2008-11-30 A View from Central School tower

(Original title: “From the Central School’s tower, a view of Seattle’s future”)

My introduction to this panorama that David Judkins recorded from the bell tower of Central School (a detail of the 12-room school’s fancy carpentry shows bottom left of the ‘Then’ photograph) has been followed by a quarter century of fidgeting with photographs, old and new.

In the intervening years I have learned some things about the developing cityscape included in Judkins’ look toward Lake Union, although not a confident date for the photograph itself. Still, I’ll venture that it is most likely 1887, or perhaps early 1888, not later. Central School burned down in April of that year.

The 1887 Polk Puget Sound Directory noted that the town has “filled up considerably during the last two years,” rising to a population conservatively estimated at 12,000 people.

Judkins had arrived in 1883, the year Central School opened as the largest school building in Washington Territory. He maintained a studio at Second Avenue and Columbia Street, but also built a darkroom with living quarters on a scow that he towed around Puget Sound, fulfilling the urge for portraits in waterfront towns otherwise neglected by “art photographers.”

While a good photo portraitist could make a living at the time, Judkins really preferred to do speculative “outside work” like this sweeping view across the Cascade and Westlake neighborhoods to Queen Anne Hill on the left horizon, Lake Union below it and the future neighborhoods of Fremont and Wallingford on the lake’s far north shore. Until distracted in 1897 by the gold rush to Alaska, the energetic Judkins contributed some of our better historical cityscapes to Seattle heritage.

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.
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.
NOW: Jean Sherrard made his stand on the south sidewalk of the Madison Street Bridge that spans Interstate 5 between Sixth and Seventh avenues. Again, he used his long arms and 10-foot pole to carry his camera to a height that at least approaches the Central School belfry tower used by David Judkins, the historical photographer.
NOW: Jean Sherrard made his stand on the south sidewalk of the Madison Street Bridge that spans Interstate 5 between Sixth and Seventh avenues. Again, he used his long arms and 10-foot pole to carry his camera to a height that at least approaches the Central School belfry tower used by David Judkins, the historical photographer.

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