Cedar Park Elementary School
13224 37th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98125
The content below is from a 2012 Seattle Landmark Nomination form.
Lake City was incorporated as a township in 1949, and was annexed into the city of Seattle in 1954. With a rapidly expanding population, one of the cities’ first priorities was improving the area’s infrastructure, including new schools. The Cedar Park Neighborhood’s population had doubled to over 2,000 people by 1950. In 1955, the Seattle School district bought the 4-acre site where Cedar Park Elementary was eventually built. At the time of purchase, the site contained two residences and a chicken house. For 4 years, including during construction of the new building, the school operated out of portable buildings located at the southwestern portion of the site, now used as a park. Seattle architect Paul Thiry was chosen to design the new school.
Cedar Park Elementary School was completed in 1959, originally as an annex to the overcrowded 1931 Lake City School. The new school was one of three new elementary schools authorized by the School Board in 1956.
The Cedar Park Elementary building was designed for a student body capacity of around 470 (each classroom was designated to have a 40 person capacity), with the auditorium designed to hold 500. In 1972, the school was remodeled, turning two classrooms into a library. The peak enrollment at the school was 437 students in 1968-69, and by 1981, the year the School District closed the school, enrollment had declined to 197 students.
After Cedar Park Elementary School was closed in 1981, the School District convened an advisory to investigate leasing the school as an alternative to demolishing the building, since the District wished to hold the property for potential school use in the future. The committee approved 26 or 27 potential uses, and among the acceptable uses were artists’ studios with enough housing “as required to protect and manage the property.” A group called the “Cedar Park Arts Center” was chosen to lease the school. The group, now called Artwood, continues to occupy the former school building.
Hiram Lewis, a painter and part-time Metro bus driver, assembled a group called the “Cedar Park Arts Center” with the intent of presenting a proposal to lease the subject building. Lewis’ group obtained a lease on the building and began occupying the building in 1982, and Lewis and other artists began to use the school under a short-term lease for live/work space.
Between 1981 and 1994, there was no formal agreement clarifying the use of the building other than the initial understanding that the building would be used for artists studios with enough housing “as required to protect and manage the property.” In 1991, a Seattle Fire Department inspector questioned whether live-in studios were allowed under area zoning and consistent with uses recommended by the original advisory committee. Subsequently, the
City’s Department of Construction and Land Use cited the building for having unauthorized dwellings.
In response to neighborhood pressure and with the hope of resolving these ambiguities, the City formed another advisory committee in 1993, to make recommendations. Despite complaints from some neighbors, the artist group was given a more formal agreement allowing nine dwellings in the building. A joint use agreement between the School District and the Seattle Parks Department to establish “Cedar Park” on the western portion of the site was also made about that time.
Anne and Alan Paisley took over as the master tenants in 1993. With the new agreement in place, Paisley oversaw the minor modifications that have been made to the building, including adding showers and a tub to the Girls Lavatory, and individual units were modified, but remain essentially close to the original configurations.
Anne Paisley also initiated and oversaw as chairperson of the steering committee, the transformation of the former asphalt playground into a community park with a well-kept lawn, landscaping, and play equipment.
In 2006, when the School District faced a multi-million dollar budget shortfall, Paisley expressed an interest in purchasing the building from the District, which at that time was considering selling-off the property. Ultimately the District decided to hold the property for school use.
Presently the former school building with its lush well-kept grounds, has 16 studio spaces and 28 tenants. The Paisleys have lived in the building for the last 30 years. The second longest tenant, fiber artist Meg Hannan, has lived there for 27 years, and maritime craftsman Gene Rice has used his studio space for 24 years to fabricate parts for vessel restoration. The building currently “houses sculptors, painters, jewelry-makers, photographers, musicians, writers, set designers, boat builders, singers, cabaret performers, illustrators, and ceramicists.” The gym is used for weight and fitness training.
Cedar Park Elementary School can be classified stylistically by its massing and scale as being in the Mid-Century Modern/International Style. The Modern Movement had its origins in Europe after World War I, with an underlying belief that advances in science and technology would generate a new form of architecture, free from the pervasive eclecticism based on revival forms.
The building has a reverse “J”-shaped plan, with a classroom wing on the eastern side running north-south, a gymnasium, auditorium, and kitchen wing running east-west on the north, and a covered play court extending southward from the gymnasium. The building’s structure is primarily precast reinforced concrete, with precast concrete beams and bents and tilt-up concrete walls. Some interior walls are framed partitions. Foundations and floor slabs are cast-in-place concrete.
The classroom wing consists of a series of reinforced concrete cantilevered bents spanning east-west and spaced 10 feet 2 inches on-center. Each bent system is composed of two pairs of bents with pin connectors at the roof crowns. Precast concrete panels span north-south between the bents.
The auditorium and kitchen wing is constructed of a series of paired precast concrete cantilevered bents connected with pin hinges spanning north-south and spaced 10 feet 2 inches on-center. The bents are of varying heights, ascending from the lowest point where the auditorium connects to the classroom wing, increasing in height in each bay until the auditorium kitchen space connects to the gymnasium. Precast concrete panels span east-west between the bents.
The gymnasium and covered play court are constructed of a series of paired pre-cast concrete cantilevered bents connected with pin hinges spanning east-west 11 feet 10 inches on center.
All classrooms are identically sized, measuring approximately 32 feet east-west and 30 feet north-south. The kindergarten is slightly larger featuring a window bay with seating and two small toilets. The corridor is lined with lockers.
After being leased as an artists’ studio and housing facility since the school was closed in 1981, tenants have made minimal changes including alterations to the auditorium’s southern wall to accommodate a large access door and installation of plastic panels over the original chain-link fencing.
The Architect, Paul A. Thiry (1904-1993)
Paul Albert Thiry was born on September 11, 1904, in Nome, Alaska. He entered the University of Washington in 1920, abandoning his pre-med studies to study architectural design. Thiry excelled at his studies, especially enjoying drawing, and qualified for membership in Tau Sigma Delta, the architecture honorary society in 1926.
During his early years Thiry’s work was primarily single-family residential and churches, mainly designed in the Norman Gothic style then popular. His Castlewood Apartments completed in 1929, however, was a stripped down Art Moderne design.
As work inevitably slowed during the mid-1930s Depression, Thiry traveled to Chicago to visit the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition. There he received at least a brief exposure to modern design trends in several of the exhibits there including the Hall of Science and Chrysler Motors buildings and in residential design in the “Homes of Tomorrow Exhibit” and manufacturer’s exhibits at the Home Planning Hall.
In 1934, Thomas T. Matsumoto who he had studied with at the University invited Thiry to work for him in Japan, an offer that led Thiry to purchase a steamer ticket around the world. In Japan, Thiry worked with Matsumoto for several months, traveling around the country and meeting Antonin Raymond, a Czech architect who had come to Japan to work with Frank Lloyd Wright on the Imperial Hotel. In private practice in Japan, Raymond’s work demonstrated clear influence by early European Modernists such as Auguste Perret and Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (Corbusier). Thiry would later say that his work in Japan and his experience with the architectural work of Raymond influenced him most toward his rapid shift toward Modernism.
Thiry completed one of two schools for the Seattle School district in 1956, Northgate Elementary, followed in 1959 by Cedar Park Elementary. Although relatively minor projects in Thiry’s overall body of work, these two schools show Thiry responding to simple programs that reflected contemporary educational trends with efficiently elegant worked out floor plans. Both buildings are economically constructed with no-frills concrete tilt-up construction with low-slope long-span reinforced concrete slab roofs, reflecting modest construction budgets. The schools project bold simplicity of form characteristic of Thiry’s later work, and subtle handling of light in the school’s classrooms and public spaces.
Thiry’s reputation led him to be appointed chief architect of Seattle’s Century 21 Exposition in 1957. Thiry prepared the master plan, coordinated with other exhibition architects, and designed three exhibition buildings including the Nalley’s Fine Foods Pavilion, the Seattle First National Bank Pavilion, and the Washington State Pavilion (Coliseum, now Key Arena). Due to the success of the 1962 Century 21 Exposition, both the Chamber of Commerce and the City Council honored him as “Man of the Year” in 1962. Likewise, he also became Chancellor of the AIA’s College of Fellows that same year.