Seattle Now & Then: Madison’s Lost Poplars

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Looking west on Madison Street from Seventh Avenue circa 1909.  (Courtesy, Washington State Museum, Tacoma)
THEN: Looking west on Madison Street from Seventh Avenue circa 1909. (Courtesy, Washington State Museum, Tacoma)
NOW: Aside from the Dover Apartments at 901 6th Avenue, that can be found above the trunk of the red sedan in the foreground, the skyline from the Seattle Tower on the left, to The Renaissance on the right, is new with high-rises that reach far above the frame of Jean’s repeat.
NOW: Aside from the Dover Apartments at 901 6th Avenue, that can be found above the trunk of the red sedan in the foreground, the skyline from the Seattle Tower on the left, to The Renaissance on the right, is new with high-rises that reach far above the frame of Jean’s repeat.

The Lombardy Poplars that once lined much of Madison Street from Fourth Avenue to Broadway made First Hill’s favorite arterial “the most attractive place in town.”  That is on the pioneer authority of Sophie Frye Bass, found in her delightful book of reminiscences, “Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle.” Here the photographer A. Curtis looks west-southwest, through the intersection of Madison Street and Seventh Avenue to Central School, on the left, and the Knickerbocker Hotel, on the right.  Central School opened in 1889

Looking southwest thru the same intersection of 7th Avenue and Madison Street with younger winter-leafless poplars.
Looking southwest from the same intersection of 7th Avenue and Madison Street with younger winter-leafless poplars.

with Seattle’s first high school installed on its third floor.  Sixty years later the school’s landmark towers were prudently removed after Seattle’s 1949 earthquake.

This ordinarily busy intersection is oddly vacant in the feature subject, crossed by neither motorcar nor team. However, the pavement bricks – no doubt slippery – are layered with clues.  A combined mess of auto oil, horse droppings – and what else? – marks them.

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Above and below, looking east on Madison Street from Sixth Avenue.  Rising high at the center, the Knickerbocher is nearly new in the ca. 1909 photograph above by Arthur Churchill Warner.  The poplars are long since stripped away in Lawton Gowey’s recording from June 19, 1961.  Knowing Lawton, I’d say that he was capturing a last look thru the block before it was razed for the Seattle Freeway.

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A Seattle Times clipping from Jan 5, 1963 featuring a look north from the Knickerbocher roof to the advancing work of the freeway.
A Seattle Times clipping from Jan 5, 1963 featuring a look north from the Knickerbocher roof to the advancing work of the freeway.  CLICK TO ENLARGE
The Smith Tower's prospect into the neighborhood on June 21, 1961.   At the subject's center only the long auxiliary structure along Marion Street survives, here very near the scene's center.  From there to the left and beyond some parked cars the Knickerbocher still rises.
The Smith Tower’s prospect into the neighborhood on June 21, 1961.  Near the subject’s center only the long auxiliary structure along Marion Street survives. From there to the left and beyond parked cars covering the footprint of the destroyed school, the Knickerbocker still rises.  This is another Kodachrome slide by Lawton Gowey.
From Madison Street, Frank Shaw's 1963 look thru the rubble that was contributed by the hotels, including the Knickerbocher,  along the north side of Madison Street.
From Madison Street, Frank Shaw’s 1963 look thru the rubble that was contributed by the hotels, including the Knickerbocker, along the north side of Madison Street.   Lawton again.
The third of four First Presbyterian sanctuaries, and the first one built on the east side of Seventh Avenue, between Madison and Spring streets.  Lawton Gowey recorded this on Feb. 6, 1967, the year and winter season that the Seattle Freeway was dedicated.  Gleaming west facade of the Christian Scientists (now Town Hall) at the southwest corner of 8th and Seneca, appears far left.  Behind it is the Exeter House, at the northwest corner.
The third of four First Presbyterian sanctuaries, and the first one built on the east side of Seventh Avenue, between Madison and Spring streets. Lawton Gowey recorded this on Feb. 6, 1967, the year and winter season that the Seattle Freeway was dedicated. Gleaming west facade of the Christian Scientists (now Town Hall) at the southwest corner of 8th and Seneca, appears far left. Behind it is the Exeter House, at the northwest corner.

The Knickerbocker was built in time for Seattle’s first world’s fair, the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific-Exposition, held on the UW campus. Advertised as “strictly modern,” the hotel’s ninety rooms were for the most part taken as apartments.  In 1911 weekly rents were three dollars and up.  Included among its more sensationally newsworthy residents in the half-century before the hotel was razed for the Seattle Freeway, were a forger, a three-and-one-half year old boy deserted by his parents, and a Knickerbocker manager who – it seems – murdered his wife.  And the hotel’s visitors featured more than one robber.

A dated construction scene on Presbyterian's oversized sanctuary, looking here at the front door facing the corner of 7th Ave. and Spring Street.  (Courtesy Michael Maslan)
A dated construction scene on Presbyterian’s over-sized sanctuary, looking here at the front door facing the corner of 7th Ave. and Spring Street. (Courtesy Michael Maslan)
Nearly new
Nearly new and presently four Corinthian columns to the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Spring Street.
Lawton Gowey's look east on Spring Street to First Presbyterian on April 19, 1966.  Lawton was also a Presbyterian and for decades the organist at his church on Queen Anne Hill.  He died of a heart attack in 1983 while preparing for another Sunday service.
Lawton Gowey’s look east on Spring Street to First Presbyterian on April 19, 1966, and without its two original domes, one of which was home to the church’s radio station, another pulpit for any preacher, but most importantly its builder, Mark Matthews. Lawton was also a Presbyterian and for decades the organist at his church on Queen Anne Hill. He died of a heart attack in 1983 while preparing for another Sunday service.

On the brighter side, in a letter to the Times editor, Knickerbocker resident Carol Cornish expressed her thanks that living at 616 Madison put her “close-in” to downtown opera and concerts. In her letter from Oct. 28 1940, Ms. Cornish also included a culture-conscious complaint about concert audience behavior. “I hate to be stuffy, but the shallow, careless frivolities of the so-called smart set often fill us unaspiring social plebeians with a definite distaste.” During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Times, awarded the Knickerbocker Hotel by including it in its “Business and Professional Ledger.” After the Second World War some hotel rooms were outfitted with dark rooms for rent to amateur photographers.  And through much of the 1950s, the Knickerbocker was home to the Seattle Chess Club.

West on Madison from 9th Avenue along a line of healthy, its seems, poplars.  Part of the Knickerbocker at 7th avenue appears on the far left.
West on Madison from 9th Avenue along a line of healthy, its seems, poplars. Part of the Knickerbocker at 7th avenue appears on the far left.

Writing her little classic “Pig-Tail Days” in 1937, Sophie Frye Bass, granddaughter of Arthur and Mary Denny, mourned the loss of both the poplars and the First Hill neighborhood of her childhood.  “The fine residences and stately poplars have given way protestingly to business.”

A news clipping from The Seattle Times on June 26, 1903, reports or claims that the Madison Street poplars are doomed to disease.  CLICK TO READ
A news clipping from The Seattle Times on June 26, 1903, reports or claims that the Madison Street poplars are doomed to disease. CLICK TO READ
The Northern Pacific Railroad's photographer F. Jay Haynes recorded this look up Madison Street from the waterfront most likely in 1890.  Central School at 6th and Madison is on the right, and no Poplars as yet run a line between the school and Madison.  The central tower of the McNaught mansion, facing Fourth Avenue near Spring Street and the more slender tower of Providence Hospital, left of center, escape the horizon.
The Northern Pacific Railroad’s photographer F. Jay Haynes recorded this look up Madison Street from the waterfront most likely in 1890. Central School at 6th and Madison is on the right, and no Poplars as yet run a line between the school and Madison. The central tower of the McNaught mansion, facing Fourth Avenue near Spring Street and the more slender tower of Providence Hospital, left of center, escape the horizon.
Most likely Robert Bradley took this look east on Madison from the Alaskan Way Viaduct before it was opened to traffic in the spring of 1953.  Here, as well, no poplars are showing above Madison's distant horizon.
Most likely Robert Bradley took this look east on Madison from the Alaskan Way Viaduct before it was opened to traffic in the spring of 1953. Here, as well, no poplars are showing above Madison’s distant horizon.

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, Paul?  Sure Jean.  Between the two of us, Ron Edge and I have collected seven links to earlier features that relate to this subject with Central School and the Knickerbocher.  They may also include subjects in their own “Web Extras” that are far afield of Seventh and Madison, and there may be some repetitions between them.  But all are placed with good will while remembering still my own mother’s encouragement that “repetition is the mother of all learning.”

THEN: A close “read” of this concrete pile at 714 7th Ave. will reveal many lines of tiles decorating its gray facades.  (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)

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THEN: A circa 1923 view looks south on Eighth Avenue over Pike Street, at bottom left.

THEN: The home at bottom right looks across Madison Street (out of frame) to Central School. The cleared intersection of Spring Street and Seventh Avenue shows on the right.

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: Madison’s Lost Poplars”

  1. Hi. I have loved your column in the paper and this blog as well for a very long time. Your post featuring a “now” looking west on Madison drew a long awaited question for me. I live at the Dover apartments on 6th and Marion and I would love to find more history on my building. You also fascinate me as my prime interest for many years has been the history of our wonderful city. Any guidance would be much appreciated and thank you for providing such a great resource for my ever present mind on the fantastic history of our fine lady: Seattle.

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