"Pill Hill" was once a haven for the wealthy
First Hill is one of Seattle’s most eclectic and historic neighborhoods, characterized by a diversity of building types, architectural styles and periods, and its dense, urban tree canopy. Residents and newcomers to Seattle often dismiss First Hill as that place you go for a doctor’s appointment or hospitalization. Medical centers and high-rise towers have replaced much of the traditional single-family residential neighborhood that developed when First Hill was synonymous with good living, exclusive private clubs, and religious pageantry.
When the first non-Native settlers arrived on the shores of Elliott Bay, the place that would become First Hill was covered with dense, old growth forest. Indigenous communities had been settled along the waters of Puget Sound and Lake Washington for thousands of years. They called what would become Seattle the “Little Crossing Over Place,” with trails traversing the hill, connecting communities on the bay and lake. When Henry Yesler located his sawmill in Pioneer Square, he noted that “Skid Road,” now called Yesler Way, was located along a Native trail that ran up the hill.
By 1883, the crest of the hill having been clear-cut by Yesler and others, First Hill entered a new era as the residential retreat of Seattle’s wealthiest families, including the homes of mayors, judges, industrialists, timber barons, and art collectors. This promontory overlooking downtown and Elliott Bay offered a choice location close to downtown, but far enough from the rowdiness and questionable morals of the waterfront. Over the years, numerous churches, apartment buildings, workers’ housing, hotels, social clubs, and hospitals added to the area’s architecture, creating a visual, cultural, and economic tapestry and a unique sense of place.
Since the 1960s, the hill has been severed from downtown by the I-5 freeway. Its once-commanding views and exclusive residential blocks have been supplanted by a mix of commercial, institutional, and multi-family high rises, hospitals, and clinics. The neighborhood has earned its frequently used nickname “Pill Hill” for the multitude of medical centers.
St. James Cathedral
Roman Catholic Archdiocese Chancery
Stacy House (now University Club)
San Marco Apartments
1223 Spring Apartments
Sutton Place Apartments
Summit Grade School (now Northwest School)
Belmont-Boylston Historic Houses
Knights of Columbus
Fire Station No. 25
Seattle First Baptist Church
Hotel Piedmont (now Tuscany Apartments)
Baroness Apartment Hotel
Mason Clinic (now Virginia Mason Hospital)
John Alden Apartments
Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist (now Town Hall)
804 9th Avenue
Begin the tour at the west front of St. James Cathedral. The cathedral, a Seattle Landmark, was commissioned in 1903 by Bishop Edward John O’Dea after he decided to move the diocese from Vancouver, Washington to Seattle. He hired the...
907 Terry Avenue
Just up the hill and a short block north of the cathedral is the Chancery, the office of the diocese. Seattle architect Paul Thiry was excited about bringing new, modernist architectural ideas developing in Europe to the Pacific Northwest. In...
900 Madison Street
From the corner of Terry and Madison, you will see the Sorrento, situated dramatically above downtown. Samuel Rosenberg, a Seattle clothing merchant, developed the hotel in preparation for the crowds expected to arrive in the city for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition....
1004 Boren Avenue
Walk up Madison to Boren. This is the last surviving Queen Anne Victorian house on First Hill. The original 1889 residence sits in the center of the lot; a 1906 dining and billiard room annex faces Madison Street, as does...
1104 Spring Street
Continue north on Boren one block. W.D. Hofius came to Seattle in the late 1880s from Pennsylvania. He formed a partnership with William Pigott and in 1893 organized the firm W.D. Hofius & Co. which handled railroad equipment and supplies....
1205 Spring Street
Continue one block east along Spring Street and note the mature urban tree canopy of the neighborhood. Looking east up Spring, one gets a sense of how apartments constructed through the decades have come to characterize the First Hill neighborhood....
1223 Spring Street
On January 6, 1929, the Seattle Times chronicled the construction of a $580,000 apartment house at 1223 Spring Street that “will be built with a direct appeal to persons of means who are dissatisfied with maintaining large residences in the...
1221 Minor Avenue
Walk back to Minor and continue north. The mid-century modern Sutton Place was constructed in 1960 and represents the massive growth happening in post-World War II Seattle. Affectionately known as the “Purple Palace” because of its cladding in variegated lavender...
1127 Minor Avenue
Enterprising Henry Dearborn moved to Seattle in 1880 and was one of the first to become convinced that it was a gateway city. He was a promoter of the Northern Pacific Railway and was one of Seattle’s first real estate...
1204 Minor Avenue
This English Tudor style brick, stucco, and half-timber mansion was built for lumber and real estate developer C.D. Stimson over two years, 1899-1901, and was designed by Kirtland Cutter of the Spokane firm, Cutter & Malmgren. The exterior shows off...
1415 Summit Avenue
From First Hill Park, walk one block east along University Street to Summit Avenue and turn left, heading north to E. Union Street. The former Summit Grade School building illustrates the progressive development of public schools during the first two...
1411 Boylston Avenue
From Summit Avenue, walk east one to two blocks along E. Union Street. From 1893-1902, Henry Burke and Albert Hambach designed six buildings, constructed mid-block on Belmont and Boylston avenues south of Pike Street. They shared similar late Queen Anne...
711 E Union Street
Just east of Boylston Avenue on the south side of E Union Street is the Phillips House. Accountant William Phillips developed this framed “double dwelling” in 1902. Designed by Edwin A. Williams & Rufus B. Clark, the building clearly expresses...
722 E Union Street
Across the street from the Phillips House is the Knights of Columbus building. This solid four-story clinker brick structure ornamented with arched windows and classical dentils was home to the Seattle Council of this Catholic fraternal organization for over 100...
1400 Harvard Avenue
Just east of the Knights of Columbus building at Harvard Avenue and E Union Street is an early adaptive reuse project. Designed by Somervell & Coté and built 1908-1909, this building is one of the earliest all-brick firehouses and the...
1121 Harvard Avenue
From Fire Station No. 25, head south to Seneca Street for a dramatic view of Seattle First Baptist Church. This is the third church building for one of Seattle’s earliest congregations, established in 1869. The church traded its downtown property,...
1215 Seneca Street
Continue walking west along Seneca Street to view another historic apartment building at Summit Avenue. The rain and cloud filled skies of the Northwest inspired the well-to-do of Seattle to make extended winter trips to Southern California. By the mid-1920s,...
1005 Spring Street
After crossing Boren Avenue, look across the street to the north to see the 1928 brick and terra cotta Marlborough Apartments, one of the first and finest high-rise apartment buildings in Seattle. Continuing down the hill, John H. Armin and...
Terry Avenue & Spring Street
Virginia Mason Clinic, the fifth hospital on First Hill, opened its doors in 1920 in this Italianate beige brick and terra cotta trimmed building designed by the prominent Seattle firm, Bebb and Gould. It extended from Spring to Seneca Street....
1019 Terry Avenue
One prominent architect, Harry E. Hudson, left his signature on many of the First Hill apartments built during the 1920s. They are easily recognized by their names, as Hudson, a transplant from the Northeast, named his buildings after figures of...
1119 8th Avenue
What is now a venue for a wide variety of cultural events began its life as one of several large church structures in the city for the Church of Christ, Scientist. Christian Science had become the fastest growing religion in...
This tour made possible by the generous support of