This property-tax-assessment photo shows Canlis in its early days, circa 1951. Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Regional Archives
This property-tax-assessment photo shows Canlis in its early days, circa 1951. Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Regional Archives
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In his introduction to the Queen Anne Historical Society’s upcoming Queen Anne Modern tour — set for Saturday, June 14, from 2 to 6 p.m. — Kim Turner remembers sitting with his sister on a slope overlooking downtown and witnessing the lights coming back on in skyscrapers after one of the last World War II blackouts (HistoryLink.org Essay 10649). With the lights on, Seattle’s future was unleashed, eventually leading to our current rebuilding frenzy.

The Queen Anne Modern tour of contemporary homes is bracketed by two mid-century jewels, Canlis Restaurant (1947) and the Swedish Club (1961). Both buildings reveal the effort to reinvigorate American design following the hiatus from 1929 (the Great Depression) to 1945 (the end of World War II), during which almost nothing was built. Both are pioneering buildings by important local architects. Neither one belongs to the mid-century, modern, Roman, brick class of homes that pepper our hill.

Canlis is a marvelous example of Roland Terry’s Northwest School style, while the Swedish Club, designed a decade later by Robert Theriault, is evidence of the search by post-war architects for a new vocabulary, even it meant borrowing heavily from the work of Seattle-born star Minoru Yamasaki.

Canlis

Canlis architect Roland Terry (1917-2006) is celebrated as a prime contributor to the regional approach to post-World War II Modernism. His work is marked by a deep understanding of Pacific Northwest wood, stone and color.

Terry helped define the design idiom of the Northwest School. Like so many of his post-war peers, he used “great expanses of glass to reveal as much of the elusive Northwest light as possible; interiors and exteriors that shared the shapes and colors of native plantings, rough stone, unpainted or naturally stained wood, often in its most fundamental form, the peeled or driftwood log; and fabrics and finishes in colors and textiles that echo and enhance those natural materials.” (Justin Henderson’s “Roland Terry: Northwest Master Architect,” 2000).

Canlis is a superb example of Roland Terry’s Pacific Northwest aesthetic. Canlis is perched high on the cliff over Lake Union and reminiscent of Fallingwater, the iconic 1937 house Frank Lloyd Wright that hung over a tumbling brook in western Pennsylvania.

Canlis’ eastern wall of windows are canted out to reduce ceiling light reflections, while the building leans out over empty space to views of Lake Union, the University of Washington campus and the Cascade mountains.

Like many Wright designs, Canlis is anchored to the ground by a massive chimney, whose place of honor in the design is reinforced by the strong wall of stones supporting the porte cochère where guests alight.

The restaurant also turns its low-slung, western back to a busy highway, where service entrances and kitchens buffer the road’s noise.

Peter Canlis, who already operated a Canlis Broiler on Waikiki Beach, also designed by Terry, stuck with the Univeristy of Washington graduate and Washington native for his new Seattle steak house. Now known for its fine and elegant dining, Queen Anne’s Canlis Charcoal Broiler may owe its site to the old West Coast roadhouse tradition of placing eating, drinking, dancing and lodging retreats along stagecoach lines and highways.

Swedish Club

The Swedish Club is a striking example of post-war Modernism in Seattle. Designed by the firm of Steinhart, Theriault and Anderson, most of whose conceptual designs are attributed to Robert Theriault, the club opened in April 1961.

The building is poised on an extremely steep site that allows a full daylight basement. The building is supported by a steel frame and features concrete exterior wall panels, floor-to-ceiling windows on the south and east sides and decorative aluminum grille work. The grilles make a 30-foot-tall screen that surrounds exterior open walkways at the second and third floors.

All public spaces have phenomenal views of Lake Union, downtown, Mount Rainier and the Cascade mountains.

The Swedish Club is a near copy of Minoru Yamasaki’s 1960 Reynolds Aluminum Building in Southfield, Mich.

A second-generation Japanese American and a University of Washington graduate, Yamasaki (1912-1986) — best known for the World Trade Center, destroyed by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001 — is among the most celebrated Seattle-born architects. By 1960, when Theriault, who also graduated from the UW, designed the Swedish Club, Yamasaki had achieved national fame and would have been in the eye of Seattle’s design community as the architect of the Federal Science Pavilion (now the Pacific Science Center) at the 1962 Century 21 World’s Fair and the 1963 IBM building on Fifth Avenue. 

The tour

The automobile version of the tour starts at Canlis (2576 Aurora Ave. N.) at 2 p.m. The bicycle tour starts at the Swedish Club (1920 Dexter Ave. N.) at 1:30 p.m.; details are at www.qahistory.org/events.

The Queen Anne Modern tour ends with coffee and princess cake at the Swedish Club — but not before visiting five recent designs to be interpreted from the sidewalk by their architects: Sheri Olson (Sheri Olson Architecture), Lane Williams (Coop 15), David Coleman (David Coleman Architecture), Geoff Prentiss (Prentiss Architects) and Allan Farkas (Eggleston Farkas Architects).

MICHAEL HERSCHENSOHN is president of the Queen Anne History Society (qahistory.org). To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.