Donald N. McDonald Sr.

McDonald, Donald N. Sr.

(1906 – 1964)

Donald Neil McDonald Sr. was born on August 6, 1906 in Seattle. He spent 3 years and 6 months (1924-29) in the architectural school at the University of Washington, but for unknown reasons did not received a formal degree.

After schooling he gained practical experience by working as a draftsman in a variety of architectural offices, and spent two years as a senior architectural draftsman for the City of Seattle (1927-1929).

After spending time with the City of Seattle Parks Department, McDonald formed a partnership with Vas Stimson (1930-1935). Known projects are a remodel for Dr. James Sender’s Optical Office (1935), alterations to the Camlin Hotel (1931) in Seattle, a store building at 8518-24 14th Ave South (1931) in Seattle, the Elwha Theatre (1932) in Port Angeles, and the Masonic Building (1932) in Port Townsend.

Around 1938, he established his own independent practice. Some of initial projects included the Hotel Baranof (1939) in Juneau, Alaska, and Tall’s Travel Shop (1939) in downtown Seattle. Reportedly he designed additional hotels in Anchorage and Honolulu but this has not been verified.

After the war, McDonald’s projects in the mid 1950s seem to have garnered much more attention, at least by the local newspapers. He had a specialty in apartment houses and notable projects in Seattle include an apartment building at 9th & Cherry (1955), the Sands Apartments (1958), 700 E. Mercer Street Apartments (1959), Belmont Tower (1959), Capri Apartments (1959), the curtain-walled 1221 Minor Avenue Apartments (1960) on Capitol Hill, the 700 East Mercer Street Apartments (1960), and the Laurelhurst Apartments (1960). He also designed the Executive House Apartments (1961) in Portland, Oregon.

Additional projects included Married Student Housing at Washington State College (1957) in Pullman, Lakewood Park (1963), a 200-unit public housing project in White Center for the King County Housing Authority, the Tropic Motel (1958) in Seattle, and the Proctor & Associates Office Building (1962) in Bellevue.

McDonald was also involved in several unsuccessful projects of note, some ahead of their time, others seemingly fairy tale fantasies. They included a proposal for businessman Philip Kaplan, who wanted to construction a 17-story, $5 million dollar glass city hall office tower (1959) which he would lease back to the city.  Another was a proposal for a floating football/baseball stadium on Elliott Bay at the foot of Harrison Street (1963) as part of the city’s 10-year redevelopment plan for the Century 21 Exposition site.

Donald’s son, Donald Jr., became a builder. The two completed several projects together including the Clifton Apartments (1957) in Seattle, and a home in the Woodridge Glen neighborhood (1960) of Bellevue.

McDonald Sr. died unexpectedly on Mercer Island after a brief illness on September 6, 1964 at the young age of 58.

– Michael C Houser

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