Pretty much everybody around here knows this colorful cake-slice of a building on the western slope of Capitol Hill. Sitting across the street from the Crescent, on a bar-heavy stretch of East Olive. It’s been best known as the Saint (R.I.P.) for the last decade or so, with its Pepto-Bismol exterior. In early January, it re-opened to great acclaim as Dacha Diner, serving Eastern European fare—including the very Pinterest-ing, much-sought-after Georgian khachapuri, aka a “cheese boat,” which has been blowing up in NYC and Portland but hasn’t been available in Seattle until now.
But how did it begin? It’s shocking to imagine, but 1416 East Olive Way wasn’t always a bar. It wasn’t even always on East Olive Way. The story of this simple stucco triangle starts in 1883.
Edwin John Ivey was born in Seattle that year, the only surviving son of a real estate developer and his wife. After attending grammar and high school in southern California, he briefly returned home in 1906 to work for storied architect Edwin Houghton, who built various office buildings and theaters in downtown Seattle and around the West Coast, and was also responsible for designing the original Meany Middle School building from 1902.
After this short stint in architecture, Ivey seemed certain about this career choice, enough to earn a degree in it from the University of Pennsylvania in 1910. Soon after returning to Seattle, he took a job from architect Warren H. Milner, who designed the Archibald Hotel—living Seattleites may it remember better as the St. Regis Hotel, but it’s been restored as Plymouth on Stewart, an apartment building run by Plymouth Housing.
That association didn’t last long, though; Ivey was practicing on his own just two years later. During the following decade-plus, he focused on designing residences—about a dozen of his works were featured in Bungalow Magazine from 1916 to 1918—and later moved up to office and apartment buildings, mostly downtown and on Capitol Hill, sometimes in partnership with architect Howard Riley. He also designed a few schools and a batch of cute little employee cottages for the Puget Mill Company in Port Gamble on Hood Canal, among other projects.
In 1922 he met Elizabeth Ayer. An Olympia native and judge’s daughter, Ayer was the University of Washington’s first female architecture student and one of its very first architecture students, period. Quite unconventionally for the era, Ivey went out on a limb and hired Ayer as a draftsperson and junior designer while she was still in her senior year of college. In late 1922, Ayer went to New York for about a year to work for other firms but continued working for Ivey during her absence, and when she came back to Seattle, Ivey began grooming her for a career in residential architecture, focusing on Tudor and Colonial Revival homes.
In 1926, just a year after finishing her degree, Ayer was the standalone principal architect on at least one of the firm’s projects: the residence of lumber mogul C. W. Stimson in North Seattle’s Highlands. Ayer and Ivey teamed up to design a handful of other homes in the Highlands in the late 1920s and early 1930s, like this European-inspired, still-extant mansion from 1924, quite early in Ayer’s career.
All of this preamble is to say that by this time, the architectural partnership of Ivey and Ayer was flourishing wildly, and in 1926, they saw it fit to commission themselves a new office building—and they chose to do it at 1416 Olive Way. Rolling with their tradition of unconventional business practices, Ivey and Ayer were one of the first prominent Seattle architecture firms to build their headquarters outside of downtown Seattle. The unadorned triangular stucco building they designed and built at Olive Way and Bellevue Avenue was notably small, too: only a single, 1550-square-foot story. So small, in fact, that it was colloquially known as the Ivey Studio.
In 1938, Ivey and Ayer moved their office uphill to 1314 East John Street, in the building where Bischofberger Violins operates today, then moved across the street to 1315 East John not long after. But Ivey died suddenly just two years later, in a 1940 auto accident in Mount Vernon, Washington, and Ayer took over the firm as president-treasurer. In the years to come, Ayer established herself as a pioneer in Seattle architecture and co-ran the firm, then Ayer and Lamping, from the offices at 1315 East John Street well into her old age, retiring in 1970 after a 50-year career. She died in Lacey, Washington at the age of 90 in 1987.
Meanwhile, Ivey Studio had moved on to other things, too. After Ivey and Ayers moved up the hill, the simple stucco building became at least one restaurant, including a fish and chips spot as of 1942. By 1945, it was a Westinghouse showroom, selling furniture, and in the later part of the 1940s, the building was a homebase for The Book of Knowledge, an early encyclopedia series with a spiritual bent, sold door to door as a fortnightly magazine. Similarly, in the 1960s, the studio was a sales office for a company that sold cookware door to door. in between those two things, it was the law office of Philip N. Flash. By this time, that part of Olive Way had become East Olive Way, to denote the portion of the street that climbed up Capitol Hill.
By 1971, legendary Capitol Hill hair salon Vibrations had moved into the Ivey Studio, where it would hold court for most of the decade. A totally new concept for the era, VIbrations was more of a disco than a salon: The floor featured black-and-white tiles in a harlequin pattern, in the style of a dance club, and customers were served snacks and champagne while disco music blared.
“It was the the center of the hippest thing happening at the time,” remembers one commenter in the Seattle Vintage Facebook group that first visited the salon in 1973. “Anybody who who was anybody was one way or another connected to Vibrations, whether because you got your hair done there or knew someone who worked there. It was glamorous!”
At the time, the building was painted white with black trim, both inside and out. Local hair icon Buddy Stewart got his start there, later moving on to open the Stewart Salon on Queen Anne Hill, as did eclectic darling James Buss (whose shocking 1980 murder in Belltown remained a 36-year cold case, until his killer was identified and charged in 2016 via DNA evidence from a Four Loko can recovered from an unrelated crime scene).
The next few decades brought all kinds of tenants. In 1981, the building was taken over by Venetian Gardens, an interior decor store that specialized in Christmas ornaments and also sold fake flowers and wedding swag. Venetian Gardens also dabbled in antique furniture, selling Victrolas and the like. Subsequently, it was a Chinese-themed art gallery, selling lacquerware and Yixing teaware. By the early ’90s, the building’s exterior was painted bright turquoise with white trim and it had flipped back to being a beauty shop. In the early 2000s, it became a Wing Dome, Seattle’s favorite arcane, outdated pun, slinging wings until 2008.
That’s when the Saint took over, turning the wings into tacos and eventually, in 2017, painting the whole building flamingo pink. And now it’s the inverse of the Vibrations look—black exterior with white trim—and the tacos have become pelmeni and khachapuri.
Although the Ivey Studio isn’t being used for anything close to what Ayer and Ivey intended, as architects they may have appreciated that it’s still in use almost a century later, and that Olive Way, once considered effectively a suburb, is now a hotbed of commercial nightlife. It’s also nice to think that the duo, who made their mark in early Seattle by challenging societal norms, would have appreciate its long history of general all-sorts weirdness.