Pullman Flatiron Building

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Pullman, WA Flatiron Building

The Pullman Flatiron Building in downtown Pullman, Washington was constructed in 1904 and completed in spring 1905. Located in Whitman County, it faces Main Street and is located between Grand Avenue and the High Street plaza. It was designed by William Swain, a popular Pullman architect at the time.[1] The two-story Flatiron was built as an office building in a triangular shape, based on the plot of land it was built on. Multiple businesses have occupied the building over its lifetime, including banks, insurance companies, and a dentist.[2]

History[edit]

Architect[edit]

William Swain, was born in England in 1861 and immigrated to the United States at twenty years old. He first resided in Minnesota, where he worked as a carpenter, contractor, and finally an architect, before he moved to Pullman around 1891.[3] Once in Pullman, he became something of an icon in both architecture and local government. He then designed and constructed buildings throughout the Palouse region. Two of the buildings that remain standing are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a Craftsman Style house, at 315 West Main Street, about two blocks west of the Flatiron,.[4] and the Greystone Church, originally the New Presbyterian Church, which is located at 430 NE Maple Street.

Swain built several other buildings in Pullman which are no longer in existence. He designed the original City Hall built in 1892. It served as the city hall until the 1930s when it became the police department and fire station building. It was later demolished in the 1980s and is marked only by a small plaque today.[5] He also designed the Artesian Hotel in 1893, which was located directly across Grand Avenue from the site of the Flatiron. The Artesian Hotel was destroyed by fire in the 1920s.[6] The original high school of Pullman was also a design of William Swain’s. It was built in 1893 and was destroyed by fire in the 1920s, and was later rebuilt.[7]

In addition to architecture and construction, Swain also worked in the local government. He first served two terms as city clerk twice before elected as treasurer. He next became a Police Court Judge and then Justice of the Peace. Finally he served two years as Pullman Mayor from 1917-1919. At that time, Swain was a well known individual and natives of the area today have likely heard his name.[8]

Downtown Pullman[edit]

By the time the Flatiron was built, downtown Pullman was already thriving. The Corner Drug Store, the Artesian Hotel, the Pullman Herald building, and multiple theaters were important locations within the downtown core, and all within a block of the Flatiron Building. Before the construction of the Flatiron, the lot it now occupies was used as a hitching place for farmers riding in on horses or with wagons.[9] After its construction, it became an icon for the corner between Main Street and Grand Avenue. A heavy flood on March 1, 1910 caused serious damage to many downtown buildings. The flood came up to the front door of the Flatiron Building, but the building as a whole was not drastically affected.[10] Other floods occurred in downtown Pullman in 1948, 1972, and 1979, none being as damaging as the 1910 flood and none causing significant damage to the Flatiron Building.[11] Many of the flood photos from over the years show the Flatiron in the midst of the mess. Though some of the buildings in the downtown are gone or have changed, the Flatiron is still recognizable.

Businesses in the Flatiron[edit]

The Flatiron Building has been home to many businesses since its completion. In the beginning, the front office was used by Grain Companies, Pullman Savings and Loan, and Farmers State Bank. More recently, State Farm Insurance occupied the front office, from 1957 into the 1990s and was commonly associated with the Flatiron Building, and being located on such a prominent corner.[12] Dr. Low’s dental office was located on the upper floor of the Flatiron building for a period of time as well.[13] Dr. Marc Swindal opened his optometry practice in the Flatiron Building in 1951 and became the building owner in 1969.[14] Selene Santucci set up an art studio on the second floor and became a permanent resident of the Flatiron Building. She became the building owner after Swindal retired.[15] Various modern businesses now inhabit the ground floor.

Restoration[edit]

Some preservation has already been necessary, after a destructive accident in February 1994. A runaway front-end loader came barreling down the road and smashed into the front corner, taking out about one-fourth of the building.[16] After clean up, both floors were left exposed and needing to be closed off.[17] It was determined that the building was still safe and structurally sound, since the floors and structural beams ran parallel to the collision, which ultimately saved it from demolition.[18] After several months of reconstruction, the Flatiron was completed with new elements included. The front façade of the building featured new arched windows on both floors, and a front door framed with windows. Green awnings were added to the doorways along the ground floor, and lamps were placed in the walls.[19] With these exceptions, Swindal chose to restore the façade as accurately as possible, to maintain the original historic look of such an iconic building, including using intact bricks salvaged from the rubble.[20]

Architecture[edit]

One of a Kind in Pullman[edit]

This type of building is a one-of-a-kind piece of architecture in Pullman. This corner of Main Street and Grand Avenue is the only triangular plat of land in the town, because it is a location where two different street grids meet.[21] Often larger cities have this occurrence and a flatiron building is born, becoming an icon for that city or neighborhood, but it is not as common in smaller towns that have less complicated grid systems. This is an exciting landmark for a town the size of Pullman to have, it is probably the only one of its style in the area. It can be challenging to design with angles such as the one on the front corner and it is rare to see architecture that embraces such a limitation. A building of this style in Pullman is surprising and deserves recognition.

The Birth of the Skyscraper[edit]

This style of architecture is directly related to the birth of the skyscraper and the advancing technology of steel construction and the ability to build higher and higher. Prior to this time, buildings had not been very many stories high. Using steel, buildings could be built taller without the bulky structure of masonry. Around the turn of the century, this school of thought dominated architecture in major cities.

Connection to New York[edit]

The Flatiron Building in New York City, built in 1902, was constructed using the new steel frame technology and was the tallest building in New York at the time.[22] It was an instant icon for New York City because it has frontage on three different streets and cannot be sandwiched between future high rises, allowing it to have ornamentation on every side.[23] Its unique look made it popular because it did not resemble the other skyscrapers which may have started to appear to be all the same. This New York building was designated as a New York City Landmark in 1966, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and classified as a National Landmark in 1989.

It can also be considered that a flatiron building does not have one main façade, but has multiple, each having its own worth. Typically, buildings of this type of construction are meant to be taller, but the Pullman Flatiron resembles the one in New York and is considered to be named for it as well.[24] While the Pullman structure does share its back wall with another building, it has two full-length facades and the front corner which will not be interrupted by future structures.

The main difference between the Pullman Flatiron and the New York Flatiron, besides height, is what creates the height: steel. The New York Flatiron reaches its height of 21 floors because of its steel skeleton. The Pullman Flatiron is only two stories because its original construction was not steel at all, but masonry. Masonry construction today is typically reinforced with steel and when the front end loader damaged the Flatiron in 1994, the reconstruction actually used steel reinforcement.[25]

Need for Preservation[edit]

With its references to the growing age of skyscrapers and a landmark in New York City, is clearly an icon in its own town. It recalls a building which was the first of its kind both in style and in construction. Buildings that are thought to be the first of their kind are worth preserving.[26] A building which draws upon a new style and a new technology is certainly worth attention and preservation.[27] The advancing technology of steel construction and high rises at this time was quite an architectural feat. Any piece of architecture that has a notable local architect and a prominent location in its community is also worth protecting for future residents. Certainly a building that has stood through floods, accidents, and over one hundred years of town history can be looked at as a permanent fixture and a landmark for the town. Citizens want to learn about and be part of their history and protecting buildings like the Flatiron saves them for that purpose.[28] William Swain was a large part of Pullman history at the time, with his heavy involvement in government and being an architect for so many buildings in the early twentieth century. Swain was a legend for early Pullman and his legend lives in the few buildings of his that remain. And beyond the local significance, The Flatiron Building reaches out on a national level, making ties to a brand new technology that was incredible for its time and rare for a rural town. Pullman is a community built on tradition, and a building that is more than a century old fits easily into that context.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Edwin Garretson. “Re: History of the Pullman Flatiron Building.” Message to Allison Dunn. Whitman County Historical Society. 29 Feb. 2012. Email.
  2. ^ Esther Pond Smith, Whitman County Historical Society archives. Notations. 8 Mar. 2012
  3. ^ Lever Document. History of Whitman County. Pullman: Whitman County Historical Society archives. 1901.
  4. ^ “William Swain House.” National Register of Historic Places. Nps.gov.
  5. ^ National Register of Historic Places: William Swain House Documents. Washington State University Libraries
  6. ^ National Register of Historic Places: William Swain House Documents. Washington State University Libraries
  7. ^ National Register of Historic Places: William Swain House Documents. Washington State University Libraries
  8. ^ Lever Document. History of Whitman County. Pullman: Whitman County Historical Society archives. 1901.
  9. ^ Esther Pond Smith, Whitman County Historical Society archives. Notations. 8 Mar. 2012
  10. ^ c1910. Photographs. Pullman Library: Palouse Heritage Collection. 28 Feb 2012.
  11. ^ Robert Luedeking. Pullman, Washington. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing. 2010.
  12. ^ Ted McDonough. “Restoration work begins on Pullman’s landmark Flatiron site.” Moscow Pullman Daily News 2 June 1994. Web.
  13. ^ c1910. Photographs. Pullman Library: Palouse Heritage Collection. 28 Feb 2012.
  14. ^ P.M. Hall. “Buildings represent variety of styles, eras.” Daily News 14 Apr 1988. Print.
  15. ^ Selene Santucci. Personal phone interview. 28 Feb 2012.
  16. ^ The Daily Evergreen 11 Feb 1994. Print.
  17. ^ The Spokesman Review 11 Feb 1994. Print.
  18. ^ Eric Sorenson. “Battered landmark can be fixed.” The Spokesman Review 12 Feb 1994. Print.
  19. ^ Eric Sorenson. “Battered landmark can be fixed.” The Spokesman Review 12 Feb 1994. Print.
  20. ^ Ted McDonough. “Restoration work begins on Pullman’s landmark Flatiron site.” Moscow Pullman Daily News 2 June 1994. Web.
  21. ^ Sanborn Map Company. “Pullman.” New York: Sanborn Map Company 1908.
  22. ^ Peter Gwillim Kreitler. Flatiron. Washington D.C.: The American Institute of Architects Press, 1990. Pg 2. Print
  23. ^ Peter Gwillim Kreitler. Flatiron. Washington D.C.: The American Institute of Architects Press, 1990. Pg 16. Print.
  24. ^ P.M. Hall. “Buildings represent variety of styles, eras.” Daily News 14 Apr 1988. Print.
  25. ^ Greg Colvig, Senior Building Inspector, Pullman Washington. Personal conversation. 10 April 2012.
  26. ^ J.M. Fitch. “Historic Preservation: Curatorial Management of the Built World.” Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. 1982.
  27. ^ William J Murtagh. “The History and Theory of Preservation in America.” Keeping Time. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons. 2006.
  28. ^ John H. Sprinkle Jr., “Of Exceptional Importance”, Fifty-Year Rule in Historic Preservation, (2007)

Coordinates: 46°43′46″N 117°10′55″W / 46.72947°N 117.18184°W / 46.72947; -117.18184