Place of Prestige

Property Watch: Ralph Anderson's Personal Penthouse in a Historic Landmark

It started as an eighth-floor auditorium by city-shaping architect Carl Gould. Decades later, beloved architect and preservationist Ralph Anderson made it his personal home.

By Sarah Anne Lloyd August 31, 2022

Image: Lensit Studio

This unique luxury penthouse has a heavy architectural and cultural background, the most immediate being that renowned architect Ralph Anderson, who owned the building at the time, developed the unit as his personal home. After living there for a decade, Anderson and his wife Shirley sold the condo off-market to friends, so it’s on the market for the very first time. But this home’s backstory goes even deeper: This building, designed by an earlier generation of groundbreaking architects, was a heavy-hitter before Anderson was even born.

Image: Lensit Studio

In the early 1910s, major San Francisco piano manufacturer and retailer Kohler and Chase announced their plans for a new flagship store in Seattle, and signed a 15-year lease on a planned office and retail building developed by businessman George Fischer. This gave them an outsized influence on the building’s design; a June 1912 article in The Seattle Times describes the initial plans drawn up by prestigious architecture firm Bebb and Mendel as an eight-story “palace of music,” with “sound-proof parlors” and a grand concert hall on the roof. 

Image: Lensit Studio

Builders rushed the first three floors so the shop could be operational for the holiday season. When it came time to build up the other five, Bebb and Mendel had ended, so Charles Herbert Bebb worked with his new partner, legendary Seattle architect Carl F. Gould, on the design. Bebb and Gould is the dream team that built most of the University of Washington and the original Seattle Art Museum in Volunteer Park (now Seattle Asian Art Museum). In finishing the Fischer Studio Building, a city landmark, they added 68 music studios, 18 of them studio apartments, that would spend the next several decades hosting private music teachers and arts organizations alike—ballet instructors, piano teachers, a ragtime piano school. At the top, where Anderson would eventually make his home, a windowless recital hall shut itself away from the street below. There are, of course, plenty of windows now—there’s even a whole solarium with southwest exposure and a view of Elliott Bay.

Image: Lensit Studio

By the 1970s, like many spaces dear and accessible to artists, the building had fallen into disrepair. Anderson, fresh off the Pioneer Square restoration work that made him famous, purchased the building in 1974 for $230,000—the whole building, for about $1.4 million in today’s dollars—intending to renovate the studios into middle-income condos in stages, so no tenants would be forced to move out. It’s unclear whether anybody had to, although he did upgrade the electrical, heating, and plumbing systems, and construction didn’t begin until at least six years later when he sold the middle floors to a residential developer. (In a tale as old as time, in January 1985, one resident of these former scrappy artist studios wrote a letter to The Seattle Times opposing funding for public art in the bus tunnel, preferring "nice buildings with clean walls" instead.)

Anderson retained ownership of the street level and the top floor, where work was already underway to convert the auditorium to the 2,800-square-foot residence on the market today. The heights of a performance hall shine through in soaring ceilings, reaching 15.5 feet in the formal living and dining areas, both with two-story westerly views to Elliott Bay.

Image: Lensit Studio

But the appeal isn’t all luxury benchmarks; the space was designed with organic touches that make the home beautiful even with the shades drawn, with small, surprising details. One of the back bedrooms, for example, has a secluded little loft hidden away above its en suite bath. It also has an adjoining kitchenette and bonus room. Across the hall, the smallest bedroom still has the built-in desk that Anderson put in decades ago.

Image: Lensit Studio

High design meets practical livability throughout the home; you can tell the architect built it knowing he'd be living here. Just off the grand, light-filled living room with exposed-beam ceiling, stately fireplace, parquet floors, and both west- and east-facing balconies, there’s a dark cubby of a media center. The sleek, modern kitchen has an ornate built-in hutch, a wide Juliet balcony, and cabinets packed into every possible corner. Off the tiled front entryway, a long utility closet leads into a wider laundry room with plentiful cabinet space and a sink.

Image: Lensit Studio

The most luxurious of the three bedrooms, lined with south-facing shuttered windows, makes room for a substantial walk-in closet and even a small sitting area. Its en suite bath offers abundant counter space, and its walk-in shower has built-in storage and a soaking tub inside of it.

In addition to the right to work from Anderson’s very own desk, the home comes with the right to build a private rooftop deck. No big deal, just a whole new space with a 360-degree view on top of a historic building in the middle of downtown.

Listing Fast Facts

1519 Third Ave, #801
Size: 2,809 square feet, 3 bedroom/3 bath
List Date: 8/11/2021
List Price: $1,750,000, $2653/mo HOA
Listing Agents: 
Victoria Odell and Marco Kronen, Windermere

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