The Kirkland Arts Center is an absolutely beautiful restoration of an historical building that was almost demolished at one point in its history. Take a look at these photos of the art gallery inside & you can see that the original brick has all remained exposed, the original ceiling beams are visible, and every effort has been made to keep as much of this building’s original character as possible. You can really feel the history in the walls here!
Outside of the building, the Kirkland Historical Society has erected this plaque to let passers-by learn a little more about the history of this place:
The Peter Kirk Building – Founded Upon A Dream
The Peter Kirk building was conceived as the keystone of English entrepreneur Kirk’s steel empire and as a major spoke in the hub of activity on the corners of Market & Piccadilly (now Seventh Avenue).Ground was broken in 1889 for the two-story brick building, which was raised upon a foundation of dizzying optimism in a period of economic expansion. Kirk and his Seattle business partners, Seattle Post-Intelligencer owner Leigh S.J. Hunt, A. A. Denny, George Heilbron and with fellow Englishman Walter W. Williams as Secretary, envisioned the Moss Bay Iron and Steel Works of America as the “Pittsburg of the West.” Together they forged the Kirkland Land and Improvement Company, incorporated in 1888, as the administrative aegis for the iron works.
Bricks for the building were produced from locally dug clay and fired at Kirk’s brick works, which which was located in what is now Peter Kirk Park. The building, a quintessentially Victorian construction, was designed in the Romanesque Revival style, which borrowed elements from European architecture of the eleventh and twelfth centuries such as semi-circular arches, turrets, recessed doors and windows, and heavy materials like rusticated stone and brick. Initially, the first floor housed the Guptil and Evans Dry Goods Store and Elder Drug. Kirk’s offices occupied the second floor.
Kirk’s dream for an industrial magnet on the shores of Lake Washington were thwarted by economic realities and crashed with the financial upheaval of 1893. Although the steel mill never opened, Kirk remained an active town booster. He eventually retired to the San Juan Islands where he died in 1916 at the age of 76.
Fortunately, the beautiful Peter Kirk building did not vanish with Kirk’s faded dreams. The structure changed ownership and usages, but remained a central component of the Kirkland landscape. The second floor was later converted to apartments. Over the years, the first floor housed a butcher shop, a grocery store, and a furniture store, including the Eastside Furniture Store, owned by Kirkland’s youngest mayor, Al Leland, in the 1940’s.
By the early 1960’s, the Peter Kirk Building was deteriorating due to years of neglect. The owner was barely able to make ends meet. Without intervention, the structure was likely to be demolished. But hope was just around the corner. Or, rather, on the second floor.
In 1973, the Peter Kirk Building was listed in the National Historic Register. In 1977 the first major renovations were undertaken, supported by local and state funding.
William Radcliffe – Building Community Together
William Radcliffe was a visionary and a pragmatist. He was also a teacher for the Lake Washington School District from 1949-1967. In 1958, he rented the Cupola Room (Kirk’s former office) on the second floor of the Peter Kirk Building, which he used as an art studio. It was one of the few spaces that did not leak in an otherwise dilapidated structure. But Radcliffe saw beyond broken windows and saggy plaster and visualized a community arts center.
It was no wonder he emerged as the instigator and inspiration of the Creative Arts League. As the founder of the Cellar Gallery, Radcliffe was a driving force in the realization of an active Eastside arts community. He and his cohorts called the Peter Kirk Syndicate, a group of attorneys, architects, educators and physicians, rescued the crumbling building from certain demise and were instrumental in establishing a truly community-oriented arts center. In 1961, the Peter Kirk Syndicate organized to purchase the building and, in 1962, to form the Creative Arts League, convened to provide local opportunities in the arts and to address preservation of a Kirkland historic landmark. The enthusiastic support of local businesses, media, artists and other citizens helped realize Radcliffe’s vision.
The Creative Arts League, dedicated volunteer artists and art lovers, as well as members of the Peter Kirk Syndicate, cleaned the building and initiated critically needed repairs. In the meantime, the League offered classes in frame making, ceramics, painting, poetry, drama, dance, puppetry and life drawing as well as operating a small theatre.
Radcliffe’s philosophy, that democracy entails giving people the opportunity to make positive changes in their communities, still fuels the Kirkland Arts Center (KAC) today. A supportive Board of Directors, talented instructors, hardworking staff and dedicated volunteers all contribute to maintaining the Kirkland Arts Center as a vibrant and vital creative hub of the community. KAC continues to offer a range of visual arts classes to students of all ages, as well as the opportunity to learn about new and challenging visions of the world in the Peter Kirk gallery.
KAC Board 2000.
The Kirkland Arts Center nurtures the Eastside arts community, in its home, the historic Peter Kirk Building, where, through classes, workshops, special events and gallery shows, artists and art lovers of all ages can come together, build creative skills, and broaden their knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the visual arts.
Paul Hughes, President; Susan Glass, Vice President; Tracy Thorleifson, Secretary; Ken Sparks, Treasurer; Merrily Dicks, Historian; Kelli Adam; Marijune Haggard; Judy Harris; Julie Johnson; Susan Street; Jac Wyman; Elizabeth Umbanhowar, Executive Director.
Peter Kirk Syndicate 1961
Shirl & Pat Restemayer; Desmond & Betty Lou Charouhas; Donald & Tatiana Davidson; Jane Gosselin; Robert & Gladys Hayes; Paul & Helen Kirk; Carl & Evelyn Lercher; Maurice & Annette Powell; William & Mary Ann Radcliffe; Raymond & Iris Sievers; J. Earl Taylor.
This interpretive marker was installed in April 2002 to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Kirkland Arts Center. Funding for this project was made possible by Kelli, Daniel and Nicholas Adam.
Photo Caption: Contrast between the old Leland Hotel (right) and Creative Arts League Building across the street was caught in the above photograph. Both were build in the same era by the founding fathers of Kirkland, who came here to establish a steel mill. The steel mill didn’t survive but Kirkland did. Citizens expressed consternation this week that the Leland Hotel was to be razed to make way for a service station. Restoration of the Creative Arts League building by a group of civic-minded citizens shows what can be done to preserve landmarks. (Journal Photo)
“The artist’s role in the community is to lead, the artist’s role is to get people to think things or see things differently, to help get people beyond where they are… to joy, enthusiasm and some sorrow as well.” -William Radcliffe