Black, C. H., Seattle WA #03168
Type:Private Estate & Homesteads
Covering a full block at the crest of Queen Anne Hill, the Black estate commands sweeping views south to downtown and west to Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. John Charles Olmsted designed the landscape for Black’s already-completed home in 1907, addressing the loop drive configuration, perimeter retaining walls and grading, garage and stable placement, and plantings.
Covering a full block at the crest of Queen Anne Hill, the Black estate commands sweeping views south to downtown and west to Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. John Charles Olmsted designed the landscape for Black’s already-completed home in 1907, addressing the loop drive configuration, perimeter retaining walls and grading, garage and stable placement, and plantings. The house and essential landscape features remain today.
Charles Black was co-founder of The Seattle Hardware Company. In 1906 he hired the Olmsted Brothers to resolve unaddressed landscape issues and enhance the setting of his new, stone and half-timbered home, designed by architects Bebb & Mendel. Black valued the site’s abundant light and non-stop views, for which he gladly traded privacy. Olmsted was clearly smitten by the location, noting “the close proximity of your site to the Sound gives you an unobstructed view of this picturesque sheet of water, enlivened as it is by many steam and sailing crafts.”
Olmsted also noted, “He does not want to be secluded by hedges or plantations or walls or parapets and wants everyone to enjoy views over the place." So Olmsted made detailed recommendations for street trees that would not grow too tall, and discouraged Black from using elms. Bulkheads along street boundaries reached up to 22 feet tall, atop which Olmsted suggested planting camouflaging periwinkle and other vines, backed up with “shrubbery, more or less continuously… such as to produce an irregular skyline.” He cautioned against using over-tall species. Open lawns sloped away from the house. Foundation plantings were limited and carefully placed to screen but not block light into the house’s unusually large basement windows.
Olmsted laid out an asymmetrical loop drive approach off the upper side, and built the garage / stable unobtrusively into the slope off the side street. He said, “I do not like the idea of the stable and green-house sitting up on the lawn when there is such an excellent opportunity for concealing...it.” Black “disliked clipped grass terrace slopes and I agreed…” Black wanted all madrona trees saved, and select firs. He and Olmsted seemed of like minds about keeping the landscape open but informal. The plant palette featured flowering shrubs, fronted with “irregular beds of showy perennial flowers” for late season color, and a “moderate amount of evergreen shrubbery…for the sake of winter effect…”
While plantings have changed over a century, defining landscape features have survived: graceful driveway, hidden garage, retaining walls, open lawns, and above all the unobstructed views.