Who Designed The Talisman!?


The Talisman, a mid-century condo building on First Hill, is often said to be designed by Space Needle architect John Graham. However, after much digging filmmaker Andy Blubaugh, isn’t so sure:

The Talisman was not, as far as I can tell, actually designed by John Graham. The only record I can find of any connection to Graham is actually from realty listings, and some actually credit Victor Steinbruek instead.

According to articles in the Seattle Times from when the Talisman was completed (and when it was sold), it was designed by Keith Nissen (though I’ve also found his name spelled Kieth Nissen). Mr. Nissen also appears to have maintained an office in the building. I also requested the original land use permit from the city, and the company listed as the designer and builder is Viking Associates.

I’m not sure how the John Graham rumor got started, but it certainly made for an interesting project!

I had to search the Seattle Times database while I was at the library there, because the archives aren’t available to me online without a King County library card, but you should be able to find it if you search. It’s a bit confusing; in the first article that mentions the building (before it was actually open), yet ANOTHER person is credited as the designer, a guy named William Campbell, but I’m pretty sure that’s just an error; the only William Campbell in Seattle in the ’60s I could find was a contractor.

I’ve found NO record of this company “Viking Associates” that’s listed on the land use permit, but I got that info after I got back to Portland, so I wasn’t able to check the newspaper archives. There WAS an architecture firm in Seattle called Nissen & Nissen, but they are out of business, and I’m not sure if it’s associated with this Keith Nissen person or not.

Does anyone out there know? Perhaps we should track down the first agent to claim that it was John Graham and ask?

About Matt Goyer

I'm the publisher of Urbnlivn and a real estate agent. I love lofts, floating homes, new construction and mid-century moderns but will help you buy or sell just about anything.
Get in touch to:
• Understand the market
• See homes for sale
• Sell your home

Contact Matt matt@urbnlivn.com / 206-618-1600

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  • KDM

    I would call Bill Bain @ NBBJ – He (and his Father) knew all the Architects and Buildings in that era. And, he loves to talk about it!

  • Steven Lazen

    I did not find the Talisman accredited to John Graham on docomomawewa: http://www.docomomo-wewa.org/index.php
    which is a great source for Seattle area modernism. That does not rule him out though. I put in an e-mail to docomoma to see if they have any info.
    I love a mystery!

  • I wasn’t aware of that site! Thanks for sharing.

  • concernedbuyer

    If this is true, and he’s not the designer, can the realtors be held accountable for fraud? I put an offer on a unit in this building a couple years ago (didn’t get it) and one of the reasons was that his name was associated with it and helped justify the price/investment. How can it actually be possible that they’re listing it as Graham building if it’s not. Did the researcher bother to contact the condo board? I’m sure they’ve got some documents detailing the origins of the building.

  • Talismaniac

    Hunting through the Times’ archives through the Seattle Public Library’s website, I found an announcement from 5/12/63 of the project describing it as “designed by Radcliffe, McDonald & Uglem, structural engineer, and the owner-builders.” Uploaded it to IMGUR here: http://i.imgur.com/ogWWQHD.png

  • Talismaniac

    Ew, that image did not come out very well. Let me try this cropped PDF version on Dropbox: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/84827594/Talisman.pdf

  • Wow, the plot has certainly thickened! Good digging.

  • Steven Lazen

    Plus it is fun to say ‘docomomo-wewa’!