Editor’s Note: This is the first of two parts on Freeman Portman Allen.
It is a challenge to reconstruct the life and work of an architect whose buildings have largely disappeared. However, it is not a hopeless task when it comes to the work of Freeman Portman Allen, who designed many of Walla Walla’s earliest residential and public buildings. We have drawings, a few photos, and a handful of his standing buildings.
FP Allen, who came to Walla Walla from New Hampshire via San Francisco in 1861, claimed to be a descendant of Ethan Allen, the American patriot. Working with a Mr. Smith, FP Allen appeared in local newspapers early on. The shareholders’ advert from 1863 described them as carpenters and joiners, but an advert from 1864 promised “exact specifications and plans,” suggesting they considered themselves architects.
FP Allen was early on in community affairs. Appointed as foreman of the fire brigade in 1865, the success of the company was particularly close to his heart, as he received the contract to build the machine house. When completed, the machine house was an imaginative building resembling a castle and standing on the east side of Third Avenue between Main Street and Alder Street. He was a constant fundraiser for the Fire Company and was responsible for the “theatrical scenery” and evergreens that adorned the Fireman’s Ball, which won $ 153. Although the city had its engine house in 1866, the city council was negligent in passing a bill to fund the fire service company, and FP Allen became so impatient that he resigned as foreman.
When the city council abandoned the idea of organizing the fire department, the Washington statesman responded with the frustration likely felt by many. “We have a machine house,” wrote the editor, “that is spacious, comfortable and beautiful; and a machine that, if not the very best, works very well when properly managed and manned. The hose is good and the water supply throughout the city is excellent … It’s an absolute shame … We hope it won’t prove permanent or “burning” shame. “
In 1867 the fire company was re-established. FP Allen was elected foreman for the second time and was a member of the committee that drafted statutes and statutes. The company spoke to the city council, briefed them on the establishment of the company and asked them to make it official and turn the engine and ownership over to Washington Engine Company # 1. The council complied. The city finally had both an engine house and a fire department to manned it.
The 1870 census shows that FP Allen was still listed as a carpenter. His wife Annie and their daughter Rowena were also listed in his household. Lee W. Roberts, who wrote in 1949, remembered Mr. Allen. He recalled that Allen built a house for his family on Second Avenue near Birch Street, and that he could be seen walking into town every day with “his head bowed forward smoking his pipe”. Rowena Allen, said Mr. Roberts, was “a very charming girl”.
Mr. Allen was elected a councilor for the first ward in 1874. In 1876 he received a major contract for construction on Main Street. One was a store for partners Rees and Winans that was being built on the northeast corner of Second and Main. This building was demolished and replaced years later. The magnificent Paine Building was erected on the corner of Main and Second in 1879 and FP Allen had his office there, although there is no record of his designing it. However, he designed an ornate Italian home on Alder for DW Small, the owner of a popular horse stable on Main Street.
In an article in the Walla Walla Statesman dated March 31, 1880, Allen was described as “a gentleman and accomplished mechanic, under whose direction and according to whose plans almost all of the best structures in this city were built.” It is not surprising that William Kirkman, Stockman and Ombudsman, chose FP Allen to design a brick mansion on the corner of Colville and Cherry Streets. The grand house, now the Kirkman House Museum, was built with bricks from Weston, Oregon and stones from Tenino, Washington. Next to the Kirkman house, Mr. Allen designed a mansard roof for Dr. Nelson Blalock on second. Blalock’s house was razed when the Marcus Whitman Hotel was built, but an important building Allen designed that year still stands near the northwest corner of Fourth Avenue and the Main. It stands empty today and is in a sad state of disrepair, but when it was built as an office building by OP Lacy and EB Whitman, the Lacy Whitman building was one of the most beautiful in town. EB Whitman was the first mayor of Walla Walla and OP Lacy was a judge.
A two-story brick brewery, designed by FP Allen, once stood on the now vacant lot on the corner of Second and Stahl Avenues. John Stahl was a pioneer of the Walla Walla brewery and in 1880 commissioned Mr. Allen to build a brewery over a cellar with a capacity for a thousand kegs of beer. The entire upper floor housed grain and there were three elevators to lift the grain. A saloon was attached. The cost was $ 15,000.
FP Allen designed and oversaw the construction of the County Courthouse in 1881. It was built on Main Street in the same location as our current courthouse. An expensive undertaking, it cost taxpayers $ 60,000 to build. This Italian-style building had a basement prison that WS Gilbert described as “specially adapted for the county’s malefactors.”
A new brick nacelle on Third and Rose was designed by FP Allen in 1882 and housed the Tiger Engine Company. In addition to accommodating firefighters, the building provided space for the city council meeting and a city prison. Ironically, it would burn down while firefighters tackled the 1887 fire that destroyed most of the buildings on either side of the Main between the Third and Fourth.
In the 1880s, FP Allen was the city’s most sought-after architect. In the next part we learn about two of his most important buildings, including one that could have collapsed and ruined his career.
Susan Monahan volunteers tours and research at the Kirkman House Museum and coordinates the Voluntary Living History Program at the Fort Walla Walla Museum. Contact them at [email protected] This column focuses on the rich history of the people, places and events in the Walla Walla Valley.