[graphic heading] Seattle: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary, National Park Servicer

Bell Apartments and Barnes Building
Elmer Fisher is best known as the dominant architect of Seattle's reconstruction after the Great Fire of 1889 that destroyed 60 acres in downtown Seattle. In the wake of the Great Fire, Fisher designed and supervised the construction of over 50 buildings, giving continuity and harmony to a chaotic rebuilding campaign. The Bell Apartments and the Barnes Building dominate the other buildings in the area, and their juxtaposition illustrates the flexibility of this great architect. The Bell Apartments and the Barnes Building share certain features: a common wall, four-story height and the extensive use of brick. At the same time, however, their differences show how Fisher adapted to changes in goals and budgets.

The Bell Apartments building was the more elaborate of the two, combining Richardsonian, Gothic and Italianate design elements. Described by the Seattle Times as a "Monument to an Unhappy Man," the building was named for Austin Americus Bell, the original owner and the wealthy son of one of Seattle's original settlers. Plagued by his father's premature death and by his own ill health, Bell traveled extensively seeking doctors who could cure him. In 1889, only a day after discussing his plans for what would become the Bell Apartments, Bell committed suicide after claiming that "life with poor health is not worth living." Mrs. Bell pushed for the completion of the building in her late husband's honor, and had his name integrated into the design of the building.

Bell also commissioned the Barnes Building, which was built on a more limited budget and received a more basic treatment. Its exterior features little detail and lacks the parapet that distinguishes the top of the Bell Apartments. It originally served as the home of the Odd Fellows fraternal organization. Each building has passed through a number of uses in its history, and together they stand as evidence of Fisher's influence on the architecture of Seattle.

The Bell Apartments are located at 2326 First Ave.; the Barnes Building is at 2320 First Ave. Businesses located in the ground floor of both buildings are open during normal business hours.

Bell Apartments Bell Apartments
Photograph by Werner Lenggenhager

Barnes Building Barnes Building
Photograph by Jacob E. Thomas

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