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The exterior of a terracotta building on a sunny day with blue skies overhead and trees on both sides of the building. Two people ride bicycles towards the building.

Seattle’s most significant terra cotta buildings

From window bays to walrus heads

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From a University of Washington library to a 33-unit apartment in Queen Anne, Seattle has plenty of buildings made of that baked-earth material known as terra cotta.

That's no accident. After the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, builders turned to terra cotta more in an effort to make structures more fire resistant. It also didn't hurt that the clay in the region was found to be very good for the kind of precise action required to create ornamental terra cotta. As a result, there was a boom of terra cotta buildings through the city in the early 20th century.

You can thank architects like Charles Bebb and Louis Mendel for churning out iconic structures adorned with terra cotta ornaments and features. And many of these buildings are still around.

In the midst of another building boom, Seattle is trying to cling to its past by preserving many of these terra cotta structures, or at least the facades that remain. Here is a map of some of the most notable examples.

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The Arctic Club Building

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Originally built for the Arctic Club in 1916, it's now the luxury hotel Arctic Club Seattle. The building has white terra cotta and blue and orange-brown accents. But the features you’re sure to remember are the terra cotta walrus heads lining the third floor of the building.

Smith Tower

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The tallest building on the West Coast of America when it was built in 1914, the Smith Tower consists of white, ornamented terra-cotta wrapped around steel. The quality of the material was so good, it didn't get its first detergent wash until 1976.

The Cobb

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The 11-story Cobb Building was built in 1910 and includes sculpted terra-cotta Native American ornaments along the 9th and 10th floor. Originally intended for medical and dental offices, it's now an apartment building.

Coliseum Theater (Banana Republic)

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Today, 500 Pike is the home of Banana Republic, but this historic building was once a movie hall. The exterior still features elaborate terra-cotta work that was thankfully restored and kept after the change.

Architectural detail of the Coliseum Theater in Seattle. The wall design features minotaurs and fruit baskets sculpted out of terracotta.

WorldMark Seattle—The Camlin

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The Camlin was built in 1926 to resemble an Italian castle, and by 1999 it had been added to the National Register of Historic Places. It’s had plenty of renovations over the years, but it still has that eye-catching terra cotta ornamentation on its red brick exterior.

Dexter Horton Building

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This building is named after the founder of Seattle’s first bank, Seattle First National Bank. Today it

is an office building with cream-colored terra cotta. It also has three-story columns that include "granitex," a terra-cotta product that resembles granite.

Decatur Building

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When people talk about the terra cotta stylings that Seattle was filled with in the early 20th century, they often point to the Decatur Building. Designed by architect Henry Bittman, the building’s facade and exterior walls remain a bright example.

The Joseph Vance Building

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Completed in 1929, the Vance Building was made mostly in terra cotta. Some of the material began to fall off in 1995, leading to a massive restoration. The building is now a prime example of energy efficiency. Its historic terra-cotta facade helps to boost insulation.

Old Federal Office Building

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Construction was completed on the Old Federal Office Building in 1933. Smooth terra-cotta covers the first story, while the midsection includes pale terra-cotta ornamentation and miniature rams and lion heads.

Olympic Tower

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It's gone by many names, including United Shopping Tower, Northwestern Mutual Insurance Building and the Olympic Savings Tower. Today this 12-story office tower built in 1929 is known as The Olympic Tower. The building consists of a ten-story reinforced concrete and terra cotta tower on top of a three-story base.

Seaboard Building

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The Seaboard Building is a historic landmark located in the heart of downtown Seattle. Built in 1910 as the Northern Bank and Trust Building, it features a beautiful terra cotta facade. Today, it’s home to a mix of urban residential city homes, offices and retail space.

Interurban Building

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Also known as The Pacific Block and Seattle National Bank Building, the Interurban Building was built in 1892 by John Parkinson. There’s even a terra cotta lion’s head above the arched doorway.

Eagles Auditorium Building

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Once a seven-story historic theatre and apartment building, it's now usually known as the home of ACT Theatre. The elaborately terra cotta-covered building still impresses with it's Renaissance-revival styling.

Pioneer Building

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The Pioneer Building, located on the northeast corner of First Avenue and James Street, includes red brick, terra cotta and cast iron. Completed in 1892, it was designed by architect Elmer Fisher. Though the original tower is gone, the rest of the building's elaborate ornamentation remains intact.

Hoge Building

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This 17-story building constructed in 1911 was the tallest in Seattle before Smith Tower. It features a mix of terra cotta and tan brick, and there’s even lion’s head at the top of the building.

Suzzallo Library

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Suzzallo Library is perhaps the most recognizable building on the UW campus. It has terra cotta sculptures by Allen Clark that depict influential thinkers and artists selected by the faculty. They include everyone from Shakespeare and Plato to Benjamin Franklin and Isaac Newton.

Narada Apartments

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The 33-unit Narada Apartments was built in 1926, and is known for its extraordinary use of terra cotta. The Narada's most memorable features are the two window bays clad in terra cotta.

Allen Institute for Brain Science

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This space in downtown Seattle was once home to auto showrooms. Today, the building includes a wide array of 90-year-old terra cotta facades that were removed from the old showrooms and preserved for the public to still enjoy.

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The Arctic Club Building

Originally built for the Arctic Club in 1916, it's now the luxury hotel Arctic Club Seattle. The building has white terra cotta and blue and orange-brown accents. But the features you’re sure to remember are the terra cotta walrus heads lining the third floor of the building.

Smith Tower

The tallest building on the West Coast of America when it was built in 1914, the Smith Tower consists of white, ornamented terra-cotta wrapped around steel. The quality of the material was so good, it didn't get its first detergent wash until 1976.

The Cobb

The 11-story Cobb Building was built in 1910 and includes sculpted terra-cotta Native American ornaments along the 9th and 10th floor. Originally intended for medical and dental offices, it's now an apartment building.

Coliseum Theater (Banana Republic)

Architectural detail of the Coliseum Theater in Seattle. The wall design features minotaurs and fruit baskets sculpted out of terracotta.

Today, 500 Pike is the home of Banana Republic, but this historic building was once a movie hall. The exterior still features elaborate terra-cotta work that was thankfully restored and kept after the change.

Architectural detail of the Coliseum Theater in Seattle. The wall design features minotaurs and fruit baskets sculpted out of terracotta.

WorldMark Seattle—The Camlin

The Camlin was built in 1926 to resemble an Italian castle, and by 1999 it had been added to the National Register of Historic Places. It’s had plenty of renovations over the years, but it still has that eye-catching terra cotta ornamentation on its red brick exterior.

Dexter Horton Building

This building is named after the founder of Seattle’s first bank, Seattle First National Bank. Today it

is an office building with cream-colored terra cotta. It also has three-story columns that include "granitex," a terra-cotta product that resembles granite.

Decatur Building

When people talk about the terra cotta stylings that Seattle was filled with in the early 20th century, they often point to the Decatur Building. Designed by architect Henry Bittman, the building’s facade and exterior walls remain a bright example.

The Joseph Vance Building

Completed in 1929, the Vance Building was made mostly in terra cotta. Some of the material began to fall off in 1995, leading to a massive restoration. The building is now a prime example of energy efficiency. Its historic terra-cotta facade helps to boost insulation.

Old Federal Office Building

Construction was completed on the Old Federal Office Building in 1933. Smooth terra-cotta covers the first story, while the midsection includes pale terra-cotta ornamentation and miniature rams and lion heads.

Olympic Tower

It's gone by many names, including United Shopping Tower, Northwestern Mutual Insurance Building and the Olympic Savings Tower. Today this 12-story office tower built in 1929 is known as The Olympic Tower. The building consists of a ten-story reinforced concrete and terra cotta tower on top of a three-story base.

Seaboard Building

The Seaboard Building is a historic landmark located in the heart of downtown Seattle. Built in 1910 as the Northern Bank and Trust Building, it features a beautiful terra cotta facade. Today, it’s home to a mix of urban residential city homes, offices and retail space.

Interurban Building

Also known as The Pacific Block and Seattle National Bank Building, the Interurban Building was built in 1892 by John Parkinson. There’s even a terra cotta lion’s head above the arched doorway.

Eagles Auditorium Building

Once a seven-story historic theatre and apartment building, it's now usually known as the home of ACT Theatre. The elaborately terra cotta-covered building still impresses with it's Renaissance-revival styling.

Pioneer Building

The Pioneer Building, located on the northeast corner of First Avenue and James Street, includes red brick, terra cotta and cast iron. Completed in 1892, it was designed by architect Elmer Fisher. Though the original tower is gone, the rest of the building's elaborate ornamentation remains intact.

Hoge Building

This 17-story building constructed in 1911 was the tallest in Seattle before Smith Tower. It features a mix of terra cotta and tan brick, and there’s even lion’s head at the top of the building.

Suzzallo Library

Suzzallo Library is perhaps the most recognizable building on the UW campus. It has terra cotta sculptures by Allen Clark that depict influential thinkers and artists selected by the faculty. They include everyone from Shakespeare and Plato to Benjamin Franklin and Isaac Newton.

Narada Apartments

The 33-unit Narada Apartments was built in 1926, and is known for its extraordinary use of terra cotta. The Narada's most memorable features are the two window bays clad in terra cotta.

Allen Institute for Brain Science

This space in downtown Seattle was once home to auto showrooms. Today, the building includes a wide array of 90-year-old terra cotta facades that were removed from the old showrooms and preserved for the public to still enjoy.