Thomas A. Smith

Smith, Thomas A.

(1913 – 1996)

Born in Deming, Washington on January 11, 1913, Thomas Albert Smith grew up in Tacoma. His father, a native of Illinois, came to the Pacific Northwest in 1905, first settling in Astoria, Oregon and then moving to Deming. He later relocated the family to Puyallup where he worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad as both a passenger and freight agent. The family finally settled in Tacoma where Smith attended elementary, junior high, and high school. He graduated of Stadium High School where he excelled in athletics, playing on the football and baseball teams, as well as running track. Smith was also president of the school’s Beaux Arts Club and helped found the school’s Architectural League, serving as its president. This early interest in architecture led him to study architecture at the University of Washington, graduating with a Bachelor in Architecture in 1935 during the depths of the Great Depression.

While still in high school, Smith began his architectural career by doing drafting work at the architectural firm of Russell, Lumm & Lance in Tacoma. Then while attending University, he worked on breaks and summers at the Tacoma firm of Heath, Gove & Bell (1932-36). Upon graduation, Smith went to work for the Pennsylvania Salt Manufacturing Co. in Tacoma where he focused on industrial design (1936-37). His industrial experience then led him to a job in Chelan, working for the Howe Sound Co. and architect Ludwig Solberg.  While there he helped design and build the various mining buildings at the Holden Mine in the upper reaches of Lake Chelan (1937-38).

Smith then took a variety of drafting jobs, moving from firm to firm for the next couple of years. Among them was a stint at the State Department of Highways (1938 to 1940) where he helped completing the design and detail work on the Lake Washington Floating Bridge and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. From 1940 to 1941, he  was employed as a designer for the contractor Austin Company and served as their head designer for buildings at Sandpoint Naval Air Station, Tongue Point Naval Air Stations, and Indian Island Naval Ammunition Depot. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy as an engineer, working as a sub for a variety of firms. His known projects during this time included the design for NCO quarters at Fort Richardson, Alaska and assisting with the Army Supply Depot in Seattle.  He was also in charge of converting passenger ships into Naval Transports.

After the war, Smith took a job as an architect with Crown-Zellerbach Co. (1945-1946). After receiving his architect’s license on April 4, 1947, he established his own practice in Seattle, operating out of an office located in the Lowman Building in Pioneer Square. Architect John Mattson’s office was in the same building. The two men formed a partnership in 1949, but the firm of Mattson & Smith dissolved by the early 1950s. Both men reestablished their own practices and continued to work in the Lowman Building in separate offices.

Throughout his forty-year career, Smith designed a wide variety of commercial, institutional, industrial, and residential buildings throughout the Puget Sound region. One of his earliest commissions was the clubhouse at Sand Point Country Club (1949) in Seattle. Many of the residences he designed in the 1950s were featured in the Seattle Times in its “Open House” column, and the Seattle Post Intelligencer “Puget Sound Home” column which described the design of each house, showed floor plans, and praised the architect for creating homes that served the needs of the modern family. Notable residences designed by Smith include the Hedeen House (1953), an early mid-century modern residence in upper Queen Anne; the Marchisio House (1957) in the Hilltop Community near Bellevue; a home in Bellevue’s Norwood Village (12311 SE 23rd Ave.; 1954); a country home on a forty-acre estate for the Ray Wesley family in Bothell (1955); and the Schoen Residence (1955) on Lake Washington in Juanita.

By the late 1950s, Smith had shifted away from residential architecture and focused more on commercial and industrial projects. He designed many shopping centers and bowling alleys in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a reflection of post-war suburban development and the demand for recreational and consumer-oriented spaces for the increased population. Notable projects include the Holly Park Lanes and Duwamish Bowl in Seattle (1960); Villa Plaza Shopping Center in Lakewood (1959); Highland Bowl & Shopping Center in Renton (1960); Mercer Island Shopping Center (1961); and the Queen Anne Post Office (1965). He also designed apartment buildings and small scale commercial buildings, such as Irving on the Lake Apartments (1958); the Yost Building (1958) in Columbia City; and the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots Building (1957) in Seattle.

Smith is also known for his contribution in developing early designs for tilt-up construction. This type of construction became an important and popular form of building utilitarian structures in Seattle and the country. He designed the largest civilian aircraft hangar in Alaska for the International Airport in Fairbanks and designed the world’s largest prefabricated arches for use in the Snohomish Airport Hangar (1957).

Smith continued in private practice until 1966 when he joined the Seattle School District No. 1 as its chief architect. He retired in 1976 after a long career. His solid career was enhanced by his various professional, civic, and community associations. He was a member of the Washington State Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the American Legion, the Loyal Order of the Elks, Optimist International, and the Sand Point Country Club.

Smith passed away in Seattle on July 8, 1996 at the age of 83.

– Artifacts Architectural Consulting, Inc.

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