VIDEO: ‘If These Walls Could Talk’ tour of The Kenney reveals remarkable stories

June 26th, 2016

Enjoy this video of the complete VIP program of our “If These Walls Could Talk” tour of The Kenney, contributed by Klem Daniels Productions. The video, from June 25, 2016, features fascinating presentations on (1) The Kenney and the remarkable residents of its past, by genealogist Ann McClary, and (2) the ownership of the land before The Kenney was built, by Greg Lange, King County archivist.


Enjoy this collection of video glimpses of the public session of our “If These Walls Could Talk” tour of The Kenney, held Saturday, June 25, 2016.


Kenney then

Here is the “Then” image from Paul Dorpat’s “Now and Then” feature in the June 19, 2016, Seattle Times.

Here is the "Now" image from Paul Dorpat's "Now and Then" feature in the June 19, 2016, Seattle Times.

Here is the “Now” image from Paul Dorpat’s “Now and Then” feature in the June 19, 2016, Seattle Times.

“Now and Then” with The Kenney

The Kenney, and our June 25, 2016, “If These Walls Could Talk” tour of the 1909 landmark, were featured in Paul Dorpat’s “Now and Then” column in the Sunday, June 19, 2016, Seattle Times.

To see the column online, click here. To see Paul Dorpat’s and Jean Sherrard’s extended version of the column, with many other West Seattle images and comparisons, click here.


Our “If These Walls Could Talk” tour of The Kenney brings out remarkable stories

The Kenney, the continuous-care community that has operated in West Seattle since 1909, was the site of our 2016 “If These Walls Could Talk” home tour!

The June 25, 2016, tour focused on rarely-seen and -shared background on how this inspiring institution got its start 107 years ago in the woods north of Lincoln Park and along the Fauntleroy streetcar line.

Featured were display panels on the history of The Kenney, its founding family and its remarkable residents over the years, along with volunteer narrators relating first-person stories of the “remarkables.”

Stay tuned for photos and video of the event. And for info on The Kenney, click here!


All aboard for The Kenney Home!

Background on our fourth-annual ‘If These Walls Could Talk’ home tour


In April 1915, the Seattle Automobile Company sponsored a contest asking Seattle Times readers “What would you do if you had a 1915 Maxwell for a day?”

One winner, Admiral resident Mrs. J.R. Winston, of 2638 42nd Ave. S.W., wrote, “If I had an automobile for one day I would go to The Kenney Home and take the dear old grandmas, whom I visit and love, out for a ride.”

1915 04-25 STimes Maxwell“If I could not fill my car with grandmas, I would find little crippled children … who perhaps have never been in an automobile.”

Cars were still somewhat of a novelty in Seattle, and roads were primitive. So it must have been thrilling when, presumably, on Sunday, May 2, 1915, Mrs. Winston rolled up to The Kenney in a glistening 1915 Maxwell Touring Car, loaded it with grandmas and began a 4-wheel adventure.

Setting the early 20th century scene

To imagine the scene, you need to know about The Kenney’s environs in the early 20th century.

At that time, the area was sparsely populated. Only a few homes interrupted the wooded landscape. When the Samuel and Jessie Kenney Presbyterian Home formally opened in February 1909, Gatewood School (1910) and Fauntleroy School (1917) did not yet exist. The three-story Kenney, its copper-clad cupola rising above even the tallest fir trees, was one of the largest and most commanding structures in West Seattle.

Modeled after historic Independence Hall in Philadelphia, The Kenney had been hailed by the Times as “one of the finest institutions for the care of the aged in the country.” With room for 70 residents and the latest features such as electric lights and steam heating, the stately red-brick building was impressive in its scale and a model in its day as a home for the elderly.

The setting, by all accounts, was idyllic.

Kenney 1909“It is beautifully located, one thousand feet from the beach, at an elevation of two hundred feet, and sloping gradually to the water’s edge,” the Seattle Post-Intelligencer had described on July 21, 1907, around the time that construction began. “There is a splendid view of the Sound for ten miles. The site has already been cleared and plowed, and the steep banks to the north of the creek running through the center of the site, from east to west, are to be terraced to lead up to the main building … A couple of rustic bridges are to be thrown across the stream, and everything possible will be done in the way of simple beautification.”

Newspaper articles during The Kenney’s early years often described its location as “at Lincoln Beach” or “near Fauntleroy Park,” given that Gatewood was relatively new as a place name.

In those days, Lincoln Beach was the name of the small park known today as Lowman Beach. (The 135-acre parcel that today is Lincoln Park would not be purchased by the city until 1922.) And the area around Fauntleroy Cove was commonly known as Fauntleroy Park, the name that local boosters John Adams, J.M. Colman and others had advertised when they began selling lots there around 1905.

New railway attracts homebuyers

To attract buyers to Fauntleroy Park, in 1907 investors built a street railway that carried passengers from downtown Seattle, along a trestle that spanned the Duwamish tide flats, then across the Duwamish River on a small, wooden bridge at Spokane Street. From there, the tracks traversed the hillside (now West Seattle Golf Course) and found their way to the intersection of California Avenue and then-Ninth Street.

The vicinity of Ninth and California – a swampy area near the top of what was then known as Spring Hill – suddenly became valuable when the Fauntleroy Park line opened in 1907. That’s because the citizens of the city of West Seattle (today’s Admiral District) seized the chance to extend their streetcar line south to connect with the Fauntleroy line, achieving their long-desired streetcar connection to Seattle. Immediately, property near the new street railway junction became a hot commodity.

* Pop Quiz #1: Can you guess what we call that neighborhood today?

Turning south from there, the Fauntleroy streetcar continued through the woods along California, turned west on Myrtle, then south over a trestle that spanned a ravine, then past the Mosquito Fleet steamer dock at Fauntleroy Cove before reaching the terminus, near what today is 46th Avenue and Southwest Roxbury Street.

* Pop Quiz #2: Local legend says a Fauntleroy streetcar conductor named Joe called out “end o’ line!” when he approached the terminus. Can you guess what we call that neighborhood today?

Legendary characters from pioneer days

The story of The Kenney and how it came to be located at 47th and Myrtle – standing magnificently next to the Fauntleroy Park tracks like a storybook railway station – is intertwined with early Seattle history and features legendary characters from the city’s pioneer days.

You can immerse yourself in that story by coming to our Society’s fourth-annual “If These Walls Could Talk” home tour on Saturday, June 25, 2016, at The Kenney, 7125 Fauntleroy Way S.W. Attendees will tour the historic structure, view historical photos and memorabilia and see how The Kenney has been renovated and expanded over its 107-year history. You also can meet the founders’ great-great-great nephew and niece, Stuart and Michele Kenney.

Jessie Samuel Kenney

Jessie and Samuel Kenney

When it opened in 1909, The Kenney Home represented “the consummation of the life plans” of Samuel and Jessie Kenney, the Times said. The couple had long envisioned “a home or retreat for such infirm persons of both sexes of above sixty (60) years…who, by reason of poverty, are … unable to adequately provide for themselves, and where such persons, irrespective of their religious or political views, shall be gratuitously supplied as far as may reasonably be, with the shelter, care and comforts of a home.”

Thanks to the “two sturdy old pioneers,” said the P-I, “the aged people of Seattle who are unable to care for themselves are to have a place where they may spend their declining years in peace and comfort amid beautiful scenes.”

It became a posthumous dream

Sadly, Samuel and Jessie never got to see their dream come true. Samuel, an immigrant from Ballymena, Ireland, known as Seattle’s first merchant tailor and an elected Seattle City Council member from 1876 to 1878, died in 1895.

He left small amounts to relatives and friends, the P-I said, and “bequeathed the residue of the estate to his ‘beloved wife, who knows my plans and hopes for founding with her a home for aged and infirm persons in Seattle and vicinity, and feeling that she is like me in all these matters, I confidently leave it to her to make from time to time such provision for relatives and in respect to founding such a home for aged and infirm persons as in her best judgment I would make myself if living and controlling my property.’ ”

1878 07-26 SKenney ad

July 26, 1878, ad in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

His estate was impressive. After retiring when his tailoring shop burned down in the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, Samuel focused on managing real-estate. When he died, his holdings included a commercial building at First and Columbia downtown estimated to be worth as much as $300,000, plus many other lots and tracts, including a mining claim in Alaska and a 10-acre parcel on Capitol Hill bounded by 21st and 23rd avenues and Harrison and Mercer streets.

Keeping the couple’s dream alive

Jessie, a native of Dollar, Scotland, who married Samuel in 1849 and immigrated with him to the United States two years later, kept their dream alive. When she died in 1900, she left the bulk of the estate to a group of trustees that included Rolland H. Denny (a member of the famous Alki Landing Party that founded the city of Seattle), W.R. Ballard (founder of the then-city of Ballard), and F.H. Whitworth (son of Whitworth College founder George Whitworth).

Jessie’s will specified that the executors hold the funds in trust to invest in a home true to the couple’s earlier stated plans. For a few years, the home operated on the 10-acre Capitol Hill tract “where, in several small cottages, there are now sixteen old men and women supported by the fund,” the July 21, 1907, P-I said.

March 23, 1958, ad in Seattle Times announcing completion of the Sunrise Building at The Kenney.

March 23, 1958, ad in Seattle Times announcing completion of the Sunrise Building at The Kenney.

Ultimately, the trustees sold the Capitol Hill property, for which they received $125,000. “With this money,” the June 30, 1907, Times said, “The Kenney Estate will soon begin the erection of a group of buildings designed by Architects Graham and Myers for The Kenney Presbyterian Home, to shelter aged people who are unable to be self-supporting. The site is at Lincoln Beach, near Fauntleroy Park.”

Since 1909, The Kenney has grown and evolved. The original edifice, now called the Seaview Building, was joined by the Sunrise Building in 1958, a nursing and rehab center in 1964, the Ballymena building in 1985, and a state-of-the-art assisted-living facility, Lincoln Vista, in 2003. In 2009, the city designated the Seaview Building a landmark.

The Kenney has served as home to more than 3,000 residents. Details on many of them will come alive in displays at the June 25 tour.

If The Kenney walls could talk, they would regale visitors with the tale of how an immigrant couple’s dream became a home for the aged that, after 107 years, is aging elegantly. Perhaps they also could tell us whatever became of Mrs. J.R. Winston and her adventure with the 1915 Maxwell. Did the grandmas ever get their ride?

If these walls could sing

And if the walls of The Kenney could sing, they might echo a rousing version of “America” that was described in the Nov. 25, 1915, Times:

“Into the comfortable dining room of The Kenney Home for the Aged yesterday afternoon came the sunshine of eighty-two childish faces, and that happy glow reflected back from the contented images of the inmates,” the article said. “The girls and boys from the big Gatewood School, two blocks away, had come to entertain the old folks at Thanksgiving time, and they were more than welcome.”

Guided by Miss Isabel Colman, the Times said, the program included vocal selections, recitations, piano solos and a violin solo.

“And then the audience rose and joined in singing ‘America,’ the quavering voice of old age mingling with the shrill treble of youth. But the spirit was the same, and Grandma Melvina March, 88 years old, sang as lustily as did the tow-haired youngster of 10 who sat beside her.”

“We want you to come again,” said Mrs. Marsh, when the children trooped out. “I’ll be here. I’m 88 now, but I expect to live to be a hundred. This is a pleasant old world, after all. I take it as it comes, the good and the bad, and I can’t find cause to complain. And now, sir, if you will help me across this slippery floor till I reach that carpet I’ll be much ableeged. My rheumatiz bothers me a little. It’s been a pleasant afternoon. Come again and visit me. Goodbye.”


* Answer to Pop Quiz #1: The Junction.

* Answer to Pop Quiz #2: Endolyne


The writer of this article, Brad Chrisman, lives in the Admiral neighborhood and is a longtime volunteer for our organization and former board vice-president. He was the editorial coordinator for the “West Side Story” history book, published in July 1987.

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