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South Capitol Neighborhood Historic District

Olympia City, Thurston County, WA

The South Capitol Neighborhood Historic District [‡] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

The South Capitol Neighborhood Historic District is a residential area just south of downtown Olympia, Washington, and immediately south of and adjacent to the Washington State Capitol Campus. The historic district, which includes over 440 primary properties, is comprised mostly of single family residences but also includes two open spaces, two churches, some professional offices, some duplexes, one school, and one neighborhood store. Historically the district was an early residential area of Olympia which fully developed with the construction of the capitol buildings in Olympia in the 1920s and 1930s and the accompanying growth of the town and state government.

While some of Olympia's finest homes are in the district and many notable state officials lived here, the majority of the houses represent more modest homes built and lived in by the many employees of state government. The compactness of the geographical area of the district, the close relationship of the district to the development of the state capitol, and the architectural character of the homes (which represent all the important late 19th and early 20th century styles) distinguish the district from other areas of the city. The district is also important as a complete residential urban landscape from the early part of this century, which includes parks, churches, a school, and mature street landscaping.

The City of Olympia is located in western Washington, on Budd Inlet at the southernmost point on Puget Sound. The city rises south, east, and west around the shores of the Inlet with the downtown core immediately adjacent to the waterfront and residential neighborhoods fanning out from this center on all sides. To the east and north, the city is skirted by Interstate 5. The Black Hills Range form a backdrop to the west of the city. The Deschutes River, which flows into Puget Sound from the south, has been dammed to form Capitol Lake to the west and south of downtown, which serves as a reflecting pool for the Capitol Buildings.

The political and geographic history of Olympia, the seat of territorial and state government since 1853, centers on the state capitol grounds. The original Capitol Campus, listed in the National Register, stands on a bluff overlooking Puget Sound, about one mile south of downtown along Capitol Way (originally Main Street), Olympia's principle thoroughfare. The Neoclassical dome of the Legislative Building, which is the focal point of the group, is visible from all parts of the city and is especially conspicuous from the South Capitol Neighborhood District. A newer group of state buildings, known as the East Capitol Campus, stands directly across Capitol Way from the original campus. The South Capitol Neighborhood lies immediately south of the Capitol Campus on both east and west sides of Capitol Way. The area is in general bounded on the north by the campus, on the west by Capitol Lake, and on the south and east by Interstate 5.

Neighborhood Plan

The district is an amalgam of 22 different plats formed out of four original Donation Land Claims. The district encompasses 48 blocks laid out principally on a grid pattern and covers an area of 123 acres in a shield shape.

The district is characterized by long, irregularly shaped blocks which dead end on both the east and west sides of Capitol Way. The homes on the west edge of the district overlook Capitol Lake on a steep, wooded bluff. Capitol Way, a major four-lane thoroughfare, bisects the district in the center. The east side of the district is bounded by Jefferson St. and a bluff above Interstate 5. There are two significant open spaces: Maple Park at the northeast border of the district, and Stevens Field on the southeast side of the district. Maple Park, a tree-lined parkway, delineates the eastern section of the district from the campus. On the west side of Capitol Way, the campus and residential areas flow together.

Lots in the district vary in size but are generally in the 60 x 120 feet range. Some larger homes are built on oversize lots. Most of the blocks are bisected by alleyways. The houses are fronted by sidewalks and parking strips with many large street trees. The houses are generally set back from the street and are fronted by lawns and entry walkways. Most of the houses have detached garages which are not visible from the street and are often set back on the lots or accessed from the alleyways.

The streetscapes are characterized by plentiful shade trees, often forming an umbrage over the entire street. Trees include Hawthornes, Dogwoods, Douglas Firs, large Maples, Cedars, Chestnuts, as well as Japanese Cherry Trees. Most homes are extensively landscaped with Rhododendrons, Junipers, fruit trees and other bushes planted close to house foundations and porches. Some of the homes are bordered by hedges, often of laurel or holly.


The vast majority of buildings in the district are houses, generally one to one-and-one-half stories, primarily rectangular, of frame construction and set on concrete foundations. Cladding is predominantly horizontal boards, clapboards and shingles, most of which was produced in local sawmills. A few homes are faced in brick or stucco. Most of the houses feature gabled rooflines and porches or recessed entries to accommodate the rainy climate of the Northwest. Most of the houses also have chimneys and fireplaces. Typically, the houses have dormers, bays (often asymmetrical) and decorative or multiple windows to enhance what are generally relatively plain exteriors. Most of the homes are single family dwellings although some houses accommodate apartments, duplexes and offices. Many of the houses include detached garages from the historic period. These historic garages are generally characterized by frame construction, wood siding, gable roofs, and sliding doors.

Patterns of Growth

First permanent American settlement in the Olympia-Tumwater area began in 1845. The Donation Land Claim Law of 1850, which allowed 320 acres of free land per person, drew many settlers to the area. Clanrick Crosby, Enoch Wilson, Levi Offut and Edumund Sylvester all had Donation Land Claims which were part of the district. The first plat of the area—the Calkins plat—was established in 1855, followed by the Crosby plat in 1869 and Maple Park, platted by Hazard Stevens, son of the first Territorial Governor, and the Central plat in 1871. But the majority of the plats were established from 1889 (the year of statehood) to around the turn of the century, a period of growth that followed Olympia's selection in 1889 as the permanent capital of Washington. Even so, this part of town was considered remote until well after the turn of the century.

In 1860, a wagon road connected the "Long Bridge" in Tumwater with downtown Olympia, extending up from the Deschutes River along what is now Old Oregon Trail just outside the west boundary of the district. Early maps (1869) show the road to Tumwater cutting across the east side of the district along Capitol Way from about 23rd Street. The Chambers Packing Company reportedly had their slaughterhouse and office between 18th and 21st around the turn of the century. Part of the office for that enterprise still stands at 1821 S. Water. That tract was later platted as Chambers Addition. But early Sanborn fire insurance maps show little development in the district by 1908 although the streetcar line in Olympia extended out Capitol Way (then Main Street) from downtown, and some homes were built along the line in the earlier period.

Although 23 properties in the district date from before the turn of the century, the district boomed in the first three decades of the 20th century. Olympia's population grew by nearly 7,800 people between 1900 and 1930 as state government and the wood processing industry expanded, and the district reflects that growth. Of the houses in the district, 148 were built from 1920 to 1929 (many of these during the peak years between 1920 and 1925). Between 1900 and 1929, 307 of the houses were built, which coincided with the period when the capitol buildings were being built on the adjacent grounds. Some of the properties were actually built on the capitol grounds and moved to the neighborhood when construction began on the present capitol buildings.

Architectural Character

Nearly 20 distinct building styles are represented in the district, which encompasses the range of vernacular, Victorian and post-Victorian domestic architecture during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the important attributes of the neighborhood is that both high style and more modest examples of almost all of the architectural forms of the period are represented in the district.

Although many of the houses in the district are modest examples of their respective styles, the district features a collection of high style Period Revival houses that are among the most notable examples of residential architecture in Thurston County. Chief among these are the C. J. Lord House and the Henry McCleary House built adjacent to each other in the mid-1920's by two prominent and (if local stories are to be believed) rival businessmen. Both were designed by the architect Joseph Wohleb, although in very different styles.

The Lord House, a Mission Revival Style house, is sited on a half block at 21st and Columbia Street, and features a stucco exterior with a broad porch, carriage entrance, balconies, and verandas. Also on the property is a large garage. The interior of the house is particularly impressive with uses of fine woods and a sweeping stairway. The house was donated to the State of Washington in 1939 and is currently the State Capital Museum. Also notable are the grounds designed and executed by Fred Cole, a gardener from Kew Gardens, London. C. J. Lord was a mayor of Olympia and prominent banker. The house is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The McCleary House, also listed on the National Register, is an impressive two-story English Renaissance Revival house of brick and stone. The siting of the house has been altered by the addition to the south of a two story office structure. Originally the house and grounds occupied the full block at 21st and Capitol Way. The house features fine appointments including copper, cast stone, decorative wood work and outstanding leaded glass windows. Henry McCleary was a timber magnate whose company town, McCleary, is just west of Olympia. The house is currently used for professional offices. The two Cedars of Lebanon trees which flank the entry walkway of the building are its most distinctive landscaping feature.

Although these are the most notable examples of residential architecture in the district and aside from the Governor's Mansion, the only mansions in Olympia, several other district houses stand out as important examples of Period Revival design.

The Judge Jesse Bridges House, at 301 W. 21st, just west of the Lord Mansion, is an excellent example of the English Revival Style designed by Elizabeth Ayer, an Olympia native and first woman graduate of the University of Washington School of Architecture. Ayer's partner Edwin Ivey, of Seattle, designed another property in the district, the Lo Ma Villa at 2623 S. Capitol Way, also in the English Revival Style. Closely associated with these high style examples are numerous English Revival types ranging from half-timbered varieties, such as the Baude House at 215 W. 19th, to the steeply gabled Ossian Anderson House at 205 E. 25th. An excellent row of variations of this genre is located on the 2400 block of South Washington Street.

The French Eclectic style is well represented by the Titus House at 1601 S. Sylvester St. Designed for auto dealer Leon Titus by architects Hill, Mock & Griffin of Chehalis and Tacoma, the house features a slate roof, copper gutters, a distinctive turret and bottleglass in the windows. Outstanding examples of the Colonial Revival Style are the Overton House at 2217 S. Columbia designed by W. H. Whitely of Seattle and the Springer House at 303 W. 17th designed by Joseph Wohleb. A wide variety of more modest versions of the style are also represented in the neighborhood. One group of these is located on the 300 block of E. 20th.

The earliest house in the neighborhood dates from 1878. The preponderance of earliest houses reflect either Victorian vernacular front-gable-and-wing forms or the more elaborate Queen Anne style, although many of these have been altered. The Troy House, a Victorian cottage at 113 E. 17th, dates from 1893 and is a rarity in the district. A few front gable houses are scattered throughout the neighborhood, including the house at 117 W. 18th with its front -gable and wide porch. A similarly designed house is at 401 E. 18th, built in 1904.

The Queen Anne style is best represented by the Young House at 2002 S. Capitol Way. The house is characterized by an ornately designed front porch and curved recessed windows on the third floor. The Mustard House at 1617 S. Capitol Way has a hipped, gabled roof in a cruciform plan with the requisite brackets, bays and decorative sawn ornament. The Ogden House at 301 Maple Park is a rare example of the vernacular Shingle Style with polygonal dormers and rounded pavilion on the front porch.

A number of solidly built American Foursquares are in the neighborhood, including the Dufault House at 1628 S. Water with its hipped roof and broad front porch lined with Tuscan columns. Other examples are the Alling House at 203 W. 18th, which features a bellcast hipped roof with bracket-lined eaves and sets of tripartite windows. The Dutch Colonial style is also represented most notably by the Tolman House at 1624 S. Sylvester with its gambreled roofline and full width front dormer. Another prototypical Dutch Colonial is at 2412 S. Columbia.

The district includes a sprinkling of International/Art Moderne Style homes with the most notable being the Karl Anderson House at 2319 S. Water and the Cunningham House at 311 E. 19th. These date from the late 1930's to early 1940's. J. Lister Holmes, a noted Seattle architect of that style, designed the McDonald House at 2215 S. Water in 1939.

But the outstanding genre of the neighborhood is the Bungalow/Craftsman style, which is overwhelmingly the most prevalent house type because the major development of the area parallels the popularity of the form. Seemingly endless variations on the theme exist all over the neighborhood including the Fultz House at 202 W. 18th with its wide, low slung porch and bracketed eaves, and its equally well-crafted neighbors at 223 E. 18th (a Wohleb design), and 1603 S. Columbia. These Craftsman bungalows were primarily built from just after the turn of the century until the early 1920's.

Over one-third of the homes in the district are classified as Craftsman Style houses. Some of the most interesting are the chalet style Jewett House at 205 Maple Park as well as the Jesse Mills House at 1617 S. Columbia, the Hubbard House at 199 W. 17th and the Winstanley House at 127 W. 17th. But the majority of the Craftsman Style homes are more modest bungalows, one or one-and-one-half stories, with a projecting porch, gabled eaves with shingle or clapboard cladding. An excellent row of houses with the various expressions of this type are on the 400 block of E. 17th.

More than 35 of the district's homes can be identified as being from the Tumwater Lumber Mills, a local firm who built pre-cut houses for distribution throughout the Northwest. The Anderson family, six brothers and their two sisters originally from Sweden, founded the company as "Tumwater Ready Cut Homes" in 1922. The firm built over 500 homes in Olympia in a variety of architectural modes including Craftsman Bungalow, Foursquare, English Builder, Dutch Colonial and later Art Moderne. Five houses in a row on Columbia Street (1522, 1528, 1532, 1602, 1606) were built by TLM and featured in their promotional material. They feature variations of the Craftsman/Bungalow style built with a gambrel roofline. TLM supplied the drawings, specially marked and cut lumber and finishing lumber including built-in features, such as cabinetry, fireplaces and wainscoting. Homes were identified from the catalogs issued by TLM.

Copeland Lumber Co., another local firm also built homes in the neighborhood at 203 W. 20th and 2009 S. Columbia. The Dawley Brothers, local contractors, constructed a number of homes especially in the Schloss Park addition in the 1920's, which they developed. They also lived in the district. The work of Joseph Wohleb, an Olympia architect in Olympia for many years is exemplified in the neighborhood by 11 commissions. Joseph Wohleb moved from Southern California to the Olympia area in 1911. He became Olympia's most important architect, working in the city until his death in 1958. He was well-known for commercial and institutional architecture and designed some buildings on the Washington State Capitol Campus as well. His work is represented by eight buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places and several on state and local registers.

In addition to the Lord and McCleary mansions, Wohleb also designed the neighborhood Lincoln School in his signature Mission Revival style. Built in 1923 while Wohleb was Olympia School District architect, its notable features include a tiled parapet, plaques, cast stone arches, and friezes. Wohleb's residential works in the district include houses in the Colonial Revival and Craftsman Bungalow styles. Interestingly, Wohleb built his own home in the neighborhood in 1926, on W. 21st St. facing the Lord and McCleary mansions, just after the houses were built.

The "Frog Pond" store, at 2102 S. Capitol Way, has been a fixture in the neighborhood since 1910. The false front style building has been altered over the years with non-historic siding; but, the simple building retains its siting and general form and shape. Two churches are also located in the neighborhood. Trinity Lutheran Church, built in 1955 (and therefore noncontributing) replaces an earlier church built in 1908 at that same location. The church is quite similar in style to the earlier structure. The St. John's Episcopal Church and parish hall were built in the 1950's in a design by Seattle architects Richardson, Carlson & Dentlie, with the newer section dating from the late 1980's. The structure is noncontributing.

The district encompasses two significant open spaces. Stevens Field, long a center of recreation in Olympia, was originally part of the Clanrick Crosby and Enoch Wilson Donation Land Claims. The area was platted by Hazard Stevens, son of first territorial governor Isaac Stevens. George C. Mills, a local hardware dealer and school trustee purchased the land and deeded it to the Olympia School District for $6,000 in 1921 for athletic purposes. Toilets, water service and bleachers were installed. An agricultural fair was one of the first events there. The water tower was built in 1933-34 and is 254 feet above sea level with a capacity-of 250,000 gallons.

Maple Park was created in 1871 as part of the Hazard Stevens plat. Stevens deeded four acres between Main (Capitol Way) and Jefferson Street for a public park with the proviso that the city pay for the planting of 100 maple trees and protect them. By December 5, 1871, Stevens reported that he had planted the trees and received $200 for the work done. During the expansion of the capitol campus in the early 1970's the original trees were removed and a parkway added adjacent to the enlarged capitol grounds. The maples were replanted in 1971.

Contributing/Non-Contributing Criteria:

Of the 443 primary properties included with the district boundaries (exclusive of garages), 314 (or 71%) contribute to the significance of the district because of their architectural importance, their association with people important to the development of state government or the city, their construction during the period of historical significance (1878-1941), and for their retention of general integrity of historic form, design and character.

The South Capitol Neighborhood Historic District is a large, well-preserved, and cohesive neighborhood of residences closely associated with the development of state government and the careers of many of its most prominent figures, and is characterized by an architecturally distinctive collection of buildings from the first three decades of the 20th century. The neighborhood, in both its history and physical growth, parallels the development of the adjacent state capitol campus, whose construction precipitated a boom of house construction in the district. Geographically discrete, the district is bounded by the campus, Capital Lake and the freeway, and retains integrity of plan, landscaping and general character, More than any other neighborhood in the city, the South Capitol district reflects the full range of architectural styles from the post-Victorian period, and is more closely associated than any other residential area with the city's role as the center of state government.

Historic Background:

The first permanent Euro-American settlement on Puget Sound was at Tumwater in 1845, with settlement in Olympia just north of that site in 1846. Many of the early settlers were drawn to the area by the promise of free land through the Donation Land Claim Law of 1850; the land at the head of Budd Inlet was rapidly claimed in the early years.

One of the first white settlers to the area, Edmund Sylvester, envisioned the settlement as a future capital city. His vision was realized in 1853 when Olympia was named the temporary capital of the new territory of Washington, a designation made permanent in 1855. Olympia had the only newspaper in the territory and was the site of the first customhouse on Puget Sound. Olympia's character as a governmental and political center was thus set from its earliest period.

The earliest development in the city was centered around the waterfront since overland transportation through the thick virgin forests was almost impossible. But the first Territorial Capitol building was built on a bluff overlooking the Sound near where the present legislative building stands. This was on a parcel of land which was donated for the purpose by Edmund Sylvester, who platted the city.

Early residences were built near the downtown business area, to the east of the city, and around the town square about a mile south of the waterfront. Sanborn fire insurance maps in 1891 show some housing along Capitol Way into the neighborhood and some houses along Maple Park. By 1908, some development along Capitol Way was evident as well as along 18th Street. But by 1924, Sanborn Maps show the entire district developed with the majority of the housing stock built at that time, coinciding with the development of a new capitol campus immediately adjacent.

Olympia was voted the State Capital of Washington in 1889 and from the late 19th century until after War I, the city grew steadily. The wooden capitol building built during the 1850s served the state until the early 1890s when after statehood, the drive for a more fitting building was launched. After a competition in the early 1890s, the foundations for a new building were laid at the present site. The promise of a capitol building probably inspired the platting of a large section of the district at that time. But difficult economic times compromised the effort, and the former Thurston County Courthouse located downtown across from the town square was purchased for the capitol building instead. Then in 1911, as a result of a national competition, a group design for the Capitol was selected and construction commenced on the present group beginning with the Temple of Justice.

Construction of the Capitol Campus group was completed when the last building in the complex—the Legislative Building—was opened in 1928. During the same period, Olympia was growing steadily, increasing nearly 5,000 in population between 1910 and 1930. State government was also growing to fill the newly completed office buildings, and the development of this area adjacent to the campus was inevitable.

Many of the district residents worked for the state in elected and bureaucratic positions. Two governors, Albert Mead (1905-1909) and Louis Hart (1919-1925), lived in the district. Mead preferred the house at 1616 S. Capitol Way to the drafty Governor's Mansion, and Hart lived after his term in office at 121 E. 24th. Attorneys General Smith Troy (1940-1953) and John Dunbar (1912-1933), State Auditors Cliff Yelle (1933-1965) and Charles Clausen (1905-1933), Secretary of State Grant Hinckle (1920-1933), Superintendents of Public Instruction Josephine Corliss Preston (1913-1929) and Noah Showalter (1929-1937), State Commissioner of Public Lands Clarke Savidge (1913-1933), State Law Librarian Mark Wight (1928-1959), and State Supreme Court Justices George Morris (1909-1918), Herman Crow (1905-1915), Warren Tolman (1905-1915), Walter French (1927-1930), Emmett Parker (1909-1933), Merritt Gordon (1895-1900), Jesse Bridges (1919-1927), O. R. Holcomb (1927-1939), and Charles Donworth (1949-1967) also lived in the district.

Local officials and local professional and business people made their homes here as well, including such notable civic leaders as banker C. J. Lord and mill owner Henry McCleary, who constructed the district's most imposing residences. Mel Morris, retailer; Guy Winstanley, tobacconist; newspaper publishers R. G. Yantis and Harry Lewis; Charles Springer, mill owner; Arno Glidden, mill superintendent; bankers F. M. Stocking and Philip Northcraft; Jay Johnston who supervised the construction of the Capitol Buildings; and the city's most important architect, Joseph Wohleb, lived here as well. According to city directories of the 1920s and 1930s, many home owners also accommodated boarders who worked for the state. Two outstanding women, among the many women who worked in and outside the home, owned homes in the district. Janet Moore was a teacher in Olympia schools for over 40 years, and was also a charter member of the Olympia Women's Club and worked for reform causes throughout the state. Margaret McKenny was a noted naturalist, landscape architect and teacher whose works on native mushrooms are standards in the field.

The completion of the Lord and McCleary mansions in the mid 1920s further reinforced the prestige of the neighborhood. Meanwhile, the construction of the Lincoln School in 1923 served to provide the residents of the more modest homes and their families with a more centrally located neighborhood school. The Tumwater Lumber Mills Company built homes on Columbia which served as models for their developing business of pre-cut housing throughout the district and the City of Olympia.

Other neighborhoods in Olympia are much less cohesive architecturally. The residences near downtown Olympia were torn down to accommodate commercial and government development. The older residences east and west of the city were sited on larger lots to accommodate outbuildings, orchards, and sometimes livestock. As the city grew these larger lots were in-filled with houses of differing periods and architectural styles. Other areas of the city, including the southeast section, were developed more recently. Because the South Capitol Neighborhood has traditionally been the city's most prestigious city neighborhood, the homes have been well-maintained and their character retained.

Because of the intensity of development in two decades, particularly in the 1920s, the popular types of architecture of the period are concentrated here, and include some of the region's best examples of Craftsman and Period Revival designs. Olympia's foremost architect, Joseph Wohleb, is well represented with 11 commissions, including the Mission Revival Lord House and the English Renaissance Revival McCleary House. Other architects include well-known Seattle practitioners Elizabeth Ayer, Edwin Ivey, W. H. Whitely, and J. Lister Holmes, whose designs range from the English Revival to the Moderne Style.

By the 1930's the building of the Capitol Campus was complete, as were most of the homes in the district. Only 90 of the primary properties were built after 1939. In the late 1950s and early 1960s changes in the area further defined the district. Capitol Lake was formed by damming the Deschutes River below the bluffs at the west edge of the district. To the east and south, Interstate 5 was constructed which sculpted the district on these sides. In the 1960s, the east Capitol Campus was developed which involved the demolition of all the residences north of Maple Park to make way for new state buildings. Since that time, a strong neighborhood group has actively opposed further encroachments on the neighborhood for state buildings or other non-neighborhood-related uses.

The integrity of the neighborhood is generally very good. Over 70% of the primary properties are classified as contributing to the historic character of the district which reflects their conformance with the elements of integrity. Non-contributing properties are generally those built outside the period of significance or those which have suffered considerable alteration.

The South Capitol Neighborhood Historic District retains its historic character. Importantly, the district presents a large, cohesive urban landscape from the early 20th century. This landscape includes a preponderance of intact architectural examples and heavily landscaped lots along tree-shaded streets with sidewalks and parking strips. No other historic Olympia neighborhood retains the same degree of architectural coherence and physical integrity.

Adapted from: Shanna Stevenson, Associate Planner and Heather Lockman, assistant, Olympia Heritage Commission, South Neighborhood Historic District, Thurston County, Washington, nomination document, 1991, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
15th Avenue SW • 16th Avenue SW • 17th Avenue SE • 17th Avenue SW • 18th Avenue SE • 18th Avenue SW • 19th Avenue SE • 19th Avenue SW • 20th Avenue SE • 20th Avenue SW • 21st Avenue SE • 21st Avenue SW • 22nd Avenue SE • 22nd Avenue SW • 23rd Avenue SE • 23rd Avenue SW • 24th Avenue SE • 24th Avenue SW • 25th Avenue SE • 26th Avenue SW • Adams Street SE • Capitol Boulevard SE • Capitol Way South • Columbia Street SW • Franklin Street SE • Jefferson Street SE • Maple Park Avenue SE • Old Oregon Trail SW • Sid Snyder Avenue SW • Sylvester Street SW • Washington Street SE • Water Street SW