1984-03-11 Broadening Broadway

(A version of this feature appeared first in The Seattle Times Sunday magazine on March 11, 1984)

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Looking north on Broadway from Harrison. Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archive

Broadway was once not so broad – or straight.  Prior to1931 it had been a tree-lined, residential street of more modest proportions.

On August 25, 1931, a photographer from the city’s Public Works department recorded the three historical photos featured here.  All look north on Broadway from its intersection with Harrison Street.  The top most of the three was photographed from some lofty station – probably the scoop steam shovel used in laying a sewerage line down what would then soon be the center of Broadway.  The line of power poles, right-of-center, mark the old east side of Broadway.  They would soon come down and the work of putting up new ones at the new sidewalk has begun.

The one-story business buildings in this block, with only a few exceptions, were new and are the same as those now standing.  Most of the buildings on the right side were purposely built back from the old curb, preparing for the street to spread.

The long building on the left of all three scenes is the Broadway Market. For 30 years it served as a block-long collection of independently owned small shops under one roof including a creamery, florist, two delis, a fish market, beauty salon, two meat markets, two bakeries and Norm’s Café, a favorite neighborhood hang-out.   I remember it as a Marketime Store in the 1970s, and since then has been remodeled into an arcade with QFC the primary tenant.

While the city engineers were widening Broadway in 1931 they were also straightening it to conform to the line of Broadway south of Harrison.  This can be proven satisfactorily today by a close sighting north up the block’s west side. From Harrison one can see that block-long stucco face of the Fred Meyer Store (A reminder: this was first written a quarter-century ago.) does not run parallel with the street.  It was built in line with the old street.  Consequently, as you walk north toward Republican Street, the sidewalk shrinks. (An alternative to visiting the site is satellite evidence of the shrinking sidewalk shown on Google Earth.)

Fred and Kitty White, who moved into one of the only two houses on the east side of this block in 1904, ran what was apparently the first business on this Capitol Hill section of Broadway.  They had brought with them from Iowa two Jersey cows and sold cream to their Broadway district neighbors. The daughter, Frances (who was still living in Seattle in 1984 when this feature was first composed) remembers dodging bicycles and electric trolleys to cross the street on her deliveries.  The trolleys had been running there since the early 1890s when they first cut through the forest on their way to City Park (now Volunteer Park) and Lakeview Cemetery.

Ella Million and her son Ten were neighbors of the Whites.  Ten became a local athletic hero at Broadway High School.  He went on to the major leagues in baseball as a St. Louis Cardinal, although a knee injury from a slide into second base ended his career.  Mrs. Million stayed on Broadway until 1930 when her home was razed to make room for a shoe repair store. (It was still there in 1984.)

The tower in the upper right hand corner is attached to the Pilgrim Congregational Church.  Dedicated in 1906, it was the first church in the neighborhood.   With the widening of Broadway, the church lost a part of its front lawn. The tower of the church rises above and behind the long roof of a large frame “box” with peaked roof at the southeast corner of Broadway and Republican.  The sidewalk level was commercial with living quarters upstairs.   Through the last years of its service before it was razed in 1977 the sidewalk storefront housed Peters on Broadway, which, if memory serves, was the first “outed” gay clothier on Capitol Hill.

For many years the large two-story apartment upstairs (reached by a narrow stairway at the rear off of Republican,) was handed down from one Cornish faculty member and/or student to another.  I lived in that apartment from late 1975 until the building was destroyed.  I taught filmmaking at Cornish for a spell in the 1970s.  One of my roommates, Norman Langill, founded the One Reel Vaudeville Show in 1972, and was then producing campy northwest vaudeville from the side of a 1931 Model A truck with a fold-down stage.  By now the “Vaudeville Show” part of the group’s name is rarely heard.  Among its other “big shows,” One Reel has been directing the Bumbershoot Festival since the early 1980s.

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Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives

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