Smith, Thomas A.
Born in Deming, Washington on January 11, 1913, Thomas Albert Smith grew up in Tacoma. His parents were Thomas A. and Blanche (Kerr) Smith. His father, a native of Illinois, came to the Pacific Northwest in 1905, first settling in Astoria, Oregon and then moving to Deming. He later relocated his family to Puyallup where he worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad as both a passenger and freight agent. The family finally settled in Tacoma where Smith attended elementary, junior high, and high school. He was a graduate of Stadium High School where he excelled in athletics, playing on the football and baseball teams and running track. He was president of the school’s Beaux Arts Club and helped found the school’s Architectural League, serving as its president. This early interest in architecture led Smith to study architecture at the University of Washington, graduating with a Bachelor in Architecture in 1935 during the depths of the Great Depression.
While still in high school, Smith began his architectural career by doing drafting work at the architectural firm of Russell, Lumm & Lance in Tacoma. While attending the University, he worked on breaks and summers at the Tacoma firm of Heath, Gove & Bell (1932-36). Upon graduation, Smith went to work for the Pennsylvania Salt Manufacturing Co. in Tacoma where he focused on industrial design (1936-37). His industrial experience then led him to a job in Chelan working for the Howe Sound Co. and architect Ludwig Solberg where he help design and build the various mining buildings at the Holden Mine in the upper reaches of Lake Chelan (1937-38). From their, Smith took a variety of drafting jobs, moving from firm to firm for the next couple of years.
From 1938 to 1940 he worked for the State Department of Highways, completing design and detail work on the Lake Washington Floating Bridge and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. From 1940 to 1941, Smith was employed as a designer for the contractor Austin Company and served as head designer for buildings at Sandpoint Naval Air Station, Tongue Point Naval Air Stations, and Indian Island Naval Ammunition Depot. During Word War II, Smith served in the U.S. Navy as an engineer working as a sub for a variety of firms. His projects included the design for NCO quarters at Fort Richardson, Alaska; assisting with the Army Supply Depot in Seattle; and was in charge of converting passenger ships into Naval Transports.
After the war, Smith continued his professional training as an architect with Crown-Zellerbach Co. from 1945-1946. After receiving his architect’s license on April 4, 1947, he established his own practice in Seattle, operating out of an office located in the Lowman Building in Pioneer Square. Architect John Mattson’s office was in the same building. The two men formed a partnership in 1949, but the firm of Mattson & Smith dissolved by the early 1950s. Both men reestablished their own practices and continued to work in the Lowman Building in separate offices.
In 1953, Smith married Ilene Ebken of Seattle. She was the daughter of Albert Frederick and Myrtle (May) Ebken. Her father, a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was a structural engineer who came to Seattle in the early 1900s. He was a partner in Bittman-Ebken Engineering Company.
Throughout his forty-year career, Smith designed a wide variety of commercial, institutional, industrial, and residential buildings throughout the Puget Sound region. One of his earliest commissions was the clubhouse at Sand Point Country Club (1949) in Seattle. Some of the residences he designed in the 1950s were featured in the Seattle Times in its “Open House” column, which described the design of each house, showed a floor plan, and praised the architect for creating a home that served the needs of the modern family. The houses featured in the articles were open for public touring on a given day. Notable residences designed by Smith include the Hedeen House (1953), an early mid-century modern residence in upper Queen Anne; the Marchisio House (1957) in the Hilltop Community near Bellevue; a home in Bellevue’s Norwood Village (12311 SE 23rd Ave.; 1954); a country home on a forty-acre estate for the Ray Wesley family in Bothell (1955); and, the Schoen Residence (1955) on Lake Washington in Juanita.
By the late 1950s, Smith had shifted away from residential architecture and focused more on commercial and industrial projects. He designed many shopping centers and bowling alleys in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a reflection of post-war suburban development and the demand for recreational and consumer-oriented spaces for the increased population. Notable projects include the Holly Park Lanes and Duwamish Bowl in Seattle (1960); Villa Plaza Shopping Center in Lakewood (1959); Highland Bowl & Shopping Center in Renton (1960); Mercer Island Shopping Center (1961); and, the Queen Anne Post Office (1965). He also designed apartment buildings and small scale commercial buildings, such as Irving on the Lake Apartments (1958); the Clayton Building (1958) in Columbia City; and, the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots Building (1957) in Seattle.
Smith was known for his contribution in developing early designs for tilt-up construction. This type of construction became an important and popular form of building utilitarian structures in Seattle and the country. He designed the largest civilian aircraft hangar in Alaska for the International Airport in Fairbanks and designed the world’s largest prefabricated arches for use in the Snohomish Airport Hangar (1957).
Smith’s Queen Anne Post Office (1965) came near the end of his career in private practice. It was common practice for the Federal government to retain the services of local architects to design their buildings. Smith had a good reputation among Seattle architects and the building industry. With the Queen Anne Post Office, Smith created a building designed to serve the function of the post office as a regional headquarters. He also chose an architectural style that was popular for government and private office buildings at the time—New Formalism.
Smith continued in private practice until 1966 when he joined the Seattle School District No. 1 as its chief architect. He retired in 1976 after a long career. Smith’s solid career was enhanced by his professional, civic, and community associations. He was a member of the Washington State Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the American Legion, the Loyal Order of the Elks, Optimist International, and the Sand Point Country Club.
Thomas Albert Smith passed away in Seattle on July 8, 1996 at the age of 83. He was survived by his wife, Ilene.
-Artifacts Architectural Consulting, Inc.