East Pine Substation
1501 23rd Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122
The content below is from a 2018 Seattle Landmark Nomination form by Susan Boyle. The East Pine Substation was designated a Seattle Landmark in 2018.
By 1940, Seattle was said to be “…the best lighted city, not only in America, but in the world. It is the world’s most modernized city electrically, and the largest user of electric ranges of any city in this or any other country” (Schmidt, p. 35). In 1943, the Seattle City Council resolved to buy Puget Sound Power & Light (PSP&L) properties when the company’s urban franchise expired in 1952. In March 1951, the City agreed on a price for all Puget Sound Power & Light’s Seattle properties, including its distribution system, but excluding the hydro plants. Under this agreement, Seattle acquired three transmission substations and ten distribution substations. Because of deferred maintenance, much of the old system was gradually dismantled and some replaced. The early 1950s was a period of rapid growth for the City of Seattle and its electrical utility. After the end of the war, the Lighting Department had plans prepared for additional transmission lines, substations and equipment in anticipation of rising demands by new customers. In 1953 SCL was one of many utilities to initiate the “Live Better Electrically Program” to increase residential use of electricity (Winther, p. 1). Eventually, seven receiving substations were built between the late 1960s and the early 1970s: Viewland‐Hoffman, University, East Pine, Union, Massachusetts, Delridge and Creston‐Nelson. (Wickwire, p. 24‐25).
The Building and Site
Built in 1967, the East Pine Substation (EPS) is located on 1501 23rd Avenue, and was designed by Fred Bassetti with Richard Haag serving as the landscape architect. A June 23, 1967 open house brochure cited the EPS as “the first urban substation in the state of Washington to be supplied completely by high voltage underground transmission. It is connected with a 230,000‐volt underground transmission line to a terminus on Beacon Hill, and with an 115,000‐volt underground line to the Broad Street Substation.” Despite this operation, the EPS shares many of the same components with other substations, along with functional variations in the arrangement and specific equipment types, and its unique perimeter wall.
The EPS is on a large level area consisting of 62,010 square feet or 1.42 acres. Largely rectangular, it is made up of six lots and one partial lot. The control building, the main structure on the site, and adjoining perimeter brick walls face east toward the major arterial of 23rd Avenue. The January 4, 1966 drawings by Bassetti and Haag called for perimeter plantings, brick pavers, and broom finish concrete nestled around the exterior of the new substation’s perimeter walls. Caucasian maples provided grassy parking strips along the paved sidewalks in the right‐of‐way surrounding the three sides of the site. A later drawing dated from June 24, 1966 also noted Japanese cherry, English oak, katsura trees, and azalea. Presently, the perimeter of the site consists of low ground covers, overgrown shrubbery, grass areas, and mature street trees on the outside of the perimeter walls, while the switchyard is treated with gravel.
In using brick as the primary material, Bassetti expressed both the romanticism and modernism of masonry, working in traditions established in load‐bearing masonry and unadorned veneer in the post‐war era projects by architects such as Le Corbusier, James Stirling, James Gowan, Louis Kahn, Mies van der Rohe, and especially Alvar Aalto. The designs by these architects made the brick masonry “an even more explicit medium for the play of sensuality, imperfection, and historic reference” (Ochshorn, p. 170‐173).
On the site’s east side, the control building was the only building constructed on the EPS site in 1966 to 1967. The original 946 square foot building, which is shown in the King County Assessor’s property record card, was an irregular hexagonal shape with longitudinal sides set parallel to the street. It featured a flat roof, with a slightly canted exterior cap section of cast concrete, originally finished with a polymer roof coating. The interior was utilitarian, and featured materials such as concrete and masonry with exposed walls and waffle‐slab roof structure. The original control building expressed a Brutalist design style — notably the simple abstract massing with angled walls and distinctive “hat‐shaped” roof.
Within the EPS, cables and wires are supported by metal or steel support structures, consisting typically of tubular steel, lattice types made up by trusses in rectangular or tall, pyramidal‐shaped support structures as well as custom‐designed precast concrete supports, which are set both individually and in assemblies. These concrete supports contrast with the riveted and welded steel supports seen in some earlier electrical switchyards, and with larger, steel plate supports that have been added for seismic reinforcement to other supports.
The Architect, Fred Bassetti (1917-2013)
A Seattle native, Bassetti received his B. Arch degree in 1937 from the University of Washington. In 1946, he earned his Masters in Architecture from Harvard.
Bassetti was very active in professional and civic organizations throughout his life. He served as the president of the Seattle Chapter of the AIA in 1967, and was a member of the Institute’s Honors Committee in 1964 and its chairman in 1965. Locally, he was highly engaged in civic and historic preservation activities. Bassetti manifested his increased interest in urban design in the substation property when he addressed the perimeter walls, which had been overlooked as a design opportunity in some of the earlier substation designs. Throughout the 1960s, he was influenced by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. Bassetti’s work turned away from the International Style and Northwest Modernism, and towards creating large scale buildings with human‐scaled proportions and detailing, typically in brick and masonry.
In a 2008 interview, Bassetti noted the EPS was one of his favorite projects. He recalled that there was “no project that I’ve ever done that was as carefully studied by myself and with directions, the draftsman who worked on it” (Woo, 2008).
Landscape Architect, Richard Haag (1923-2018)
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Haag received an undergraduate degree in landscape architecture in 1950 from the University of California, Berkley, and a masters in landscape architecture from Harvard University in 1952. In 1958, he moved to Seattle to create a new landscape architecture program at the UW. Additionally, he opened Richard Haag Associates. Haag’s work ranged from residential gardens to regional parks. Recognizable elopements typical of his work include geometric landforms creating sculptural space definition, proximity to water, and use of signature tree species, such as the katsura and the locust” (Dietz, p. 347). Haag served as the chair of the UW Department of Landscape Architecture between 1964 and 1974, and taught until his retirement from academia in 2004. After 59 years of existence and over 500 completed projects, Richard Haag Associates closed in 2016 (Richard Haag Associates Inc).