14-Year Study of Kirtland Cutter Reveals Rich Architectural Legacies

PULLMAN, Wash. — If walking in another’s shoes for a day brings understanding, surely a 14-year journey through architect Kirtland Cutter’s turn-of-the-century career, transcribing his letters by hand, and probing historical archives and acquaintances’ memories makes Henry Matthews the world authority on the renowned west-coast designer.
Matthews’ just-published historical book about Cutter’s five decades of architectural design (1888-1939) spans Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana to Southern California, Yale University and even England. Matthews visited hundreds of Cutter projects, and followed his biographical trail to discover the genesis of his astonishing range of styles. The repertoire includes Arts and Crafts and Spanish Mission buildings, rustic timber lodges, Swiss chalets, ornate hotels and offices, Tudor manors, and “California Style” homes akin to Mediterranean villas.
“Although Cutter espoused the honest simplicity of the Arts and Crafts movement, his enjoyment of other styles was almost promiscuous,” says Matthews, an architectural historian at Washington State University. “Cutter’s firm’s eclectic creations became architectural emblems for the frontier merchants and magnates. His mission was to civilize many of the grimy towns born of mining and new commerce. He really cared about making beautiful places that expressed peoples’ dreams. He was a passionate romantic, an architect of desire, and a mediator between his capitalistic clients and the wild landscape they appropriated.”
Matthews tracks Cutter’s architectural dance with the rich and famous from 1881 through World War I and the Depression. By location, his following works still exist on the West Coast:
— Spokane: Cutter’s 1897 residence for mining tycoon Patrick Clark in Spokane (now Patsy Clark’s Restaurant) represents the quintessential millionaire’s mansion, and the extravagant Davenport Hotel as “Spokane’s luxurious living room.” Other landmarks are homes in the Browne’s Addition and South Hill, the Spokane Club, the Chronicle Building, WWP Substation by the Falls, the superstructure of Monroe Street Bridge and many others.
— Seattle: The downtown Rainier Club, circa 1904, designed in Old English; the 1909 Seattle Golf and Country Club; and the brick residences that served Helen Bush School. Homes in the Highlands and Capitol Hill, including the Stimson-Green Mansion, are among Cutter’s Seattle highlights. He also designed the Washington Securities Building and “the Indian Room” for Judge Thomas Burke, the foundation for the UW’s Burke Museum.
— Tacoma: The D.K. Stevens House, Thornewood, a Tudor manor of Chester Thorne at American Lake; the palatial Tacoma Hotel (now gone); Ernest Dolge House at Steilacoom Lake; Camp Lewis Gate, redolent of a western fort; and Italian villas for William Jones and Joseph Carman at Gravelly Lake near Tacoma.
— Portland: Tudoresque house of Thomas Autzen, plywood pioneer, 1926.
— Bellingham: James Wardner’s shingle-style house, Fairhaven, known as Wardner’s Castle.
— Walla Walla: The Baker Faculty Center on the Whitman College campus, and St. Paul’s Church.
— Montana: Charles Conrad House (now a museum), Kalispell; Swan Lake Camp for Cornelius Kelley near Kalispell; and Lake McDonald Lodge, Glacier National Park.
— Idaho: Idaho State building at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago; Anderson House and Leo Falk house, Boise; John Finch chalet and caretaker’s house, Bozanta Tavern, Hayden Lake; John P. Gray house in Coeur d’Alene; Estabrook log house, Idaho City; and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Wallace.
— Lewiston: Adams and Vollmer Blocks; Weisgerber building; Idaho Trust Company Building; and W.P. Hurlbut and F. W. Kettenbach homes.
When financial misfortune befell Cutter in his 60s (around 1923) a notable scion wrote that he had “done more than anyone else for the architectural attractiveness of Spokane, Tacoma, Portland and Seattle,” and urged him to follow the boom in California.
This led to Cutter’s Palos Verdes, Long Beach and Pasadena finale in the Spanish Colonial Style. He designed 16 homes on the hillside of upscale Palos Verdes, Lunada Bay Plaza (replica of an Italian town never built), Long Beach Junior College, and other stylish edifices in Beverly Hills, Monterey, Balboa Island and San Clemente.
“Cutter’s most significant contributions are his rustic structures such as Lake McDonald Lodge that evoke wilderness, and his other elegant designs of escapism such as the exotic Hall of Doges in the Davenport Hotel,” says Matthews. “These speak eloquently of opposing forces of nature and artifice tugging at the American psyche.”
More than 250 illustrations fill the $60 book, which can be purchased through UW Press, toll-free at 800/441-4115 (8-4 PST, Monday through Friday); fax 800/669-7993 or e-mail uwpord@u.washington.edu.


Bio: Henry Matthews considers himself an architectural historian, a preservationist, ubiquitous traveler and cultural tour guide. He earned a Postgraduate Diploma in the Conservation of Historic Buildings, Architectural Association London 1978, and a Master of Arts from Cambridge University in 1963. Matthews practiced and taught architecture in London before joining the WSU School of Architecture faculty in 1979. He belongs to numerous historical societies and preservation trusts, and also is interested in finding habitats for the disenfranchised of the world. He admits to sharing Kirtland Cutter’s broad-ranging passion for architecture — from Medieval to Modern.

Note to Editors/Reporters: Matthews speaks at 7 p.m., Nov. 30, on the WSU campus in Pullman, 102 Carpenter Hall, about “Opulence and Simplicity: Interpreting Kirtland Cutter.”
At 6:30 p.m. Dec. 9, he will do a reading at the Student Book Corporation in Pullman. He also is available for interviews in Spokane prior to his 7:30 p.m. Dec.18 reading at Auntie’s Book Store; is in Seattle most Fridays; and visits Southern California December 11-13. He will make presentations Feb. 10 at the Campbell House in Spokane and at a Cutter Exhibit at the Spokane Interdisciplinary Design Institute Feb. 11. Photos available upon request.