Seattle Now & Then: The First Fire Department HQ

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Constructed in 1890 as the Seattle Fire Department’s first headquarters, these substantial four floors (counting the daylight basement) survived until replaced by Interstate Five in the 1960s.  (photo by Frank Shaw)
THEN: Constructed in 1890 as the Seattle Fire Department’s first headquarters, these substantial four floors (counting the daylight basement) survived until replaced by Interstate Five in the 1960s. (photo by Frank Shaw)
NOW: To reach a proper “now” required Jean Sherrard to cross traffic and explore the underbelly of the Seattle Freeway.  Columbia Street does not make it through the freeway.
NOW: To reach a proper “now” required Jean Sherrard to cross traffic and explore the underbelly of the Seattle Freeway. Columbia Street does not make it through the freeway.

For this Sunday and following it for two more, Jean and I will lean on the substantial record of Frank Shaw, the Boeing retiree who as an itinerate photographer armed with his Hasselblad sensitively helped document this city from the 1950s into the mid-80s.  Many of his thousands of contributions are of landmarks, like this eleventh hour study of what began as the first “permanent” headquarters for Seattle’s first professional fire department.  Well, not so permanent. In 1903 a new headquarters was opened at 3rd Ave. S. and Main Street

The top-most timbered part of the station's tower shows at the very top of this early look.  And here the grade on Columbia Street is still level or nearly so.
The top-most timbered part of the station’s tower shows at the very top of this early look. And here the grade on Columbia Street is still level or nearly so.

In the first year following Seattle’s “Great Fire of June 6, 1889” the city built five fire stations.  Four were built of lumber for economy, all with impressive towers for drying hoses, bell ringing, watching the city and being watched by it.  One of the five – this one at the southwest corner of Columbia Street and Seventh Ave. – was faced mostly with brick and stone by its architects, Saunders and Houghton. At a cost of $20,000, it was the fire department’s architectural plumb for that year’s bidding.

A. Wilse's late 1890s look southeast across Columbia Street.
A. Wilse’s late 1890s look southeast across Columbia Street.

It may be thought that housing a horse-drawn service on the side of a hill was dim. Not so. This first station needed to reach both the city’s business district below it and Seattle’s first neighborhood of fine (expensive) homes further up First Hill.  When the arched brick bays facing Columbia Street were first opened for fire fighting on Nov. 1, 1890 they faced a grade that was manageable.  North of James Street the block between 6th and 7th Avenues was generally relaxed.  For instance, one block south of the station at Cherry Street, Seventh even slumped – lost altitude – going east.

Another detail from the 1950 aerial shared by Ron Edge, this time for finding the fire station.
Another detail from the 1950 aerial shared by Ron Edge, this time for finding the fire station.

Although for fighting fires the station was closed for good in July of 1937, it continued to perform a variety of public services thereafter including, as the sign on its east (left) façade in Frank Shaw’s recording indicates, headquarters for Seattle Civil Defense.  For instance, scheduled here for the evening of June 6, 1951 was a

A Seattle Times clipping from June 13, 1951 invites citizens to a free showing of films instructive in how to survive an atomic attack in, we presume, the Central Business District.
A Seattle Times clipping from June 13, 1951 invites citizens to a free showing of films instructive in how to survive an atomic attack in, we presume, the Central Business District.
More instruction on what we need in the summer of 1951,
More instruction on what we were told we needed in the summer of 1951.  (From grade school I remember “Duck and Cover.”)

“special showing of four films on protection against the atomic bomb.”  Almost certainly the sensitive Shaw was drawn to this corner ten years later on March 4, 1961 not for civil defense but for a farewell with some lamentation.  Frank Shaw loved this building, and made this splendid record of it months before its majestic brick pile was razed for the freeway.

WEB EXTRAS

Our server went down overnight, preventing us from getting this post up until this Sunday morning. While we await Paul’s elaborations, let me post a few shots taken near the same location.

Another possible perspective of the firehouse, blocked by a freeway wall
Another possible perspective of the firehouse, blocked by a freeway wall
Looking west at the homeless encampment under the freeway
Looking west at the homeless encampment under the freeway
Looking east, back towards last week's 'then', the Zindorf Apartments. The homeless encampment has, over the last few days, been dismantled. Access is now restricted by a chain link fence.
Looking east, back towards last week’s ‘then’, the Zindorf Apartments. The homeless encampment has, over the last few days, been dismantled. Access is now restricted by a chain link fence.

‘Tis to ask at this late hour, anything to add, Paul?
Surely Jean.  We shall fasten a few related features and more.  The server has, you know by now, revived.  Hopefully the homeless, dispossessed of their handy “covered parking” beneath the freeway will find a warm revival in another otherwise free corner of this district.

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2. Fire-station-on-Columbia-1880s-used-in-Pac-WEB

STATION NUMBER ONE

(First appeared in Pacific January 5, 1992)

                The fancy brick façade of Seattle’s first dedicated Engine house faced Columbia Street west of Second Avenue.  It was built in 1883 to house the fire department’s Washington No.1 – most likely the steam fire engine posed here with its crew.

The front facade of the fire station on Columbia appears near the center of this look south into Seattle's oldest neighborhood from the roof of the Frye Opera House at Front (First Ave) and Marion Street, ca. 1886.  The ornate Occidental Hotel appears far right, and Beacon Hill, much of it still forested, on the horizon.
The front facade of the fire station on Columbia appears near the center of this look south into Seattle’s oldest neighborhood from the roof of the Frye Opera House at Front (First Ave) and Marion Street, ca. 1886. The ornate Occidental Hotel appears far right (now home of the Sinking Ship Garage), and Beacon Hill, much of it still forested, brushes the horizon.

                Earlier, the department’s other engine, the smaller man-powered Washington No. 2, was also housed here – in a bar.  In the summer of 1882, when No. 2 attempted to answer an alarm on the waterfront – without horses – the weight of the rig dragged the men holding its pole down Columbia Street and into the bay.  Fortunately, both the firemen and the fire engine were pulled from the water with little injury.

2. Columbia-Street-Fire-Station-'Rebuilt-in-1888'-WEB

                By the time of the city’s “Great Fire of June 6, 1889”, the Seattle Fire Department had a half-dozen pieces of apparatus, but only one, No. 1 on Columba Street, was horse-drawn.  The ornate brick station that No. 1 left on the afternoon of June 5 to fight the Great Fire would not welcome it home.  Some thirty city blocks were destroyed that night, including this one and all those south of Spring Street and west of Second Avenue.

Pity the poor birdseye artist and his agent who prepared this detailed sketch of the Seattle existing before the Great Fire of June 6, 1889, only to have the most detailed and closet part of it all - the Central Business District - be razed to smoldering ruins, which the artist, perhaps in an effort to salvage some of his efforts represent with a cloud of smoke circling the burned district - about 30 blocks of it - like a soiled nimbus.  We have marked the fire stations position on Columbia Street with a red dot.
Pity the poor birdseye artist and his or her agent who prepared this detailed sketch of the Seattle existing before the Great Fire of June 6, 1889, only to have the most rendered part of it all – the Central Business District – be razed to smoldering ruins, which the artist, perhaps in an effort to salvage some of her/his efforts, represents with a rope of smoke fencing the burned district – about 30 blocks of it – like a shred from broken and soiled nimbus. We have marked the fire station’s position on Columbia Street with a red dot. [CLICK to Enlarge]
The Seattle Rifles, protecting the ruin property, stand on guard at the northeast corner of Columbia St. and Front or First Avenue.  Had it survived the first, the rear of the station would appear on the far left.  Note near the subject's center the tower of the Yesler Mansion on 3rd at Jefferson.
The Seattle Rifles, protecting ruined property, stand on guard at the northeast corner of Columbia St. and Front or First Avenue. Had it survived the fire, the rear of the fire station would appear on the far left. Note near the subject’s center the tower of the Yesler Mansion on 3rd at Jefferson.
Columbia Street, on the right, heads west to Front Street (First Ave.) and what remains of Seattle's brick show strip in the late 1880s.  The ruins of the fire station on the south side of Columbia have been cleared - it seems - and work on a temporary platform for the raising of a business tent shows bottom-right.  (Courtesy Michael Maslan)
Columbia Street, on the right, heads west to Front Street (First Ave.) and the monolith ruins of what remains of Seattle’s brick show strip in the late 1880s. The ruins of the fire station on the south side of Columbia have been cleared – it seems – and work on a platform for the raising of a temporary business tent shows bottom-right in this view looking west from the east side of Second Avenue. (Courtesy Michael Maslan)
One half of a Peterson & Bros stereo card of the waterfront at the foot of Columbia Street recorded from the dogleg end of Yesler's Wharf.   The Elephant Store, at the southeast corner of Columbia and Front (First) stand in front of the future site of the first fire station.  Curiously, even here in 18978 there is a tower showing its head behind the store.  Curious.  The clump of trees on the horizon is near 7th/8th Avenue.  Soon we may have this estimate refined as we (Rod Edge, Greg Lange and I) are now studying the deforestation of First Hill, but not quite yet.
One half of a Peterson & Bros stereo card of the waterfront at the foot of Columbia Street recorded from the dogleg end of Yesler’s Wharf. The Elephant Store, at the southeast corner of Columbia and Front (First) stands in front of the future site of the first fire station. Curiously, even here in 1878 there is a tower showing its head behind the store. Yes curious. The clump of trees on the horizon is near 7th/8th Avenue. Soon we may have this estimate refined as we (Rod Edge, Greg Lange and I) are now studying the deforestation of First Hill, but not quite yet.   (Courtesy Ron Edge)
Another of either Robert Bradley or Horace Sykes slides taken from the Alaska Way Viaduct when it was open to strolling photographers before the motorcars.  While not directly above the former site of the dogleg in Yesler's Wharf it was and is close.  Here the look up Columbia surely includes some small touch (the red of bricks) of the first station at Seventh Avenue.
Another of either Robert Bradley or Horace Sykes slides taken from the Alaska Way Viaduct when it was briefly opened to strolling photographers in 1953 before the motorcars. While not directly above the former site of the dogleg in Yesler’s Wharf (see above) it is close. Here the look up Columbia surely includes some small touch (the red of bricks) of the fire station at Seventh Avenue.

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Churchill Warner's look east on Columbia from Second Avenue to a First Hill horizon.
Arthur Churchill Warner’s look east on Columbia from Second Avenue to a First Hill horizon.
Appeared early (for this feature) in Pacific on May 15, 1983.
The above appeared early (for this feature) in Pacific on May 15, 1983.
The intersection of Third Ave. and Columbia Street is bottom-center. In the place of the Rainier Hotel, the block has been graded with a plateau, of sorts - above the center of the subject.
The intersection of Third Ave. and Columbia Street is bottom-center.  Above the center of this subject, the former block of the Rainier Hotel,  bounded by Columbia, Marion Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues,  has been graded with a plateau, of sorts.
Much of the same neighborhood, this time from the nearly new Smith Tower, ca. 1914.  The terrace block that once held the Rainier Hotel is just left-of-center.
Much of the same neighborhood, this time from the new Smith Tower, ca. 1914. The terraced block that once held the Rainier Hotel is left-of-center.   The fire station tower can be found.
Lawton Gowey's capture of First Hill in its last weeks before construction on the Seattle Freeway here.  The fire station and its tower is still around.
Lawton Gowey’s capture of First Hill in its last weeks before construction on the Seattle Freeway thru the neighborhood. The fire station and its tower are still around.  The terraced block that once held the Rainier Hotel has by the time of this June21, 1961 record been entirely committed to parking with one attending service station.  The grass-covered northeast corner of Columbia Street and Fourth Avenue has not yet been paved for a small VIP parking lot connected to the Rainier Club.  (This corner is treated with one of the “Edge Links” put up near the bottom of this production.)  .
Central School, on the right, and the Rainier Hotel, on the left, photographed during an unidentified snow from the 1890s.  The photographer stood on 8th Ave. south of Columbia Street.   Had the camera been turned a few degrees to the left, it would have included some of the Fire Dept. Headquarters.
Central School, on the right, and the Rainier Hotel, on the left, photographed during an unidentified snow from the 1890s. The photographer stood on 8th Ave., south of Columbia Street. Had the camera been turned a few degrees to the left, the subject would have included some of the Fire Dept. Headquarters.
Central School looking south from 7th and Madison.  The stand alone smaller school structure on the left, survived the razing of the towered school.  We have two late looks at it below by Frank Shaw.
Central School looking south from 7th and Madison. The stand alone smaller school structure on the left, survived the razing of the towered school. We have two late looks at it by Frank Shaw directly below.
What is left of the Central School campus as of March 30, 1962.  Photographed by Frank Shaw.
What is left of the Central School campus as of March 30, 1962.  The prospect looks northwest from the corner of 7th and Marion. Photographed by Frank Shaw.
The remains from the other side - looking east up Marion Street with the north tower of St. James showing, far left.
The remains from the other side – looking east up Marion Street with the north tower of St. James showing, far left.
Frank Shaw has captioned this "Fire Station rear, Dec. 6, 1962, from 620 Cherry Street."
Frank Shaw has captioned this “Fire Station rear, Dec. 6, 1962, from 620 Cherry Street.”
Another of Frank Shaw's freeway coverage.  This from Jan. 1, 1963 looking north from Jefferson Street.
Another of Frank Shaw’s freeway coverage. This from Jan. 1, 1963 looking north from Jefferson Street.  The fire station ruins-in-progress show far right.
Frank Shaw's advancing concrete recorded on August 15, 1964, looking north from near 7th and Jefferson.
Frank Shaw’s advancing concrete recorded on August 15, 1964, looking north from near 7th near Jefferson.

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5. Freeway-Park-7_4_76-THEN-mrWEB

ABOVE: In the thirty two years between Frank Shaw’s dedication picture and Jean Sherrard’s dance scene, Freeway park has gained in verdure what it has lost in human use. (Photo by Frank Shaw courtesy of his nephew, Mike Veitenhans.) BELOW: Weekly summer dances are one of the many joyful strategies for returning people to the park.  (photo by Jean Sherrard)

5. Freeway-park-3-NOW-WEB

FREEWAY PARK REVIVAL

(First appeared in Pacific, Sept. 28, 2008)

           By the evidence of his negatives Frank Shaw loved to explore the city from his lower Queen Anne apartment, carrying his Hasselblad camera and economically planning the views he recorded so that he did not waste film — (a discipline that was abandoned by the rest of us with the introduction of the digital camera.)  Shaw especially liked the waterfront, Pioneer Square, parks of all sorts, including Seattle Center, and if there was an important event connected with them, a record of it has a chance of being included in his meticulously organized binders.

           Just so, on July 4, 1976, Shaw entered Freeway Park from its southwest corner off Seneca Street during the park’s bi-centennial dedication.  Carefully, he exposed two negatives. As revealed in Shaw’s record, the architectural clarity of the landscape, in spite of the dedication day crowd, might startle readers who are familiar with the woodsy commotion that has since, perhaps, overdosed this freeway-covering retreat.  From Shaw’s prospect, Jean Sherrard would have been looking into branches.  Instead he moved forward about twenty yards, put his Nikon on his extension pole, and looked down on the couples, most of them “in something white,” enjoying The Ball Blanc. It was an August evening and the group KGB played selections, which Jean reviews as “marvelous subtle tangos – good good good.”

Frank Shaw, Freeway Park, 1976.
Frank Shaw, Freeway Park, 1976, above and below.

5. Freeway-Pk-waders-FS-7_76-WEB

           For about three years Freeway Park has been joined by a growing cadre of boosters: persons and institutions, like Town Hall, Horizon House, Home Street Bank, and other activists in the Freeway Park Neighborhood Association.  They want to repair the park and return to it a daily flow of people and some of the thousand of gallons of circulating water that once splashed through its waterfalls and pools. These regular free summertime “Dancing Til Dusk” dances are an important part of this revitalization, and they each begin with an hour of instruction.  The teachers, and musicians will return again next summer when the floor is again unrolled.

5. Freeway-Park-cannonballWEB

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A King County tax photo from Dec. 2, 1909, looking northwest across Columbia Street from 5th Avenue on Dec. 4, 1909.
A King County public works photo looking northwest across Columbia Street from 5th Avenue on Dec. 4, 1909.
First appeared in Pacific, Oct. 1, 1995.
First appeared in Pacific, Oct. 1, 1995.

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8. Marion-near-7th-ca-WW2-WEB

The obvious continuities between this week’s photographs, above and below, are the monumental twin towers of St. James Cathedral, upper right, at 9th and Marion and far left the unadorned rear west wall and south sidewall of the Lee Hotel that faces 8th Avenue.  Judging from the cars, the older scene dates from near the end of World War Two. The weathered two-story frame building at the scene’s center also marks time.  It was torn down in 1950 and replaced with the parking lot seen in the “now.”

Historical photo by Werner Lenggenhager, courtesy of Seattle PublicLibrary.
–>8.-Marion-Near-8th-NOW-WEB

NOSTALGIC RECORDER

(First appeared in Pacific, late 2004

 

         In 1949 architects Naramore, Bain and Brady began construction on new offices for themselves at the northeast corner of 7th Avenue and Marion Street. Their new two-story building filled the vacant lot that shows here, in part, in the foreground of the older scene. Consequently if I had returned to the precise prospect from which Werner Lenggenhager (the historical photographer) recorded his view ca. 1947 I would have faced the interior wall of an office that was likely large enough to have once held several draughting tables. Instead I went to the alley between 7th and 8th and took the “now” scene about eight feet to the left of where the little boy stands near the bottom of the older view.

         That little boy is still younger than many of us – myself included – and he helps me make a point about nostalgia. The less ancient is the historical photograph used here the more likely am I to receive responses (and corrections) from readers. Clearly for identifying photographs like the thousands that Lenggenhager recorded around Seattle there are many surviving “experts.” And more often than not they are familiar not only with his “middle-aged” subjects but also with the feelings that may hold tight to them like hosiery – Rayon hosiery.

         Swiss by birth Lenggenhager arrived in Seattle in 1939, went to work for Boeing and soon started taking his pictures. He never stopped. Several books – including two in collaboration with long-time Seattle Times reporter Lucile McDonald – resulted and honors as well like the Seattle Historical Society’s Certificate of Merit in 1959 for building a photographic record of Seattle’s past. The greater part of his collection is held at the Seattle Public Library. For a few years more at least Lenggenhager will be Seattle’s principle recorder of nostalgia.

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FREEWAY LAUNDRY

9.  6th-&-Cherry-near-it-condemned-houses-WEB

Above: The grades up First Hill from the Central Business district involved a variety of uneven dips that can scarcely be imagined since the construction of the Seattle Freeway Ditch.  If preserved these old clapboards would have been suspended several stories above Interstate Five.  (Pix courtesy Lawton Below: Jean Sherrard’s contemporary view repeats the presentation of the Harborview Hospital tower, upper-right, while looking north from the Madison Street bridge over the freeway.  Two blocks south of Jean’s prospect Columbia Street climbs First Hill.  The Skyline senior retirement condominiums are under construction, upper-left.    Most of the Lindorf apartments appear above the freeway far right.

9. Freeway-Laundry-NOW2-WEB

  

         Here is yet another unattributed, undated, and unidentified historical photograph from the neighborhood with yet very helpful clues – this time two of them.

           First is the obvious one, the tower of Harborview Hospital upper-right, which was completed in 1931.  We may compare the tower to a fingerprint, for when Jean Sherrard visited 6th Avenue, which we agreed was a likely prospect for this view of the tower, he first discovered that when he set his camera on 6th about 20 yards north of Madison Street that the basic forms in his view finder of Harborview tower and the tower in the historical photograph lined up.    But it still “seemed” that he was too far from the tower to, for instance, imagine having a conversation in normal tones with the unnamed historical photographer across – I’ll estimate – about seventy years.  Jean needed to move south.

           The second helpful clue is the sign on the wall of the frame building right of center and above the hanging wash.  It reads, “Admiral Transfer Company – Day – Night – Holiday Service.”   The address for Clyde Witherspoon’s Admiral Transfer in 1938 is 622 Columbia Street, which puts it at the northwest corner with 7th Avenue and Columbia.   Now we may move south from Jean’s original position on 6th Ave. to the alley a half block south of Marion Street and between 6th and 7th Avenues.  If Jean could have managed to make it there he would have been suspended sixty feet or so above the center of the Interstate-5 ditch.    Instead, for his second look to the tower he stood on the Madison Street overpass.

           The houses on the left are in the 800 block on Seventh Avenue.  Real estate maps show them set back some from the street.  And whose uniformly white wash is this?   Again in the 1938 city directory the laundryman Charles Cham is listed at 813 7th Avenue.  Perhaps this is part of Cham’s consignment from a neighborhood restaurant.

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EDGE LINKS

As is our happy weekly habit, here are some relevant neighborhood links found and attached by Ron Edge.

 THEN: The city's regrading forces reached Sixth Avenue and Marion Street in 1914. A municipal photographer recorded this view on June 24. Soon after, the two structures left high here were lowered to the street. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archives)

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STILL on COLUMBIA  – The BAR

Crossing the Bar, 1912
Crossing the Bar, 1912

 

 

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One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: The First Fire Department HQ”

  1. Paul, Perhaps you can help us. About 1976 photgrapher Bob Peterson had published a book of his photos entitled SEATTLE DISCOVERED. We knew Bob and his Mom & Dad quite well but know nothing about him in the past few years. Can you help us with any info you might have? Thank you. Sedge & Sally Thomson

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