Jessie Theo Wilkins Jr.

Wilkins, Jessie Theo Jr.

(1918 – 1991)

Born November 25, 1918 in Spokane, architect Jessie Theo Wilkins Jr. grew up in Seattle. His dad was an Army Brigadier General, and Wilkins Jr. enlisted during WWII, rising to the level of Lieutenant. After the war he returned to Seattle and entered the University of Washington on the GI Bill. Graduating with a degree in architecture in 1947, Wilkins gained valuable experience by working as a draftsman for the firm of Jones & Bindon (1946-1949) and then a designer for John Graham & Company (1949-1953).

In 1953 he formed a short-lived but important partnership with Canadian architect Charles Noel Wortman. Under the name Wortman & Wilkins Architects, the firm received high architectural praise for a variety of projects, all on Mercer Island.  These include an office for the John T. Dunney Real Estate (1954); Wilkins’ own house (1954) which was featured in Living For Young Homemakers magazine); the Kuehnoel Restaurant (1955); the Mercer Island Library (1955); the Dr. Frank Goodman House (1955 Seattle Times / AIA Home-of-the-Month), the William Calderhead House (1956); and the Donald Exner House (1958).

With more projects coming in than the two partners could handle on their own, they hired James W. Ellison in 1956. Then a recent Cornell University graduate, he joined the firm, first as an associate then quickly became a full partner and the name of the firm was changed to Wortman, Wilkins & Ellison. However, for reasons unknown, by 1958 Wortman decided to leave the firm, and Wilkins and Ellison continued on their own.

The Wilkins & Ellison successful practice produced a variety of note-worthy homes including the Floyd Fancher House (1958, Seattle Times/AIA Home-of-the-Month) in Burien; the Patrick H. Walker House (1959, Seattle Times/AIA Home-of-the-Month) in Seattle; the Burroughs Anderson Cabin (featured on the cover of June 1960 Sunset Magazine); the Gordon G. Reilly Townhouse in Seattle (1967, Seattle Times/AIA Home-of-the-Month); the Bellevue home of James E. Clark (1958, featured in a four-page color layout in the September 1960 issue of Home Modernizing Guide), the John L. Erling House on Mercer Island (1968, Seattle Times/AIA Home-of-the-Month); and the Pon Eng House on Mercer Island (1966, Seattle Times/AIA Home-of-the-Month). 

Other notable residential properties include the Otis White House (1961) on Mercer Island; the Donald Rokke House (1960) in Seattle; the Casa Carmel Apartments (1965) in Kirkland; and the Chalet Apartments (1959) in Bellevue. Non-residential designs include a warehouse and office building for Higgins Automatic Vending, Inc. (1959); the Sunde & d’Evers factory (1958) in Seattle; Cascade Security Bank (1964) in Enumclaw; the City of Seattle Traffic Engineering Division Office/Shop (1967); the Normandy Medical & Dental Building (1961) in Normandy Park; and the Rainier, Seattle-Tacoma Airport, Centralia and Fisherman’s Terminal branches for Seattle First National Bank (1964).

On the civic involvement side, Wilkins was active in a variety of social and civic organizations including serving on the Mercer Island City Council (1960). He was also a member of King County’s Metro Planning Council and taught classes in blueprint reading, specifications, and allied topics relating to construction to a variety of community and professional organizations. Wilkins was an active member of the Construction Specifications Institute and served as their chapter president (1971).

In December 1971 Wilkins and Ellison dissolved their partnership and each formed their own separate firms. Wilkins passed away in Seattle on October 16, 1991.

– Michael C. Houser

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