My father, the architect

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One of the last things I did in Seattle was hunt down this building. It’s not hidden or anything; it sits plainly on the corner of Marion St. and 5th Ave. It’s got a little café in the ground floor. And a newsstand. But I didn’t know any of that when I set out to find it. All knew was what my father had told me over the phone. Vague memories from decades ago.

4th Ave. About 35 stories tall. Cross-hatching support beams that you can see from the outside. I think it’s brown with black windows. And it used to be owned by a bank.

Some of those things are true. Others are not.

The reason my dad wanted me to find this building is that he had been part of the team that designed it, back when he worked for a big architectural firm. He has always done that: pointed out bits of history that are interesting or important to him, thinking they’ll be interesting or important to everyone else too. Growing up I thought it was cool, then lame, then annoying, then endearing. Now that I’m an adult, I think it’s all of those things at once.

Scanning the skyline from the Bainbridge ferry and later the Seattle monorail, I saw a handful of possible candidates, including one that I desperately hoped was not his, because it looked like “some ugly federal building.” But upon closer inspection, none of them had the cross-hatching support beams that my dad swore would confirm his building’s identity. It was like a litmus test, or a birthmark.

Fueled by a sense of daughterly duty, I decided to reserve my last morning in Seattle for tracking down my dad’s building. The strap of my duffel bag dug into my shoulder as I hiked up and down the hills, certain that somehow I could find this thing. Certain that my dad’s role in the project would echo through the years and serve as a homing beacon for me to follow.

That did not happen.

In the end, it took another phone call to my dad — who now said that the building was white or silver, not brown, and that it had retail space at the bottom — with an assist from Google to figure out which building it was. But then, at long last, I found it. Better yet: I liked it.

Though it was built 30 years ago, it still looks modern. There is good attention to detail (at least from what I could see) and those cross-hatching beams are subtle, but nice. After taking it all in, I went inside — and I found myself hoping that I would have to sign in at a security desk, or at least that I would look lost enough for someone to ask me what I was doing there. And then I could say, “Oh, I’m here because my dad’s an architect. He designed this building.”

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  1. I love this! That is totally something my Dad would have me do as well, but with something car-related. At least it becomes more endearing as we get older and appreciate the things that excite them :)

  2. That is so neat. Glad you finally found it! :)

  3. Angie

    Great great great piece, especially that last paragraph.

  4. That is a great story. I’m thinking about that kind of thing a lot these days, since I’m clearing out my parents’ apartment, so I’m dealing with my mother’s paintings, and a file cabinet full of my father’s scripts, and trying to locate the story that they wrote together (which I might put online if/when I find it). I’m so glad you found the building.

    • I both look forward to and dread going through my parents’ things. Good luck! And it’d be so cool if you found their story. :)

  5. How cool is that?! Glad you finally located it. It’s a nice structure.

  6. Very cool! And I love that last line about wishing someone would ask you why you were there. Hee hee. You are always traveling! I am envious!

    • LOL I do seem to get around (in the non-sexual sense), don’t I? Not even sure how it happens most of the time… :P

  7. This is so cool! It must be nice to know the city of Seattle, and other places, have your family’s stamp on them. What a wonderful legacy.

    • It IS cool. At some point, with my dad’s help, I should try to catalog everything. His father and brother were architects too.

  8. Hehe glad you found it, it is pretty cool looking :) What was the cross street?

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