Architect Edward L. Merritt, together with Stanley Long, Henry Broderick (1880-1975), the brothers Gardner and Wells Gwinn, and several others, was of a generation of young entrepreneurs who came to Seattle in the early decades of the twentieth century and prospered in housing and real estate. Unlike some of the others, who were builders by trade and largely self-taught, Merritt was a college-educated architect. With his associate, Jud Yoho, Merritt played a major role in popularizing the Craftsman-style bungalow in the Northwest. Later in his career he built apartment buildings and helped resurrect the Seattle Master Builders Association to represent the interests of local builders, this after the initial organization was taken over by the Associated General Contractors of America in the 1920s.
Builders and Architects
The son of a successful building contractor, Merritt was born in Northfield, Minnesota, on October 31, 1881. After finishing high school in Northfield, he attended the University of Minnesota, graduating with an architecture degree in 1900. That same year he moved to Seattle with his parents and sister.
After arriving in Seattle, Merritt and his father worked together as general contractors for about four years. In October 1905, his sister, Ethel, married Virgil Hall, a Washington native, and soon Merritt and his father joined their new in-law to form the Merritt-Hall Investment Company. The trio also did business under the name Merritt, Hall & Merritt Architects. They were actively building houses at least as early as 1910, as evidenced by an article from October of that year in the Pacific Builder and Engineer magazine. The article, entitled "Bungalow Construction in the Northwest," featured a six-room, Merritt-designed home in the Leschi neighborhood, and had high praise for its interior and amenities.
Craftsman-style bungalows, named after The Craftsman, a magazine started by famed designer Gustav Stickley, were very popular in the Northwest in the early years of the twentieth century. Among the Merritts' competitors was Jud Yoho, a Texas transplant of formidable promotional skills. Yoho had arrived in Seattle in 1897, began building houses in 1909, and founded the Craftsman Bungalow Company in 1911, appropriating Stickley's "Craftsman" trademark without permission. In 1912, Yoho took over the California-based Bungalow Magazine, a publication that circulated nationally, and it became a valuable promotional tool for his enterprise. Like many builders working in Seattle during this period, Yoho sometimes played the role of developer, designer, builder, and resale agent, but he was not a trained architect. Edward Merritt would provide that cachet.
Going It Alone
A contemporary news account indicates that Merritt and his brother-in-law, Virgil Hall, worked with Yoho as early as 1912. The Merritt family partnership dissolved in 1914, and Edward Merritt struck out on his own. Within a short time, he became associated with Yoho, and together they designed, built, and sold Craftsman-style bungalows in Wallingford, Green Lake, the University District, and the Northgate area. By 1917 Merritt had taken over the Craftsman Bungalow Company, retaining Yoho as an associate, and they continued to publish the magazine and a series of plan books, all of which had "Craftsman Bungalows" in their titles. But tastes were changing. The magazine ceased publication in 1918, and the last plan book of bungalow designs was issued in 1920. The 1921 Merritt/Yoho plan book still carried the title Craftsman Bungalows, but it featured Colonial-style designs that mirrored a shift in public taste.
Nothing in Edward Lovering Merritt's background marked him as a rebel. By the 1920s he had gained wide respect in the Seattle business community. Yet Merritt refused to go along when most of his brethren in the Seattle Master Builders Association agreed to be absorbed by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), a national trade organization. He and a few like-minded locals started a new association to represent the Seattle area's community of builders, which feared its interests would be slighted by the AGC. The minutes of the first meeting of that organization reflect the confidence placed in Merritt by his fellow dissidents:
"A meeting of the Seattle Builders was held at Dartnall’s Cafeteria, at noon April 17, 1924. After considerable discussion it was decided to organize. Wells Gwinn nominated Edward Merritt as chairman for the organization. On motion the organization was named the Seattle Homebuilders Association" (Minutes, April 17, 1924).
Merrit served consecutive terms, in 1924 and 1925, as the first leader of the independent Seattle Homebuilders Association. In 1926, he turned the reins over to fellow developer Stanley Long, who in turn was succeeded by Gardner J. Gwinn. The group managed to hang on through the Great Depression, though membership declined to a handful. It survived to represent the interests of area builders to the present day as the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.
From Homes to Apartments
Edward Merritt's later career is not well documented. In the 1920s, he published another plan book titled Craftsman Bungalows, Sixteenth Edition, under his name alone. Reflecting what the public then wanted, it featured designs for English cottages and Colonial-revival homes rather than the traditional bungalows upon which he had built his early career.
A significant housing shortage during the 1920s led many builders, including Merritt, to shift their attention from single-family homes to apartment buildings. In the middle part of the decade, Merritt started the Merritt Realty Company and developed several apartment buildings on Capitol Hill. One of these, the Buckley Apartments at 201 17th Avenue, was built in 1928 and is listed as a historical site by Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods.
Life at Home
Merritt's personal life is somewhat better known. On November 23, 1904, he married Emma Wren, a judge's daughter from Brownsville, Texas. They had two children -- a daughter, Dorothy, born in 1905 and a son, Hugh Edward, born in 1910.
Merritt was a Knight Templar Mason, a Noble of Nile Temple, Mystic Shrine, and a member of the Elks Club. He was active as an architect in Seattle until 1938. He moved to the town of Allyn in Mason County, and died there 11 years later, on August 10, 1950.