The three-story turreted residence known as “The Castle” was built in 1902 by Peter J. Gessner and has a colorful history. Its construction was worthy of mention in the local newspaper (July 18, 1902): “Peter Gessner commenced laying the concrete foundations on Monday of what will be one of the finest residences in Georgetown. It will be a two-story structure, located on Estella Street, and will cost about $4,000.” Its original design featured iron cresting along the roof ridge, wall dormers with wood half-timbering and decorative panels, a prominent corner tower with decorative swags, Palladian windows at the gabled ends, and a full-width front porch with an upper deck and wood balustrade.
Peter Gessner came to Seattle from Helena, Montana around 1888 and quickly gained a reputation as a well-known gambler. He handled poker games at the Standard Gambling House and, later, was a blackjack dealer at The Seattle Bar (known as The Central Tavern).
Gessner appears in the 1901 city directory as a poultry breeder with his residence shown as Georgetown. He also had a business partnership with Patrick Burke (Gessner & Burke) as proprietors of the “Club Room” at 207 1st Avenue South. However, by the following year, the partnership had dissolved as indicated by the 1902 directory which no longer lists Gessner & Burke. In March, Gessner was sued in Seattle for allowing a minor, John Metzger, to gamble and forced him to move his gambling operations to Georgetown. (The case was later dismissed.)
Gessner began construction of this grand Queen Anne residence for his wife, Anna Elizabeth (Lizzie), and three young children. Unfortunately, the Gessners separated before it was completed. Peter moved into the unfurnished house with a servant, while Lizzie stayed on the family farm near Sunnydale. Gessner did not live here for long, committing suicide in the house in 1903. A July 30, 1903 Seattle Times article attributed his death to a “broken heart.” His body was found covered up on his bed, with burns on his lips and mouth. Local historian (and former owner) Tim O’Brian retold the story to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter, saying that Gessner had caught his wife having an affair with one of his employees, Edward J. Ward (Ward was partner of Gessner’s poultry and rabbit business and general manager of his farm). Devastated, he killed himself by drinking carbolic acid in a rear bedroom of the house.
Four months later, Gessner’s widow married Ward and moved into the Georgetown mansion sometime around 1905. In August 1903, the house was leased to Z.C. Miles and Piper Company, and Zatt Morrin’s Business College was a tenant in 1904. Edward J. (house painter) and Lizzie Ward lived at this address until 1911. The Census records indicate that they lived here with her three stepsons (Edwin, George, and Clay Gessner) and Horace and Elena Roane.
In September 1912, Lizzie sold the property to R.J. Beutel, who held onto it until 1916. Dr. Willis H. Corson, superintendent of the nearby King County Hospital, next acquired the property. Corson invited the local baseball team, the Georgetown Nonpareil Club, to use the residence as their social club and baseball team clubhouse. The Club, which was established in 1913, previously met at 904 Bailey Street. At the clubhouse they expanded their activities, playing whist and auction bridge, as well as hosting social dances. They held gatherings here between July 1916 and July 1918. When the Castle was no longer available, they moved their meetings to the Horton Hotel at 6026 14th Avenue South.
Between 1926 and 1931, the property was owned by Arthur and Emma Myers. Following Arthur’s death in 1932, Emma (Mary E.) remained at this address until 1935. George L. Pattimore is also shown living here from 1933 to 1935. Alec C. and Mary D. Pattimore are identified as residents from 1934 to 1937. Supposedly, at one time, the house, which O’Brian refers to as “the old Gessner Gambling House Brothel,” was also used as a brothel.
From 1937 to 1949, Mrs. Jennie S. Pugh, a nurse at the King County Hospital, resided here. Several other occupants are listed during this time, including Donald B. and Jessouita McWatters (1938), Emily M. Dahl (1941), and Mrs. Anna West (1941-43). A tax assessor’s photo dating from 1949 shows that it had undergone an extensive remodel including the installation of imitation brick veneer (asphalt siding) over the original wood siding, the enclosure of portions of the front porch (northwest and southwest corners), removal of the upper porch balustrade, and replacement the original flat-roofed balcony with a shed roof.
Subsequent occupants include Ray and Lillian Lundquist (1951); Kotalaris Hotel Apartments (1953); Carleton Inn/Castle Inn Lodgings, owned by Hugh P. Robeson (1954-65); and Lois Fahey (1966-1969).
By the early 1970s, however, the once-elegant mansion had become badly dilapidated after being unoccupied for several years. Many of its windows were broken, the front porch was collapsing, and the yard was overgrown with weeds. Transients were camping out in the house and supposedly lit fires on the hardwood floors to keep warm; one fire burned a hole from the bottom floor to the roof. Ray E. McWade and Petter Petterson moved into the house in 1978 and, according to McWade, it was in bad shape: “windows were missing, walls were scarred and pocked with holes. Stairs were warped and creaky and without handrails.” Only one small room on the ground floor was livable and one working bathroom on the second floor. McWade and Petterson, who operated the “Castle Inn Catering,” held onto the property until 1988.
After remaining vacant for a year, Tim O’Brian bought the property in 1990 and lived here for the next seven years. One of the members of the Cascade Bicycle Club rented one of the rooms in the early 1990s. The current owners purchased the property in 2004 with plans of remodeling it and bringing it back to its former splendor.
The Castle has long captivated imaginations for its many stories about being haunted by a female ghost. Variations of the story describe “a tall, slender, severe-looking woman with eyes like burning coal, her hair done up in a Victorian bun, wearing a floor-length white dress.” The ghost would appear with her hands clasping her throat. Supposedly, during it’s early history as a brothel, a young prostitute named Mary Christian was murdered by her lover, a “prestidigitator” (magician) named Manny. Others believe that it is the ghost of Sarah (Willers), a “tall, thin, harsh-looking woman” who married one of Gessner’s sons (George P. Gessner) and became pregnant by another man (local legend says that he killed the baby and buried it under the porch). PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION
The Castle stands out as a distinctive example of a Queen Anne residence that has withstood the test of time and decades of benign neglect. The three-story exterior exhibits a number of characteristic features: a prominent corner turret, wrap-around front porch, projecting wall dormers and bays, and broad side-gabled roof with bracketed eaves. An early tax assessor’s photo provides additional clues to its original appearance, which featured a front porch supported by round wood columns and surmounted by a wood balustrade along the upper flat roof deck. The columns and balustrade have since been removed and replaced with temporary posts at the main floor. The crenellated ironwork, which originally graced the roof ridge, is no longer intact. Fortunately, changes made in the 1940s helped preserve some of the historic fabric such as the wood siding, wood swags at the turret, paneled woodwork at the windows, and decorative woodwork at the gable peaks.
The one-story wrap-around porch and corner turret dominate the front (west) façade. The porch, which is temporarily shored and in a dilapidated condition, extends around to incorporate the house’s northwest and southwest ends. At the southeast end, the round turret rises from the upper two stories and is capped by a conical roof. A wood entablature delineates the floor levels, and portions of the decorative wood swags are intact above. The main entrance, positioned off-center, contains a wood-paneled door and upper sash with small square surround, a typical Queen Anne treatment. A gabled wall dormer is located above the entrance and contains paired, double-hung wood-sash windows with wood paneling above and decorative woodwork at the peak.
The north elevation contains a two-story projecting bay at its midsection. The second-floor window retains the original decorative wood panel at its base, which had been covered over and was recently discovered by the owners. An arched door at the second floor leads to the upper balcony; the balcony currently is not in use. Three small, rectangular wood-sash windows occupy the west end at the first-floor level and double-hung wood-sash windows are centered above, marking the interior stair hall. A Palladian-style window originally was centered on the main north gable; the opening contains triple wood-sash windows. The south elevation features a similar bay projection as the north façade, and contains a door on the west wall that leads to the wrap-around porch at the southwest corner. Triple wood-sash windows with a central wood fanlight occupy the south gable end.
A recessed porch at the rear (southeast corner) elevation provides access to the kitchen. Single double-hung wood-sash windows occupy both the first and second-floor levels. The third floor contains a large replacement sash window.
The interior contains three floors: the first-floor contained the main living space and the second and third floors housed bedrooms. An attic is located above the third-floor space and is accessed from an opening in the ceiling. The main entrance on the west façade leads to a grand entry hall with an open staircase occupying the north wall. The staircase features paneled woodwork along the lower wall, a carved wood banister and square, turned balusters. Triple fixed-sash window are positioned on the north wall’s lower landing. Pocket doors on the hall’s south and east walls lead to the living room (southwest corner) and parlor. A formal dining room, situated adjacent (east) of the living room and opposite (south) the parlor, is accessed through pocket-door openings. Projecting bays occupy the outside walls of both the dining room and parlor. A rear bedroom (northeast corner) and kitchen (southeast corner) are also located on this floor. Much of the original woodwork is intact throughout the first floor; the flooring has been covered with linoleum tiles in a checkerboard pattern.
The stairs lead to a wide front hall and balcony on the second floor. The upper railing has been replaced using recycled paneled doors (with the panels removed and doors placed on their side). The stair hall’s west wall contains paired, double-hung windows and the north wall contains triple, double-hung windows and an arched door. The south wall originally contained a large door opening, which has since been infilled. Bedrooms are located to each side of a central hallway. The southwest bedroom has a turreted window on the west wall and an angled bay on the south wall. Two other bedrooms and a bathroom are located on this floor.
The third floor is occupied by a small bedroom and bathroom at the rear (east) end, and a large room with angled walls (containing storage areas) at the front portion. This large space was previously divided into smaller rooms. An enclosed turret at the southeast corner features an interior curved wall with a board-n-batten treatment. Three curved windows occupy the turret space.BIBLIOGRAPHIC REFERENCES
WSA, PSB, Bellevue Community College, King County Tax Assessor’s Real Property Records; Department of Neighborhoods, Office of Urban Conservation, 1997 Architectural Survey (Site No GT068); Barbara Smith, Ghost Stories of Washington (Lone Pine Publishing, 2000); Jessica Amanda Salmonson, The Mysterious Doom and Other Ghostly Tales of the Pacific Northwest (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1992); Tim O’Brian Collection; Seattle City Directories; Baist’s Real Estate Atlases; Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps; Kroll’s Atlases of Seattle.