Snohomish County Courthouse (1911), Everett

  • By Jack C. O'Donnell
  • Posted 12/03/2011
  • Essay 9975
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The Snohomish County Courthouse, located at 3021 Wetmore in Everett, was built between 1909 and 1911 to replace an earlier building destroyed by fire on August 2, 1909.  August Franklin Heide (1862-1943), architect of the first courthouse, designed the new building in Spanish Mission style.  Nearly a century of use took its toll.  Two grants from the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, received in 2007 and 2009, allowed for roof, clock tower, window, and façade restoration. The courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.

From the Ashes  

The Snohomish County Courthouse Mission Building has served residents of the county for more than 100 years.  

The original courthouse building, built in 1897, burned on August 2, 1909.  The present courthouse was built on the salvageable remains of the burned building.  Everett pioneer architect August F. Heide had designed the original building and was called upon to design the new building that would rise from its ashes.  By this time Heide was in Seattle working with Carl Siebrand in the firm Siebrand & Heide.  For the new building Heide abandoned the earlier Romanesque-Chateauesque style and chose instead the California Mission style popular at the time.  

While keeping the core of the old building, as well as the façade, the same, Heide, in a tribute to his versatality, created an entirely different building out the charred remains.  Mission style in appearance, the 1910 courthouse featured a clock tower and a white stucco-like cement plaster exterior. The original arches on the west entrance were the only reminders of its Romanesque predecessor. 

At the center of the façade was the square tower rising flush with the west wall, topped by a belfry, terminated by an octagonal drum. Through small tripartite arcades on each face, the belfry gives access to a deck formed by main tower.  Then four tile-covered eaves are carried by brackets over the clock faces. 

The building also featured a central balcony so common to the modern Mission style.  Beams and woodwork were stained and varnished.  The hipped roof was covered with circle tile roofing, much like that Heide had prescribed for the original building.  The floors were of concrete covered with cork and the stairway was marble.  Douglas fir was used on the exterior, and the interior featured quarter-sawn white Eastern oak. 

The new clock  began working on March 9, 1910.  Its four hands were so connected that a slip was impossible and the record of one would be the record of all.  Interior clocks would be regulated and governed by the same master clock electrically regulated hourly.  Electrical illumination came soon after and the bell too was connected.   

An Everett Herald article optimistically predicted that the new courthouse would be completed by November 1, 1910. (During the rebuilding, county business went on in the annex.) The new building was gradually resurrected from the burned-out shell and apparently there was no formal re-opening. In fact, it wasn’t completed on time but soon enough to sheltered the first meeting of the county commissioners the following January. In March Heide informed county commissioners the building would be ready in March, a week before court sessions were to begin in the two courtrooms.  Finally on April 1 the Everett Herald proclaimed, “At last, the new courthouse is occupied ..."  However, new furnishings were not yet in place.   

Upon completion in 1911, the building was linked on the north by a single-story stucco corridor with a false curvilinear gable to a two-story annex of frame construction with brick veneer that had been built in 1908  and survived the fire intact. It was retained and superficially remodeled in the Mission style.  The 1914 Sanborn Insurance Map shows five houses and a business building on the rest of the block north of the courthouse and annex.  Eventually these structures were removed.  A juvenile detention building was erected, also in the Mission style, matching the buildings to the south.  A war memorial was built in 1943 on the northwest corner of the block.  Its shaft was also white stucco, conforming to the rest of the county campus.  

Remodeling the Courthouse

In 1946 a bond issue called for a remodeled courthouse. The annex was to be removed and the hipped roof of the main building would extend north all the way to the juvenile detention center building.  It was the wish to consolidate all county government under one roof.  This was the first of several failed bond issues.   

In 1951 bonds were sold to enlarge the courthouse with wings to the east and south of the main building.  Another phase of this remodel called for demolishing of the annex and replacing it with a contemporary four-story building. Voters failed to approve this.  The two wings were completed in 1953.  At a later date the area southeast of the main building between the wings was filled in.   

Bonds to replace the annex with a new building continued failing to receive voter support.  By the 1960s Snohomish County was skyrocketing in population.  Courtrooms were crowded and additional office space was necessary.  One desperate scheme proposed erecting portables on the west lawn.   

Finally in 1965 a new five-story wing was underway.  The annex was razed in April.  Construction ensued the next two years and the new building was dedicated on August 21, 1967.  Two towers were torn off the Mission Building to connect it to the new courts building.  During this time it was also remodeled internally during this time.   

An office building similar to the 1967 structure was completed on the block east of the courthouse complex in 1973.  Designed by Harmon, Pray and Dietrich, they stylistically evoked the work of Minoru Yamasaki (1912-1986), who fashioned a contemporary corporate style based on Neo-Gothic delicacy and ornamental detail.  Their white exteriors matched that of the Mission building.  At a later date, a plaza was created north of the 1967 building replacing the detention home and war memorial.  More buildings were built to the east to accommodate explosive county growth.

Restoring the Courthouse

On November 3, 2000, a Herald article, “Mission Improbable” suggested the old building was a “likely target for the wrecking ball.”  Opinions varied with some calling for its demolition as a no-brainer, and others claiming the community would be traumatized if the building was lost.  A structural seismic report indicated that the masonry walls were not sufficiently reinforced, the attic floor was poorly supported, the plaster ceilings could fall and the clock tower was not adequately braced.   

Two grants were received from the state and a restoration project got underway. The first dealt with repairing the roof, gutters, wood outriggers, and soffits, as well as stabilization of the clock tower.  The original clay tiles were carefully plucked from the roof, with only a few dozen needing replacement.  Cracked shells from snacking seagulls were removed as well as decades of bird droppings.  A waterproof membrane was applied to the room, and the tiles were reinstalled with copper nails. The dome was repainted a deep yellow -- the original color from a paint chip -- and now looked like a sun dawning sun on the horizon.   

A second grant dealt mainly with window rehabilitation.  Removal of flaking paint, reassembly, reglazing and repainting were done as necessary.  Mullions were repaired or replaced.  All window hardware was restored to original functioning operation.  In addition, exterior stucco walls were patched as needed and repainted to create a uniform surface.

New and Historic 

Today (2011) the Mission Building once again commands its prominent position on the hill.  The illuminated clock gives passersby the time and the bell tolls the hour. The west façade looks much like it did in 1910. The marble on the stairway and in the main floor halls is intact. It is the closest thing Everett has to a Capitol building and certainly one of the most important buildings historically in the county. 

Inside these walls a young county prosecutor, Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson (1912-1983), solidified his career by winning a conviction of a double axe murderer in 1940.  In the west lawn Hollywood actress Veronica Lake (1922-1973) encouraged citizens to buy war bonds during World War II.  Visually-impaired Alejandro (Henry) Acebedo spent 25 years selling snacks from his shop tucked in an alcove underneath the marble steps. 

On August 2, 2009, an open house was held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the building.  Descendants of August F. Heide were on hand to thank Snohomish County for saving the courthouse. The National Register landmark is now ready to serve the county another century.

Sources: David A. Cameron, Charles P. LeWarne, Allan M. May, Jack C. O’Donnell, Lawrence E. O’Donnell, Snohomish County: An Illustrated History (Index: Kelcema Books, 2005); David L. Chapman, “A Tale of Two Cities: A Brief History of the Snohomish County Courthouse,” Columbia: The Magazine of Northwest History, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Spring 2007), 32-39.; David Dilgard and Margaret Riddle, A Survey of Everett's Historical Properties (Everett:  Everett Bicentennial Commission, 1976), p. 32; Elisabeth Walton Potter, "Snohomish County Courthouse," National Register of Historic Places Inventory, June 1975; Files on courthouse, Northwest Room, Everett Public Library, accessed November 2011; the Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Fire Destroys the Snohomish Courthouse in Everett on August 2, 1909," (by Margaret Riddle) (accessed November 2011); Sally B. Woodbridge and Roger Montgomery, A Guide to Architecture in Washington State (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1980);  Sanborn Insurance Map of Everett, 1914 (New York:  Sanborn Map Company, 1914); "New County Courthouse, The Everett Herald, January 14, 1897; "New Courthouse Will Be a Beautiful and Commodious Structure, Ibid., April 30, 1910;  Courthouse Clock at Work," Ibid., March 10, 1911; "Court House News," Ibid., March 21, 1911,  p. 6; "Session Held By Judge Bell," Ibid., April 1, 1911; "Co-operation of Public In Memorial Plan by November 10 is Asked By Chairman," Ibid., October 28, 1942, p. 1; "Proposed Remodeled Courthouse," Ibid., October 30, 1946, p. 1; "Bonds Sold to Enlarge Courthouse," Ibid., December 28, 1951; " 'New Look' for Courthouse and Expanding County Courthouse," Ibid., March 29, 1952, p. 1; "Down They Come," Ibid., July 29, 1952; "$850,000 Courthouse Bond Issue Will Go on November 4 Ballots," Ibid., October 11, 1952, p.1; "Increasing County Population is Putting Heavy Burden on County," Ibid., October 28, 1952, p.1; "Bond Issues Annual Cost to be Slight," Ibid., November 1, 1952, p. 1; "New County Office Building," Ibid., November 2, 1962; "County Gets Courthouse Study Aid," Ibid., June 20, 1963; "Construction to Begin on Portable Buildings," Ibid., Aug. 2, 1963; "County Now Eyes Building Addition," Ibid, August 22, 1963; "Courthouse Work," Ibid., April 9, 1965; "Courthouse Inspection Planned," Ibid., August 16, 1964;  "Courthouse Bond Issue Fails," Ibid., September 16, 1964; "Down She Comes," Ibid., April 10, 1965; "Courthouse Siding," Ibid., June 6, 1965; "$4 million Courthouse Dedicated -- Crowd Sees New Facility, Ibid., July 22, 1967; "New County Building Changes Everett Skyline," Ibid., March 9, 1973;  Gary Nelson, "He Doesn't Let Little Things Get In His Way," Ibid., March 20, 1984; Warren Cornwall, "Mission Improbable," Ibid., November 3, 2000, p.1; Jeff Switzer, "County to Prepare Historic Building," Ibid., December 18, 2006, p. B-1; Jeff Switzer, "Dome Back to Former Glory," Ibid., Jun. 11, 2007, p. B-1; Jack O'Donnell conversation with Chris Moore, field director Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, November 2011.

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