Just prior to the construction of the present Governor’s Mansion, Albert Mead who served from 1905-1909 and his family lived both at the northeast corner of 17th and Capitol Way and at the former Samuel Percival residence at the west end of the Westside Bridge.
Legislation to build a Governor’s Mansion was signed in February 1907 and stated,“it shall be of stone, or other permanent material and that it be completed and ready for occupancy on or before the first Day of June, A. D., nineteen hundred and nine.”
Tacoma Architects Russell and Babcock were chosen to design the building. The Russell and Babcock design for the Governor’s Mansion was a large, Georgian Revival style, brick building with characteristic elements including return gables with dentillated eaves, Palladian windows and an entry with a large fan light over the door. Extensive balconies were off the north, east and west sides supported by Doric columns topped by fretwork wooden balustrades with urn finials at the corners. The roofline was broken with several dormers with return gables and multi-pane windows. The windows were topped by marble quoins. The building was built as a hybrid—both a private home for the state governors’ and their families and as a public space for entertaining and other state functions.
The Manufacturers’ Association of Seattle advocated for Washington contractors and materials which were generally used. The foundation, basement walls and piers were concrete dressed with a wash of Bay State Coating. The exterior brick veneer described as “red select hard-burned brick” came from Abrahamson yards in Seattle. Lime came from San Juan County by way of the Orcas Lime Company of Seattle. The brick was pointed with Carney’s cement with on-half inch joints. Cement came from Washington Portland Cement Company. Alaskan Marble was supplied by Tacoma’s Western Marble Company and sandstone copings came from Hercules Quarry in Tenino. An Olympia firm, Olympia Door Company, manufactured the wood roof shingles.
After the completion of the foundation, the building cornerstone was laid on August 1, 1908 in a major civic event for Olympia. Weissenborn & Company of Seattle were the decorators and they followed the scheme designed by the architects.
The contractors met the schedule for completion of the building well in advance of the date outlined in the authorizing legislation, but Albert Mead and his family were not the new tenants. SamuelCosgrove, an Eastern Washington lawyer, won the election in 1908 and by one account sent word to Olympia requesting that he be able to move into the mansion immediately upon his arrival in Olympia. After his election and before his inauguration he became very ill with Bright’s disease and went to California to recover. He was finally inaugurated on January 27, 1909 when he was “carried into the capitol building on a stretcher.” Cosgrove requested a leave of absence in his inaugural speech but died in California on March 28, 1909.
Despite Cosgrove’s illness, plans went ahead for a house warming at the new mansion on Thursday, January 28, 1909 for legislators and officials and on Friday, January 29, 1909 for Olympia residents. The completion of the mansion did not extend to furnishings, so it was the women of Olympia who provided some temporary furnishings for the building and organized both events, providing décor, entertainment and refreshments. Wives of local legislators and state officials with many other women worked to organize and staff the events.
It was Marion Hay and his wife Lizzie and their large family who were the first to reside in the Mansion. Hay had been elected Lieutenant Governor in 1908 and upon Cosgrove’s illness, took over as Acting Governor until Cosgrove’s death in March 1909, when he became governor. One account says the Hays were delayed in moving into the Mansion because a daughter was ill with scarlet fever which also precluded the family from accompanying the Governor to the opening of the Alaskan-Yukon-Pacific World’s Fair in Seattle on June 1, 1909. The same source states that the Hays used items borrowed from women in Olympia when they first moved into the house.
The original furnishings were ordered from Frederick and Nelsonin Seattle and some of those original furnishings remain in the house including the grandfather clock and dining room furniture. The Hays were involved in the selection and wanted to patronize a Washington store.
Succeeding administrations upgraded, redecorated and changed the Mansion. By the 1960s, the house was in poor repair and there were some ideas to tear it down. Then First Lady Nancy Evans headed the efforts to preserve the Mansion. In 1966, she recalled that a reporter came over and asked her about a move to tear down the mansion and she replied she was for saving the mansion, “We are a young state, and this is part of our history, and we need to retain it.” The reporter then went back to Governor Dan Evans and said Nancy favored saving the building and he concurred, “That’s what I think too.”
By 1973 the legislature appropriated $600,000 for remodeling the Mansion. During the renovation, the Evans family moved to a historic house, the 1914 Egbert-Ingham House located nearby at 14th and Capitol Way near the campus in April 1974. The Evans family moved back into the mansion in 1975 after completion of the major remodeling effort. The renovation added 4,207 square feet on the south side of the building with “new living areas on the first floor—living room, family dining room, staff sitting room, solarium and gallery” along with new en suite guestrooms on the second floor—creating a “light unobstructed, and open atmosphere throughout the mansion.” The work required $400,000 more than budgeted because of problems once the renovation was underway—no adequate foundations for load-bearing walls and crumbling plaster. Architect Ibsen Nelsen was in charge of the renovation.
The extensive interior work included re-wiring, re-plumbing, re-plastering and insulation re-painting, floor refinishing, and fireproofing. On the main floor a handicap accessible women’s restroom was added on the main floor and a men’s restroom in the basement. Also in the basement were a new shop room and staff work room.
The Governor’s Mansion is part of the National Register Washington State Capitol Historic District, designated in 1974.
After the renovation was complete and as part of the national bicentennial, members of the Seattle-Tacoma Garden Clubs in partnership with the Washington Federation of Garden Clubs launched a committee to improve three areas around the Mansion. The first phase was improving the area adjacent to the Mansion which was completed in the fall of 1975 through funds from the Seattle-Tacoma Garden Clubs and a Washington State American Revolution Bicentennial Commission Grant. The landscaping design was done by Richard Fankhauser, the State Landscape Architect at the time.
That same year the Federation of Garden Clubs raised $6,000 and commissioned artist George Tsutakawa to design a sculpture for a proposed fountain pool at the mansion in memory of Violet Neditt Gose, a past president of the National Federation of State garden Clubs.
The fountain project was completed in November 1983 with the sculpture and an aggregate concrete pool faced with brick as a shallow reflection basin. The fountain is in view of dining/ballroom guests.
A third project of the landscaping was an area east of the building, created in 1992 as a Wildlife Garden. It was sponsored by the Washington State Department of Wildlife and built by volunteers of the Washington Conservation Youth corps
After the Evans era renovation, another major renovation was in 1999-2000 when the private areas for the then Governor Gary Locke’s family were renovated over an eight-month period. Shortly after the Locke family returned to the Mansion, the Nisqually Earthquake in February 2001 caused mostly cosmetic damage to the interior of the building which necessitated that the family again vacated the mansion for a short period of time. On the exterior the brick work had to be repaired. After September 2001, new, stricter security regulations, including 24-hour trooper protection were put in place.
During the Inslee Administration, First Lady Trudi Inslee headed efforts to plant gardens on the Mansion grounds which yield fresh produce for Mansion use and community food banks. The Olympia Beekeepers also placed hives on the grounds which foster healthy plants.
In 2016-2018, the Department of Enterprise Services restored the balconies of the house to their original appearance, with small changes to accommodate modern codes and also uncovered the window keystones so the Mansion at 110 years looks much like the original from the front drive. The Governor’s Mansion Foundation also refurbished the two guestrooms on the second floor, part of the 1970s renovation. They are named in honor of the Hay and Evans families.
*Adapted from Governor’s Mansion Historic Structure Report, May 2014, prepared by Architectural Resources Group for the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services.