Victor Steinbrueck

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[Victor Steinbrueck]
  Victor Steinbrueck. Photo courtesy of the Special Collections Division, UW Libraries

He was perhaps Seattle's best-known advocate of historic preservation. Victor Steinbrueck, UW alumnus and architecture professor, led the battle against the city's redevelopment plans for Seattle's Pike Place Market during the 1960s. During the same period he also helped to establish the city's Pioneer Square Historic Preservation District.

As architect, author, and artist, his career blended professional practice, teaching, and civic activism. Steinbrueck's sketches of the Pike Place Market and Seattle scenes have become beloved symbols of the Pacific Northwest. He is author of Seattle Cityscape (1962), Seattle Cityscape II (1973), and Market Sketchbook (1968).

Born in North Dakota in 1911, Steinbrueck and his family moved to Washington State in 1914. He attended Georgetown Elementary, and Cleveland and Franklin High Schools in Seattle, graduating in 1928. Although Steinbrueck started out at the UW studying fisheries science, he completed a five-year course of study in architecture, graduating from the UW in 1935. He joined the UW faculty in 1946 and served for 30 years until his retirement in 1976.

Steinbrueck's work to save the Pike Place Market from the wrecking ball came in response to the city's plans, formulated in 1959 in conjunction with the Central Association of Seattle, to obtain a HUD urban renewal grant to tear down the Market and other structures in downtown Seattle between First Avenue and Western, and from Union to Lenora streets. Plans called for building a high-rise complex with residential, commercial and hotel facilities.

In response, a group of supporters of the Market and members of Allied Arts of Seattle formed the Friends of the Market in 1964, led by Steinbrueck. Their campaign culminated in a successful ballot initiative in 1971 which established a seven-acre historic district around the Market, saving it from demolition--and a historical commission to oversee the district, on which Steinbrueck served.

Steinbrueck was involved in many other civic issues. For many years, he fought the city over its Westlake Mall development plans, initially conceived as a park in the area surrounding the Westlake Monorail terminal in downtown Seattle. The plan went through a series of changes, incorporating at various times an office tower, a luxury hotel, an art museum, and retail space.

Steinbrueck became a spokesman for the Committee For Alternatives At Westlake, for which he served as co-chairman from 1976 to 1984. Finally, in the fall of 1984, the city negotiated an agreement between opponents of the project and developers, an agreement that incorporated Steinbrueck's ideas for more public space.

As a practicing architect, Steinbrueck designed or contributed to the design of several of the region's landmark structures. With landscape architect Richard Haag (see Richard Haag) he designed the Market Park in Seattle. With Paul Kirk and Associates, he designed the Faculty Center on the UW campus, which won an American Institute of Architects Honor Award for Design Excellence in 1960. Steinbrueck also designed Exhibition Pavilion for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, and with John Graham and Company, the Space Needle.

Exhibitions of Steinbrueck's artwork, including watercolors, drawings and prints, have been held at many galleries and organizations around the Northwest: the Seattle Art Museum, the Henry Gallery, the Seattle Public Library and the University of Washington Libraries, the Polly Friedlander Gallery, the Whatcom County Museum, among others. An educational documentary entitled Seattle Cityscape, comprising 10 half-hour programs, has aired on KCTS, KOMO, KING, and KIRO television stations. And his book, A Guide to Seattle Architecture, 1850–1953, (Reinhold Publishing Corporation) prepared for the National Convention of the American Institute of Architects in June 1953, was the first publication on Seattle architecture.

Steinbrueck's contributions have been acknowledged by many honors and awards. He received the Architect of the Year Award in 1960 from the Washington State Chapter of the American Institute of Architects; and his Market Sketchbook won the Governor's Book Award in 1969.

In special recognition for his efforts, Steinbrueck was named First Citizen of Seattle in 1977. Later, the mayor of Seattle named November 2, 1982 as Victor Steinbrueck Day. And after Steinbrueck's death in 1985, Pike Place Park was named Victor Steinbrueck Park in honor of his memory.

[Market Sketchbook]

  1. The author also wishes to thank Marjorie Steinbrueck and Peter Steinbrueck for their assistance in the preparation of this vignette.
  2. Special thanks to Gary Lundell, Reference Specialist of Manuscripts and University Archives, University of Washington, for source materials and assistance.

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