Northwest News

Stylish Olympia house from ‘Mad Men’ era makes historic register

Dave and Lauren Danner joke that their mid-century Olympia house is the biggest impulse purchase they’ve ever made.

Two years ago, the couple bought the ranch-style house at 2932 Maringo Road SE. They immediately fell in love with the clean lines, simplicity and smart organization of space — as seen in the shelves and drawers built into the walls, for example, or the large box windows that provide plenty of daylight.

“We feel lucky to live here,” said Lauren Danner, “and we feel like it’s our job to take care of it.”

In fact, her extensive research on the house’s history has opened the door for national recognition. Last week, the house was approved for the state historic register and was also honored with the Olympia Heritage Commission’s Historic Preservation Award.

The Danners now await word on whether the house will be named to the National Register of Historic Places. The house is the first mid-century Olympia residence ever proposed for the national register, said Michelle Sadlier, historic preservation officer with the city.

“It’s just this innocent-looking house,” said Sadlier, noting the significance of the design for its time. “Mid-century was an intentional break from the old way of doing things.”

The four-bedroom house was built in 1950 for Trueman and Virginia Schmidt, whose family owned the Olympia Brewing Company. The 3,260-square-foot house was designed by architect G. Stacey Bennett, whose other notable projects included the nine-story Capital Center Building in downtown Olympia.

Despite renovations over the years, many of the original details have remained intact, including the kitchen layout, reed glass windows and a cork floor in one of the bathrooms. The basement’s rec room with wet bar channels “Mad Men,” the popular TV series set in the 1960s that has generated interest in mid-century modern furniture and design. Even the doorknob in the center of the house’s front door has attracted interest from curious passersby.

The two-story house comes across as modest from the front. , Inside, however, large plate-glass windows provide a sweeping view of the backyard, which abuts a steep green slope formed by glaciers. The well-manicured yard and garden are accessed by a walkway made out of stones that were salvaged from the former State Capitol building on Washington Street following an earthquake.

“We can tell people Theodore Roosevelt spoke on our steps,” Dave Danner said of the path that connects the patio and garden.

As the house’s fifth owners, the Danners are mindful of preserving its qualities, much as previous owners did.

“We want to keep it as original as possible,” Lauren Danner said. “This house feels like it did when it was built.”

Allyson Brooks, state historic preservation officer, noted the “Mad Men effect” has bolstered appreciation for mid-century styles. Even in Olympia, she observed, the mid-century style can be a selling point for real estate agents.

The movement for historical recognition of these mid-century buildings has been driven by citizens, Brooks said, citing the General Administration Building’s addition to the national register in 2007 as one example. The Washington State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s only job is to make sure the nominations fit the criteria.

“Olympia has been very out front with trying to honor and acknowledge their mid-century architecture history,” she said. “It’s our citizens that are recognizing the importance of mid-century architecture.”

In addition to the Danner family’s Trueman and Virginia Schmidt House, the Wildwood Center has also been honored with the Olympia Heritage Commission’s Historic Preservation Award.

That building is at 2822 Capitol Way SE at the edge of the South Capitol neighborhood. The 1943 Art Moderne style building — with its flat roof, rounded corners and streamlined shape — has been owned by the Shattuck family since 1980.

In the past few years, the once-dormant shopping center has undergone a resurgence as a neighborhood hub with its current lineup of four tenants: Vic’s Pizzeria, Olympia Coffee Roasting Co., Spud’s Produce Market and The Lucky Lunchbox.

“These tenants saw the potential and synergy in locating in a historic building in a neighborhood with pedestrian and transit activity,” according to the award’s nomination form. “In doing so, they help to secure the future of this one of a kind mid-century building.”