GSGH #10 solution

Our tenth installment of the Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt took forever to be solved. Apparently, no one wanted to be seen as lunging at such an easy win. I finally had to beg readers for someone to please just toss it out there. Past winner Marni responded with the correct answer because she can’t stand to see me suffer. Here’s a wider crop of the contest image:

Gargoyle #10, as it were.

Marni commented correctly that the gargoyle for contest #10 is an element of the Cobb Building on the northwest corner of Fourth Avenue and University Street. Below is a shot I took last spring showing most of the building, with the Indian heads visible around the exterior of the ninth floor.

The Cobb as it looked when I strolled by in May 2011.

Many moons ago, my children, the white father Arthur Denny donated for the Territorial University a big slab of the hillside beside Elliott Bay, of which he owned the central part. It became known as the Metropolitan Tract. In old birds-eye maps you can see University Street charging up the hill only to be interrupted halfway between Third and Fourth by the grounds of the original Territorial University building, which had four columns to its portico and a distinguishing belfry.

A crop from the 1878 Bancroft birds-eye. The Cobb stands in what is here shown as an undeveloped corner of the University's tract, and partly on top of Fourth Avenue, which at that time jogged around the tract further west than it is now.

A crop from the 1884 birds-eye by H. Wellge. I really should have included these in the Olympic Hotel piece (GSGH #11), since the Territorial University building sat where the Metropolitan Theater and eventually the hotel's motor entrance were built.

A crop from the Hughes birds-eye of 1891. Now that the Plymouth Congregation Church is installed on Third and University (light red, just left and below center), it's a good time to segue to the next photo...

Plymouth Congregational Church on Third Avenue, built in 1891, and the Cobb up on Fourth. Compare with the birds-eyes above, and you'll be able to place the Cobb's location back through history. Fourth Avenue was previously where the alley between the church and the office building appears, but has been moved east up the hill to remove the jogs in it. Photo by Asahel Curtis used with permission, courtesy of the Lawton Gowey collection via Paul Dorpat, with thanks.

The university moved over to Portage Bay where it blossomed into the huge affair it is now. By early 1909, the Metropolitan Building Company, which was developing the downtown acreage on behalf of the university, felt that Seattle had reached the point where it could begin to “centralize various classes of business” the way other major cities did.* Accordingly it drew up its plans for the Cobb as a building “to be given over to physicians and dentists”. The building was designed (by Howells & Stokes) and equipped to maximize its appeal to practitioners of the healing arts. It was finished in 1910 and billed by the Seattle Times as the “finest physicians’ and dentists’ building that has ever been erected in any part of the world”.

The Cobb (left) and its sibling the White-Henry-Stuart Building, circa 1915. Image property of Museum of History and Industry. The WHS was sacrificed to make way for Rainier Tower, the famous "pedestal building".

In case prospective tenants needed the idea of a physicians’ and dentists’ building hammered home, a medallion was placed above the door that depicts a profile of Hippocrates. It’s still there. His name arcs above his profile in Greek capital letters (ΊΠΠΟΚΡΑΤΗΣ), so that people like me tend to see the word Innokpathe, which still works in a way, because to my mind it suggests “enough suffering”. (I know, sorry, I’ll stop.)

The medallion over the entryway is a profile of Hippocrates (click any of these images to enlarge, as usual). The Indian head shown below is in the glowing lit vestibule partly visible to the right here.

An envoy representing the austere assembly nine floors above. This one hangs in an external vestibule which is open to the public all the time. Note the depth of the relief.

One of the terra cotta Indian heads is available for study at close range. It’s in an exterior vestibule to the right of the front entrance on Fourth. I don’t know if this was an extra chief, or if this is one that was removed from up above at some point, or if it was always meant to be here or what. It shares the vestibule with a bank machine, but I think the vestibule is not original to the 1910 floorplan. I think there were retail shops in this space, perhaps as late as my own time. If anyone knows, please say. The sculpture is larger than it looks here, a good six to eight feet tall. I wish I had had the presence of mind to stick a tourist in front of it for scale.

I’ll leave you with several more shots of this arresting edifice, one from a bunch that Paul Dorpat sent over when I told him what I was up to (his own treatment of the Cobb in his Seattle Times “Now & Then” series is here), and two that I shot earlier this year.  Thanks to Marni for delivering the winning ID, to Paul for historic photo support, and to Pedro for digging up some great old newspaper clippings on the building.

The men trading next to the cart at the left edge don't seem to realize or care about the sweeping changes overtaking the neighborhood. Rent's going up, guys! Image courtesy of Paul Dorpat.

The southeast corner of the Cobb against the City Centre Building (née Pacific First Centre) a few blocks away.

One of the Cobb Indians holding on to the last sunlight of the day.

*According to J. F. Douglass, secretary of the Metropolitan Building Company, quoted in an article in the Seattle Times, March 28, 1909.

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8 Responses to “GSGH #10 solution”


  1. 1 marni March 3, 2012 at 14:26

    Don’t you feel better now?! What torture keeping those beautiful photos and such interesting history to yourself- glad I could help!

  2. 3 leatherhead109 March 8, 2012 at 14:39

    Outstanding Post! Really enjoyed this one, if only because of all the little bits an pieces you’ve unearthed. I can imagine you in a music video style image, beating the pavement with your Rockports, camera in hand, Indy Jones Hat and a small, but stout horsehair brush, gently sweeping away the sands of time from the Metro “Tract” and revealing the past and its magnitude.

    I can hear someone saying, “please…” But what I really find interesting is that the “lower chieftain” is less pleasing to the eye and more roughly hewn than his more elevated peers. Sets me to wondering. Perhaps he was the one who misplaced the peace pipe and had to step down…one never knows.

    • 4 Matt March 8, 2012 at 15:19

      Ben,
      I’m glad you mention the visual appearance of Chief Stands in the Vestibule. I used to look at this carving and think “okay, I see, they had to carve the lines extra deep like this so that when they are way up on the building’s facade the expression will be visible, otherwise the subtleties might not show from such a great height.” But the more I’ve compared the faces of Chief SITV with his loftier fellows, I’m pretty sure they are actually different casts, different carvings entirely. For one thing, I just don’t see such harsh “roughly hewn” lines, as you put it, on the higher faces, even accounting for distance and light qualities, and even some of the feather details look different near the side of the head. Second, the lower one sort of looks directly ahead, whereas the others seem to be looking slightly upwards, though this is a difficult one to judge because you can’t get eye-to-eye with the upper ones. Third, if you look at the headdresses of the higher ones, several of them (all, as far as I can tell) have some kind of crack across the feathers right above the head, whereas Chief Stands in the Vestibule’s headdress is not fractured there. Did the upper ones all just happen to crack there because of weathering? Or were they cracked intentionally, like for some kind of wiring or for hiding Easter eggs? It’s definitely a puzzle, but I’ve come to agree with you that this lower fellow is not of the same cast(e) or tribe as the others.

      Glad you liked this. “Had to step down”…good.

  3. 5 leatherhead109 March 8, 2012 at 21:40

    Yes, the crack, I see. Then too, why the over-exaggerated facial muscles on Chief Stands in the Vestibule? I suspect he has been severely chastised as his face is heavily encumbered by extra-muscular tissue that is not normally present in even the most leathered face, like a Saracen of the Middle Eastern deserts. I believe the crack in the lofty peers is merely the way the pieces were assembled as they appear designed. Chief Stands in the Vestibule looks to have been completed in a slightly different arrangement of structural support. Likely due to greater overall weight, the headdress on the lofty ones is a single piece (above the crack) in a “keystone” shape, which might essentially “lock” the upper feathers together with the side feathers. On Chief SITV (who I believe to have been made of a lesser stone or medium) the same thing occurs, but in a less rigid arrangement, which allows the feathers to be uninterrupted. Perhaps because a different medium is being used or because it is supported on the wall differently than the “Chiefs Which Gaze Afar”, which must be eccentrically loaded onto the wall and cannot be allowed to drop into the street, …pulverizing some innocent cabbie in his “Handsome”. Both sculptures are made of puzzle pieces, but the Chief SITV is likely not as heavy and so the sculptor perhaps was allowed to arrange the pieces in a more fluid manner. Perhaps this is the cause of Chief Stands in the Vestibule being “dished” to the lower realms. His gaze is definitely cast down whereas the Chiefs Which Gaze Afar are looking up. Or, maybe its me whose completely off mark, and perhaps he’s a left over that never got mounted and there really are Easter eggs in the Headdresses of the Lofty Ones…..

    • 6 Matt March 9, 2012 at 12:23

      Ben, wow.
      Taking coffee much? This is an amazing analysis from you, and I think you’re possibly right on all counts, with the exception that you might not realize how large Chief Stands actually is…he’s yuge, possibly as large as the uppers. The photo is deceptive and doesn’t capture how really large this lower piece is, so don’t be thinking that you might carry it home under your arm if you found it at a swap meet. Still and all, you’ve tendered a cogent thesis here. Bravo.


  1. 1 Gargoyle #10 | The Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt Trackback on May 2, 2012 at 11:56

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