Take a moment to test your knowledge of our historic Clubhouse and to discover some of its major changes through the decades. Eighty-five years after our doors first swung open, our building rightly stands among the city’s most revered.
How well do you know your Club?
What animal is sculpted on the outside corners of the 21st Floor of the WAC Clubhouse?
Take a walk through downtown Seattle and you’ll have your pick of historic buildings to admire. It’s a distinguished list that includes gems such as Smith Tower (1914), First United Methodist Church (1910), and the Paramount Theatre (1928), to name a few.
As a member of the Washington Athletic Club, you might know that our Clubhouse joined the official list of Seattle Historic Landmarks in 2009. In honoring the original portion of the WAC Clubhouse, the city’s Landmark Preservation Board called out the building’s distinctive façade, art deco design, and unique ornamentation, specifically pointing to the sculpted WAC wings and large perched eagles as “distinctive artistic expressions.” It’s those eagles that define the corners of the 21st Floor, standing watch over the city and the thousands of WAC members who operate below.
A Seattle classic
Which iconic Seattle outdoors company moved into WAC retail space in 1940?
When the WAC Clubhouse opened in 1930 it stood as Seattle’s third-tallest building. Seattle architect Sherwood D. Ford visited athletic clubs in Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, and Los Angeles to find inspiration for the WAC design. Original plans for a $1 million 12-story building, announced in 1928, grew to a 21-story $2.3 million building by August of 1929. Retail space on the ground-level floor faced Union Street. Original tenants included European Art Galleries and Northern Savings & Loan Association. In 1940, Eddie Bauer’s outdoors store moved in for a brief stay, occupying 519 Union Street, currently home to Tom Teifer boutique.
When was the original Clubhouse first expanded?
In receiving its historic designation, the 1930 portion of the WAC Clubhouse was said to contribute “to the distinctive quality or identity” of the city. Construction of the original Clubhouse coincided with the establishment of the city’s downtown commercial district. From 1920 to 1930, the last of the original downtown residential areas disappeared as new towers sprung up during the city’s early building boom. By the early 1950s, the Club was feeling the pressure to grow beyond its walls, and in July of 1953 we acquired a 99-year lease on the ground adjoining the south end of the original Clubhouse. Two years and $2 million later, construction ended on a four-story expansion that marked the Club’s 25th anniversary. That addition also ceilinged over the original grand lobby.
On which floor was the old Club bowling alley located?
The 1950s addition to the Clubhouse made room for a rooftop tennis court, located atop the Club’s new south wing. Two new elevators and an auditorium with enough room for 400 people, now the Noble Room, were also added along with increased dining and lounge space and two new basement levels, one of which included parking (for more on the history of parking at the WAC, see page 30). Preserved in the 1950s addition was a popular four-lane bowling alley, located on the 2nd Floor.
A Club original
Which room retains its original look?
The WAC Clubhouse underwent its second major expansion in 1970. The $3 million plan added eight stories to the south wing, including the current basketball court, running track,
new hotel rooms, and greatly expanded fitness facilities on multiple levels.
According to the city’s landmark preservation paperwork, between 1970 and 2007 virtually all of the Clubhouse’s interior spaces were “modernized and updated in order to accommodate evolving modern athletic facilities and programs.” By 1985, even the bowling alley gave way. Surviving all Clubhouse additions and expansions, the Voogd Library on the lobby level looks nearly exactly the same as it did when the Club opened on December 16, 1930. Also original are the lobby’s etched elevator doors and brass drinking fountain. Next time you’re waiting for a lift, take a closer look at the art deco designs. As you do, you’ll be standing in the footsteps of WAC history.
—As published in the June/July 2015 issue of WAC Magazine