Before Ballard was a hipster exclave made up of ironically crunchy dive bars, it was a fishing village made up of sincerely crunchy dive bars, a separate town from Seattle altogether. Settled in the 1850s, Ballard quickly became known for its fishing and timber jobs based out of Salmon Bay—as well the large number of Scandinavian immigrants who were lured to the area by these jobs.
Part of this was thanks to the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, which burned down most of the mills downtown, including Henry Yesler’s. The lumber industry relocated to Ballard thereafter, which eventually led to the town’s distinction as “the shingle capital of the world.”
Business was booming by the turn of the century—a post office showed up in 1889, along with streetcar and ferry service and a dedicated town hall at Ballard Avenue Northwest and 22nd Avenue Northwest a decade later (in the mini-parklet today known as Marvin’s Garden, where you can still visit the city hall’s old historic bell, which was torn down in 1967 following severe damage from an earthquake). The community was blessed with a gorgeous Carnegie Library in 1904.
Ballard Avenue and Market Street was the town’s ground zero, which is now also known as the Ballard Avenue Landmark District—the spot in Ballard where a substantial number of Victorian-era buildings still stand today. This was made official in 1976, when it was not only designated as such by the City of Seattle but also listed on the National Register of Historic Places (as “the Ballard Avenue Historic District”).
The best-preserved of the buildings in the Landmark District is arguably the Eagle Block. Built in 1909 in the eastern half of the Ballard City Hall’s lot, its ground floor has been home to the Ballard Annex Oyster House since 2013, and many may remember the exquisite Thaiku restaurant which lives on in Greenwood.
But the whole thing started out life as Fitzgerald & Hynes Department Store, built for $15,000 in 1908 and designed by architect Victor W. Voorhees. The two-story structure was rendered in the Spanish Eclectic style that was popular in Southern California and Florida at the time, taking notes from early Spanish missions: white stucco walls, decorated parapets, and series of narrow windows. The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods calls the Eagle Block “one of the most architecturally important and significant historic buildings” in Ballard: “This historic property is directly associated with the post annexation era of commercial and industrial development (1908-1930) when after the annexation of Ballard to Seattle, substantial construction continued to occur along Ballard Avenue and it remained the commercial center of the community.”
Although Ballard had already been annexed to the city of Seattle in 1907, Fitzgerald & Hynes Department Store was ostensibly a crucial addition to the community. The fledgling (pun intended) Ballard chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles was thrilled to have a new home; it leased the entire second floor from the beginning.
Founded eight years earlier, the Ballard Eagles Aerie No. 172 had 500 members when it debuted on February 1, 1909. The grand opening featured, according to the Seattle Star, “several good boxing cards,” “the best of which” pitted brothers “Silent” and “Dummy” Rowan against one another. According to the Department of Neighborhoods, it was one of the “most elegantly appointed lodge halls on the Coast,” replete with a main hall as well as a dining hall, in addition to a reception room, several anterooms, a full kitchen, and toilets.
Perhaps one of the more compelling stories about this building is that this aerie was originally the main Eagles hall for all of Ballard, but this changed after a schism in the late ’20s. While some rumors of the rift are far more sinister, one story goes that one of the groups was Norwegian and the other was Swedish, although no one seems to be clear on which was which.
So the group split, a bunch of them cooked up the name “the Salmon Bay Eagles” to differentiate themselves from their Ballard brothers, and they moved out of the Eagle Block and into their own building around the corner at 20th and Russell—which is also still there and in full swing. The remaining Ballard Eagles eventually moved up the road to their own building at 22nd and Market Street, then later were shuttled over to a dedicated building of their own at 24th and 56th, just south of where the Ballard QFC stands today.
In the late 1940s, quite a while after the departure of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, the Marie Miller Studio of Dance ultimately took over the opulent upstairs lodge, where it stayed for about 10 years. A new facade was added in the 1940s. Sometime in the ’50s, the Ballard News-Tribune used the building to house its massive printing press for several decades, and it was variously called “The Ballard News-Tribune Hall” on tax documents.
Architect Victor Voorhees, who was in his early 30s and already a rising superstar on the Seattle architecture scene when he dreamed up the Eagle Block, went on to design at least 110 other local buildings. A couple you might know are the William Curtiss Co. Block at 5227 Leary Avenue Northwest (next to Carter Subaru) and the Frank Pyle Building, directly across from the Eagle Block on Ballard Avenue (home of Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery).
After finding his footing in Ballard, Voorhees branched out throughout the city. He’s got a cluster of buildings at the Alaska Junction in West Seattle; his portfolio out there includes the Crescent-Hamm Building (1925–26) at 4302 Southwest Alaska Street, now Easy Street Records; the Arcade Public Market (1930) across the street at 4548 California Avenue Southwest; and the J.C. Penney, later Ernst Hardware, building half a block north at 4520 California Avenue Southwest.
He built a handful of grand residences in Ballard too—which went so well that he later wrote a bestselling book, The Western Home Builder, detailing how to DIY your own Voorhees-style house, particularly the popular Seattle box style.
Voorhees was also responsible for the Central District’s fabulous Washington Hall, constructed for the Danish Brotherhood of America in 1908 and renovated in 2016 following its purchase by Historic Seattle.
This article has been updated to reflect more accurate information about Washington Hall.