Seattle Now & Then: The Fremont Trolley Barn

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: One of a few photographs recording from different prospects the Fremont trolley car barn on Dec.11, 1936.  North 35th Street, on the right, was originally named Blewett for Edward and Carrie Blewett.  In 1888 the couple, fresh from Fremont, Nebraska, first named and promoted Fremont as a Seattle neighborhood. That year Fremont also got its lumber mill. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)
THEN: One of a few photographs recording from different prospects the Fremont trolley car barn on Dec.11, 1936. North 35th Street, on the right, was originally named Blewett for Edward and Carrie Blewett. In 1888 the couple, fresh from Fremont, Nebraska, first named and promoted Fremont as a Seattle neighborhood. That year Fremont also got its lumber mill. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)
NOW: For his “repeat” Jean stepped into the street to reveal, above the Fremont Fair booths at the scene’s center, the northeast corner of the surviving Fremont Car Barn. Since 2006, it has been a factory for Theo Chocolate, where the confectioner prepares “organic and fair-trade” sweets.
NOW: For his “repeat” Jean stepped into the street to reveal, above the Fremont Fair booths at the scene’s center, the northeast corner of the surviving Fremont Car Barn. Since 2006, it has been a factory for Theo Chocolate, where the confectioner prepares “organic and fair-trade” sweets.

The negative for this scene of industrial clutter is marked “Fremont Barn – N.E. Corner, Dec. 11, 1936.”  “Barn” is short for “trolley car barn,” that long and well-windowed brick structure that fills the horizon from N. 35th Street on the right to the interrupting house on the left.  It was photographed without credit, although most likely by an employee of Seattle’s municipal railways. From mid-block, the prospect looks west through the long block on Fremont’s 35th Street between Evanston and Phinney Avenues.

The featured photo was one of a few taken the December day centering on “barn.”  We will follow here with three more.

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The car barn across the canal with B.F.Day primary school on the left horizon.  (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)
The car barn across the canal with B.F.Day primary school on the left horizon. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)

When it was completed in 1905, the ornate barn, along with the B.F. Day School nearby on Fremont Avenue, was one of the few brick structures in this mill town neighborhood. Inside the barn there were accommodations for the trainmen and also three bays for trolley car repairs.  Most of the homes built in the Fremont neighborhood, after 1888 when the lumber mill opened, were modest residences for workers.  In 1936 there were sixteen houses on this long block.  Now, it seems, only six have endured.

Trainmen posing in the open bays.
Trainmen posing in the open bays.

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As can be seen in the primary feature photo at the top, between the home and the barn there was room for both a yard of well-packed trollies, and closer to the photographer, an uncovered storage for stacks of what appear to me to be trolley-car-wide blocks of formed concrete. (Perhaps a reader will know and share their use.) With the help of a 1936 aerial photograph, we can see both the stacks of concrete and count a dozen rows of trollies resting on their tracks – spurs off N. 34th Street – in the yard between the barn and the stacks.  The twelve tracks were all five cars long, and so this parking lot could accommodate a maximum of 60 trolley cars tightly fit like these.

A detail from the 1936 aerial coverage of Seattle.  The trolley barn is far left at the corner of Phinney Ave. N. and N. 34th Street (at the bottom of the detail) with Evanston Ave. N., far right.  The house with its northwest corner showing in the feature photograph, is mid-block on the south side of N. 35th Street between Evanston and Phinney.  Between it and the rows of parked trollies the scattering of white forms - the same as those at the top - appear.  (Courtesy, Ron Edge)
A detail from the 1936 aerial coverage of Seattle. The trolley barn is far left at the corner of Phinney Ave. N. and N. 34th Street (at the bottom of the detail) with Evanston Ave. N., far right. The house, with its northwest corner showing in the feature photograph, is mid-block on the south side of N. 35th Street between Evanston and Phinney. Between it and the rows of parked trollies, the scattering of white forms – the same as those at the top – appear. (Courtesy, Ron Edge)
A similar detail for comparison, this one of the 1929 aerial survey.  (Courtesy, Seattle Engineering Dept. and Ron Edge)
A similar detail for comparison, this one of the 1929 aerial survey. (Courtesy, Seattle Engineering Dept. and Ron Edge)
Also for comparison, the featured photograph from 1936 set beside a detail from the 1912 Baist Real Estate Map.  The trolley is aglow in red.
Also for comparison, the featured photograph from 1936 set beside a detail from the 1912 Baist Real Estate Map. The trolley is aglow in red.

In 1936 the municipal system ran 410 often-dilapidated electric trolleys over its worn 224 miles of tracks.  Leslie Blanchard, Seattle’s trolley historian, described 1936 as “the beginning of one of the most violent and spectacular political free-for-alls ever witnessed in the city of Seattle.”  The fight was over whether to keep to the tracks and fix-up the system or convert it entirely to rubber, with busses and trackless trollies.  Of course, the latter won, and between 1940 and 1942 the tracks were pulled up and the trollies scrapped.  The Fremont Barn was then purchased by the army for wartime storage.

The parks cars were hosed from towers.
The parks cars were hosed from towers.

Friday the eleventh of December 1936 is well remembered on both the sentimental and scandalous sides of world history. While the photographer for this Fremont scene was, perhaps, having breakfast, His Royal Highness, the Duke of Windsor, explained to the British Empire by radio from Windsor Castle, that the burden of being king was a “heavy responsibility too great to bear without the help and support of the woman I love.”  The trouble, of course, was that “that American woman,” Mrs. Wallace Simpson, was already married.

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, Paul?

JEAN, as our readers may suspect, we often return to Fremont.  Still this week for Ron “EDGE-LINKS” we will restrain ourselves and include only a half-dozen or so.  In this conspiracy, for reasons we will make clear below, we have an eye out for the blog you did years ago recording (with whatever Nikon you had at the time)  one of the Fremont Solstice Day parades.   We will not fail in this.  In our several years of producing dorpatsherrardlomont it has been easily the most viewed – or goggled – post we have put up.  This shaking of hits has more to do with hirsute than heritage  Following the links we will chain a few Fremont strays to this barn.  First, the reader is encourage to click on the seven pictured links below.  They all include Fremont features and more.   Of the seven we have put at the bottom the recent feature on they day the Fremont Dam broke in 1914.

THEN: The rear end of the derailed trolley on N. 35th Street appears right-of-center a few feet east of Albion Place N. and the curved track from which the unrestrained car jumped on the morning of August 21, 1903. (Courtesy, Fremont Historical Society)

Built for the manufacture of a fantastic engine that did not make it beyond its model, the Fremont factory’s second owner, Carlos Flohr, used it to build vacuum chambers for protecting telescope lenses.  Thirty feet across and made from stainless steel the lens holders were often mistaken for flying saucers.  (photo courtesy Kvichak marine Industries.)

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THEN: From the Fremont Bridge, this subject looks northwest across the torrent that followed the washout of the Fremont Dam in the early afternoon of March 13, 1914.  Part of the Bryant Lumber and Shingle Mill appears left-of-center.  The north end of the Stone Way Trestle appears in the upper right corner. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archives)

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The Fremont Car Barn on Sept. 23, 1919.  Over the bays the private company name has been replaced with the public name.  (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive)
The Fremont Car Barn on Sept. 23, 1919. Over the bays the private company name has been replaced with the public name. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive)
Lawton Gowey's May 27, 1968 recording of the barn when it was still used for storage.
Lawton Gowey’s May 27, 1968 recording of the barn when it was still used for storage.
The barn during a recent Fremont Fair.  I recorded this but have lost the year - for now.
The barn during a recent Fremont Fair. I recorded this but have lost the year – for now.
The text the hung from the oldest of the three photos above with its printing in The Seattle Times Pacific Magazine for January 31, 1988.
The text the hung from the oldest of the three photos above with its printing in The Seattle Times Pacific Magazine for January 31, 1988.

 

2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Fremont Trolley Barn”

  1. Re: 1943 B-29 crash… The aircraft (prototype No 2) did not take off from Boeing Field, but rather from Renton, where the B-29s were built. It was on a routine test flight, then to eventually land at Boeing Field. My grandfather was a high-up executive of Frye’s, but was not in the Frye building at the time of the crash. Wanta hear more?
    Jim Brush – Las Vegas

  2. Great pictures, but surprised you didn’t mention the Red Hook Brewery occupying this location for many years before Theo came along.

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