On Tuesday, I promised a discussion of the interior architecture of the Seattle area apartments constructed in the 1920’s by Frederick Anhalt. After a couple of days of distraction I’m ready to deliver.
As noted earlier, Anhalt was not an architect himself. He worked with others who were, selecting architectural and decorative elements from a pattern book (or books). These architectural elements were based on Tudor revival architecture. This style is reflected on the exteriors and interiors of the buildings. It emphasizes light walls contrasting with dark wood trim, decorative beams, and other decorative, archaic architectural elements such as rough plaster finishing, cove ceilings, pointed interior arches.
In my experience of these spaces, the most distinctive element which Anhalt employed are false fireplaces. These fireplaces appear in every single one of his apartments that I’ve been inside. I understand that occasionally a real fireplace was included, but this is not the case in our building, at least.
Our “fireplace” is a scaled down replica of a medieval kitchen hearth, with the scullery shelf on the left side of the alcove. It stretches across the front of our living room. Naturally that’s where television and stereo are. I’ve seen one other Anhalt with this large alcove, unfortunately remodeled so that it no longer resembled a fireplace. Ours is in original condition, and so resembles a fireplace this it’s necessary to convince first-time visitors that it was not constructed as one.
The problem of maintenance and remodeling in these apartments is considerable. In our apartment, much of the original dark stained wood has been covered with years of gloppy white paint. About four years ago the apartment on the top story of the Romio’s building I cited earlier was on the market, and Vivian and I took a look. All of the original interior wood finishing had been removed in a late 1980’s-style remodeling. The flat, white surfaces conflicted with the peculiar mazelike floor plan of the apartment. Just up the road from that Romio’s, another Anhalt building was remodeled at about the time we looked at the apartment in the Romio’s building. That building lost its lead glass windows, and original landscaping.
As originally constructed, the buildings are expensive to maintain. Generally speaking, those buildings which have been converted to condominium ownership have fared better than the rental properties. However, the rental properties in some cases will have retained a greater portion of the original building materials.
The interior layout of the apartments is highly idiosyncratic. While a set of basic apartment floor plans was developed and reused throughout the buildings, the individual apartment layouts are always surprising when first encountered. The odd floorplans in combination with the use of scaled-down interior decorative elements lend the apartments an impression of size. In fact, the apartments tend to be only slightly larger than an average modern apartment, ranging from 700 to 1500 square feet, the largest one of which I am aware. The downside to the use of dark trim and twisty floor plans is that over time the apartments can easily feel cramped, something the tight kitchens can reinforce.
Despite this, one of the key features of nearly all the apartments is the presence of both front and back door entrances, something which Anhalt describes in his biography as intended to enhance the sense of home for his tenants.
The buildings sport as much attention to detail in the landscaping as in the built architecture, commonly featuring a mix of fruiting trees and bushes and flowering plants. Our building features two Rainier cherry trees, a golden plum tree, blueberry bushes, and a tulip tree. After Anhalt left the building trade, he opened a nursery near the University District, which he ran for the rest of his life. He died in 1996, at the age of 100.
After the loss of his apartment business, he completed only a few more buildings, including a couple of homes and a church. These buildings are instantly recognizable. In the biography, he is described as retaining a fierce and proprietary interest in the apartment buildings. The creative thought and care which went into these buildings is apparent every day to me. The experience of living in one of these buildings is something I will always be grateful for, and has demonstrated to me in concrete terms some of the ways in which architecture directly impacts our quality of life. Seattle thinks of these buildings as Anhalts; I suspect that Fred Anhalt always thought of them as Anhalt’s.