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Jennings brothers in Ballard

While the Denny Hotel’s supervising architect kicked off the fourteen years it took to build in 1889 and 1890, the city of Ballard was created. They were linked by our main subject, Arthur B. Jennings.

The Denny Hotel is the only connection between Jennings and Seattle that historians have written about so far, and not much even of that. But Jennings lived in New York. If you think about transportation and technology in 1889, it seems a bit strange for an architect to invest in a coast-to-coast relationship for just one project. It took more than a week to reach Tacoma, and then a day trip steamer to Seattle. Telegraphs could be sent, but most people sent letters that went slower than people.


This is part 4 of a 7-part series Summiting Mount Jennings. You could start at part one.


Besides the complications, it doesn’t fit Jennings’ profile to simply design the hotel and be done with Seattle. Back home in New York, Arthur had two careers: architect and also real estate investor and manager. As you’d expect, he kept up the real estate work here as well.

Jennings brothers owned Ballard

He and his brother William owned a number of properties in the young city of Ballard. Ballard voted for incorporation on November 4, 1889. Within two weeks Arthur and William were making purchases. Its unclear how the purchases were made: purely remote; through Emerson if he already was living in Seattle; or if one of them visited Seattle at the time of incorporation. Ballard officially became a city in January 1890, and the city government formed in April.

Here is a map of all known lots that the brothers owned in 1889.

Jennings brothers (William and Arthur) properties in Ballard in 1890.
Properties owned by William or Arthur Jennings in central Ballard, with red dots. Open as list in Google Maps.

William’s lots in Ballard

William lived in Brooklyn, New York, near Arthur. He owned a print shop that did commercial jobs. A letter from William to the City of Ballard in the Seattle Municipal Archives Ballard Annexation files shows that in 1891 he owned four lots and a half acre in Ballard. The known properties are:

  • one now part of a building at 5101 Leary Ave. N.W. (block 75 lot 12);
  • one currently part of the Safeway gas station at 15th and Market (block 134 lot 2);
  • two west on Market, part of apartment building Amli Mark 24 and coincidentally directly adjacent to the Spirit gas station on Market (block 59 lots 14 and 15);
  • a half acre mentioned in his June 1891 letter as “described in Records Vol 107 of deeds Page 134”;
  • and at least one property outside of Ballard, a half acre south of Mount Pleasant Cemetery (1/2 acre in sw 1/4 of ne 1/4, sec 24 tp 25, r 3 per 12/18/1889 Settle P-I).
Letterhead from William Jennings in New York to the city attorney of Ballard. William is the only of the Jennings Brothers that seems to have not visited Seattle.
Letterhead and opening of letter from W. N. Jennings to the City of Ballard, May 18 1891. In Seattle Municipal Archives file 9106-03 2/31, “J” correspondence.

Arthur’s lots in Ballard

Arthur owned a number of properties including:

  • one on on the east side of Ballard Ave., part of Hotel Ballard at 5216 Ballard Ave. N.W. (block 74 lot 22);
  • another on the east side of Ballard Ave., a 1927 commercial building at 5344 Ballard Ave. N.W. (block 74 lot 34);
  • three lots on the southeast corner of Leary and Market that are part of two commercial buildings now at 2021 N.W. Market St. (block 79 lots 1, 22, and 23);
  • on the west side of Ballard Ave. near current N.W. 48th St., part of a light industrial building (block 70 lot 13);
  • the Jennings Ballard Addition;
  • and at least one property outside of Ballard, “part of tract 106 of 5-acre tract No.4, West Seattle” per 11/24/1889 Seattle P-I.

We’ll hear the biggest of Arthur’s complaints in part 7, the finale for this series. The common theme was that he hated paying taxes and he hated paying assessments. The city archives still has several of his letters. For example the his April 6th, 1892 “Dear Sir” letter is full of run on sentences and long complaints:

I hold to-day on Ballard Ave. nine stores – At first they rented promptly for $250 a month (early in 1890) – they have since steadily gone down – and at last report they stood all vacant except one at $700 per month and the YMCA…. This is live (?) property in the best business street in Ballard – live as nine leeches in the medical sense to the unhappy owner.

A. B. Jennings to Edumnd Peters, Ballard City Attorney, April 6, 1892. Seattle Municipal Archives
Letter from Arthur Jennings -- the architect of the Jennings brothers -- to the city attorney of Ballard.
Beginning of letter from A. B. Jennings to Edumnd Peters, Ballard City Attorney, April 6, 1892. Seattle Municipal Archives

Despite their complaints, the Jennings family continued to own Ballard property into the early 1900s.

Emerson in Ballard

Emerson P. Jennings, unlike his brothers, lived in Seattle with his family for a short time, perhaps a few years. He became vice-president of Pacific Printing & Stationery. He started a short-lived paper, the Ballard Reporter, that lasted only two issues. After a few years he moved back to Brooklyn.

In 1890 and 1891 Emerson wrote to the Ballard city attorney of the difficulty he had trying to pay assessments and taxes for Arthur. The entire family wrote letters of complaint.

Through primary sources like those letters we know for certain that Emerson was in Seattle from May 1890 (signature on Jennings Addition plat) through August 1891 (1893 article about Pacific Printing presses), and possibly some months before and after.

There’s no record that he held property in Seattle although he did represent Arthur on the plat, during trial, paid overdue fees and taxes, and may have handled other affairs.

Jennings brothers elsewhere?

Skimming the list of Arthur Jennings design projects assembled on Wikipedia, the vast majority are in New York or New Jersey. However, like Seattle there are other cities that dot his portfolio.

Cities that he visited and designed buildings in include Spokane, WA; Providence, RI; Massillon, OH; Portland, ME; Connellsville, PA, Hot Springs, AR; Oberlin, OH; several cities in Connecticut; and several cities in Virginia.

Presumably a close review of real estate ledgers would uncover Jennings brothers investments there as well. And just maybe they sent letters of protest to tax collectors and city attorneys like they did in Seattle. I’m guessing that more amusement awaits us!

The next generation

Because she is missing from family trees, I will share the sad fact that Emerson and Susan had a daughter Anna Olive Jennings, apparently born in Seattle. On August 9, 1890 she died at five months of bronchitis and was buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery. (City record and column 4 of August 10, 1890 Seattle P-I.)

While we’re at it, here’s a bit about other Jennings children.

Emerson’s son E. P., Jr. became famous in 1935 when he was framed for the terrorist bombing of a judge in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. E. P. Jr. was a newspaper publisher, with pro-labor editorial angle.

William’s son was also a Jr. W. N. Jr. went into printing like his father, uncle and cousin.

Arthur’s son, A. B., Jr., , became a well-known organist, achieving tenured faculty at the University of Minnesota.

Further Reading

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