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An appreciation of Olympia’s older, established neighborhoods and the diversity they represent

[Note:  This is the conclusion from a “context statement” on single-family residential development in Olympia, up to 1975.  It was prepared by Peter Meijer, Architects and submitted to the City of Olympia in August 2015.  As stated in the conclusion, “This document may help prompt the appreciation and preservation of representative neighborhoods and structures across time in Olympia.”]

Since Olympia’s early foundation, single-family housing has played a fundamental role in shaping its built environment. From the native long houses that pre-date American settlement to the mid-modern ranch style homes that mirror each other at the end of a cul-de-sac, Olympia’s single-family housing, dating to 1975, has changed as drastically as the city itself.

Collectively, this interwoven relationship between architecture and change has contributed to the diversity in single-family housing style and size that continues to tell a visual history of Olympia.

Prompted by its “unofficial” capital title in 1853 and the rise of the timber industry in the 1870s, Olympia became a conclusion to one of America’s earliest expansions from a stream of new residents that traveled from the Oregon Trail. This pilgrimage along with Olympia’s capital status and industry contributed to the rise in early single-family residential housing that can still be viewed today.

Years later, after Olympia received its official capital title of the newly inaugurated state of Washington in 1889, Olympia, in a tradition that it was becoming familiar with, continued to grow, as did the range in housing type and style.

This later evolution of Olympia and its architecture were the result of multiple social and technological changes. These factors, which include the pre- and post-War economies, the expansion of city limits, and the introduction of Interstate 5, contributed to shifting the single-family home to reflect a new American culture. This culture, largely driven by major changes in American industry and outlook, turned the single-family residential home in Olympia, like much of the United States, from a just a home into a reflection of new suburban community ideals.

Prompted by an expanding landscape, these suburban communities redefined the single-family home and how Americans live, as many continue to do so today. Up to 1975 and continuing to the present day Olympia has continued to grow and change. Like many communities in the Pacific Northwest, Olympia has had to adapt to the decline of its early economic base; the timber industry. However, Olympia experienced a new demographic in The Evergreen State College, which was founded in 1967. This new demographic, along with the continuing governmental presence in Olympia, supported the development of growth in single-family housing through the late 1960s to 1975.

Overall, viewed through the diversity in single-family housing throughout the City of Olympia and Thurston County, is the story of early settlement, industry, setbacks, and continued growth that gives the Olympia its proud sense of history in the Pacific Northwest. Today these housing types not only continue to tell a visual history of Olympia, but continue to contribute to an ever changing landscape that is Olympia.

This document, along with other existing historic context statements written for and about the City of Olympia,78 79 can be used as the basis for research into development of single-family residential areas in the City.

Ultimately, the document may help prompt the appreciation and preservation of representative neighborhoods and structures across time in Olympia.

Search for the full document using:  single-family residential development in Olympia, Washington up to 1975



  1. Anonymous May 4, 2018

    “From the native long houses that pre-date American settlement”….. Longhouses housed many families. It is really inappropriate to incorporate this in the crusade for single family homes. And probably racist.

  2. Anonymous2 May 5, 2018

    It’s important to note that the diversity I’m this expert is architectural diversity, not of people. Because single family homes neighborhoods in Olympia are super white and not poor.

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