A fairly wide view of the A-Y-P from 110 years ago
By Clay Eals
Back in 1962, the glitz of the Seattle World’s Fair filled my 11-year-old eyes with wonder. I still treasure its curios, including a souvenir tabloid with a custom banner headline, printed on the spot, employing the six-month show’s crowning landmark to convey whimsy: “Clay Eals Jumps Off Space Needle.”
I’m grateful it was fake news.
At no time, in visits that summer, did my child’s mind grasp that this was the city’s second world’s fair. But a nod to its precursor lay in the final word of its alternate name: the Century 21 Exposition.
Fifty-three years before, in 1909, Seattle’s – indeed, Washington state’s – first world’s fair embraced the sprawling title of Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition to salute the 1897 Gold Rush and what today we call the Pacific Rim. The A-Y-P opened 110 years ago this month at the University of Washington, which had relocated from downtown 14 years prior, in 1895.
The fair transformed the campus. With attractions from fine art to lowbrow amusements, it also instigated neoclassical (if largely temporary) architecture, Olmsted Brothers gardens, a new statue of the UW’s namesake and a stately promenade and fountain pointing to Mount Rainier.
The sweep was as wide as our “then,” taken atop the A-Y-P Ferris wheel by official photographer F.H. Nowell. It looks north and east, the western border of 15th Avenue slicing by at far left. But this panorama holds irony. While it conveys the fair’s grandeur, it covers only a fraction of its grounds.
Visible are the main entrance at 40th Street, off 15th. A short walk east reveals the George Washington statue (today one block north) and an array of gleaming structures: the Fine Arts Building (center-left), the domed U.S. Government Building, the Alaska Building (center), the smaller Washington Woman’s Building, the Klondike Circle, the Agriculture Building (behind a foreground spire of the Swedish Building) and an unintended presage of World War I, the Battle of Gettysburg cyclorama (“War! War! War! Replete with the Rush, Roar and Rumble of Battle”).
“It’s the greatest cultural event that has ever taken place in the city’s history,” asserts Magnolia’s Dan Kerlee, A-Y-P researcher and collector who runs aype.com, an educational website. He says the 3,740,551 people who attended over 138 days enjoyed a uniquely inspiring, even elegant experience. “If people could walk the A-Y-P today, they would be beside themselves.”
World’s fairs, a prolific phenomenon of the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries, have fallen out of fashion here, the most recent U.S. fairs being 45 years ago in Spokane (Expo ’74) and in Knoxville and New Orleans in the early 1980s. A few hours north, Vancouver, B.C., put on Expo ’86, the last world’s fair in North America. Still, we can smile that Seattle hosted a spectacular pair.
To see a 360-degree video of the “now” prospect and compare it with the “then,” and to hear this column read aloud by Paul Dorpat, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!
Below, in chronological order, are clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that among many others were helpful in the preparation of this column.
These are just five of the 54 stories in the Seattle Times that mentioned the A-Y-P during the six-month 1962 fair. Of course, I wish I had paid more attention to these stories back then! Click on any clipping to enlarge it. –Clay
Stacking up evidence of Seattle’s growth in the 1880s
By Paul Dorpat
This week’s “then” photo looks south toward early downtown Seattle from halfway up the southern slope of then-Denny Hill. With his extension pole, Jean Sherrard lifted his “now” camera to approximate the prospect used by pioneer photographer David Judkins for his panorama – close but, Jean and I agree, still a few feet below Judkins’ roost.
After studying the crowd of clues showing in Judkins’ prospect, Ron Edge, our feature’s frequent sleuth, agrees that Judkins’ photo was recorded in 1885 or 1886. That was three or four years before the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889, destroyed about 30 city blocks, including almost everything shrouded here behind the industrial smoke ascending from the right (west).
In early photographic cityscapes, stacks were frequently embraced as the most obvious signs of a community’s industrial success. They stood as booming pillars of pride, and a study of Seattle’s demographics from that time – city directories, tax records and such – confirms it.
In his typewritten “Chronological History of Seattle from 1850 to 1897,” Thomas Prosch, the owner/editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the city’s busiest booster, included a panegyric to the growth of his city, which since the 1880 national census was the largest town in Washington Territory, surpassing Walla Walla by a few hundred citizens.
“The boom that began in 1886 and grew in volume and force in 1887 continued with unabated activity and vigor in 1888,” Prosch wrote. “It was manifested in a thousand ways, but particularly with real estate speculation, in the platting of additions to the city, hundreds of new buildings, scores of graded streets, the new railways, banks, hotels, stores, factories, shops and people.
“The inhabitants of Seattle, who numbered 3,533 in 1880 and 9,786 in 1885, increased in number to 12,167 in 1887 and to 19,116 in 1888. Much as this great increase signified, it was dwarfed by that of the next two years, for the census of 1889 showed Seattle to have 26,740 inhabitants and that of 1890, 42,837.”
(Such rapid growth some 130 years ago should excite a “Wow!” from some of our readers. Want more? Our blog features a complete copy of Prosch’s thick chronology from the mid-1890s.)
The most striking aspect of this “then” photo may be the two hand-drawn Mount Rainiers, the result of merging the panorama’s two halves, each of which sported a peak. Did Judkins believe anyone would fall for his manufactured substitutes? In 1885, it was still difficult to photographically record bright, snow-covered icons such as “The Mountain That Was God” (title of a 1910 guidebook self-published by John H. Williams).
To see a 360-degree video of the “now” prospect and compare it with the “then,” and to hear this column read aloud by Paul Dorpat, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!
Anything to add, fellas?
This morning Jean it will be alas and good night, aka nighty-bears (copy write: Bill Burden). That is we will soon again climb the stairs to our small bed resting beside a full-wall reflection – a ballet practice mirror. (The sometimes frightening effect some early mornings is to awaken with sunrise and face myself. At eighty it is not a flattering confrontation.) Now Jean reminds me that this week we promised something more about the Thomas Prosch’s sustained contribution to recording Seattle history. That will need to wait for later this week. Now, I’ll be climbing the stairs, again to nighty-bears. At eighty I use two canes. Below, as a consoling custom we will again attach some relevant clips.
Thirty eight years after its founding, Seattle catapulted to worldwide attention via reports of catastrophic destruction.
The June 6, 1889, fire that incinerated more than 120 acres and nearly 30 blocks of downtown occurred on what might be called a slow news day. Only one week earlier, a burst dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, had swept away more than 2,200 lives, shocking the nation (in response, generous Seattleites pledged $576 for flood relief). The fire that leveled the wooden business district of our pioneer town – although it caused no fatalities aside from a Panglossian “million rats” – was also featured in newspapers across the country.
Within days, a New York Times headline read: ‘The Great Seattle Fire … It May Be a Blessing in Disguise.” Seattle land tycoon Henry Dearborn, visiting the East Coast, predicted: “The fire has cleaned out all these [tinder boxes] which were a constant menace to the city” but soon would be replaced “by fine, fire-proof structures.” Seattle residents enthusiastically agreed.
At first, however, hometown papers adopted a gloomier tone. The morning after the fire, the Seattle Daily Press succumbed to purple prose: “Besides the smoking, tomblike ruins of a few standing walls … people are left living to endure with sheer despair … blackness, gloom, bereavement, suffering, poverty, the hideous remains of a feast of fire.”
Yet the same morning, 600 citizens gathered at the surviving Armory on Union Street between Third and Fourth avenues in a display of civic gratitude and confidence. The crowd cheered the news that arch-rival Tacoma had offered aid and succor, as had San Francisco and other cities and towns. When some suggested that aid pledged to the Johnstown homeless be diverted for Seattle use, the crowd shouted, “To Johnstown! Let it go to Johnstown!”
Echoing through the Armory was a commitment to “pull all together” and “rise like a phoenix” while constructing a new city of brick and stone. Streets would be widened and leveled, while a fervent appeal was made to “Seattle Spirit.” On Saturday, June 8, Post-Intelligencer headlines affirmed: “A New Seattle Will Arise … Sweet are the Uses of Adversity.”
Operating from tents, local businesses prepared to rebuild. Impresario John Cort, having reopened his burned-out Standard Theater under a canvas big top, featured a joke that brought down the house: “How’s business?” asked the straight man. The comic replied, “Intense!”
The pun proved prophetic. In less than two years, Seattle’s population nearly doubled to almost 45,000, and 3,500 new buildings arose, mostly in the devastated core. Voters authorized a more dependable city water system, and a municipal fire department formed. Thus, just in time for the 1897 Gold Rush, a small pioneer town reintroduced itself as an ambitious young city.
Great cities often have burned to the ground, some over and over again until they got it right. New York, Boston, Chicago and London were reduced to cinders yet repeatedly rebuilt. The cruel lesson: Invest in incombustible masonry and stone, or pay the fiery piper.
Young, aspiring Seattle learned that lesson at 2:30 p.m. June 6, 1889, when Swedish immigrant John Back, 24, overheated a glue pot in a cabinet shop in the basement of the wooden Pontius building at Front Street (now First Avenue) and Madison Street.
From the Post-Intelligencer: “I was about 40 feet away,” said Mr. Kittermaster, a fellow employee, “and I saw Back seize a pail of water to throw upon it. I shouted for him not to do it, but [he] seemed excited and danced about with the pail before he dashed the water.” The hapless Back recounted, “I run and took the pot of water … and poured it over the pot of glue, which was blazing up high. When I throw the water on, the glue flew all over the shop into the shavings, and everything take fire.”
In minutes, Seattle’s first steam fire engine arrived but had trouble finding the source of the flames through the billowing smoke. In a miscalculation of planning, downtown hydrants had been planted at two-block intervals, with hoses a block too short. Led by Mayor Robert Moran, crews fought a valiant but losing battle. Overburdened city water mains lost pressure. Streams from the abbreviated hoses eased to a trickle.
At First and Marion, in the basement of the Dietz and Mayer Liquor Store, whiskey barrels exploded, fueling the flames, which spread quickly to nearby saloons. By late afternoon on this hot, blustery day, the entire Denny block was a raging inferno.
Against a cacophony of steam whistles and pealing church and fire bells, homeowners and business owners raced frantically to save possessions, loading up wagons and retreating up to First Hill, south to the tidelands and even out onto the doomed docks.
Post-Intelligencer editor Thomas Prosch wrote, “For a couple of hours after the fire crossed Yesler, the spectacle was a magnificent one, the flames rising high in the air … while the noise of falling walls, the crackling, the occasional explosions, the shouts, added to the flare and heat in making the scene a memorable one.”
Seattleites watched that scene with horror and fascination as their firetrap of a city burned. In 12 hours, the downtown business district — 29 blocks and nearly a square mile — had gone up in smoke.
Amazingly, no one died, though it’s estimated the fire did $20 million worth of damage, in 1889 dollars.
Next week: the aftermath, and the phoenix arising from its ashes — a Seattle that rapidly learned the lessons of brick, sandstone and an abundant water supply.
Please click on through to our 360 video of the current location plus a spoken word version of the column.
Anything to add, les pompiers?
As usual dear captain – a jumble or a farrago of fire – a few more repeats from the time and/or the event.
WE RETURN NEXT WEEL WITH MORE FIRES (scattered) & RUINS
Registering a replica in honor of George and Martha
By Clay Eals
If you have flown to America’s Other Washington and taken the popular tourist trip 10 miles south to Mount Vernon, your mind’s eye can see the mansion of our first president and first lady, George and Martha Washington. Though its construction and expansion coincided with the beginnings of our egalitarian democracy, the manor overlooking the Potomac River was, and remains, majestic – 10 times the size of the average home in mid-1700s colonial Virginia.
We needn’t trek 2,800 miles to get an in-person approximation of the experience. Here we have what the Seattle Times once called “Seattle’s Own Mount Vernon,” embodied in the 94-year-old Rainier Chapter House of the Daughters of the American Revolution. A faithful reproduction of George and Martha’s famed residence, it simultaneously salutes its eastern counterpart and our state’s namesake.
When this replica was dedicated on April 11, 1925, in a ceremony attended by Gov. Roland Hartley, the Seattle Times favorably compared it to the original, “lacking only its water border and great expanse of grounds.” Today it retains a striking stature while surrounded by a city streetscape bearing three other treasures: the Loveless Building, the Cornish School and the Women’s Century Club (site of the former Harvard Exit moviehouse), all part of the Harvard-Belmont Landmark District atop Capitol Hill.
It also recently scored a coveted countrywide standing. On March 20, the Rainier Chapter House became listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is not merely a promotable honor. It also paves the way for valuable tax credits and grants. To celebrate, the 167 chapter members are inviting the public to a plaque unveiling on Sunday afternoon, June 2.
These women, all descendents of Revolutionary warriors who struggled for independence from Britain, embrace an inspiring legacy. Their ancestors formed the chapter in 1895 and raised money after World War I to build their elegant local headquarters. They even scoured attics to find items to sell at Pike Place Market. As a result, Seattle’s DAR chapter was the only one in the nation, at the time, to own the ground for its building.
Daniel Huntington, coming off nine years as Seattle’s municipal architect, infused a classical design, with wood siding grooved to resemble stonework. The edifice was erected in just four months, after which chapter members filled it with period furniture, dishes, art and historical objects. They also began an enduring tradition – renting the facility, including its second-floor ballroom, to groups that seek immersion in a sumptuous past.
If George and Martha themselves were to appear on its doorstep today, they might momentarily mistake Rainier Chapter House for their home. Their clue otherwise would be our urban milieu.
Here, in chronological order, are a flier for the June 2, 2019, public celebration, plus three clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that were helpful in the preparation of this column. Click on any clipping to enlarge it. –Clay
Occasionally, in our travels, we have the opportunity to visit the waterfront. Like any spectacle of demolition, it provides boundless entertainment at no cost. Here’s a few photos from yesterday, featuring a prominent survivor at Marion.
The following story, an interview of longtime Seattle newspaper columnist Emmett Watson, appeared Dec. 16, 1987, in the West Seattle Herald/White Center News. More than 30 years later, Watson’s comments have a lot of resonance given today’s development boom. The interviewer, Clay Eals, was editor of the papers at the time. The story is reprinted here by permission of Robinson Newspapers. To see the story as printed, click here or scroll to the bottom.
For Watson, ‘Lesser’ is more
Columnist comes home Saturday to sign calendars
By Clay Eals
One of the West Side’s more famous/notorious native sons returns to his home turf this weekend.
He comes hat in hand, however, looking for holiday shoppers who are having trouble finding just the right item for those remaining on their lists.
It helps if the toughies on the list are from Seattle – now or sometime in the past.
That’s because Watson is pushing his new Lesser Seattle wall calendar for 1988. It’s a fanciful look at the not-so-attractive aspects of the Queen/Emerald City as detailed by Seattle’s consummate newspaper columnist. The $9.95 calendars also feature more than a dozen caricatures of Watson by ex-Seattle Post-Intelligencer cartoonist Bob McCausland.
Watson will sign copies of the calendar at Pioneer West Book Shop, 4510 California Ave. S.W. in the Junction, from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday.
Those who miss him there can find him scribbling his signature Saturday afternoon from 1 to 4 at Frederick and Nelson downtown.
Watson, who spent his youth in West Seattle, was one of the dignitaries featured in the West Side Story history book published this year by the West Seattle Herald and White Center News.
The history book is on sale at the News-Herald office, 3500 S.W. Alaska St., during the holiday season. It also is on sale at Pioneer West Book Shop, along with Watson’s calendar, and Watson will sign both on Saturday for those who are interested.
Watson, who lives next to the Pike Place Market, sat down for an hour to reflect on the mythical Lesser Seattle organization and on West Seattle earlier this month, over a cup of coffee at his favorite haunt, Lowell’s cafeteria in the market. Here is an edited transcript of the interview:
You’ve had Lesser Seattle around for quite a while.
Yeah, and a couple of times guys have come to me and said they wanted to market it, and I said no. But Fred Brack, a freelance writer, he does those cookbooks with Tina Bell, Taste of Washington, he’s a hell of a reporter and writer, worked for Sports Illustrated and the Washington Post, in fact he even had a hand in hiring Carl Bernstein. Anyway, he was trying to figure out a way to make some dough.
So we talked about it, and I had to go to the (Seattle) Times to get the OK, and I did, and we began to fool around with it. We already had those T-shirts out, sweatshirts and stuff, so we knew the designer, a guy named Tim Girvan, and Tim is one of the hot young designers in the country. Nice guy. I don’t know why Tim fooled with us. I think he just liked the concept of it.
So he went to working on it, then we got Bob McCausland out of retirement. (The caricatures) are all new. Some of them look like the old ones, but he did ’em all new. He really outdid himself.
Then I sat and wrote the stuff and took about two months or so to get it out.
With the flood of calendars on the market, what is this one’s appeal?
It’s a novelty calendar. We tried to get some tongue-in-check fun into it. That’s all Lesser Seattle is anyway, a tongue-in-cheek spoof.
There’s a serious message in it, too. A lot of people feel that way about the city. They don’t want it to balloon up. See, at the rate they’re going, why, they’re going to really make the streets deserted around here with all those high-rises. High-rises just wipe out a whole block of shops. And now we’re getting these elaborate plazas and a bunch of upscale shops that the ordinary person can’t afford. See, Third Avenue’s going to be wiped out.
Do you have any answers for the situation?
It’s too late now. Hell, they got so many new high-rises going in. They’ve got about four going up right now, and to some people that’s OK. I don’t like it that way. I like it the way it was on Third Avenue with the cigar store and the pool hall right around the corner. That’s all being moved out.
Does the character of a city stem from its downtown?
All you have to do is imagine what Seattle would be like if we didn’t have the Pike Place Market. Really.
Do you get into painting outlying areas with the Lesser Seattle swath?
Oh, yeah, we talk about Lesser Poulsbo, Lesser Winslow.
How about Lesser West Seattle?
Oh, I don’t know. Is it growing over there? It’s very much of a mix over there. I don’t know how dramatic the bridge has been, but it looks like it would have an impact. What I’d say there probably is, “Tear down the bridge.”
So far, how is the Lesser Seattle sentiment appealing to people through the calendar?
We were hoping that people would get carried away and buy four or five of them and send them to their relatives as sort of a tongue-in-cheek joke. And that’s happened. They give ’em to friends who have moved away. I always sign ’em, “Come back soon. Lesser Seattle welcomes you back.”
I was signing at Union Station the other night, and a lot of younger people bought ’em for their parents. There is that feeling. People don’t like to see Seattle get big.
Memories are funny things. We all think back on what it was like in the ’50s and the ’40s and ’30s, and I guess it’s kind of a growing-up process. We look back with nostalgia and fondness. I suppose it was just as hard to find a parking place in those days as it is now, but it doesn’t seem like it, y’know? People don’t like to have their lives disrupted.
Has Lesser Seattle had any tangible effect on the way things develop?
No, if anything, it’s probably counterproductive. I don’t think it has that much influence anyway. But people enjoy it because it’s a vehicle for saying a lot of things, like denouncing the high-rises.
And why do we want a Super Bowl here? All we’re going to do is get a bunch of drunken football fans in here for a week, and we’re going to subsidize them with free rent and parties. God, I really hate to see that. You just fall on your face in front of ’em and say, “Please come.” It’s just one big bash.
Anyway, you can always take off on it and use it that way.
Coming to West Seattle for a calendar signing, do you look forward to seeing people you know?
I was amazed when I did the book over there (five years ago) at how many people showed up who I’d forgotten, people I’d gone to school with.
West Seattle always was sort of a city in itself. See, when I grew up, we had the streetcar like everybody remembers, and it was a fair task to go downtown or to the U district. You had to ride that thing on those trestles, and it would take you 45 minutes to get downtown, and another 40 minutes to get to the U district.
I used to do that when I went to college. It was a bit of an isolation, and I’m convinced there are many, many families who grew up in West Seattle and never left, never went to any other part of the city.
West Seattle was also semi-country, really, and that wasn’t all that long ago. In the ’30s, there were an awful lot of wooded areas. In those days, as kids, we just ran loose. Back behind (James) Madison Junior High, there were little paths and trails, and you could walk almost clear to the Junction that way.
You once wrote, “I have never known anyone who moved to West Seattle for the sheer status of it, only because they liked it.”
I think that’s true. I really. You never got the feeling that there was any Highlands or Broodmoor mentality in it. At least I never did.
The people who had enough money would get beach property in those days. West Seattle always struck me as a mix, because you had people with real money down on the beach: the Schmitz family, the Colman family down along Fauntleroy. But then not very far away from that, very close, would be a middle-class and blue-collar neighborhood.
About Admiral Way and 45th, 46th, a lot of that is still with us. Once in a while, when I was recovering from my heart attack, I’d go over and go for walks around there, and it’s amazing how little of it has changed. A lot of rehabs everywhere. But the same kinds of people were there.
What do you remember best about West Seattle?
Well, I was born on Duwamish Head, and in college I lived with my brother and sister up on 35th. You could see down, and it was always kind of industrial, but I don’t think as kids we appreciated a lot of that. We didn’t think too much in terms of views. We thought too much of our own little problems.
Several years later, you get away from it, you go back over there, and Holy Toledo, the views.
How to haul goods in the 1800s? By horse, of course
By Clay Eals
Today, we think nothing of hauling boxes, baggage and all manner of business and household goods with motor vehicles. But 130 years ago, a mere blink of an eye in the world’s history, vehicle power was of the four-legged variety.
One firm providing equine infrastructure, founded in 1888, was the Seattle Transfer Company. Its barn and warehouse stood at the edge of southern tideflats that soon would be filled by the city’s massive regrades and dredging, a process that took decades.
To burnish its reputation, Seattle Transfer probably could have fared no better than to pose its fleet, staff and stock for the camera of Frank La Roche. In 1893, the year of our “then,” the city was four years on either side of arguably the two most momentous events of its early days – the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 and the 1897 onset of the northern Gold Rush, for which Seattle served as the jumping-off point. La Roche, arriving in Seattle after the fire, would earn fame by traveling more than 100 times to Alaska and the Yukon to capture 3,000 images of Klondike fever.
Here, in La Roche’s warm sepia, we look west to find 57 gents (and five tykes) with an equal number of top hats, bowlers and other chapeaux, even a straw skimmer. Most of the men sit on 27 lanterned rigs pulled by at least 33 horses.
By 1900 and fueled by the Gold Rush, Seattle Transfer employed 79 men and 85 horses. In Seattle and the Orient/Souvenir Edition, a 184-page book published by The Seattle Times and sold for 25 cents, the firm elicited praise: “The company has the right – in fact, are the only people in Seattle who have it – of boarding all incoming vessels and trains and soliciting baggage.” With no intended distaste, the book also noted how the firm dispatched the waste of its charges: “All the refuse is carried to the rear of the building and from there dumped into the Sound, the waters of which rise with each succeeding tide.”
Seattle Transfer did garner attention for more savory, constructive deeds. In 1898, when New York Evening Telegram readers balloted with nearly 300,000 coupons to proclaim firefighter F.A. Louis and rail conductor R.C. Dodge “the most popular men in the American metropolis,” their prize was a celebrated trip through Seattle to the Klondike. Seattle Transfer handled their 16 pieces of excess baggage.
One year later, in what The Seattle Times termed “a most peculiar accident,” two horses fell into and were imprisoned for nearly 10 hours inside a sewer excavation at Pike Street and Broadway. Who rode to the rescue with a block and tackle to extricate the steeds? Hi ho, Seattle Transfer!
Here, in chronological order, are eight clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and Seattle and the Orient/Souvenir Edition that were helpful in the preparation of this column. Click on any clipping to enlarge it. –Clay
Anything else to add, gents?
Here’s a few more from the general neighborhood. Oh have so many more to pull and share – after we complete our first vacation in 38 years. It is a vacation we hope to survive.
Bolstering a booming city by transforming its landscape
By Clay Eals
For those who may doubt the potential for documentary photography to enter the realm of art, we submit this stunning panorama, looking north toward downtown Seattle in 1916.
Elements of this are expressive, ephemeral, even ethereal. This is in part because two beloved and glowing touchstones of our past – the Smith Tower (far right, completed in 1914 and for decades fondly known as the tallest building west of the Mississippi) and Sears Roebuck Tower (second from right, completed in 1915, becoming the Starbucks Center in 1997) – take a backseat to Seattle’s rapidly evolving industrial backbone on the splayed flats of the lower Duwamish River. It’s a plain that we now call SoDo.
We see no people, but evidence of their existence abounds. The chief subject, barely afloat in the foreground, is a small, sturdy freight boat, which the Webster & Stevens photographer may have showcased to symbolize an even earlier time when seafaring was the primary mode of commerce and connection for a city defined by its water.
Today maritime remains a robust force, competing and collaborating with cars and trucks, trains and planes. But here the lonely vessel stands nearly marooned by the ebbing of the tides and the flow of profiteering that sought to bolster the booming city by transforming its landscape.
What was once a mass of muddy marsh from West Seattle to Beacon Hill was being relentlessly filled in, starting 20 years prior, with the remains of the downtown regrades as well as from the straightening, widening and deepening of Seattle’s only river (named for its native Duwamish tribe) and the creation of Harbor Island. Thus was the city’s typical cloud cover increasingly mixed with plumes of pollution.
Affirmation of this industrial bustle is embodied here by Northern Pacific tracks – one full of cars, the other full of weeds – entering from the southeast, with some tracks curving right (north) to the Stetson & Post lumber mill, marked by sprays of white smoke. The mill had its beginnings in 1874 and relocated from Dearborn Street in 1915 to its East Waterway site. Moving left (west), we also see two massive freight-storage terminals at Hanford and Lander streets.
Moving farther west in this spectacular vista, we see the busy Barton & Company, packer and distributor of “Circle W” mutton, lamb, ham, bacon and byproducts (slogan: “Eat Less, but Eat the Best”).
So why is this ex-swamp called SoDo? The contentious origin, hilariously detailed in Dan Raley’s fine 2010 history book “Tideflats to Tomorrow,” boiled down to geography. It means South of the Dome. What dome? The short-lived Kingdome (1976-2000), on the site of today’s CenturyLink Field. Did we say ephemeral?
Absolutely! Here, in chronological order, are seven clippings from the Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that were helpful in the preparation of this column. Click on any clipping to enlarge it. –Clay
In the year 2000, Kodak announced that consumers around the world had shot more than 80 billion photos, setting a record. Yet that record has been exponentially broken. Last year alone, nearly 1.5 trillion photos were taken (some 4 billion per day), mostly on smartphones to share on social media. Our yearly total comprises more than all of the photos taken in the 150 years before this millennium.
As a result, entire categories of photography are disappearing. Itinerant street photographers no longer offer portraits for pennies, wedding shoots are in steep decline, and postcard photographers are few and far between.
Among the photographers featured in this column over the years, J. Boyd Ellis looms large. A former high school principal in Marysville, he bought the Photo Art Studio in 1921 in Arlington, his hometown. For more than 50 years, he and his son Clifford traveled the state, capturing photos of stunning vistas and local curiosities (such as hollowed-out stumps large enough to squeeze through in a Model T) to sell as postcards to tourists and locals. Prolific collector John Cooper, with a stock of more than 5,000 Ellis cards, explains, “No one covered the state like Ellis, because he was no specialist. He went everywhere.”
This week’s “Then” photo, taken in 1942, soon after the United States entered World War II, boasts some of Seattle’s finest mid- to high-rise commercial structures from the city’s boom years of the 1920s. The four-story Great Northern Railway Building (right foreground) and its across-the-street neighbor, the 15-story 1411 Fourth Avenue Building, are Art Deco masterpieces, completed in 1929. Designed by brilliant, eclectic architect Robert Reamer (who also created Lake Quinault Lodge and Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful Inn), they gracefully anchor the Central Business District. The often-glazed terra-cotta-clad buildings include the 10-story Gothic Revival Fourth and Pike Building (1927) at the far end of the block, and the landmarked Joshua Green Building (1913), peeping out just opposite. Keen-eyed readers also will note the “US 99” sign affixed to the lamppost at lower right, evidence that before the Alaskan Way Viaduct, Highway 99 poked along Fourth Avenue.
Standing recently at this vantage, I happily rediscovered this Seattle treasure: a downtown block that had hardly changed over the past 80 years, increasingly rare in our rapidly morphing city. Emphasizing the point, just over my right shoulder (and out-of-frame), at the southeast corner of Fourth and Union, the uniquely “sloping” 58-story Rainier Square Tower is under construction. Upon completion in 2020, it will be the second-tallest building in Seattle. No doubt its visage will be shared many thousands of times in the coming months — and perhaps in a postcard!
To explore our 360 video view of the same location, click here!
Anything to add, compadres?
Jean, your’s is a splendid essay revealing this elegant block on Fourth Avenue, and Clays’ attentions to last Sunday’s Eastside landmark was sweet as well. Add to these expository lessons in fine journalism your arching optics at the corners we feature and who can resist? I confess that the Eals and Sherrard additions to these weekly explorations are welcomed by this ancient mariner who is now more often resting at the dock by the bay. Thanks for this new vigor. There is still so much to cover and uncover and our citizens are everadding to it. Thank-goodness for the two of you. May you continue your explorations for at least another 37 years. Sincerely, Paul Lewis Charles Dorpat