(click to enlarge photos)
Early this autumn Jean Sherrard and I stood on the roof – as it were – of the home standing here at the northeast corner of 4th Avenue and Columbia Street.
We were presenting one of our “repeat photography” programs to the Seattle Surgical Society for its September meeting and banquet in the Rainier Club. Timing our show with the desert, we included this apt subject, which includes part of the clubhouse, as a sweet surprise. We were fortunate that the banquet’s location – the large dining hall at the south end of the club’s second floor – hit the spot. While projecting this subject on the screen, we explained, “Here we stand above – or very near – this pioneer home site, which later the Rainier Club first razed and then built upon with its 1929 enlargement.
During our time with the surgeons we could not reveal the history of this modest home. We didn’t know. But now with the help of our frequent contributor Ron Edge we discover that three generations of Burnetts lived there. The subject appeared in the Seattle Times for June 2, 1918 and was headlined “It’s Seattle’s Oldest Home Built 53 years ago.”
[Best to click the below TWICE! At least that makes a difference on this MAC.]
After Port Ludlow mill man Hiram Burnett built this six-room home during the winter of 1865, he and his wife Elizabeth moved to Seattle that spring so that their two children would be near the University. When their son Charles graduated from the University and married, “he took his bride to live in the little house.” The couple’s own son, Charles Jr. served a term on the Seattle City Council, and recalled his grandfather Hiram explaining that all the wood for the Seattle home – including the spruce siding – was first cut at his Port Ludlow mill and that he then “sent the pieces up here and merely put them together.”
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During his visit to the “oldest home” in 1918, the unnamed Times reporter was pleased to note that for a rental of $12.50 a month it “houses a force of industrious Italians who turn out plaster of paris reproductions of the famous art works of their native land.”
Anything to add, Paul? Surely Jean. First congratulations to MOHAI with the opening of its newly fitted home in the old Naval Armory at the south end of Lake Union. As you know while we attended the new MOHAI for the opening arranged for members, a winter sunset broke through the clouds in the west and bathed the south Lake Union campus in a most auspicious golden light. Here’s a merge of six snaps, and thanks to Ron Edge for fitting the pieces together. [Click it TWICE to enlarge]
And praise be to thee Jean and your part in the array of new exhibits. Here’s a snap of you in front of the montage of “repeats” you did covering the curators chosen collection of historic – what else? – Seattle Theatres. Visitors will find it and film clips galore on the first mezzanine.
As is our practice by now, we will add a few more features from the neighborhood, but first introduce them with a few aerials of the neighborhood. Most – maybe all – come courtesy of Ron Edge.
COLUMBIA STREET West from Second Avenue
(First appeared in Pacific, May 15, 1983)
The Great Fire of 1889 encouraged the city to rebuild bigger and in brick. But its first response was a huge hotel which was constructed quick and cheap, and entirely of wood. The Rainier was ready for occupancy only 80 days after the first lumber was unloaded at the building site. This effort was the kind of manic community labor we associate with instant barn raisings. The result was the somewhat barn-like fortress we see filling the center horizon of our historical scene and the entire block between Columbia and Marion Streets, and Fifth and Sixth Avenues.
While flattening the city’s business district, the June 6 fire also consumed most of its halls and hotels. The thousands of “floating strangers” who began flooding these “ashes of opportunity” to help rebuild the city and themselves often had to sleep in tents or under trees. Since the grand brick hotels of the 1890s, including the Denny, Seattle, and Butler, took time to build, the Rainier was put up in a flash by a collection of the “moneymen of Seattle” led by Judge “He Built Seattle” Thomas Burke. The Seattle Press-Times reported that “its construction was made possible by public spirited capitalists stepping forward regardless of whether it would be a paying institution or not.” It wasn’t.
In its five years as a showy hotel with a breezy view of the bay from a wrap-around veranda, the Rainier lost $100,000. The Great Crash of 1893 had its sad effect. On August 16, 1894 the Press-Times reported “In all probability the handsome Rainier Hotel will be closed in the near future . . . What will be done with the Rainier Building is not known.” The gold rush of 1897 came too late to save the Rainier. Then the miners, coming and going, dropped their tired bodies into the beds of hotels down by the waterfront. These included the Rainier Grand Hotel at First and Madison, whose furnishings – included – were moved in from the abandoned and bankrupt Rainier up on the hill.
The scene (on top) was photographed not in the hard times of 1893-94 but in 1891-92: good times still for both the Rainier and the Seattle-Press Times. The newspaper was published in its offices at 214 Columbia Street, mid-block between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. (The top of the newspaper’s sign can be seen at the lower left-hand corner of the photograph.)
Arthur Churchill Warner took this photograph, which includes other landmarks as well. The James Colman mansion survived at the southeast corner of Fourth and Columbia for the 55 years between 1883 and 1939. Its boxish cupola just barely breaks the horizon line on the far right. (There’s more on the Colman home below.)
Another tower is seen just above and to the left of the Colmans. Standing six stories at the corner of Ninth and Columbia, Coppin’s Water Works supported a holding tank for water drawn by an adjoining windmill from springs beneath Charles Coppin’s combined home and business. Throughout the 1880s his water works supplied users down the hill, the Colman’s included. The water was delivered through bored logs, some of which were uncovered during the early 1960s excavation of Interstate-5.
Eisenhower’s Seattle Freeway also cut through the site which for 59 years supported the brick towers of Central School. Kitty-corner across Sixth and Marion from the Rainier, the school was also completed in 1889. However, it was made of brick, more than two million of them. Central School was Seattle’s only high school until 1902 when Broadway High was built “way out on Capitol Hill.” The Central’s weakened towers were prudently razed after the 1949 earthquake. The rest of the main building was leveled in 1953. Alumni – or by now their children – still display their souvenir bricks atop fireplace mantels.
The Warner photograph is dappled with many other lesser landmarks. The Eureka Bakery, just left of center, was for years run by the pioneer Meydenbauer family. They are remembered by their namesake bay on Lake Washington and their creek which runs under Bellevue. Today, the Meydenbauer property on Columbia Street is filled by the old Central Building. Kitty-corner across Third Avenue, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce occupies the spot that in 1892 housed Bonney and Watson, the city’s oldest mortuary.
The Rainier Hotel was converted into apartments and survived until 1910. In 1896 the Seattle Press-Times became the Seattle Times and has – still as of this re-writing – survived.
The RAINIER CLUB
(First appeared in Pacific, April 17, 1988)
In 1988 the Rainier Club celebrated its own centennial, one year before the state’s. Appropriately, it memorialized its century with a book history of the club. The author, Walter Crowley, concludes ” … as the wheel turns and future generations regard this curious mansion nestled at the feet of skyscrapers, the Rainier Club will still serve as a reminder of the remarkable individuals who shaped Seattle out of forests and mudflats . . .”It was only in 1986 that this “curious mansion” was officially recognized for what it has been since it was first constructed in 1904: a historical landmark. Wishing to keep its options, the club itself resisted the description for a time because the landmark designation restricts a structure’s future to those that preserve its historical integrity.
However, Seattle’s central business district would surely be more severe than it already is, were it not for the gracious relief of this well-wrought clubhouse. Modeled after the English example, this men’s club held its first meeting on Feb.23, 1888. The next day’s Seattle Daily Press reported that “the object of the club is like that of a hundred other kindred bands scattered over the face of the civilized world, the pursuit of pleasure among congenial conductors.” These convivial male circuits were lubricated by coffee, “freshened” with tobacco, and, no doubt, loosened some by spirits – very good spirits.
Of course, the Rainier is no longer a men ‘ s club. In 1977 the club’s bylaws were amended to admit women, and by 1988, as Crowley’s history records, over 40 of the 1200 resident members were women. The former entrance for women “guests” shows on the left of the historical photograph at the rear of the Marion Street side of the club.
This top view of the club (their third home) looks across Fourth Avenue and dates from about 1909 or soon after the 1908 regrading of Fourth Avenue. Of the Rainier Club’s Jacobean style, the work of Spokane-based architect Kirtland K. Cutter, Crowley notes, “However antiquated the Club was designed to appear on the outside, the trustees spared no expense for modem luxuries on the inside, including telephones in every room.” The club’s style was preserved when its size was nearly doubled in 1929 with the south extension, the work of Seattle architects Charles Bebb and Carl Gould.
Within these landmark walls many a landmark project has been planned, including Metro, Forward Thrust and both of Seattle’s world’s fairs – the 1909 Alaska Yukon and Pacific Exposition and the 1962 Century 2l. This meritocracy of, in the beginning, men included familiar names like Thomas Burke, Horace McCurdy, William Allen, Clarence Blethen, Emil Sick and Ed Carlson.
Crowley quotes Carlson, “It used to be that if you had an important civic or political issue, you could get 25 or so people in a room at the Rainier Club and get a go or no-go decision.” Walter Crowley adds, “Those days are gone, for the leadership of Seattle has not merely shifted, it has fragmented, and with it the consensus from which the community’s establishment drew its tacit authority.”
The MEYDENBAUER HOME – 3rd & Columbia
(First appeared in Pacific, Feb. 1, 1987)
Before the rapid redevelopment of Third Avenue following its regrade of 1906-7, its sides were graced with old homes and churches. One home – the one shown here – belonged to William Meydenbauer, the town confectioner.
Meydenbauer was 18 when he headed for the United States in 1850 after an apprenticeship with a candy maker in Prussia. He made his way to San Francisco bu 1854, where after a nearly ruinous try at gold mining, and a short experiment with teamstering, he returned to the small but sweet rewards of confections.
The Meydenbauers, William and Thelka, moved to the Northwest in 1868 when Seattle had less than 1,000 cash-poor residents expecting growth for their 16-year-old village, but mostly waiting for it. Those post-civil-war years were sour, so the confectioner was welcome. The candy man built a home on Third Avenue at Columbia Street around 1880. Before that there may have been a crude shack on the property but little else. At the time, Seattle’s idea of refreshments for fancy public receptions was sliced apples and gingerbread.
The Meydenbauers bought the Eureka Bakery on Commercial Street (now
First Avenue South) and soon added to the town’s sweet offerings with a selection of well-dressed candies and sweets, including celebrated Yule cakes. Soon enough they and the town prospered and in the mid-188Os, the couple moved their business into a bigger bakery they had built behind the family home. The rear of that plant is pictured behind the tree and to the left of their home in this week’s “Then” photo.
By employing several helping hands and running two delivery wagons, Meydenbauer was efficient enough to sell wholesale. No doubt it helped that they raised eight children. A son, Albert, continued in his father’s profession after the latter’s death in 19O6. After the 1007 regrading of Third Avenue, the Meydenbauer home, and much else on the block, was replaced by the Central Building, which is still , standing.
Long since this family is not remembered for its sweets but rather its waterway. In 1868 Meydenbauer rowed across Lake Washington and set a claim beside the Bellevue bay which still bears the family name.
The FOUR FORMS of FOURTH
(First appeared in Pacific, May 8, 1983)
Every few decades with the help of earthquakes, fires, nervous engineers, and metropolitan dreamers, west coast cities like San Francisco, Vancouver, and Seattle are “made over.” Seattle’s Fourth Avenue – the one in its Central Business District – has had four transformations.
Our historical photograph shows it passing into its third form, as Fourth Avenue is losing its residential emphasis. The sides of the street are being furnished with institutions, like the Carnegie Library and Rainier Club in the scene’s center, and hotels, like the Stander and Lincoln on the left. This avenue have become Seattle’s deepest urban canyon with its sides of glass and polished metal.
The historical photograph was taken about 1905 by Arthur Warner a short time after the library, club, and hotels were built. By then the street had already lived through its first two forms. In the early 1860s Fourth Avenue was cut out of the virgin forest, some of which returned from Yes1er’s mill as planks for building the few modest homes that soon irregularly lined the sides of this stump-strewn path. Fourth ran from the tideflats on the south to as far north as Denny’s Knoll (not Hill) as Seneca Street. There it stopped at a white picket fence – a small swinging gate counterbalanced by horseshoes opened to the grounds of Washington Territory’s university, for years the city’s and Fourth Avenue’s most distinguished landmark.
Fourth Avenue’s second form was also residential, but with more lavish homes that faced a street which although unpaved was given a regular width, curbed against sidewalks, lined with utility poles, and lit at the intersections. The duplex on the right of the view above counts as one of these classier second-stage residences. The tower behind it is attached to one of this street’s distinguished mansions, the home of pioneers Agnes and James Colman. Like the McNaught mansion, whose tower is seen in the distance beyond the library, the Colmans’ spacious Latinate-Victorian showpiece was built in 1883 and remained through the turn of the century, a symbol of Fourth Avenue’s domestic elegance.
Already on entering their third decade these grand homes became vestiges of an earlier urbanity. In 1903 the imposing McNaught mansion was moved across Spring Street to make room for the Carnegie Library. And in 1907-08 a metamorphosis occurred to the street itself which dramatically fashioned it into its third form. The Fourth Avenue regrade resulted in some casualties and many alterations. Denny’s Knoll was cut through and the old landmark university first moved and then leveled. Practically every structure along the new grade required either new steps to the old front doors, as with the library, or new front doors into their old basements, as with the hotels.
The city engineer’s longing to make “the crooked straight and the rough places plane” resulted in some very deep cuts. For instance, a contemporary photograph at Cherry Street (We truly have more than one but cannot at this alarming moment find them.) would be taken some two stories below Arthur Warner’s location in the historical view. The 4th Ave. cut at this intersection was 24 feet. By 1911 a bricked-over avenue showed the same unruffled grade that made it the preferred course for the bed races of the 1970s.
Agnes Colman continued to live in her towering home until her death in 1934. By then her mansion, the last sign of the elegant eighties and alternately depressed and roaring nineties, was thoroughly surrounded by retailers and restaurants. Today that era of conservative cosmopolitan taste is recalled only by the Rainier Club, the single structure which survives from the “then.” The five-story Rainier Club houses 57,000 square feet of plush sitting rooms, coat-and-tie dining rooms, and other elite areas only its restricted membership – and their guests - know.
When the Columbia Center was completed as the crowning touch to Fourth Avenue’s fourth form, it filled the old Colman mansion site with more than a million and and a half square feet of office space stacked 76 stories high. In some future decade or century when the Columbia Center’s 954 feet are dismantled – or imploded – by God, man, or nature, Fourth Avenue Will be passing into its fifth form.
THE HOTEL STANDER
(First appeared in Pacific, May 29, 2001)
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Photographed when the building was new, the Hotel Pennington Apartments facing Marion Street west of 4th Avenue promoted itself as “a home away from home. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey) Little – if anything? – has changed on the south side of Marion Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues in the about 80 years between this “now and then.” [I have a feeling that we included this feature with an earlier assembly of past essays.]
A LANDMARK ROW
(First appeared in Pacific, Nov. 29, 2006)
Set aside for the moment the looming skyscrapers and note how little has changed between this “then” and “now.” For ambitious Seattle this is rare, especially outside the city’s designated historic districts, like Pioneer Square.
The centerpiece here is the Pacific hotel, facing Marion Street between the alley and east to 4th Avenue. The work of architect W. R. B. Willcox, it was completed in 1916 – or may have been. Both the county tax records and U.W. architect Norman J. Johnston’s chapter on Willcox in the UW Press’ ever revealing book “Shaping Seattle Architecture” give the 1916 date.
However, in the 1918 Polk City Directory a full-page advertisement (facing Page 2004) for the “Hotel Pennington Apartments” as it was then called, includes an etching of the same front façade seen here but with the terra cotta tile work of the right (south) half continued to the corner of 4th Avenue as one consistent presentation. Was the less ornate half of mostly burlap bricks at the corner a late compromise for time and/or economy? Or was the “half-truth” of the elegant etching too appealing to either correct or leave out of the advertisement?
The other surviving landmarks here include, far right, a corner of the Central Building (1907) and far left, the familiar Jacobean grace of the Rainier Club (1904) across 4th Avenue. And above the club is the current celebrity among landmarks – or the dome of it: the First Methodist Church at 5th and Marion (1907) which now seems saved for its second century.
When the non-profit Plymouth group purchased the Pacific Hotel – its name since the 1930s – for low-income housing it took care to preserve the building’s heritage and in 1996 was awarded the state’s Annual Award for Outstanding Achievement in Historic Rehabilitation. Tom English, Plymouth’s facilities director, is fond of revealing that although hidden from Marion Street the hotel is U-shaped, and so embraces its own “beautifully landscaped courtyard and Kol-Pond.” The 1918 advertisement also makes note of it as the hotel’s “spacious court garden.”
(First appeared in Pacific, August,28, 1994)
In 1915 a photographer from the Curtis and Miller studio recorded this view of the nearly new Oakland Inn from a rear window of the Central Building at Third and Marion. The scene may have been shot speculatively or at the request of the Oakland’s owners. Whichever, as seen from this prospect the Oakland appears as a platform or stage for the performance of the ornate Colman mansion. Agnes and James Colman built their Italianate Victorian home in 1883. They moved in soon after returning from a tour of Europe. This long vacation was the reward for years of prodigious pioneer labor. By then, the Colmans had created sawmills, machine shops, railroads, sailing vessels, coal mines and many buildings, including their stylish new mansion. The Colmans themselves, however, were never very stylish. When they returned, James Colman went back to work. As their granddaughter Isobel would recall, the Colmans were “never a society family. My father was too busy to become involved in leisure life.”
James Colman died in 1906. Five years later the wide front lawn in front of the family home was excavated for the Oakland Inn. Its sidewalk businesses here include, right to left, Imperial Coffee; Benjamin Rosenthal, tailor; the Cash Grocery (vacant); and, at the comer, the offices of the Pyreen Manufacturing Company. The entrance to the Oakland Inn was up Columbia Street.
Agnes Colman lived in her mansion behind the Oakland until 1936. As an elderly woman -she lived to be 94 – Agnes would come down from her home to hand out meal tickets to the audience of homeless or out-of-work indigents waiting for her on Fourth Avenue. There were, of course, many drunks among them and all were first required to listen to her familiar brief lecture on temperance.
Two more scenes from HISTORYLINK’S 2008 fund raiser lunch at the Rainier Club. I recently had lunch with a precocious social media programmer who suggested that for the entertainment of this blog’s readers we should offer some prizes. He mentioned leaving “blanks to be filled.” So be it. The first two readers who can identify the characters depicted in these two snaps will win . . . something. “We will make it worth your while.” Jean especially is a fine gift-giver.