The fireboat Duwamish is warming up at the end of Fire Station No. 5′s short pier. Built in 1909 at Richmond Beach for the Seattle Fire Department, it was 113 feet long and weighed a relatively heavy 309 tons. This photo probably was taken a year later.
The smoke escaping the fireboat’s twin stacks partly obscures the tower of the Grand Trunk Pacific Dock, on the left. The Grand Trunk Pacific was Canada’s second transcontinental railroad. After reaching its terminus Prince Rupert in 1910, it took up the steamship business as well, running a coastal feeder service from Seattle, Victoria and Vancouver to Prince Rupert.
In its time, the Grand Trunk pier was the largest wood structure of its kind on the West Coast; but its time was brief. On July 29, 1914, it was gutted by the second-largest fire in the city’s history. (The largest was the Great Fire of 1889.) Its location next door to the fire station did not save it, although the fireboats Duwamish and Snoqualmie did help contain the fire.
To the right of the Duwamish, moored at Pier 3, is the Puget Sound steamer Inland Flyer. After 11 years of running on what was called the “Navy Yard Route” to Port Orchard, Inland Flyer was sold to a Capt. R.G. Reeve, who changed its name to Mohawk. This little 106-foot wooden steamer was only 7 feet shorter than the fireboat, but at 151 tons, it was less than half the weight. In 1916, Captain Reeve stripped it of its engine and converted it into a fish barge at Neah Bay.
Pier 3 – long since renumbered Pier 54 – was constructed in 1900. For 72 years, first as an aquarium and then as a cafe, it has been the platform for the late Ivar Haglund’s prescriptions in the “culture of clams” on how to “keep clam.” Although Ivar just missed seeing his remodeled Acres of Clams reopen, he did help choose the scores of historical waterfront photographs that now cover the restaurant’s walls. One of Ivar’s favorites was an enlargement of the historical photo discussed here. It is one of a collection of Seattle images uncovered in northern Idaho. One of Ivar’s last philanthropic acts was to help purchase the collection for the University of Washington Library’s Special Collections.
ELEGANT ENDS (above)
Prolific cityscape photographer O.T. Frasch recorded this trinity of venerable ship sterns for a postcard. The view looks toward the city from either the end of Colman Dock or near to it.
The white terra-cotta skin of the Empire Building at the southeast corner of Second Avenue and Madison Street is the dominant structure in the backdrop. Just to its right, the twin towers of Saint James Cathedral peek above the black stack of the steamer Flyer.
Next to the streamlined ferry the Kalakala, the Flyer is probably the most celebrated vessel to have regularly plied the waters of Puget Sound, and not nearly as abused as the poor Kalakala. She consumed 24 cords of wood a day in her four round trips between Seattle and Tacoma. In 1918, after more than a quarter-century on the Sound and nearly 2 million miles, she was rebuilt as the Washington for the Puget Sound Navigation Company.
The City of Seattle – blowing steam to the right of the Flyer – was the first ferry on the Sound, beginning her service on New Year’s Eve, 1888. A tool of the West Seattle Land and Improvement Co., it moved prospective buyers between this slip and the company’s real estate above its ferry dock on West Seattle’s Harbor Avenue. The fare was five cents, and the two-mile run took about 8 minutes.
The ferry City of Seattle was a fixture on Elliott Bay through the 1890s and until 1907, the year of West Seattle’s incorporation into Seattle when the new trolley along Spokane Street as well as a bigger ferry, the West Seattle, took over. Eventually sold to a ferry company on San Francisco Bay, City of Seattle is now a houseboat for an artist living off-shore of Sausalito, California.
The Tourist, far right, was the first vessel to regularly carry cars on Puget Sound. Beginning in 1915, it carried six autos at a time between Seattle and Bremerton.
CIRCA 1886 LANDMARKS (above)
Several artful landmarks formed Seattle’s early skyline above. The effect presented the city’s new urban confidence of the mid-l880s to those arriving at the largest city in Washington Territory by Elliott Bay, and most did.
The most formidable structure in this view, center-left, is the mansard roof line of the Frye Opera House. When it was completed in 1885, George Frye’s opera house was the grandest stage north of San Francisco. It was modeled after the Bay City’s famed Baldwin Theater, and dominated the northeast corner of First Avenue and Marion Street.
Kitty-corner from the opera house and above a grocery store, the YMCA’s functional quarters are marked by what appears to be a banner. They moved into this spot in 1882 and out of it in October 1886. That information helps us date this scene at sometime in 1885 or ’86.
Across the street from the Y, with its own high-minded sign, is the Golden Rule Bazaar. Just above the bazaar and behind the opera house is the ornate Stetson Post Building at Second Avenue and Marion Street. When the Post building was built in 1882 it was the most fashionable address in Seattle.
The mansion with tower and cupola to the right of the Stetson Post is the Stacy Mansion at Third Avenue and Marion Street. This lavish pile of Second Empire architecture lasted much longer than anything else in this scene. In the 1920s, having escaped the fire of 1889, it was pivoted 90 degrees to face Marion Street and became Maison Blanc, one of Seattle’s legendary restaurants. Unfortunately, it was injured in a lesser fire in 1960 and razed soon after.
For all its landmarks, what really sets this scene apart are the two sailboats in profile in front of Budlong’s Boathouse. They were rentals from the popular boathouse. In 1886 the Puget Sound Yacht Club was established here.
The Great Fire in 1889, which started near the corner of First and Madison in the far left of this scene, destroyed Frye’s Opera House and practically everything else showing west of Second Avenue. The boathouse, however, survived because it could be floated from harm’s way.
POTLATCH “PORTLAND” LANDING – 1912 (above)
Across the bottom of the negative for this waterfront scene, the photographer has written, “Arrival of Sourdoughs on the Portland.” The allusion is to that legendary moment when the first ensemble of gold rushers returned from the Klondike not only with news of the big strike but with the dust itself – $700,000 of it.
This, however, is not that spontaneous moment, but a staged re-enactment of it, 15 years later to the day, for the Golden Potlatch of 1912, Seattle’s second running of its first summer festival. This waterfront assemblage of hacks and motorcars is awaiting what The Seattle Times described later that day as “a triumph of symbolism” – the Potlatch’s peculiar mix of Native American and gold rush motifs. It is just after noon on July 17.
For this ritual arrival, the Portland is” carrying the Potlatch’s big chief or Hyas Tyee, dressed, the Post-Intelligencer reported, in his “barbaric headdress and gorgeous blanket,” leading his hybrid court of shamans (medicine men in togas) and “flannel-shirted high-booted sourdoughs” sweating under the weight of their obese gold pokes.
The photographer sights north from near Marion Street and is most likely perched atop a boxcar, a favorite prospect for watching waterfront events when Alaskan Way was still Railroad Avenue. This scene does not wait for the chief and his ersatz band of natives and miners but catches instead the waiting crowd – or part of it. The local pulp’s boast of 100,000 witnesses was, perhaps, not so inflated when we remember that the obstructing Alaskan Way Viaduct was not yet intruding on the view of the many thousands who leaned from the windows and crowded the roofs of the buildings in the business district.
Once on shore, the chief relaxed his “haughty mien and stony gaze” with a most happy decree. “All is as it should be. There is no thought but to find joy, to give and receive happiness and that is Potlatch.”
The BLACK BOX (above)
From Elliott Bay and looking up Madison Street – as we do here – it is still possible to see the “Big Black Box” that on its own in 1968 lifted the first shaft for a new Seattle super-skyline. From most other prospects the thicket of often-taller skyscrapers that have given Seattle its own version of the modern and generally typical cityscape has long since obscured what was originally the headquarters for Seattle First National Bank, R.I.P.
Lawton Gowey photographed the older view of it from a ferry on March 1, 1970. The long-time accountant for the Seattle Water Department was good about recording the dates for the many thousands of pictures he took of his hometown and lifetime study.
A sense of the untoward size of the “Big Ugly” – another unkind name for it – can be easily had by comparing it to the Seattle Tower, the gracefully stepped dark scraper on the left. In the “now” it is more than hidden behind the 770 foot Washington Mutual Tower (1988). After its lift to 318 feet above 3rd and University in 1928 this Art Deco landmark was the second highest structure in Seattle – following the 1914 Smith Tower. The 1961 lifting of the “splendid” 600-plus foot tall Space Needle moved both down a notch, and inspired the now old joke that we happily repeat. Soon after the SeaFirst tower reached its routine shape in 1968 it was described to visitors as “the box the Space Needle came in.” And at 630 feet it was just big and square enough.
Many of Seattle’s nostalgic old timers (50 years old or older) consider the SeaFirst Tower as the beginning of the end for their cherished “old Seattle.” For the more resentful among them the Central Business District is now congested with oversized boxes that have obscured the articulated charms of smaller and older landmarks like the Smith and Seattle Towers. Some find solace in the waterfront where a few of the railroad finger piers survive – like Ivar’s Pier 54 seen on the far left in both views.
But Ivar’s has grown too. In 1970 Ivar Haglund employed about 260 for his then three restaurants including the “flagship” Acres of Clams here at Pier 54. Now in its 68th year Ivar’s Inc serves in 63 locations. (This first appears in Pacific early in 2005.) This summer it will employ more than 1000 persons to handle the busy season’s share of an expected 7 million customers in 2006. Every one of them – not considering tourists for the moment — will be an “Old Settler” with refined and yet unpretentious good taste – and so says Ivar’s CEO Bob Donegan.
Seattle’s second fireboat, the Duwamish, is now a century old and although no longer chasing waterfront or waterborne fires she apparently could be with a 100-year tune up. Instead its iron-clad 120 feet floats in her slip beside the lightship Swiftsure at the South Lake Union Park accepting visitors and hoping for enthused volunteers.
The Duwamish was built nearby in Richmond Beach, and her designer, the naval architect Eugene L. McAllaster, made her strong enough to ram and sink burning wooden vessels (if needs be) and flat enough (with a low draft) to chase fires bordering shallow tideflats. And he equipped her to break records in shooting water at her targets – eventually 1.6 tons of it a second. However, it was a power used more often for water shows during city celebrations or spectacular welcomes for visiting ships or dignitaries when they were still arriving here by sea.
Launched on July 3, 1909, it was then polished, appointed and delivered to waterfront Station No. 5, here at the foot of Madison Street. Soon after the Duwamish took to her slip, the largest wooden dock on the Pacific Coast was built directly south of her. The short-lived Grand Trunk Pacific dock is seen here sometime before July 30, 1914, when it was consumed in what was then the city’s most spectacular fire since the “great” one of 1889 razed the business district and most of the waterfront. While the combined barrage from the water canons of the Duwamish and the Snoqualmie, her smaller sister vessel, could not save the Grand Trunk, they are credited with keeping its neighbors, including Fire Station No. 5, from igniting.
During World War 2, the Duwamish worked for the Coast Guard as a patrol boat. After returning to her original service she was converted in 1949 to diesel-electric power and thereby became “the most powerful fireboat in the world.” In 1986, one year after her retirement, the Duwamish was added to the list of Seattle Landmarks, and three years later she was made a National Historic Landmark as well.
The ‘Now’ photo was taken from the far end of the open air seating alongside Ivar’s. Here’s the Chief Seattle from the other direction, now a backdrop for the feeding of seagulls.
Anything to add, Paul? Yes Jean, as time allows and before nightybears I’ll add a few past features and other things that gather around the slip to the south side of Pier 3/54. I’ll start off with a compliment to your mother-child fish-bar dining photo above and then go forward with a feature on the Puget Sound steamer Alida, an early story as our “now-and-thens” go. It appeared first in the Seattle Times Pacific Mag on August 12, 1984.
The scene above is the second oldest surviving photographic record of Seattle’s waterfront. The view was made from the end of Henry Yesler’s wharf, and looks across his mill pond to the sidewheeler Alida. Above and behind the steamship’s paddle is the dirt intersection of Marion St. and Front St. (now First Ave). That puts the Alida in the parking lot now bordered by Post and Western avenues and Columbia and Marion streets – or just behind the Colman Building.
The occasion is either in the summer of 1870 or 1871. The steeple-topped Methodist Protestant Church on the left was built in 1864, as we see it here. In the summer of 1872 its’ builder and pastor, Rev. Daniel Bagley, added a second story with a mansard roof. Bagley was also the main force behind the construction of the University of Washington, the classic white structure with the dome-shaped cupola at the center horizon.
The photograph’s third tower, on the right, tops Seattle’s first public school. Central School was built in 1870 back away from the northwest comer of Third and Madison. If the bell in its bell tower were still calling classes, it would be clanging near the main banking lobby of the Seafirst tower. (This was first printed in Pacific, Aug. 12, 1984. SeaFirst is by now long-gone.)
The Alida’s 115-foot keel was laid in Olympia in 1869. but its upper structure was completed in Seattle, in June of the following year, at Hammond’s boat yard near the foot of Columbia St., or just to the right of this scene. Perhaps, the occasion for this photograph is shortly after her inaugural launching.
The Alida first tested the water on June 29, 1870. Captain E. A. Starr invited Seattle’s establishment on the roundtrip trial run to Port Townsend. The July 4 edition of the Weekly Intelligencer reported that “During the passage down, the beautiful weather, the delightful scenery, the rapid and easy progress made, and last though not least, the excellent instrumental and vocal music which was furnished by the ladies, all contributed to the enjoyment of the occasion.” The steam to Port Townsend took four hours and eight minutes, and a little more on the return.
The Alida’s 20-year career on Puget Sound began with a few months of glory. She was the first steamship to successfully intrude on the monopoly which another sidewheeler, the Eliza Anderson, had on the Sound. What the Alida’s owners, the Starr brothers, won from the Alida’s triumph was shortlived. She was too slow and too light face the open waters of the straits.
In 1871 the Starr brothers introduced a second and stronger sidewheeler, the North Pacific. For ten years it controlled the Victoria run, while the Alida was restricted to steaming between Olympia and Port Townsend and way points, including Seattle.
The Alida came to her somewhat bizarre end in 1890. While anchored just offshore in Gig Harbor a brush fire swept down to her mooring and burned her to the water.
A year earlier the Seattle waterfront was also swept by fire. When it was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1889, all of what is water in this historical scene was planked over and eventually filled in to the sea wall that is 500 feet out from First Ave.
THE FIREBOAT SNOQUALMIE
Seattle’s Great Fire of 1889 burned 130 acres of the central business district and left the city’s fire ‘ department red-faced. There wasn’t enough pressure to conjure a flood against the flames, and there wasn’t a hose strong or long enough to reach the fire with salt water pumped from Elliott Bay. When the smoke cleared the message was obvious. The then mayor, the ship builder Robert Moran, told the enflamed citizens assembled in the armory at Union Street and Fourth Avenue that rebuilding a city should also include a fire department that could safeguard the new quarters. Within a year the city had five new firehouses, an electric alarm system with 31 boxes and the first fireboat on the West Coast: the Snoqualmie.
The Snoqualmie was designed by William Cowles, a New York naval architect as a 91-foot, coal burning, tug-shaped ship that would do 11 knots and shoot 6,000 gallons of saltwater per minute. The fireboat’s trial run was a celebrated affair. On deck for a closer look was T.J. Conway, assistant manager of the Pacific Insurance Association. He later announced to the press, “She did very well, splendidly in fact, and l shall feel justified in recommending a liberal reduction in insurance rates here.”
For the businessmen on the waterfront this we delightful news. More than 60 wharves and warehouses with frontage of more than two miles had been put up since the fire flattened everything there south of Union Street.
The Snoqualmie made its home in a slip next to Fire Station No.5 at the foot of Madison Street. For 37 years the fireboat wandered up and down the waterfront looking for small fires to put out or big ones to contain. The new fireboat was also used to rescue ships in Puget Sound and even salvage them, using its strong pumps to raise sunken vessels. ‘
The Snoqualmie fought its last fire on Elliott Bay in 1927, the year it gave up its slip to the new fireboat in town, the Alki. For the next 47 years the Snoqualmie helped lower insurance rates on Lake Union and then served as a small freighter between here and Alaska.
The last fire the Snoqualmie attended was its own. Only eight years ago (first published in 1984 that might mean 1976) it burned for 36 hours off shore of the fuel dock at Kodiak, Alaska.
THE NORTHERN PACIFIC RAILROAD PIERS, 3(54) to 5(56)
In their basic shape, it is easy to compare the past and present of these three piers along the Seattle waterfront. (This would be especially true if we could find the “now” photographed for this story when it first appeared on May 25, 1986, now nearly a quarter-century ago. For the moment the reader is asked to imagine it, or to proceed to the “Keep Clam” waterfront trolley island and inspect it. And, of course, don’t expect the trolley.)
Where they differ dramatically is in their uses. The historical photographer took his shot about 1902, soon after the Northern Pacific Railroad built the piers that were then numbered 3 through 5. (During World War II, in an official “act of war,” they were re-numbered 54 through 56).
The railroad’s first tenants at Pier 3 were James Galbraith and Cecil Bacon who had already been selling hay and feed on the waterfront in the 1890s, before their first step into the 20th century and Pier 54. When the partners moved on to the new pier, they widened their commercial cast to include building materials.
The early wharf was mostly known for being the home port for many of the vessels in the famous “Mosquito Fleet.” The Kitsap Transportation company’s busiest packet was for the little steamers that plied Puget Sound waters carrying passengers to the Kitsap mainland and Bainbridge Island.
The next pier north, Pier 4(55), became port for ocean-going steamers that sailed to Antwerp, London, Mexico and San Francisco. But in 1902 the gilded romance of Alaska was the larger allure with the Alaska Commercial Company’s coast steamers named Portland, St. Paul and Bertha carrying gold seekers north to Nome.
The last pier, No. 5/56 was taken over by the English stenographer turned shipping magnate Frank Waterhouse and his steamship line, which was the first to regularly reach the European Mediterranean from Puget Sound by way of Hawaii, the Philippines, Australia and the Suez Canal. Trade with Russia through Vladivostok was also one of Waterhouse’s commercial coups until the 1917 revolution put a stop to it.
Today this section of the old working waterfront is mostly for playing. And one of the very first players was Ivar Haglund who in 1938 opened his little aquarium on Pier 3 and, of course, at the same spot opened his famous “Acres of Clams” during the buoyant clam-happy post-war summer of 1946. In its abiding dedication to hoaxes, Ivar’s is presently celebrating it’s 100th anniversary on the pier – 30 years early.
The Kitsap was both trim and dauntless. In 20 years of rate wars, races, collisions and switching routes, the steamer energetically participated in the wildlife of Puget Sound waterways. At 127&1/2 feet and 195 tons, the Kitsap was an average-sized steamer about 12 feet longer than the Virginia V, which most readers will be familiar with as the last survivor of Puget Sound’s “Mosquito Fleet.”
The Kitsap was built in Portland for the Kitsap Transportation Co., one of the two strong arms of Puget Sound navigation. For a quarter century, the KTC competed with the Puget Sound Navigation Company. Oddly, at the Kitsap’s 1906 launching, the presidents for both companies, KTC’s W.L. Gazzam and PSNC’s Joshua Green, were on board. Four years later Gazzam and Green traded abusive language when the Kitsap was sent to compete with Green’s much plusher and larger but significantly slower Chippewa on the Bellingham run. Green complained to Gazzam that the fleet Kitsap represented a general threat to business because it taught patrons to expect speed.
Green also responded by scheduling a steamer on Gazzam’s Bainbridge Island route. This route war featured at least two bumps between vessels, safety hearings, suspended captains and ruinous effects on Green’s Seattle-Vancouver route. In the rate war that ensued, both companies lowered the fare to Bellingham to a quarter. Smart customers would take either cheap trip to Bellingham and catch the train from there to Canada.
In this ca.1911 view of the Kitsap, the banner strapped to her starboard side reads, “Bellingham-Anacortes-Seattle 25 Cents.”
On Dec 14, 1910, Green inadvertently got even when three days after the Kitsap punched and sank the launch Columbia, the PSNC’s Great Lakes steamer Indianapolis rammed the Kitsap about 400 yards off Pier 3, and sent it to the bottom of Elliott Bay. The Kitsap was raised and towed to West Seattle where it was patched up and ready to compete by the following May.
In its remaining 15 years of service, the Kitsap steamed a variety of courses – her owners acting like coaches looking for winning match-ups with the opposition. Its packets included Poulsbo and Port Blakely, and a longer round trip from Seattle through Harper, Colby, Port Madison and back to the company’s depot at Pier 3 – now, as most readers will know, Ivar’s Acres of Clams.
In the 1920s, cars became a factor. In 1925, 40 minutes were cut from the car ferry Washington’s run between downtown Seattle and Vashon Island when the then-new Fauntleroy ferry dock allowed it to make the crossing in 17 minutes.
The Washington’s old route from the foot of Marion Street was picked up by the Kitsap, by then renamed the Bremerton. (This, its last passenger-only route, is being considered for revival or was when this feature first appeared Sept. 10, 1989.) A year later, in November 1926, the Kitsap-Bellingham caught fire while laid up at the Houghton shipyards on Lake Washington, and was destroyed along with two other vessels.
THE CAPITOL CITY
What makes this steamer shot instructive in the methods of transportation safety is its revelation of the passengers’ random arrangement at the stern-wheeler’s bow. Many of these passengers are probably sightseers out for a weekend excursion to the Capitol City’s regular ports of call, Tacoma and Olympia.
For sightseers and commuters, the Mosquito Fleet of small steamers was still the way to get around Puget Sound in the early part of this century. Most of the areas with the smaller ports had no rail connection and only very rough roads reaching them – if any. And although the Northern Pacific could get you to Olympia quicker than the Capitol City, the ride was neither as smooth nor as exhilarating.
There was at least one occasion when the Capitol City was in a greater hurry. Late October 1902, off Dash Point near Tacoma, a Canadian freighter struck the steamer and put a large hole in its port side. It started to go down. The steamer’s engineer answered Capt. James Edward’s call for full steam ahead and dashed for shore, arriving out of steam but safely beached.
The glass negative for this rare view was discovered by a carpenter while remodeling a Capitol Hill home. The amateur photographer, Lewis Whittelsey, was a bookkeeper for the Seattle Water Department. His identity was traced through the coincidental discovery of two more sources of Whittelsey’s work. A friend, Harold Smith, belonged to the same church, Plymouth Congregational, as Whittelsey and had been given two albums of his photographs. Another friend – and one often credited here – Lawton Gowey, a latter-day accountant at the city’s Water Department, was introduced to three more albums of Whittelsey’s work uncovered in City Hall years after his death in 1941.
The second look (below) at the Capitol City comes from MOHAI and its collection of glass negatives from the professional Webster and Steven Studio.
THE “WORLD’S FIRST AIR FERRY”
Verne Gorst got started transporting mail by dog team in Alaska, and he kept his memories of that adventure alive by staying a Sourdough Association member in good standing until his death in 1953. After the dogs Gorst gave a half-century to hauling freight — including the U.S. Mail — and passengers by bus, truck and plane to various destinations between Los Angeles and the Aleutians. Here he was, perhaps, best know for, he claimed, “the first air ferry in world” running hourly trips between Seattle and the “navy yard city” Bremerton.
Gorst’s June 14, 1929 advertisement in The Times announced that the new line’s eight-passenger closed-cabin Loening Amphibian would leave its berth at the foot of Madison Street the following morning at 9 A.M. for its first service. If he kept to schedule than this view of the Loening at the foot of the old Gailbraith Dock, Pier 3 (now Ivars Acres of Clams Pier 54) and the line of sportily dressed witnesses on the Pier’s skirt above it have not come together for the inaugural ceremonies. The sun is nearly overhead so its closer to noontime.
Still this is surely a record of some moment in the first year of Gorst’s air taxi enterprise, for by its first anniversary the air ferry was operating not from this improvised float but from a covered hangar tied to the end of Pier 3 (54). (see below) That floating depot was, the Times reported, big enough to house “five planes, a passenger waiting room, two repair shops, a stock room and a five-room modern apartment.”
Even though his first year ran into the Great Depression Gorst could afford his floating depot for from June to June he had carried more than 25,000 passengers on 2,700 round trips across the Sound. The one-way hops ran an average of 51 minutes less than the water ferries hour-long ride and if the winds were right the flight could be done in seven minutes. The Navy Yard was then one of the region’s great tourist lures and, of course, most of those flying there had never flown before. Gorst assured them of the line’s safety with the comforting point that the amphibians could land anywhere along the route.
In 1929 the fare was $2.50 one way. But in June of 1933, beginning his fifth year, Gorst dropped his round-trip depression-time charge to $1.50. And in 1934 after a fall storm battered his Elliott Bay Depot he towed it to new quarters at the south end of Lake Union. There Verne Gorst’s Bremerton taxi service petered out as the Great Depression dragged on.
[Time now to climb the steps to the comforts of slumber, but will continue with an addendum tomorrow including other features and subjects that relate to this busy spot on the waterfront.)
When the bright voters of Seattle agreed to the $365 million “Bridging The Gap” levy in 2006 some of them would have known that the nearly 500 foot long west approach of the 45th Street Viaduct, which also marked the north border of the University of Washington Campus, was a gap in dire straits. It was made of wood. Twenty thousand vehicles gave it and the rest of this steep link between the University District and the neighborhoods to the east a daily pounding.
Construction on the viaduct began in 1938 and it opened Sept 28, of the following year. In his “now” repeat Jean Sherrard chose a prospect several yards west of the historic photographer’s position in order to show the work-in-progress a few days before the viaduct was reopened on Sept. 10 last. For this the city hosted a street party on the viaduct. As every paper and street department spokesperson made sure to make note, the opening was in time for the Huskies game against Syracuse, which the Huskies won handily, no doubt in celebration of the department’s finishing on time.
While the University District merchants of 1939 were happy with their new bridge to neighbors in the east, they were yet anxious that another bridge then still under construction, the Mercer Island floating bridge, would divert from their University Way, AKA “The Ave,” much of the traffic and business that came to it around the north end of Lake Washington. The greater surprises to U. District culture came in 1950 and 1956 when, respectively the shopping malls at Northgate and University Village opened. Because of the latter the 45th St. Viaduct began siphoning perhaps more business off “the Ave” than to it. Village parking was so easy and at least seemed free.
The location of 45th Street – and so also both its viaduct and campus border – is an accident of the Willamette Meridian: the marked stone near Portland from which Federal surveyors began charting Washington and Oregon in 1851. When with their solar compasses and Gunter chains the surveyors at last reached Seattle and its hinterlands in the mid-1850s, the future 45th Street became a major section line. And as topographical fate would have it, 45th also marked how far north Lake Washington’s Union Bay reached before it was lowered 9 feet in 1916 for the ship canal. Once securely high and dry, 45th Street could be developed as an arterial for the three-plus miles from Stone Way to Laurelhurst. The viaduct completed that.
It was an early September evening, just a few days before the viaduct re-opened, that I paid the work site a visit. Here are a few more shots using a longer lens:
Anything to add, Paul? As the late hours allow – I’ll restrain myself to a few additions.
First we are all invited to a behind-the-scenes tour of the Seattle Municipal Archives and a workshop on basic research tools for using the Archives. Both events are on Tuesday October 26 in celebration of Archives Month. There will be two tours, at 11 and 3; the workshop is at 1:30. Please RSVP to email@example.com if you are interested! We will note that the principal historical photos shown above and below were obtained through the Municipal Archive. This visit is also a fine chance to see – if you have not as yet – the inside of the relatively new City Hall.
NEXT some more from the MUNICIPAL ARCHIVES on 45th Street Viaduct history interspersed with the city’s own history of the viaduct’s several public works between 1939 and now.
A HISTORY OF 45TH STREET VIADUCT CONSTRUCTION
Seattle’s topography has always been a challenge to transportation, especially along west to east routes. A concerted effort in the 1930s to ease automobile traffic led to a series of bridge projects including construction of the NE 45th St Viaduct that would provide a direct route from Sand Point Way and Laurelhurst to Highway 99. At that time, the land at the base was mostly farmland. The project was approved in 1935 by Ordinance 65629 with major community support from the University Commercial Club. Construction did not begin until 1938. (The street designation was E 45th Street until 1961 when the directional designation was changed to NE.)
The viaduct was funded with a combination of federal Public Works Administration (PWA) dollars ($103,550), state gasoline tax revenue ($200,000), and a small appropriation in 1939 from the City Street Fund ($8,000). Other PWA-funded projects in 1938 included the Montlake Boulevard pedestrian overcrossing, 24th Avenue Southwest paving, East Madison Street repaving, and the Ballard Bridge.
The project was completed in September 1939 with great fanfare. A celebration luncheon was held at the Edmond Meany Hotel on September 28, followed by a parade that included the Husky Marching Band. The procession made its way from the Meany to the dedication ceremonies where Mayor Langlie cut the ribbon in front of several thousand spectators.
In 1955, funds were approved to widen the viaduct from two to three lanes; construction took place in 1956-1957. The construction was estimated to cost $192,000 and the funds were approved as part of a $10 million traffic improvement bond issue approved by Seattle voters in 1954. Additional funds for this project were approved in 1956, increasing the appropriation from $218,000 to $248,000. A 1956 scale of wages shows that carpenters earned $2.80 per hour in that year. The additional funds in 1956 were for a bus stop and for approaches to University Village. During the construction, traffic was limited to one lane eastbound. Westbound traffic was asked to detour to Blakely Avenue and Ravenna Place. Once the construction was finished, two lanes were designated for westbound traffic and one for eastbound. By the mid-1950s, the farmland was gone, but a Carnation plant and Shell station could be seen on NE 45th.
During a 1972 Engineering Department survey of bridge needs, it became evident that the wooden trestles on the east end of the viaduct were compromised by a 1966 fire and needed to be replaced. After two public hearings, it was determined that there would be no big changes to the viaduct. Work began in January 1976. Federal funds were used to help fund the project, and additional funds were approved in 1976 for rail replacement. In 1976, carpenters earned $8.90 per hour. For various reasons, mostly related to the pilings used and the noise of the pile-driving machine, the work took longer than expected. Neighborhood groups and businesses, as well as the University of Washington, made their concerns about the delay known to the City. The viaduct was closed from January to October 17th, 1976.
In 1983, City funds were approved for deck rehabilitation on the viaduct. Adverse weather and an initial unavailability of specialized equipment needed for the project required the completion date to be postponed until the spring of 1984. A temporary asphalt overlay was installed to enable the viaduct to be used during the time construction was stopped and restarted.
After a fire in January 1996, the viaduct was briefly closed so an inspection could be made of the supports on the west end.
In 2010, the viaduct was closed again for several months for a major project to replace the west approach. Portions of the approach dated back to 1938 and needed to be replaced for safety reasons. The project was budgeted at $30 million and was expected to last about six months.
(Click to Enlarge)
Soon after the Burke-Gilman Trail leaves the University of Washington campus it passes north below the ’45th Street viaduct, it begins a gentle but steady curving to the east between the Ravenna neighborhood on the north and University Village on the south. Although this trail for cyclists and joggers can be vaguely seen in the center of the contemporary photograph (It is not so contemporary, for it dates from 1982), its curving original ‘line of use” is very evident in the historical panorama. Both views look northeast from Ravenna Avenue near Northeast 50th Street.
The Seattle Lake Shore & Easterb Railroad (SLSER) was begun in 1885 by Judge Thomas Burke and entrepreneur Daniel Gilman (hence the trail) and a few eastern capitalists (hence the rails). It was intended to go north around Lake Washington and east over Snoqualmie Pass to Spokane and a probable hook-up with the transcontinental railroads that paused there or promised to. By 1887 it got as far as Union Bay.
One of the SLSER’s most pleased passengers was the Rev. William W. Beck, who besides his spiritual offerings, advertised himself as a “wholesale dealer in gold, silver, iron, coal, timber, and granites.” But it was with other of his enterprising interests, “parks and townsites,” that the energetic Presbyterian pastor was thinking in 1887 when he stepped off at the railroad’s Union Bay Station, the white structure just right of center.
William Beck bought 300 acres. He would clear much of it to stumps for his townsite, but sixty lush acres he would keep and protect as a park. Both were named Ravenna. Beck’s lightly settled Ravenna town runs through the center of the old panorama. The southeastern end of his park is evident on the far left. The photograph was taken sometime in the mid 1890s. The park still had a virgin forest of giant cedars and firs, and would remain so until 1911 when Beck sold it to the city.
By Thanksgiving 1887 the railroad reached Bothell, 20 miles out. All along the line the road’s construction brought with it logging camps, mills, mines and towns. It fed mill workers and their families in the new towns of Ballard, Ross, Fremont, Edgemont, Latona, Brooklyn (now the University District) and a milltown on Union Bay named Yesler after the Seattle pioneer. It is now-part of Laurelhurst.
In 1888 Gilman’s railroad reached the coal miles of Gilman (now Issaquah), and on July 4, 1889, the first of many packed and popular excursion trains left the Seattle waterfront for Snoqualmie Falls.
Preacher Beck had the right stuff: start a town by the railroad only a short ride from the city’s center, promote an industry like the flour mill on the right of our panorama, preserve a park for communing with nature and start a finishing school for Girls. The Seattle Female College is the churchy structure upper center in the panorama.
But the school closed in 1895, a lingering effect of the 1893 economic crash, the arrival that year of the University of Washington at its new campus nearby and the failure of Beck’s township to develop anything like Ballard, Fremont or Latona. The Park, however, did well.
On April 1, 1902, .Leon Burley, 10, and his family left their farm near Fullerton, Nebraska, and headed west in a wagon. They reached Ravenna in the fall and rented the then vacant Female College for a temporary winter home. Now (in 1982 still) this Ravenna panorama is filled with loving memories for Leon Burley. He played in the abandoned flour mill, fished for suckers and trout in Ravenna Creek, which transects this view, delivered supplies by wheelbarrow to Roper’s Grocery on 24th Street, the storefront just left of the tree trunk, and with the Beck boys explored their parent’s park.
Burley also remembers attending, in 1912 or 13, a youth Christian Endeavor meeting at the old Female College and hearing his future fiancee, Marie Phillips and her friend Fay Bayley, sing in duet “Saved by Grace.” The meeting was interrupted by fire, and that night Beck’s old school burned down. All were saved by getting out of there.
Marie Phillips lived in the home which can be faintly seen halfway between the college and the left border of the photograph. It is still there, and is the home of Marie’s sister, Constance Palmerlee, who is writing a history of the Ravenna neighborhood. (Or was in 1982)
Actually, those trees, that old house and much else in the contemporary view of the Ravenna neighborhood might have been filled with the R.H. Thomson Expressway had not Constance Palmerlee and many other activists in the Ravenna Community Association victoriously fight and beat the freeway.
(First appeared in Pacific Oct 9, 1988)
In 1888, the Rev. William Beck and his wife bought a wooded ravine just north of town. A creek flowed through it from Green Lake to Lake Washington. Beck fashioned the area into a retreat where the busy citizens of boomtown Seattle could escape for some communion with nature. Through its first 20 years, thousands paid a quarter to mingle “among the giant firs and beside the laughing brook.”
Some of Beck’s park artifice is evident here, for instance, the ground cover has been moderately cleared. Beck also added benches, a bandstand and fountains.
The man leaning against the red alder is surrounded by western hemlock, vine maple, bitter cherry, lady fern, Indian plum, Douglas fir -parts of the ravine’s wild ecology. Whatever trampling those early hordes might have given the ravine, it did not compare to the changes that came after the city bought Ravenna Park from Beck in 1910. The next year the city diverted the warm phosphorus water of Green Lake from the ravine into the North Trunk Sewer line. This left a smaller and cooler creek fed by Ravenna Park’s many small springs.
Now, 77 years later (in 1988), the ravine is more passive than when the ‘Becks charged admission. The Park Department’s economizing neglect has been benign. Nature and the ravine’s volunteer neighbors have conspired to make Ravenna Park an almost wild retreat. How long it will remain so is uncertain. One of Metro’s alternative plans for separating the North End’s storm drainage from its sewers proposes burying a pipe the length of the Ravenna ravine. It would drain the runoff from the North End’s streets and parking lots into Union Bay. At the same time, the city’s parks department, in trying to clear the waters of Green Lake, wants to bury a second pipe in the ravine that would allow the exchange of water between Green Lake and Lake Washington. The proposal to lay the pipes is not popular with those who like the park the way it is: a wild retreat for urban hikes, botany classes, composers and courtiers. Many of these park users have formed the Save Ravenna Park committee. (A good reporter would follow all this up 22 years later. I haven’t. Perhaps a reader can bring this history up to date.)
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