In this pre-World War II photo, architect Harlan Thomas (1870-1953) strikes a Hollywood, big-screen pose. His Seattle legacy also looms large.
Thomas was born in Iowa, studied architecture in Paris, toured the world and saw Naples, which influenced many of his designs, including the richly Italianate Sorrento Hotel on First Hill.
Thomas arrived in Seattle in 1906 and built himself a Mediterranean-like villa on the west slope of Queen Anne. It’s still there, though somewhat altered, at 1401 Eighth Ave. W.
On the southern foot of Queen Anne hill his Chelsea Hotel, now apartments, at 620 W. Olympic Place— with its brick and stucco façade and bay windows — set the tone for future Seattle apartments and hotels.
The Sorrento, like the Chelsea, was constructed for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. The Sorrento featured the city’s first rooftop restaurant.
Thomas’s architectural handiwork, through revolving partnerships, includes the Corner Market Building at the Pike Place Market, The Queen Anne, Columbia and Douglass-Truth public libraries, Harborview Hospital and numerous houses on the University of Washington’s Greek Row.
He also worked out of town: Parts of downtown Bremerton bear his imprint, as do other Northwest places.
Most of Thomas’s elegant, Mediterranean-influenced designs remain very human in scale.
From 1926 to 1940, Thomas served as chair of the University of Washington’s architecture department, where he was popular with students, and played
an active role locally as a member of the American Institute of Architects. He is also credited with bringing noted architect Lionel Pries to the department.
One of Thomas’s more interesting designs is found on upper Queen Anne. The 1926 Seventh Church of Christ-Scientist, 2555 Eighth Ave. W., reflects a stunning, almost-surreal blend of influences: neo-Byzantine, Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial. The building was saved from the wrecking ball in 2007, following a long campaign waged by the Queen Anne Historical Society, Historic Seattle, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation and concerned neighbors.
Thomas painted and sketched all his life; his watercolor landscapes were known for their precision. — Mike Dillon