THE MCGILVRA ESTATE
(First published in Pacific, March 4, 1990)
In 1867 John and Elizabeth McGilvra moved into the first ome on the Seattle shore of Lake Washiongton. Six years earlier, John had been appointed the first United States attorney to Washington Territory. His friend Abraham Lincoln had given him the job and McGilvra responded by trekking the entire territory twice a year as both federal judge and attorney. It was an exhausting task for which McGilvra did not seek reappointment, In 1864, the McGilvras moved to Seattle and, once John had completed a wagon road to the their 450 lake shore acres, they moved in.
This, apparently, is the oldest surviving view of the McGilvra home. It was photographed around 1880, or about the time the McGilvras began running a sonce-a-day round-trip stage coach to Seattle. Most of their paying passengers were persons who had settle somewhere on or near the lake, man of them on the east side. Throughout the 1880s the McGilvra dock was the busiest on the lake.
The wagon road and the daily stage were abandoned in 1890 with the completion of the Madison Streete Cable Railway, an enterprise in which the McGilvras made a sizeable investment and which included Madison Park, the grounds for many amusements. Beisdes a large dance pavilion, lakeside bandstands and boathouse, exotic gardens and promenades, the park included a baseball diamond, and after 1890 connection with the city’s growing system of bike paths.
In the summers Elizabeth and John’s acres became the site of a tent city raised on platforms provided by the McGilvras. The couple also allowed the construction of cottages, but not houses, on their land. It was a peculiar arrangement: the builders were not sold the land but were required to pay a yearly tithe. One local newspaper of the time described the McGilvras’ development as “perhaps the only feudal estate in the U.S.” This arrangement held until the 1920s, long after John McGilvra’s death in 1903.
MADISON STREET CABLE, ca. 1891
(First appeared in Pacific, Feb. 9, 1992)
Judge John J. McGilvra, the pioneer who laid out the line of Madison Street, wanted to get to his homestead on Lake Washington the quickest way possible. So after climbing First Hill and crossing Broadway, Madison street continues on its own way cutting through the city grid. East of First Hill Madison Street was “first,” and the developing of the grid on Second Hill and beyond it to Lake Washington followed. McGilvra’s short-cut negotiated the city’s ups and downs with considerable ease, and, of course, still does. Beginning in 1890, these gradual grades helped considerably in the construction of a cable railway the entire length of Madison from salt water to fresh.
In the early 1890s passengers enroute to the excitements of McGilvra’s many lakefront attractions, after first passing though still largely forested acres, dropped into the scene recorded here: grounds cleared primarily for the enterprises of leisure. The view at the top looks along Madison Street from near its present intersection with Galer Street. The Madison Park Pavilion, left of center, and the ball park – the bleachers show on the far left – were the cable company’s two largest enclosed venues. But the beach itself was an equal attraction with floating bandstands and stages for musicals, farces, and melodramas in which the villains might end up in the lake.
McGilvra’s fiefdom – he would only lease lots, not sell them – and the railway’s end-of-the line attractions also featured dance floors, bath houses, canoe rentals, restaurants, promenades, a greenhouse filled with exotic plants and a dock from which the “Mosquito Fleet” steamed to all habitable point on Lake Washington.
A NEIGHBORHOOD ECCENTRIC
(First appeared in Pacific, Feb. 20, 2005)
It is pleasure to have stumbled upon another neighborhood eccentric. This one appears on page 99 of “Madison Park Remembered,” the new (in 2005) and good natured history of this neighborhood by one of it residents, Jane Powell Thomas. The author’s grandparents move to Madison Park in 1900. In her turn Thomas raised three children in the neighborhood and dedicated her history of it to her seven grandchildren. (The historical photo is used courtesy of the Washington State Archive – Puget Sound Regional Branch.)
Much of the author’s narrative is built on the reminiscences of her neighbors. For instance, George Powell is quoted as recalling that the popular name for this dye works when it still showed its turrets was the “Katzenjammer Castle.” Seattle’s city hall between 1890 and 1909 was also named for the fanciful structures in the popular comic strip “The Katzenjammer Kids,” and George Wiseman, the Castle Dye Works proprietor in 1938 (when this tax photo of it was recorded) certainly also traded on this association.
The vitality of this business district was then still tied to the Kirkland Ferry. Wiseman’s castle introduced the last full block before the ferry dock. Besides his castle there was a drug store, two bakeries, a thrift store, a meat market, two restaurants, a tavern, a gas station, a combined barber and beauty shop, and a Safeway. And all of them were on Wiseman’s side of the street for across Madison was, and still is, the park itself.
Studying local history is an often serendipitous undertaking charmed by surprises like Dorothy P. Frick’s photo album filled with her candid snapshots of district regulars and merchants standing besides their storefronts in the 1960s. Introduced to this visual catalogue of neighborhood characters by Lola McKee, the “Mayor of Madison Park” and long-time manager of Madison Park Hardware, Thomas has made good use of Frick’s photos.
“Madison Park Remembered” is now (in 2005) in its second printing, and although it can be found almost anywhere, Jane Thomas was recently told that her book had set a record by outselling Harry Potter — at Madison Park Books.
MADISON PARK PAVILION
(First appeared in Pacific, Dec. 19, 2004)
Like Leschi Park, Madison Park was developed as an attraction at the end of a cable railway line. Both featured exotic landscapes, waterside promenades, gazebos, greenhouses, refreshment stands, garden-lined paths, bandstands, and boat rentals, even lodging. Leschi’s early novelty was its zoo. Madison Park’s was the baseball diamond. (The roof of the bleachers can be seen on the far left of the historical scene.)
Both parks featured monumental-sized pavilions with towers on top and great ballrooms within. The theatre-sized room in this landmark could also seat 1400 for melodramas, minstrel shows, musicals, farce, vaudeville and legitimate theatre. For many years members the ever-dwindling mass of the Pioneer Association chose the Madison Park Pavilion for their annual meetings and posed for group portraits on the front steps.
Here the grand eastern face of the pavilion looks out at Lake Washington. The pleasurable variety of its lines with gables, towers, porticos and the symmetrically placed and exposed stairways to its high central tower surely got the attention of those approaching it from the Lake. (For many years beginning about 1880 Madison Park was the busiest port on Lake Washington.)
However, most visitors came from the city and the real crush was on the weekends for ballgames, dances, band concerts (most often with Dad Wagner’s Band), theatre, and moonlit serenading on the lake — ideally with a mandolin and receptive ingénue looking for pointers on how to navigate a rented canoe.
The Pavilion stood for a quarter century until destroyed by fire on March 25, 1914. The attentive eye may note how the Seattle Park Departments playground equipment at Madison Park repeat the lines of the grand central tower of the Madison Park Pavilion. (Historical photos courtesy of Lawton Gowey and Larry Hoffman)