Stories of St. Edward
THE ARCHITECT: JOHN GRAHAM, SR.
To design such an important building, Bishop O’Dea hired a highly accomplished architect. By the 1930s, John Graham was one of Seattle's most prominent architects, with wide experience in a wide variety of styles and building types. Because of his extensive experience in the design of large buildings, including both schools and residential facilities, he was a logical choice for the St. Edward commission. His facility with a variety of styles is shown in his adept use of the traditional Romanesque form and stylistic elements that were very suitable for this religious use.
Graham had apprenticed as an architect in his native England and moved to Seattle in 1901. One of his first projects was the redesign and expansion of Trinity Episcopal Church, following a fire in 1901. During a partnership with David Myers, he specialized in residential work, designing several significant residences, the Algonquin Apartments (now the Helen V, 1907) and the imposing Kenney Presbyterian Home in West Seattle.
In 1910, he opened his own practice and embarked on the work for which he would become best known, large commercial and industrial buildings. The first of these was the Joshua Green Building (1913), one of the city’s earliest large steel-frame buildings. The same year he designed the local assembly plant for the Ford Motor Company, which led to further work for the company as supervising architect throughout the country.
The St. Edward building shows Graham’s experience with industrial architecture with its heavy outer walls of poured concrete, veneered in brick with restrained ornamentation. Another task he undertook in this period was the restoration of St. James Cathedral following the collapse of its dome in a 1916 snowstorm. For more than twenty years Graham played a major role in developing the city’s skyline, with such notable works as the Frederick & Nelson department store (now Nordstrom, 1916-19) and the DexterHorton Building (1921-24). He did not abandon residential and institutional projects, as he designed four buildings at the University of Washington and the Victoria Apartments (1921), one of the largest and most prominently sited apartments of the time.
By the late 1920s, his work became more modern in style, including some of the region’s most important Art Deco buildings such as the Bon Marché (now Macy’s, 1928-29), the Exchange Building (1929-31), and participation in the design of the U. S. Marine Hospital (now Amazon, 1931-34).
Photograph courtesy the Archives of the Archdiocese of Seattle.