By 1955 the trees had been cleared from the View Ridge lots revealing the spectacular views of the Cascades, Lake Washington, Mount Rainier, and, well, the Sand Point Naval Air Base at the bottom of the hill. This is when my mother, Elaine Roys, a bookkeeper at Peter Kiewit and Sons construction company asked around the office about who she could get to design a house that would stand out in the neighborhood, for her and my dad, Frank. Now, Peter Kiewit and Sons is a company that builds big commercial building and hospitals and freeway on-ramps and the like but they have a subsidiary that did residential construction and they suggested an up and coming architect by the name of Ben Woo.
Ben wanted to get to know my parents before designing their house so he invited them over to learn to play Mahjong with he and his wife. After months of Saturday night Mahjong games he felt he knew my parents well enough and designed their house. His Chinese-American sensibilities rendered a look and feel that could be called the standard in mid-century modern architecture.
Growing up, everyone in my family knew to play Mahjong and in her later years, my mom was the Mahjong shark at the Wallingford Senior Center.
At that time Peter Kiewit and Sons was doing a project in Alaska and the crew had to be furloughed to Seattle for the winter months but, being union, were still receiving pay so the foremen were picked from the lot to build her house. Nothing but the best.
I heard bits and pieces about the construction:
- Very pregnant with my older sister, my mother went around the house with a putty stick filling nail holes in the woodwork.
- “There is enough rebar in the driveway you could park a tank on it and not crack it.”
- “The plans called for construction paper (tar paper) but they had some plastic sheet with wire mesh left over from a project that they used instead.”
- “They ordered twice as much wood as they needed for the living room ceiling, picked through it, sent the rest back.”
- A carpenter was pondering while looking at the unfinished window sill: “I know how to do this with two cuts but I think there is a way to do it with only one.” It was done with only one cut.
Ben Woo went on to become a highly regarded architect and a pillar of the Chinese community in Seattle.