Book Review by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation

Who is John S. White you might ask? He was Snohomish’s first architect, and in Warner Blake and Otto Greule’s new book, J. S. White: Our First Architect, nearly two decades of Snohomish history can be told through the stories held in his remaining buildings. Warner opens the book in his introduction disclosing that his claim as the first “architect” before the profession was licensed in the state of Washington is a label used to describe the quality of a builder/contractor’s work. The book then expounds ten remaining buildings designed by J. S. White, spanning eight years, multiple typologies and architectural styles. Each building is presented in a standalone essay but offered in chronological order with compounding context. The essays interweave personal anecdotes and historic material from primary sources. This format appeals to everyone, from academic historians to interested property owners, and provides research in a digestible format. Four of the essays are enhanced through reprinted newspaper articles from The Eye and The Snohomish County Tribune, striking a successful balance between past and present.

The true gems of J. S. White: Our First Architect are the stunning photographs by Otto Greule juxtaposed with Blake’s prose and historic images. Many publications focusing on architectural history have stunning historic photographs, but rarely do they include contemporary images that are equally compelling. Greule’s photographs beautifully document White’s remaining buildings in Snohomish, illustrating not only the initial attention taken in the original design but also the overwhelming care taken by property owners and the city to preserve these residential, civic and commercial buildings. For photography enthusiasts, a bonus at the back of the book in Greule’s “Photography Notes” details the setting, time of day, perspective, and technical components for each photograph.

A final highlight worth noting is that the book was successfully published by the people (and friends) of Snohomish by crowdfunding! In summary, Blake and Greule’s contribution to Washington’s understanding of its own history is a unique and informative read for anyone interested to know more about Snohomish or buildings in Washington in the later part of the 19th century.


Photo Notes From The Book

The home of J.S. White is oriented due east, lending itself to an early morning shoot. A few minutes before sunrise, a soft open skylight created a pleasing balance between the home’s exterior, interior, and western sky behind it. 

I considered putting the camera on the sidewalk in order to show the home’s picket fence and arched gateway, but doing so would have introduced too much foliage from the mature garden and obscured the home itself.  

I chose a closer axial view, and used the sliding back function of the Horseman Superwide camera to record the scene in quadrants. This allowed an angle of coverage similar to that of a wider lens, but without its inherent distortion.

The front door was left ajar to help soften the home’s symmetry. I placed a single tungsten light inside and aimed it at the glasswork of the door to reveal its tracery.

Camera: Horseman Superwide Pro, Lens: Rodenstock 35mm ƒ1:4.5,  Back: Phase One P25+. Exposure: 1/4 second @ ƒ11, iso 100.


                                                  How To Order

You may purchase the book by stopping into Uppercase Bookshop on 2nd and Avenue B, Snohomish, WA, or by sending a check payable to: Snohomish Stories, 230 Avenue B, Snohomish, WA 98290. Price: $49.95 +tax ($54.50)


Book Interview on KSER Radio

Listen to the J.S. White book interview with host Ed Bremer on the Sound Living show at KSER Radio. Featuring author Warner Blake, Karen Guzak, and photographer Otto Greule.