Growing up in Seattle, I was fascinated by the two very different homes that were built on the corner of 24th Ave. E. and East Yesler. As a kid, and unfamiliar with modern architecture, I had no point of reference for the unique structures I saw that reminded me of an eagle in flight or perhaps one of the pyramids at Giza. Who built the two structures and why?
Over the years I photographed the exterior of the home and a few years ago I was lucky enough to be invited to a party by the artist who was renting the largest of the two structures. He told me the homes belonged to Washington State Speaker of the House Frank Chopp.
I had expected sleek modern interiors but was surprised to find a rustic “cabin”-like feel inside, with reclaimed wood and vintage glass blocks.
I’d been a fan of Mr. Chopp for years, as he was the executive director of the Fremont Public Association (now Solid Ground), an anti-poverty and social service organization. When I was a renter, that’s where we could get a free copy of the Seattle Landlord/Tenant Act and some free advice. His opponent in this latest election Jess Spear, is a candidate from the Socialist Alternative movement, and is trying to paint Frank Chopp as some sort of evil-empire capitalist, while the truth is Frank Chopp has four-decades of history championing causes and improving conditions for the homeless, the poor, the uninsured and the mentally ill.
Frank Chopps’ early career focused on social services and education. His first job was Director of the Cascade Community Center. In 1976, he became the manager of the North Community Service Center, Seattle Dept. of Human Resources. Then he spent two years as the Administrative Director if the Pike Market Senior Center. One of his latest accomplishments was helping to create a rescue plan for Pacific Tower, the old Art Deco building that Amazon emptied in 2011. To avoid the tower being sold off for condos, Chopp promoted the idea of an “innovation tower” filled with health-care-oriented organizations that have a potential to work together. Seattle Central College will be one of its biggest tenants, and will soon move its nursing and dental-hygiene programs, among others, into the building. (FareStart’s New Home in Amazon’s Old Headquarters Means More Opportunity For Needy)
Fast forward a few years later, 2014, an election year and who do I meet at a political event but Mr. Chopp himself. After waiting for a couple of dozen tiresome voters who wanted to discuss a bunch of silly politics, I was able to ask him the burning question of the day: WHAT’S WITH THAT HOUSE?!?
He explained that the two buildings were the result of a building project with his dad. They both went down to the courthouse and bought the vacant land at auction in the 1970’s. The auction started at $8000 and his dad told him “bid higher”, so he wouldn’t lose it. Even though the property went over initial asking price, it was still under $20K. As sort of a de facto Eagle Scout project, he and his dad hand-built the two structures and over the years they’ve been rentals, either to relatives or to friends of friends. His plans for the property? While he acknowledges that the corner plot of land could be very attractive-to-developers, perhaps its “highest and best use” might be a community center or perhaps low-income housing (with even a small unit for him and his wife, once they retire.) I wouldn’t be surprised if he used this property to further promote the values he’s lived for and promoted over the years, so keep an eye on this amazing piece of local history.