1125 Harvard Avenue East, Seattle, WA 98102
The content below is from a 2023 Seattle Landmark Nomination form.
Charles Stimson Bullitt (1919–2009) was an attorney, real estate developer, and the son of Alexander (Scott) Bullitt and media pioneer Dorothy Stimson Bullitt. Stim Bullitt was raised among the Seattle elite and showed an early interest in philanthropy. He attended Yale to study law as part of a path to politics. After failing to complete the requirements for graduation over four years, Stim joined the U.S. Navy during World War II.
After getting married to his first wife Carolyn Kizer and having three children, Stim purchased the land at 1125 Harvard Avenue E. Stim initially requested that architect Paul Thiry design the new residence. However, the parcel was not developed, as Stim soon divorced Kizer. Stim developed a new plan for the property at 1125 Harvard Avenue E after he met his second wife, Kay Muller.
Both Stim and Kay were active in local politics. They knew local architect Fred Bassetti, another civically minded Seattleite, from community organizing events and chose him to design an informal family home and gathering place for the 1125 Harvard Avenue E location. Stim had Bassetti design a modern A-frame for their growing family. According to the Bullitts’ daughter Dorothy, Stim wanted something like a recreational cabin, based on his love for outdoor sports. The San Francisco landscape architects Eckbo, Royston, and Williams were brought in to design the large yard, although most of their work was devoted to the house’s immediate grounds.
At the north end of the large lot, the Bullitts had their modern house constructed, contrasting with the older and grander homes on Capitol Hill. It was designed in an H-shaped plan in 1955 to include a large A-frame wing to the west and a private wing to the east. The A-frame included an open, airy floor plan anchored by a massive stone fireplace.
The residence was constructed with innovations including the large glulam beams of the A-frame wing, which met large steel pins welded into concrete footings and sunk into the ground on the diagonal. At the peak of the A-frame, a skylight across the width of the ridgeline let light in directly at the roof’s peak. To bring light into the bedroom wing, long, narrow, canted skylights were installed above the flat roof. Filtering panels in the ceiling led to a soft natural light in the main bedroom, through corridors, and over shared spaces like the primary bathroom. Electric cables were embedded 1.5 inches below the floor surface and in the terrazzo underlayment on the first floor, as well as in the cement grout under the slate at the entry, providing the house with heated floors. Also included was baseboard heating.
Cabinetry and built-ins included wood veneers, the walls were paneled in wood, and much of the storage and furniture for the house was provided by built-in dressers, wood desks with permanent light fixtures, wood accordion doors to allow for flexibility between rooms, and wood bookshelves. The A-frame, not only an unusual plan for a family home, provided tall, vaulted ceilings in the primary spaces, expansive views of the sky and surrounding trees to the north and south, and a loft with an exterior balcony and canted sliding doors that let in additional light and added additional outdoor access.
As a politically and socially active family, Stim and Kay Bullitt used the property as home base for committees, non-profits, fundraisers for Democratic candidates, concerts, parties, and personal events including weddings, births, and memorials. Kay often worked to cement relationships, build coalitions, and conduct civic actions from her home. She was an outgoing and well-connected activist who was interested in philanthropy. Her priorities included peace activism, racial equity, education, music, and the advancement of women in business.
The home was central to many of these efforts, including, for instance, meetings of Seattle’s liberal Democrats who came together in the wake of World War II and McCarthyism to form the Keechelus Group, of which Bassetti was a founding member, and which formalized its “Platform for Peace” at 1125 Harvard Avenue E. In 1956, they would formally incorporate as the Metropolitan Democratic Club, which would continue to actively work for peace for many decades. In 1958, Kay began hosting summer picnics in July, opening the yard to friends, neighbors, and associates far and wide. They became an annual tradition, lasting for more than fifty years and attracting the political elite of Seattle, who came to mix both business and pleasure.
In the 1970s, the Bullitts separated. Stim moved out of the house at 1125 Harvard Avenue E in 1976, and the couple divorced in 1979, although they maintained a tradition of family dinners and brunches at 1125 Harvard Avenue E. Kay continued to work for social causes, and remained at the family home.
In the twenty-first century, Kay continued to use her home and yard to bring people together, to actively research and work to solve societal problems, and to keep her family close with regular gatherings. In her later years, when she was less active and mobile, Kay even offered up her large yard as a place for local dogs to play, both so that she could watch them from her window and so that newcomers and people living in apartments had a place to run their pets.
The Building and Site
The Bullitt house at 1125 Harvard Avenue E is located west of Volunteer Park in the locally and nationally listed Harvard-Belmont historic district in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. Within the Harvard-Belmont neighborhood, the Bullitt House at 1125 Harvard Avenue E is sandwiched between the southern end of Lake Union to the west and Volunteer Park four blocks to the east. Located on the site of the former Henry mansion, the Bullitt House is a mid-twentieth century building located among early twentieth century homes and apartment buildings.
The entrance to the residence is located near the parcel’s northeast corner, where a driveway from Harvard Avenue E leads to an uncovered, concrete carport with a central gravel bed designed as an oil catch. The carport is flanked to the north by deciduous trees and evergreen shrubs forming a screen between the carport and the neighboring residence.
From the entrance walk’s western edge, one can turn south toward the building’s recessed entry door, with planting strips including Japanese maple, Oregon grape, aucuba, fern, and andromeda, or north toward a small pad of pavers. The northern walk provides access to a narrow dirt path leading around the northern end of the A-frame toward the rear yard.
The H-shaped residence at 1125 Harvard Avenue E includes three distinct sections, an A-frame wing, central entry, and bedroom wing. The post-and-beam A-frame wing is located to the west with north and south facing gables. Large glulam beams anchor the frame to the ground. This wing includes a full single story plus a halfstory loft over the south end. The A-frame is topped by a steep roof clad in corrugated cement asbestos sheets, although original plans called for standing-seam copper roofing. The A-frame roof includes panels of clear plexiglass at the ridgeline, letting natural light into the interior. East of the A-frame is the residence’s central entry, which is a relatively narrow corridor with a stair to the basement. It is a single story and topped by a flat, built-up roof with deep eaves. To the east of the central entry is the building’s bedroom wing with a doubleloaded corridor. It is a single story and topped by a flat built-up roof with wide eaves. Two long rectangular skylights are located in a parallel formation, letting filtered natural light into the eastern wing, particularly over corridors and shared spaces, including bathroom and utility room. Flood lights are installed near doors on the building’s exterior. Internal systems evident throughout include an intercom system and baseboard heaters.
The residence sits on a partial daylight basement and a foundation of poured, board-formed concrete. The building’s exterior is clad in a combination of two materials: 4-inch vertical boards in tongue-and-groove and what is identified as “Welchboard” on plans. Welchboard was an exterior plywood developed by Art R. Welch, vice president and production manager for West Coast Plywood Corporation of Gray’s Harbor. It was smooth on one side, hot-pressed with a surface of wood flour and phenolic resin. Creamy in color, the panels were durable and easy to prime and paint.
The building is approached by a covered walk from Harvard Avenue E, past the bedroom wing, to the recessed central entry on the north elevation. The entrance is entirely sheltered from the public right-of-way. A door mat is embedded in the concrete walk before the building’s front door. The front door, designed especially for the residence, is bronze and wood with bronze hardware. Panels of white oak are located above and below a central bronze band with a bronze doorknob. The oak panels are thick, with raised and beveled edges and clipped corners. In Bassetti’s original plans, the upper oak panel is carved with the phrase, “VIRTUS ET VERITAS,” or “virtue and truth,” and the carving remains on the interior of the existing door. The door is paired with a square picture window over a Welchboard panel to the west.
Inside, the entry’s floor is slate. From the entrance, corridors with walls of vertical tongue-and-groove boards lead east toward the private bedroom wing, west toward the open living room and kitchen, and forward toward a stairwell with painted tongue-and-groove boards to the basement. West of the stairwell is a short corridor to an entry closet and water closet with slate floors, painted walls, a floor heater, sink, toilet, and wood cabinet. The casement window includes frosted glass.
The main bedroom includes a paneled door similar in design to the front door, without the bronze. The floor is carpeted, and walls are covered in tongue-and-groove boards. Skylights provide filtered natural light, and the ceiling is crossed by visible beams. Past the door and to the left is an alcove with an original built-in, wooden chest of seven drawers with brass pulls. It is topped by a mirror under a cone-shaped light fixture. Next to the chest is a closet with original wood accordion doors and vinyl tile floors.
The bedroom is linked to a private library, which can be closed off by original wood accordion doors. The bedroom is carpeted, with a large picture window and metal casement window facing east. On the north wall is a brass light fixture with saucer shade hanging from a brass arm. Controls for dimmers, alarm system, and intercom are located on the wall near the light fixture. Between the bedroom and the library is a freestanding round fireplace with round base, metal hood, and round chimney. The library was furnished with walls of built-in bookcases, which have since been removed. The room includes painted walls, plank ceilings, and a wood exterior door with central light and transom facing east.
From the central entry, the A-frame wing is located down two steps to the west. The wing is rectangular in plan with large windows in the tall, narrow gable ends. It includes a large living and dining room to the north, with a stair to the upper loft and partition separating this volume from the kitchen and breakfast nook to the south. The living and dining room include a large, open volume with once heated terrazzo floors (the mechanism is no longer functioning), and a large freestanding circular fireplace located on a wide stained concrete platform, or hearth, against a stone wall in the north wall. The stone blocks views from the neighboring parcel to the north. A small wood sign, recently affixed above the stone, includes a blessing or a welcome in a variety of languages. According to Dorothy Bullitt, it was installed late in Kay’s life and is meant to honor and acknowledge the many cultural groups who gathered there.
The Architect, Fred Bassetti (1917-2013)
Fred Bassetti was a native Seattleite who graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in architecture in 1942. He then worked as a draftsman in the local office of the Federal Public Housing Authority throughout the war, alongside architects like Paul Thiry. With the end of the war, the movement toward Modern innovation in design took root as European architects brought Bauhaus concepts to the United States. Bassetti attended the Harvard University Graduate School of Design at a key time in the formation of American modernism, studying with greats including Marcel Breuer and Gropius and alongside students including I. M. Pei. Bassetti received his Master’s degree in architecture from Harvard in 1946 and went to work first for Alvar Aalto before returning to Seattle and joining Narramore Bain Brady & Johnson (renamed NBBJ in 1967).
Throughout his long career, Bassetti advanced modern architecture in the Pacific Northwest and championed good urban design on a citywide scale. Bassetti designed a great variety of buildings, including the Seattle Aquarium (1971–1976), the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon (1979-1983), and the Makah Cultural and Research Center in Neah Bay (1974–1979). Like the Bullitt family, he was civically minded, serving as president of the Seattle AIA in 1967 and advocating for human-centered design through efforts like Action: Better City, for which Bassetti developed a guiding document, a film, and an exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. A committed preservationist, he also worked for Forward Thrust, worked to preserve Pike Place Market, sat on the Seattle Landmarks Commission and on the Seattle Design Commission.
Sometimes referred to as the Northwest School, or characterized as “northwest regional” designers, Bassetti and his fellow northwest modernists celebrated the natural climate, topography, and views of the Pacific Northwest, designing in and around the forested and cleared areas of their sites. Architects of the era embraced the wood-frame, heavy overhangs borrowed from Japanese design and incorporated a variety of natural woods into their residential designs, as found throughout the Bullitt House.
The Landscape Architects, Eckbo, Royston, and Williams
Along with plans from Bassetti, the residence at 1125 Harvard Avenue E relied on the work of the firm Eckbo, Royston, and Williams (a collaboration between landscape architect Garrett Eckbo, Robert Royston, and Edward A. Williams), which designed the residential grounds. Remnants of the plans, undated, are held by Seattle Parks and Recreation. They include many of the features still found closest to the house today, including planting strips at the house’s recessed entrance, the driveway with its oil catching gravel bed, gates and walks, a terrace at the kitchen entrance, and concrete stepping stones in the back yard lawn. However, the large yard was left open and is not detailed in plans. As described by Dorothy Bullitt, the yard was multi-use, prioritizing space for play and entertainment.
In Dorothy’s remembrance, the yard was never treated like a designed landscape but was open to investigation and play for the summer campers.
Eckbo wrote, published, and taught throughout his career, publishing numerous articles in the 1950s, and his book, Landscape for Living in 1950 and The Art of Home Landscaping in 1956. He taught first at the University of Southern California (1948–1956) and then at Berkeley (1965–1978), where he chaired the landscape architecture department from 1965 to 1969.
Eckbo was highly influential in the development of the modern aesthetic for residential design. He became the most prominent modern landscape architect in southern California, representing the new type of landscape designer emerging during the late 1940s and 1950s. As the creator of over a thousand gardens, Eckbo focused his efforts on the spatial development of the lot as a whole, merging inside and out, fully exploiting the California climate.”
Regarded as the “father of modern landscape architecture,” Eckbo won many awards during his career, including the American Society of Landscape Architects Medal of Honor in 1975.