Rucker Hill Historic District
Rucker Hill was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright ©l 2007, The Gombach Group.
The Rucker Hill Historic District is an exclusive residential area on a knoll above Port Gardner Bay in Everett, Washington. The historic district includes 102 single family residences, most of which are well preserved examples of the popular domestic styles of the early 20th century, including Colonial Revival, American Foursquare, Bungalow, and Craftsman style homes. Historically, the district was the province of the city's economic and social elite, physically and metaphorically rising above the industrial city below. The district retains a suburban middle class character today.
The Rucker family, one of the first and prime beneficiaries of the industrial development of Everett at the turn of the century, purchased the land encompassed by today's district; platted a residential community characterized by large lots, a main curvilinear road, and spectacular views of the Puget Sound; and built a large residence on the crest of the hill in 1905. In the years that followed, up until the Great Depression, the Rucker Park Addition or Rucker Hill (as it was more commonly known) gradually filled with substantial homes.
In style and scale, the houses are a direct reflection of the economic status of their builders. Many of the first homes, located toward the top of the hill, are characterized by their solid construction, large size, and dramatic views. That uniform sense of scale creates a design coherence that unites the otherwise varied styles, bringing together the symmetrically balanced Colonial Revival houses, the stolid American Foursquares, and even the Craftsman style houses. This sense of substance, as well as the topography of the hill itself, sets the area apart from the more modest structures at the base of the hill.
The city of Everett was planned and built by Eastern investors to be an industrial center, the so-called Pittsburgh of Puget Sound. The town was platted on a grid pattern and most of the city's residential neighborhoods were characterized by modest wood frame houses. But the Rucker Park Addition developed as a discrete district.
The central street, Laurel, enters at the base of the hill, curves past a fountain and open green space, continues up the hill, passes through the porte-cochere at the rear of the Rucker Mansion, wraps around the bluff side of the mansion, and winds back down the hill. Initially, this was the Rucker's private drive, but within a few years the earliest and most substantial houses in the district were built along this road, with dramatic views of the port below. A retaining wall along Laurel, a paved walkway behind the houses, and the very steeply sloping front yards were (and continue to be) notable features of the district.
The development of the hill happened slowly over three decades. The earliest historic photographs show a clear-cut area; eventually a few grand homes spread out on the hill below the Rucker mansion. Soon, the neighborhood was richly landscaped, and today one of the most pleasing aspects of the district is tall trees, wonderful old rhododendron gardens, and evidence of the residents' care for the appearance of the neighborhood.
The character of the district's housing changed gradually as the lower elevations of the hill were developed. The district's largest homes, at the higher elevations, had lots that were typically three times the size of residential lots elsewhere in the city. But at the lower elevations, the lots are platted on a rectilinear basis, typically measuring about 40 x 110 feet, and the houses are correspondingly smaller in scale with less dramatic sites.
Houses in the district represent the architectural styles of the early 1900s with fine examples of Colonial Revival, American Foursquare, Craftsman, and Bungalow residences. Not surprisingly for a mill town, the residences are mostly frame structures, faced with shingle or bevelled siding. The Colonial Revival homes, among the largest in the district, are distinguished with symmetrically arranged facades, double hung multi-light windows, cornices, fanlights above doorways, decorative pediments, formal columned porches and balconies with balustrades. Examples include the Duryee House at 501 Laurel (1908), the McGhie House at 517 Laurel (1909), the Coleman House at 522 Laurel (1911), the Walton House at 500 Laurel (1925), and the Ebert House at 619 Laurel (1930).
Contemporaneous with the early Colonial Revival houses are several American Foursquare houses, characterized by cubic proportions, broadly overhanging eaves, and bevelled siding. The Judge Charles Denney House at 710 Niles (1906) and the McAdams House at 602 Warren (1906) are good examples of this simple and straightforward style.
A number of Craftsman style houses from the early 20th century reflect the use of native woods, extended eaves, structural ornament, and a less rigidly symmetrical massing. Perhaps the finest Craftsman style home in the district is the McAdams House at 603 33rd Street (1911), with its flared and peaked gable roof and ornamental brackets. But more typical of the Craftsman style are the many bungalows which predominant at the periphery of the district. Some of the bungalows, like the Morgan House at 727 33rd Street (1915) or the house at 611 Warren (1918) are examples of fine craftsmanship with decorative shingles, carved brackets and combined with fieldstone and other natural materials. Many were built or sold by Charles Spreistersbach, a Rucker Hill resident who was the city's leading housing developer at the time.
The most distinguished house in the district is the most eclectic—the Rucker house itself, mansion-size in scale and constructed of brick but characterized by a free adaptation of colonial Revival and late Queen Anne detail. The Rucker Mansion was listed in the National Register in 1974.
The integrity of the Rucker Hill district as a whole has been well-preserved. Due in part to the power these individuals held over change in their own neighborhood as well as to the sound construction of homes in the district, most of the residences have survived without drastic alteration or deterioration. None of the fine homes has been demolished (although one, 3410 Snohomish is now in jeopardy).
With a few notable exceptions, additions to the district have been of a quality that does not detract from the overall character. The central Laurel area has been the best maintained and the level of integrity tends to diminish toward the district boundaries. In the 1950s, some new homes were constructed on Laurel Avenue. Although these houses are clearly of more recent vintage, they are well-designed homes of their period and in keeping with the scale and character of the area.
The integrity of the individual buildings varies. Many original features remain—beveled glass sidelights, leaded glass transom windows, fanlights, decorative brackets, and shutters. Changes are most notable in windows, with some wood windows replaced with aluminum double glazed windows. Some bungalow porches have been enclosed and some composition siding added. But many changes have been carefully crafted, with additions, view windows, and porches enclosed in a manner that is compatible with the original design.
The boundaries follow the historic original lines of the Rucker Park Addition and the topography of Rucker Hill. It was historically and remains a discrete neighborhood. To the west the boundary is the steeply sloping bluff that drops down to the railway line and Port Gardner Bay. The southern boundary is the open space that surrounds the city water tanks. The eastern boundary, Tulalip clearly defines a different neighborhood, contrasting in scale and character. As if to emphasize the closed character of the Rucker Park Addition, the orientation of the houses in the central area is north-south, the houses of the separate Sanford addition on Tulalip orient to the west, looking into Rucker Hill, but not a part of it. The northern boundary ends at Warren, where, again, there is an evident change in the scale and character of residences.
Internally, the character of the district is distinct from the character of neighboring areas, not only because of the quality and large scale of the homes, but also because of the cohesion of the neighborhood. The streets are narrow, reminiscent of the early carriageways; the landscaping is outstanding and reflects years of professional care; the lots are large, often with sweeping front entries and some backyards appear to be held in common with shrubbery rather than fences defining lot lines. The district is surrounded by other residential neighborhoods, of quite different character. It should be noted, however, that there are two properties of significant historical interest a short distance east on 35th at Kromer.
The Rucker Hill Historic District is a well-preserved and cohesive residential area significantly associated with the early 20th century development of Everett. Constructed mostly between 1905 and the Great Depression, Rucker Hill includes an important collection of domestic architecture from the period, including outstanding examples of the Colonial Revival, American Foursquare, Craftsman, and Bungalow styles. Moreover, the district is a discrete suburban enclave, richly landscaped and characterized by large lots, steep topography, a central curvilinear street that winds up the hill, and dramatic vistas of the industrial port and Puget Sound. Historically, Rucker Hill was an early neighborhood for the city's economic and social elite, and home of some of Everett's leading businessmen and professionals. The contrast between the suburban character of Rucker Hill and the industrial districts which it overlooks is a graphic reflection of the social stratification of Everett in the early 20th century. Today, the district retains its historic character.
American settlers took up homesteads around Port Gardner Bay in the 1850s, but Everett's birth as an industrial city did not come until the fall of 1891, when regional and Eastern speculators (including John D. Rockefeller) incorporated the Everett Land Company and purchased large tracts for the development of an industrial townsite. Within months, the boom was on.
The Eastern capitalists, anticipating the terminus of the Great Northern transcontinental line and aware of the potential of the harbor, planned for a diverse industrial base that initially included a paper mill, nailworks, bargeworks and smelter to refine ores from the Monte Cristo mines. Soon, however, the lumber and shingle mills that would later dominate the economy began filling in at waterfront sites. But development was scarcely underway when the boom was curtailed by the Depression of 1893.
A new boom in 1900, fueled by Great Northern tycoon James J. Hill, reinforced Everett's industrial character. Hill's Everett Improvement Company offered free industrial sites to manufacturers. Within ten years, the city's population tripled, infused with immigrants who came to work in the mills. The working class was employed in dangerous work for little pay. Worker unrest and increasingly strong union activity led to some of the most bitter disputes between labor and management in the state's history.
The wide class gap that existed between the wealthy and the workers was reflected in the city's residential communities. Most of Everett's neighborhoods were characterized by modest cottages, with the notable exception of some dramatic homes on Grand and Rucker Avenues. But in 1905, the pioneering Rucker family moved to a hill overlooking Port Gardner Bay, and an elite residential community slowly developed around the family mansion. It was the first such suburban retreat in the city.
The Rucker family was instrumental in the growth of Everett well before they moved to their new home. Jane Morris Rucker and her sons Wyatt and Bethel were among the first to invest in Port Gardner, having purchased a bayfront homestead in the winter of 1889-1890. Although they sold some of their holdings to the Everett Land Company, the Rucker brothers put the first platted section of the new City of Everett on the market in September, 1891, several months before Land Company lots were ready for sale.
The Rucker family prospered in the late 19th century through their investments and banking interests, and by 1900 Wyatt became treasurer of the Everett Improvement Company. In 1904, the brothers began construction of a family mansion on what the newspapers reported was "the most beautiful site in the city." The house reflected an eclectic design that included elements of the Colonial Revival and Queen Anne styles of the period and cost over $40,000.
During the next decade, the Rucker Park Addition was platted, and a small group of substantial houses were constructed along Laurel, the main drive to the Rucker house. The residents included Everett Land Company officer Schuyler Duryee, Judge Charles Denney, and several other influential businessmen and professionals. The homes they built were large Colonial Revival, Craftsman, and Foursquare structures.
From World War I until 1922, however, an economic downtown slowed building. Recovery began in 1922 and the Japanese earthquakes of 1923 created a huge demand for building materials that spurred a boom throughout the city. This boom precipitated renewed building on Rucker Hill. With the choicest parcels developed, new construction concentrated on the smaller, less scenic lots at the base of the hill. Here, comfortable Craftsman bungalows were built by members of the professional and managerial classes, and residents of the period included several doctors and attorneys. Real estate developer Charles Spreistersbach built his own English Cottage style house in 1923 and was responsible for the construction of several other modest homes in the district.
The depression of the 1930s ended the era of prosperity that had built Everett and Rucker Hill, and ended building on the hill until the 1950s. One house was built in the district in 1940, a rather stark International residence. The next additions were 1950s brick family homes. Today, the hill that once overlooked the mills and businesses of Everett now looks out on a town dependent on Boeing and the new electronics industry.
The Rucker Park Addition was the first suburban enclave in the city of Everett, reflecting the emerging stratification of housing patterns in the early 20th century. While several of the city's industrialists built large mansions along Grand and Rucker avenues at the turn-of-the-century, the desire for a country-style retreat led the Rucker family to locate their estate on a site that was clearly distinct from the rest of the city. Built on a steep hillside, with panoramic views and a curving road, Rucker Hill conveyed a private and secluded character that was in marked contrast to other neighborhoods.
Although the houses in the district were constructed by local builders, perhaps working from standard plans, the houses were impressive examples of the popular styles of the era. The Rucker mansion set the tone. The house was an eclectic but harmonious mix of late Queen Anne and early Colonial Revival influences, with a lavishly finished interior. Less imposing but equally distinguished were several Colonial Revival houses constructed soon after, like the Schuyler Duryee House at 501 Laurel (1908) and the Pritchard House at 615 Laurel, built by a mill manager in 1912. These and others in the district are classic examples of the style, complete with porticoes, pediments, and strict symmetry. The style remained popular through the period, and later examples include the Schoch House at 708 33rd (1925) and the Ebert House at 619 Laurel (1930). Indeed, this cluster of Colonial Revival houses is one of the largest and finest groups of its type in the state.
Built at about the same time as the earliest Colonial Revival houses were several Craftsman and American Foursquare houses. Perhaps the finest example of the Craftsman Style is the Robert McAdams house at 603 33rd Avenue, built in 1911. The house is distinguished by its peaked gable roof, extended eaves, overscaled brackets, and exposed rafter tails. The house at 602 Warren (1906) and the Judge Charles Denney House at 710 Niles (1906) are good examples of the simple, cubic American Foursquare style, in which the excessive ornament and historicism of Victorian architecture was rejected in favor of a straightforward and comfortable design.
The district also includes a significant collection of bungalows from the early 20th century. Examples like the W.C. Morgan house at 727 33rd (1915), or the houses at 611 Warren (1918) or 3415 Snohomish (1918) are characterized by the hallmark features of the style including the low-pitched gable roofs, broadly overhanging eaves, decorative brackets and rafter tails, wide and deep front porches, and the use of "natural" materials like shingles, cut stone, or stucco. Like several of the bungalows in the district, the latter two examples were houses developed by Charles Spreistersbach, a resident of Rucker Hill who sold hundreds of small houses in the city during the period.
Although the integrity of a few individual homes has been diminished, and a few new houses are not compatible with the district's historic character, the neighborhood as a whole retains excellent integrity. With its unmatched topography and some of the finest historic residential architecture in the city, the Rucker Hill Historic District continues to convey its historic associations with the development of Everett.