The first time you come across a trio of tiny cottages along Elliott Avenue in Belltown, you think they sure do stick out amongst the surrounding high-rises and renovated buildings. Your second thought is...how in the world are they still standing?
You have to go back to 1916 to get the whole story. That's when the six original homes, measuring 20x24 feet, were advertised by developer William Hainsworth as "modern cottages" for workers looking to cut down on their commute time. Back then, "modern" simply meant indoor plumbing and electricity, but it sure beat the alternatives. These cottages and the five row houses next door became prime housing for workers at the local cannery and other nearby Seattle waterfront businesses. Over time, the row houses were sold off but the cottages remained, each owned by a different family who passed them down along generations.
By the time the 1960's rolled around, those row houses were demolished. A local businessman purchased all six of the cottage and tore down three. For the next thirty years, the three cottages remained while the grass and bushes reclaimed the lot next door. All the while, Belltown was growing into the neighborhood it would become.
When Katherine Shedd moved into one of the cottages in 1981, she and local artists Buster Simpson and Carl Smool began gardening in the space where the three lost cottages used to be. Myke Woodwell took over Katherine's cottage in the mid-80's, renting it for $95/month, and he set out to improve not only the tiny home but also the surrounding property. By the time Wilbur Hathaway came along in 1988 with plans to create a community garden in Belltown, the stage was set. Soon after, the Friends of the Belltown P-Patch were born.
In 1995, thanks in part to an Open Space Bond by King County, the Friends of the Belltown P-Patch purchased the empty lot for $450K. Along with donations and matching
funds from the Department of Neighborhoods, they set out to remake this empty space into Belltown P-Patch, which officially opened in 1995.
As for the cottages, they were still the property of Skyway Luggage Company and that group offered to sell the land so long as the Friends of Belltown P-Patch agreed to a shadow easement that would have allowed for a residential building up to 120 feet high. The group balked but the owners moved forward with plans to sell anyway. Following an intense back-and-forth process, the buyer ended up being the city of Seattle and, in 2000, the three historic cottages on the site were designated as Seattle Landmarks.
And so, as the P-Patch prepares to celebrate it's 20th anniversary, the three remaining cottages can expect to last well into triple-digit age. Belltown continues to change and grow around them, literally. The Walton Lofts project is being built directly behind the grounds. Thankfully, the developers coordinated with the P-Patch to make sure there would be no complications or issues.
As for the question of what goes on in those cottages, one has been converted into a kind-of meeting house for the P-Patch and community. The other two, once writer-in-residency homes for The Hugo House, are now rented out and one tenant has detailed the colorful experiences of living there in The Stranger. Oddly, she can probably thank the impending Walton Lofts and its dozens of peering windows, which should help cut down on the amount of late-night activities in the gardens.
Turns out, this 7,200 square foot lot is more than just three ancient cottages and a bunch of tiny gardens. It's a hard-fought vestige of space and greenery in a Seattle neighborhood that should have gobbled it up and turned it into a 12-story building long ago. There's nothing wrong with all that development, but, it's nice to have a community space to remind us of Belltown's history. Not to mention to make people do a double-take the first time they see it walking aimlessly along Elliott Avenue.
· Belltown P-Patch and Cottage Park [ITF]
· Belltown Diary [Stranger]
· Belltown Cottage History [Speakeasy]