(click to enlarge photos)
Starting with its simplest part – the bottom – here in a view that looks east towards Capitol Hill, a nearly new Westlake Avenue intersects on a slant with 5th Avenue.
Next, on the far side of 5th the car barns and repair sheds of the Seattle Electric Company, once the city’s trolley monopolist, are half buried. Pine Street on the right and Olive Way on the left, were both raised atop dirt “borrowed” from the nearby Denny Regrade. And so also by 1907 were most of the avenues showing here – from Fifth to Ninth. More than raised, Westlake – still at the bottom – was created or cut through the city grid from 4th and Pike to Denny Way, as we know it now. (Or rather as we knew it up until a few years ago when Westlake Mall and the rest were developed, in part, over the first block of Westlake, the part that ran from 4th and Pike on a slant through Pine to Olive.) That work began early in 1905 and was completed in November of the next year. Perhaps this view was recorded in order to show these street changes.
An approximate date for this subject is 1908. The Waldorf Hotel was completed in 1907. It is the largest structure on the right at the northeast corner of 7th and Pike. The car barn half-sunk below 5th Avenue on the far right was built in 1896 to replace another that was built in 1889 when the trolley company moved here and replaced horse power with electric. (That first plant and much else on this block was destroyed in a 1896 fire.) In a 1909 photograph of an Alaska Yukon Pacific parade, a Chinese dragon twists along in front of that barn at the northeast corner of Pine and 5th. It is significantly different than how it appears here, ca. 1908. (This dragon-parade scene with its own extended description is included below. It first appeared in Pacific, Jan 7. 1983 – more than a quarter-century ago!)
Eventually a super-sized Westlake Market used these old barns to sell groceries. It was in competition with the Pike Place Market until evicted for the 1916-18 construction of the first five floors of the Frederick and Nelson Department Store.
ALASKA YUKON PACIFIC DRAGON at 5th and Pine, 1909
Slaying a dragon is the single most heroic achievement – potentially crowning – for any European hero. Legendary champions have been rescuing damsels from the too hot embrace of these beasts and then putting down the girl to also plunder the treasures the beasts fiercely failed to protect. But in the East, the dragon is often different. It is the most persistent symbol of vital power, fertility and well-being. It is also ordinarily a vegetarian and inclined to share its carrots. However, in our scene of the Chinese dragon dance, we see the lead bearer carrying a staff tipped with a symbolic fruit. The dragon wants it, and will dance through many city blocks to get it.
Here it is on Seattle’s Fifth Avenue, with tail still crossing Pine Street. It is many blocks from the International District where it was released on Chinese New Year to dance through the streets south of Jackson amid fireworks and the persistent beat of drums and cymbals. The event pictured here is part of another celebration: the city’s 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. This is – perhaps – China Day. But what is this dragon doing on Fifth Avenue? In 1909, Second Avenue was Seattle’s parade street. It was not planked but bricked, and “canyoned” by skyscrapers like the still-standing Alaska Building, and the New Washington Hotel (today’s Josephinum.)
What, we also wonder, might the man in the European costume, on the right, be thinking. Could he be confusing this happy procession of the Asian monster with the fire-breathing history of its European cousin? Or could he be carrying beneath that derby another kind of demon? That old mean stereotype of the Chinese •‘coolie boy,” or the crude image of the opium-eating heathen, who worked more for less and then gambled it away. Those were the stock Euro-American responses to these Asian immigrants.
By 1909, this attitude had resulted in more than a half-century of prejudicial treatment. First Asian immigrants were used as cheap labor to mine the gold and coal, build the railroads and do domestic service. Then when the work was scarce they were peculiarly taxed and prevented from owning property, gaining citizenship and sending for relatives and wives. Often they were railroaded out of town — both in Seattle and Tacoma in the mid-1880s — on the very rails they had laid.
Here, on Fifth Avenue, some of them are back. Both their costumes and cut-back hairlines are from the Ching Dynasty, which in 1909 was in its 265th year, but with only two years to go. In 1911 demonstrators in Seattle’s Chinatown would replace the dynasty’s dragon flags with the new republic’s single white star floating on a field of blue and red. The design was inspired by the Stars and Strips.
The bottom two of the three “semi-now” scenes above I photographed in 1982 crowded with Christmas shoppers. The top one for a reprint of Seattle Now and Then (the book) in 1997. The Westlake Public Market, behind the dragon’s head, has been replaced by Frederick & Nelsons Department Store (long since Nordstroms). Across Pine, the Olympic Stables and behind it the Methodist Church have left for Jay Jacobs. But the building, which in 1909 held the Hotel Shirley, is still a hotel. (Or was in 1982.) The dragon, of course, still can be seen dancing every Chinese New Year, although ordinarily not here on Fifth Avenue.