At the Library: Yakima's architectural aesthetics

library - capitol theatre

Yakima's Capitol Theatre is a good example of the Renaissance Revival style of architecture. Also, it's gorgeous.

Have you ever driven through town looking at our historical buildings and thought, “That house looks like a Queen Anne-style building circa the late 1800s,” or “The rusticated quoins of The Capitol Theatre really give it a Renaissance Revival appearance”?


Well, let’s fix that. We can turn you into a pedantic architectural pseudo-historian in no time!

Queen Anne architecture is the most common style for historical homes in Yakima. According to the Yakima Register of Historic Places, most of these Queen Anne houses were built in the 1890s at the tail end of the Victorian era of architecture.

Queen Anne houses are my favorite architectural style. They look much less haunted than some other Victorian-era counterparts.

American Homes explains that the houses are identified by their complicated roofs and stylistic features such as porches, gables, roofs with very little overhang, and their iconic turrets or towers. I identify one by how much I want to live in it.

The Charles Wilcox House and the H.M. Gilbert House are prime examples of this style.

Around the same time in history, the Beaux Arts movement began, persisting through the 1920s. The movement consisted of elaborate styles borrowed from historical periods, according to “The Elements of Style.”

Within that movement was the Renaissance Revival style. We’re looking at you, Capitol Theatre. That flat roof and those pediment-headed windows, mmm yes. And of course those quoined corners.

Unlike the Victorian buildings, those from the Beaux Arts period featured strong symmetry. Another clue to identify a building in this era of architecture is to peek inside. The Beaux Arts movement took a lot of the exterior decoration patterns and brought them to the doorways, furniture, ceilings and floors. Fancy stuff.

The most prominent piece of architecture in Yakima, towering over downtown with its rich detail, is the A.E. Larson Building. It is the peak representation of Art Deco design. But what characterizes it as such? Well, Carla Breeze in “American Art Deco” describes many of the features of the style. The best clues are in the metal and the concrete. They’re pretty.

The early 1900s offered new ways to work with metal, creating ornate accent pieces for the buildings or elaborate metal doorways. And the concrete looked nice, too, thanks to the cost effectiveness of reusable concrete molds that enabled cheap repeated geometric designs you can see along the base and at the top of the Larson Building. These geometric shapes are what give it that 2012 Great Gatsby film vibe, old sport.

So there. Now you’re just about ready to talk your friend’s ear off about the particular architectural aesthetics of various Yakima landmarks. But to fully polish off your prowess as a self-proclaimed historical buildings expert, check out the 720s section at the library.

• Kyle Huizenga is a librarian for Yakima Valley Libraries. Learn more at

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