Seattle Now & Then: Emerald Street Boys, Seattle hip-hop group, Westin skybridge, 1984

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THEN: Posing on the Westin Hotel skybridge in 1984 are the Emerald Street Boys, formed in 1981: (from left) Eddie “Sugar Bear” Wells, James “Captain Crunch” Croone and Robert “Sweet J” Jamerson. The span was built in 1982 at second-floor level above Virginia Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues to connect the circular 1969 hotel with its new parking garage. (Kristine Larsen, courtesy Daudi Abe)
NOW: With masks briefly removed, standing in for the late Eddie Wells at left is Daudi Abe, author of “Emerald Street: A History of Hip Hop in Seattle” (University of Washington Press), while the two surviving Emerald Street Boys, James Croone (center) and Rcurtis Jamerson, re-create their 1984 poses on the Westin skybridge. For a video interview of the three, see below. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Dec. 3, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Dec. 6, 2020)

Seattle helped hip hop cross into the cultural mainstream
By Clay Eals

Create a futuristic space in this Space Needle city, and you might launch more movement than you imagined.

Proof is the 1982 Westin Hotel skybridge, whose rounded roof ribbing seems to pull pedestrians into the world of tomorrow. So how fitting that Seattle’s celebrated early rap group, the aptly named Emerald Street Boys, chose the elevated walkway as the site for an early promo photo.

No one recalls why the shot was staged on the 66-foot, steel-beam span, but the image anchored the trio’s local roots and symbolized the professional beginnings of Seattle hip hop.

Tracing the saga of this 40-year cultural phenomenon — encompassing rap music, MCing, DJing, graffiti art and break-dancing — is a new book, “Emerald Street: A History of Hip Hop in Seattle” (University of Washington Press), by longtime Seattle Central College humanities professor Daudi Abe.

With voluminous detail in 262 pages, including a 40-page timeline and 21 pages of footnotes, Abe chronicles the previously undocumented rise of Seattle hip hop, from its national titans Sir Mix-A-Lot (from whom Abe secured a foreword) and Macklemore to less-known practitioners and trends. With a journalist’s eye, he weaves the growth of Seattle hip hop with broader events and tracks its evolution toward diversity.

Author Daudi Abe, in t-shirt with our “Then” image of the Emerald Street Boys from 1984.

“It could be argued,” he writes, “that Seattle is one of the more inclusive environments in all of hip hop, as over time African Americans, Africans, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, whites, Latinos, women, the disabled, homeless and others have all been represented. … There is no question that misogynistic attitudes and inappropriate behavior — a characteristic of hip hop and society in general — were also present in Seattle.”

Though Abe says Seattle hip hop originally was seen as a fleeting fad, like disco, he affirms its enduring stature amid other forms of expression. His book supplies myriad examples, from a landmark Seattle Symphony show to an annual mayor’s award.

Of this progression, Abe stands in awe: “I’ve been teaching the history of hip hop for 20 years, and sometimes I find it difficult to get across how exciting it was. Nobody knew what was going to happen. There was no formula, no road map. Everything was so new. … Now it’s so natural. It’s so part of the mainstream.”

The Garfield High School graduate says that in his pre-teens, hip hop emerged as a “weapon against social and political oppression” that taught him about earning respect. With an unintentional nod to the Westin setting, he adds, “It also helps bridge our cultural gaps.”

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Below are an additional photo and, in chronological order, 19 historical clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and other online newspaper sources that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

Also, here is a link to the Facebook page of “That Guy” Rcurtis Jamerson, singer /songwriter / music producer / lyricist / drummer / host / vocal coach / trainer / booking agent / actor / emcee.

As a bonus, here is the link to a 9-1/2-minute video interview of Daudi Abe, James Croone and Rcurtis Jamerson. If you click the photo below, you will open a pdf with a partial transcript of the interview. Enjoy!
Click on the photo to see a partial transcript of the video interview of author Daudi Abe and the two surviving members of the Emerald Street Boys, Rcurtis Jamerson and James Croone.
Here is an alternate NOW: With masks briefly removed, standing in for the late Eddie Wells at left is author Daudi Abe, while the two surviving Emerald Street Boys, James Croone (center) and Rcurtis Jamerson, re-create their 1984 poses on the Westin skybridge. For a video interview of the three, see above. (Jean Sherrard)
April 27, 1981, Seattle Times, page 53, Westin Hotel skybridge
June 28, 1981, Seattle Times, page 130, Westin Hotel skybridge.
April 9, 1982, Seattle Times, page 71.
April 9, 1982 Seattle Times, page 61.
April 23, 1982, Seattle Times, page 66.
Nov. 2, 1982, Seattle Times, page 33.
June 27, 1982, Seattle Times, page 51, Westin Hotel skybridge.
Nov. 3, 1982, Seattle Times, page 27.
Nov. 12, 1982, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 49.
Feb. 18, 1983, Seattle Times, page 54.
April 29, 1983, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 53.
April 29, 1983, Seattle Times, page 70.
May 27, 1983, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 24.
June 27, 1983, Seattle Times, page 70.
June 3, 1983, Seattle Times, page 65.
June 6, 1983, Seattle Times, page 43.
Sept. 25, 1983, Seattle Times, page 143.
Feb. 19, 1984, Seattle Times, page 114.
Feb. 19, 1984, Seattle Times, page 115.
April 29, 2010, Seattle Times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seattle Now & Then: ACT Theatre’s Christmas Carol

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THEN: In ACT’s production of “A Christmas Carol” from 1998, the chained ghost of Jacob Marley, played by Jeff Steitzer, confronts Scrooge, played by Kurt Beattie, who says, “It’s a story told with enormous compassion, which everybody needs these days.”
NOW: At the northwest corner of Seventh and Union, Jeff Steitzer (left) and Kurt Beattie gamely prepare for an upcoming recording session about to commence inside ACT across the street. For the current audio production, they will swap the roles of Scrooge and Marley.

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Nov. 26, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Nov. 29, 2020)

In our Covid crisis, ACT’s ‘Carol’ strikes a compassionate chord
By Jean Sherrard

“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”
from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”

In a column comparing historical photos with their modern counterparts, we are particularly keen not to “shut out” still timely lessons of empathy and forbearance offered by Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” particularly during today’s pandemic and civic crises.

Published on Dec. 19, 1843, his instantly popular novella had been written over several weeks in a white heat of exuberant creation. While the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign saw the reinvention of Christmas conventions from decorations to turkey dinners, Dickens’ ghost story etched them into routine.

A Seattle tradition for 45 years, ACT Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol” continues to strike a chord for generations of families.

Founded in 1965 by Gregory Falls, head of the UW School of Drama, ACT provided an alternative to the Seattle Repertory Theatre, then devoted to classical fare. The vibrant young company emphasized modern playwrights and themes, as well as adding jobs for a growing community of actors.

In 1976, Falls adapted and directed Dickens’ “Carol,” featuring acclaimed local actor John Gilbert as Scrooge. At a lean 90 minutes, the ACT version not only sold out two shows nightly, providing a sturdy income stream, but also won praise as one of the nation’s best.

To understand why, I spoke with ACT’s former artistic directors Kurt Beattie and Jeff Steitzer, as well as today’s artistic director John Langs.

Through the years, the ACT version avoids the trap of “bloated spectacle,” says Beattie who has often played Scrooge. He says it hews to Dickens’ original intent, which was to encourage “actual change in a class-bound society indifferent to the suffering of the poor.”

Dickens’ tale of redemption and transfiguration also is “the essence of great drama,” says Steitzer. “Scrooge is a man who was given a second chance and took it.”

For many Northwest theatergoers, the ACT “Carol” has become a ritual not to be missed, even during a season in which live theater is suspended.

“In a very difficult year,” says Langs, “we didn’t want to deprive people of a beloved holiday tradition, so we’ve created a kind of movie for your ears.”

This year’s audio show features music, sound effects, and a cast of 17, with Beattie and Steitzer reversing their previous roles from 1998. It will be available on-demand Nov. 27-Dec. 27 at acttheatre.org.

WEB EXTRAS

Check out Jean’s 360 video, captured across the street from ACT Theatre. Also featured, photos from previous ACT productions of ‘A Christmas Carol’:

Jeff Steitzer as Scrooge, 2011 (Chris Bennion)
Timothy McCuen Piggee as Scrooge, 2017 (Dawn Schaefer)
Leslie Law, Ghost of Christmas Present (Spirit #2), 2012 (Chris Bennion)
Timothy McCuen Piggee as Scooge, Fawn Ledesma as Belle, Chip Sherman as Middle Scrooge, 2017 (Dawn Schaefer)
Keiko Green, Ghost of Christmases Past, 2017 (Dawn Schaefer)
Kurt Beattie as Scrooge, the late G. Valmont Thomas as Marley, 2015 (Chris Bennion)
Piper Harden as Tiny Tim. 2019. She is reprising her role this year. (Rosemary DaiRoss)

 

Seattle Now & Then: Pioneer Hall, 1904

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THEN: Facing west in front of the wooden predecessor of Pioneer Hall on June 21, 1904, are 39 members (top) and 60 members (bottom) of the Pioneer Association of the State of Washington. Twelve years hence, the level of Lake Washington, behind the hall, dropped by 9 feet with the opening of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. (University of Washington Special Collections)
NOW: Posing before Washington Pioneer Hall are 15 leaders and members of the Pioneer Association of the State of Washington: (from left) Randy Sleight, Junius Rochester, Gary Zimmerman, David Brazier, Sally Irving, Roy Pettus, Nancy Hewitt Spaeth, Alan Murray, Betsy Terry Losh, Liz Blaszczak, Lea Stimson, Steve Ellersick, Saundra Selle, Caroline Kiser and Regina Cornish. An online toast and talk will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the organization’s incorporation. More info: wapioneers.com. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Nov. 19, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Nov. 22, 2020)

In their 125th year, these pioneer ancestors
are a study of history in repose
By Clay Eals

When I first saw this juxtaposition of “Then” images, I had to smile. It’s tough enough to get a large group to pose pleasantly for just one photo. But this is a pair, taken before and after a 1904 reunion. Why two? Doubtless some turned up later and wanted to be represented, and someone wisely reckoned that pasting together both shots would please everyone concerned.

These days, with renewed urgency over ensuring equal standing and justice for all, it’s difficult for any pursuit — particularly an exclusive club — to achieve universal harmony.

Enter the Pioneer Association of the State of Washington, the state’s oldest history organization, having first gathered in 1871 and incorporated on Dec. 5, 1895.

That date points to a 125th anniversary, which the members plan to celebrate with an online talk and toast at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, with a focus on their artifact-filled Washington Pioneer Hall, built from brick in 1910 on the site of an earlier wooden hall, in Madison Park along the western shore of Lake Washington.

The word “pioneer,” common in historical conversation, statuary and sites (Pioneer Square, anyone?), denotes someone who discovers a new place or founds something. For some, the synonyms “explorer” and “trailblazer” conjure inspiration and heroism.

One person’s pioneer, of course, can be another’s oppressor — which, as everyone knows, was exactly the case in the settling of our state in the 19th century.

The association focuses its three-story hall on families whom its voting members can trace to ancestors living in Washington or Oregon territories prior to Washington statehood on Nov. 11, 1889. Those lacking such roots can join as nonvoters.

Chief Seattle portrait and chair. (For more info, see brochure below.)

Inside the hall is a forest of exhibits, early furniture, framed photos and an extensive genealogical library. Prominent in the entry, a portrait of Chief Seattle hangs near a replica of a wooden chair that the city namesake used in later years on his Suquamish porch.

Over time, a few voting members with Native American ties have joined. Teresa Summers, with 9% lineage to the Yakama Nation, has edited the association newsletter. Her membership “means I can help honor all my ancestors,” she says. The late Norman Perkins, association president in the mid-1980s, traced his roots to Chief Seattle.

Pioneer Hall, says Junius Rochester, past president, “acts as a kind of viewpoint from today backwards, and I think students — adults, too — should be reminded that our roots are important.”

That’s an inclusive “our,” even when some turn up later.

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Below are a video, a brochure, 5 supplemental photos and, in chronological order, 12 historical clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and other online newspaper sources that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

VIDEO (1:37): Junius Rochester, historian and past president, addresses why Washington Pioneer Hall is important. Click the photo to see the video. (Clay Eals)
This is the six-panel brochure of the Pioneer Association of the State of Washington.
ALTERNATE NOW: Posing with masks before Washington Pioneer Hall are 15 leaders and members of the Pioneer Association are (from left) Randy Sleight, Junius Rochester, Gary Zimmerman, David Brazier, Sally Irving, Roy Pettus, Nancy Hewitt Spaeth, Alan Murray, Betsy Terry Losh, Liz Blaszczak, Lea Stimson, Steve Ellersick, Saundra Selle, Caroline Kiser and Regina Cornish. The group will hold an online toast and talk at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the organization’s incorporation.  (Jean Sherrard)
From the association’s December 2018 newsletter, here is a brief history of its headquarters before the brick hall was built in 1910. (Pioneer Association of the State of Washington)
Interior entryway sign. (Clay Eals)
Interior entryway sign. (Clay Eals)
Early photo of 1910 brick Washington Pioneer Hall. (Pioneer Association of the State of Washington)
May 18, 1905, Tacoma News-Tribune, page 4.
May 18, 1914, Seattle Times, page 11.
June 8, 1932, Seattle Times, page 3.
June 19, 1932, Seattle Times, page 44.
June 7, 1933, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 11.
June 5, 1949, Seattle Times, page 5.
June 8, 1952, Seattle Times, page 19.
March 30, 1958, Seattle Times Charmed Land magazine, cover.
March 30, 1958, Seattle Times Charmed Land magazine, page 2.
June 10, 1962, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 3.
June 11, 1967, Seattle Times, page 3.
Sept. 13, 1970, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 65.
Sept. 13, 1970, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 66.
June 13, 1971, Seattle Times, page 19.

Seattle Now & Then: Early Bruce Lee, 1963-1964

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THEN1: In late 1963 or early 1964, close to his 23rd birthday, Bruce Lee stands with gung-fu student and future wife Linda Emery as they look north outside Lee’s studio at 4750 University Way N.E. The storefront later housed a ballet studio, a metaphysics school and a plasma center. Today, it’s an art boutique. (Courtesy Bruce Lee Foundation)
NOW1: Doug Palmer and his wife, Noriko Goto Palmer, long active in the local Japanese and Japanese American communities, replicate the pose of Bruce Lee and Linda Emery in the same spot. Note the Bruce Lee posters in the windows. Doug will speak about his memoir, “Bruce Lee: Sifu, Friend and Big Brother” (2020, Chinn Music Press), at an online event at 2 p.m. Dec. 5, sponsored by the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. (Jean Sherrard)
THEN2: The apartment building at 4750 University Way N.E., completed in June 1958, is shown Jan. 9, 1959. (Puget Sound Regional Archives, courtesy Barbara Manning)
NOW2: The apartment building at 4750 University Way N.E. today. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Nov. 12, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Nov. 15, 2020)

The Seattle roots of Bruce Lee flow on his 80th anniversary
By Clay Eals

He was a global martial-arts hero, showcasing strength for Asian males while living in Seattle. And undergoing a 2020 revival is the late Bruce Lee.

Nationally, he’s the focus of a book by daughter Shannon and a documentary film, the titles of each invoking Lee’s fluid metaphor for mortality: “Be Water.” In Seattle, where Lee lived from 1959 to 1964 (he is buried at Lake View Cemetery), a Lee exhibit continues at Wing Luke Museum, and a local former student of Lee just released a memoir of their friendship. All of this precedes the 80th anniversary of the superstar’s Nov. 27 birth.

Doug Palmer’s new memoir on Bruce Lee. (Chinn Music Press)

The memoirist, retired Mount Baker attorney Doug Palmer, was a Garfield High School senior when he began to bond with Lee. Four years older, Lee was building a local reputation with gung-fu shows in person and on public-TV’s KCTS Channel 9.

Lee’s time in Seattle, Palmer says, was pivotal. While working at and living in a walk-in closet above Ruby Chow’s restaurant at Broadway and Jefferson, Lee atypically welcomed students of all races to his gung-fu classes in the eatery’s basement, area parks and a garage.

In October 1963, as a University of Washington drama/philosophy student, Lee expanded to a live-in studio for 10 months on the ground floor of the three-story University Way Apartments at 4750 University Way N.E.

In our “Then” photo, Lee stands at 4750 with gung-fu student Linda Emery, whom he married in August 1964 in Seattle. Two years later, he played Kato in the “Batman” and “Green Hornet” TV series, soon cascading to Hollywood fame, followed by an untimely, mysterious death in 1973 at age 32.

Palmer’s memoir brims with anecdotes about Lee, who was born in San Francisco and raised in Hong Kong. Lee’s father was Chinese and his mother Eurasian. Palmer says Lee proudly identified as Chinese, while his parents urged him to embrace diversity.

This helped him in December 1963, when Lee was dating Emery, who is white. Palmer, who is white, was dating a Chinese woman at the same time. Both women’s parents objected to interracial dating, so Lee and Palmer picked up each other’s dates at the parents’ homes, then switched partners.

Lee, Palmer writes, could be a challenge: “He liked the limelight and had a tendency to suck all the oxygen out of the room.” This, he says, was “a small price to pay” to experience Lee’s magnetism and a cross-cultural vision. As Palmer notes, “We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.”

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Big thanks to Barbara Manning, househistories@icloud.com, for suggesting this column topic, for compiling an impressive dossier on the 4750 University Way N.E. site and for her stellar research skills, curiosity and generosity. Check out her 38-page report:

This is the cover of a thorough report on the history of 4750 University Way N.E. by Seattle house-history researcher Barbara Manning, househistories@icloud.com. Click the cover to access the 38-page report. (Courtesy Barbara Manning)

Below are 7 supplemental photos and, in chronological order, 11 historical clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and other online newspaper sources that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

Fall 1963, Bruce Lee (center right) leads class in studio at 4750 University Way N.E. Doug Palmer is third from left. (Courtesy Doug Palmer)
Fall 1963, Bruce Lee (back to camera, right) leads class in studio at 4750 University Way N.E. Doug Palmer is at far left.  (David Tadman, courtesy Doug Palmer)
Fall 1963, Doug Palmer (front right) takes part in Bruce Lee class in studio at 4750 University Way N.E. (David Tadman, courtesy Doug Palmer)
Fall 1963, class under way at Bruce Lee studio at 4750 University Way N.E. Doug Palmer is at far right. (David Tadman, courtesy Doug Palmer)
Membership card for Bruce Lee’s Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute in Seattle. (Courtesy Jeff Chinn)
1937-1938, predecessor home at 4750 University Way N.E. (Puget Sound Regional Archives, courtesy Barbara Manning)
2020, Bruce Lee portrait by Desmond Hansen, aka Graves Hansen, on city signal box at northwest corner of 35th Avenue Southwest and Southwest Morgan Street in West Seattle. (Clay Eals)
May 28, 1961 Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 42.
May 29, 1961, Seattle Times, page 8.
May 29, 1961, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 8.
March 4, 1962, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 55.
May 18, 1962, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 29.
March 6, 1963, Seattle Times, page 18.
March 15, 1964, Seattle Times, page 135.
July 20, 1966, Seattle Times, page 14.
Dec. 29, 1966, Seattle Times, page 58.
Dec. 31, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 10.
July 3, 1967, Seattle Times, page 11.

 

Seattle Now & Then: The Yakima Canyon by Asahel Curtis, 1932

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: From his perch in 1932 above the Yakima River Canyon Road, Asahel Curtis looks wistfully into the Yakima Valley, in the direction of his lost family retreat. Our auto informant Robert Carney identifies the solo car as a 1929 Buick sedan.
NOW: While today’s State Highway 821 hews close to its earlier path, it was widened and regraded in the early 1960s to accommodate huge trucks loaded with produce. BNSF trains continue to roll through the canyon, although automotive traffic, moving and idle, accents this view. A very shy Mt. Adams peeps over the canyon shoulder center-right.

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Nov. 5, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Nov. 8, 2020)

Light – and a legendary photographer – carom through the canyon
By Jean Sherrard

On a recent early fall day, I once again scrambled after a hero. From La Push to the Columbia River, from Mount Rainier to the Denny Regrade, renowned photographer Asahel (pronounced “EH-shell”) Curtis (1874-1941) has led me on a decades-long, merry chase.

With boundless energy and ambition, Asahel explored every corner of our fair state with a visual imagination that, to my mind, surpasses the artfully composed photos of his more famous brother Edward (noted for his 20-volume masterwork, “The North American Indian”).

In contrast, Asahel hauled his battered camera through every environ and season to snare serendipitous scenes that crossed his lens. Eschewing fussy studio portraits, his “slice-of-life” photos document the quotidian, from Makah whalers to wheat farmers, loggers to factory workers. A founder of the Mountaineers Club, he also captured breathtaking vistas of our highest peaks.

This week’s “then” photo, taken by Asahel in 1932 at the south end of the Yakima River Canyon, is a picturesque joy. The ribbon of highway — with its single lonely car headed north, the empty railroad alongside the river, cradled by basalt hills — offers a haunting portrait of a singular landscape.

Gazing into the fertile Yakima Valley, Asahel would have conjured a lost paradise. In 1907, he had purchased a 9-acre orchard near Grandview as a family retreat from the hurly burly of Seattle city life. After the 1929 stock-market crash, Curtis forfeited his farm and deeply regretted it.

Inarguably, the 25-mile canyon is a photographer’s dream. Light plays over tawny hills around whose roots the Yakima River winds like a verdant green fuse. Driving the canyon road 20 years ago, I assumed wrongly that the water had eroded a path through the basalt.

Counterintuitively, the river came first, says Central Washington University geologist Nick Zentner, perfectly exemplifying an “entrenched meander canyon.” Twelve million years ago, the river twisted and curved across a flat plain, he says, while the basalt hills heaved into place 7 million years later, the result of tectonic pressures originating in what is now central California.

Today, tamed by road and rails — and the diversionary Roza Dam (erected in 1939) — the canyon drive supplies a series of spectacles that shapeshift dramatically with each season.

Asahel died in 1941 at age 66. Not until 1964 were his ashes interred at a Snoqualmie summit wayside memorial. Soon after its dedication, daughter Polly recalled in a 1988 Seattle Times interview, a lightning bolt destroyed the urn, scattering Curtis’ ashes to the winds. Her roving father would have keenly appreciated this fate.

WEB EXTRAS

Jean here: Several extras this week. The 360 video was taken on a Yakima Canyon slope – David Lee provided support as I shot the ‘now’ photo.

Below, a number of Yakima Canyon photos I’ve taken over the years – including, at top, recent photos of the canyon blackened by late summer fires; specifically the Evans Creek complex, which burned many square miles down to the river’s edge.

More black hills line verdant fields where cattle often graze.
The river has long been a fisherman’s paradise – even post-fire.
On the Ellensburg end of the Yakima Canyon, fire has blackened the usually golden slopes.
Howard Lev (L), founder of Mama Lil’s Peppers walks a canyon ridge just above Roza Dam. David Lee, creator of Field Roast, stands on the right. Over David’s shoulder, more fire damage.
Roza Dam, seen from above

Now, a few more photos from the canyon’s caroming light and shadow, taken over the last decade or so.

Midway down the canyon, a spectacular precipitous view – and a train!
A wider view of the ox-bow like effect of the Yakima River
I can’t resist this perspective, particularly on a day with superb if glowering clouds
Another favorite view.
The same view in evening light
Spiky precise beauty near Umtanum creek – now burned in the recent fires
A road runs through it
Gone fishing – take me there now please…
A railroad bridge on the Ellensburg side
On a winter’s day, frost covers the hillside above Roza Dam
On the ridge above Roza Dam at winter
The frozen river
Another photo I repeated for years: rock, sagebrush, and river
Rock, sage, and river again
Another view of the Yakima side of the canyon in winter

On the same day I took the ‘now’ for this column, we visited Johnson Foods in Sunnyside. The cannery has been packing Mama Lil’s Peppers for many years.

We paid a visit to Johnson Foods, the Sunnyside cannery that bottles Mama Lil’s Peppers. Manager Gary Stonemetz (R) examines goathorn peppers with Howard Lev.
Inside the cannery, bottles fly past after being labelled
At Johnson foods, unlabeled bottles of Mama Lil’s Peppers herd together

 

 

Seattle Now & Then: Mack’s Totem Curio Shop, late 1930s/1940s

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JOIN US ON ZOOM!

This month, “Now & Then” columnists Clay Eals and Jean Sherrard will give illustrated Zoom talks, titled “An Insider’s Look at ‘Now & Then’ ,” for two local heritage organizations. Here are times, dates and registration links for the free presentations:

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(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN1: Dating between 1938 and the mid-1940s, this postcard is a pre-Photoshop consolidation of two photos of Mack’s Totem Curio Shop, elevated above street level at 71 Marion Street Viaduct. In its first few years, Mack’s was a few doors west at 63-1/2. Be sure to click this photo twice to see the mismatch at bottom center. (Courtesy Dan Kerlee)
THEN2: Albert Angus “Mack” McKillop stands at the entry to his shop, which bears a slightly different name, likely at 63-1/2 Marion Street Viaduct in the mid-1930s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
NOW: Wearing an ivory pendant made by her grandfather, Victoria McKillop of Ballard stands on the Marion Street Viaduct where her grandfather operated Mack’s Totem Curio Shop from 1933 to 1971. The viaduct was truncated during the 2019 demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Pedestrians now walk between First Avenue and Colman Dock along a new elevated walkway that doglegs via Columbia Street. (Clay Eals)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Oct. 29, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Nov. 1, 2020)

Totem-shop postcard turns the corner on a curious puzzle
By Clay Eals

With this week’s “Then” photo, we present a visual puzzle whose clue is quite difficult to detect.

The subject is Mack’s Totem Curio Shop. Most Seattleites today associate the word “curio” with Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, for 121 years a tourist fixture with ghoulish attractions at several spots near or along the downtown waterfront, now at Pier 54.

But not much farther than a mummy’s throw away, Albert Angus “Mack” McKillop competed with Ye Olde for 38 years, from his store’s inception in 1933 to his death in 1971. His wares ranged from Native American carvings and Belfast cord (used in macramé) to fossils and walrus ivory (whose sale came under federal regulation in 1972).

Mack’s operated from the Marion Street Viaduct, a second-story bridge guiding countless pedestrians from First Avenue across Alaskan Way to the Colman Dock ferries and vice versa. Talk about storefront visibility.

That’s where the puzzle comes in. With carved panels, totem poles and bauble-filled windows, the shop stood near the middle of the elevated block. So why does this postcard depict Mack’s on a corner?

A detail of the mismatch in our “Then.” (Courtesy Ron Edge)

Our sleuths strained for clues by studying old maps, aerial photos and window reflections. Finally, Ron Edge enlarged the card to reveal that the lower bricks of the depicted corner do not exactly line up. Thus, discounting potentially poor masonry, we assume the card is a mash-up of two images, one facing east and the other facing south, to create a faux angle.

The postcard is among artifacts preserved by the family. Did McKillop create and sell the fabricated portrayal for his shop to be perceived as more conspicuous and prosperous? Did he assume newcomers, conned by the card, would forgive the deception upon their arrival? The answers remain … a curiosity.

Born in Manitoba in 1896, McKillop spent early adult years as a schooner seaman near Point Barrow, Alaska, before heading south at age 37 to start his Seattle business. His carved ivory gavels, earrings and belt buckles became a specialty.

His most celebrated showpiece, glaring from high on an interior wall, was a walrus head with four tusks. In 1956, McKillop told The Seattle Times he had found the rare remnant in a local tavern. His research indicated the animal was shot in 1915 in Siberia, and he claimed it was the world’s only known four-tusker.

McKillop was both craftsman and salesman. So one can wonder at the monogram — a mix of his A and M initials — visible at the base of the totem poles appearing at each end of the postcard. Did Mack commission or acquire the poles or carve them himself? Another unsolved puzzle!

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Big thanks to Dan Kerlee, Ron Edge, Barbara Manning and especially Victoria McKillop for their invaluable help in assembling the elements and thrust of this column!

Below are 53 supplemental photos, a map, four certificates and, in chronological order, 43 historical clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and other online newspaper sources that relate to Mack’s Totem Curio Shop, A.A. McKillop and the Marion Street Viaduct and that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

A detail of the mismatch in our “Then.” (Courtesy Ron Edge)
1905, site of future Marion Street Viaduct, looking west on Marion Street. (Courtesy Ron Edge)
Pre-1930s Marion Street Viaduct, looking west. (Courtesy Ron Edge)
Nov. 29, 1951, Mack’s Totem Curio Shop along the Marion Street Viaduct, looking west. (Seattle Municipal Archives)
1950 Sanborn map address numbers for Marion Street Viaduct (north is up). (Courtesy Ron Edge)
A.A. McKillop and son John (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
April 1, 1931, A.A. McKillop seaman’s application. (Courtesy Barbara Manning)
Undated A.A. McKillop registration. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
April 2, 1931, A.A. McKillop seaman’s protection certificate. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
July 27, 1939, A.A. McKillop marriage registration, Victoria, B.C. (Courtesy Barbara Manning)
1934 McKillop listing in city directory. (Courtesy Barbara Manning, Ron Edge)
Undaetd, Albert Angus McKillop at his counter. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, Albert Angus McKillop at desk with ivory. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, Albert Angus McKillop outside shop with bird totem. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, A.A. McKillop at shop entry. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
1954 Mack’s Totem Curio Shop looking east. (Courtesy Seattle Public Library)
Undated, Mack’s Totem Curio Shop looking east. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, Mack’s Totem Curio Shop looking east. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, Mack’s Totem Curio Shop looking east. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, Mack’s Totem Curio Shop looking east. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, Mack’s Totem Curio Shop looking south. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, Mack’s Totem Curio Shop looking south. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, Mack’s Totem Curio Shop looking south. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, seven masks at Mack’s exterior. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, totem outside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, totem outside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, totem outside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, totem outside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, totem outside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, totem outside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, totem outside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, totem outside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, totem outside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, totem outside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, totem outside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, totem outside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, totem outside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, totem outside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, masks outside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, inside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, inside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, inside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, four-tusk walrus inside Mack’s. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, four-tusk walrus postcard. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
Undated, Mack’s panel detail. (Clay Eals)
Undated, Mack’s panel detail. (Clay Eals)
Undated, Mack’s panel detail. (Clay Eals)
Undated, Mack’s panel detail. (Clay Eals)
Undated, Victoria McKillop with Mack’s panel. (Clay Eals)
Undated, Mack’s panel. (Clay Eals)
Undated, Mack’s panel detail. (Clay Eals)
Undated, Mack’s panel detail. (Clay Eals)
Undated, Mack’s panel detail. (Clay Eals)
Undated, Mack’s panel. (Clay Eals)
Undated, Mack’s panel. (Clay Eals)
Undated, Mack’s panel. (Clay Eals)
Mack’s two-tusk walrus head. (Clay Eals)
Andrew Angus “Mack” McKillop signature on letter to wife. (Courtesy Victoria McKillop)
March 10, 1909, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 13.
March 11, 1909, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 6.
July 3, 1909, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 12.
Oct. 17, 1909, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 25.
Dec. 18, 1910, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 22.
Oct. 27, 1910, Seattle Times, page 76.
Oct. 18, 1911, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 7.
April 10, 1914, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 14.
Nov. 17, 1914, Seattle Times, page 17.
July 20, 1916, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 2.
Oct. 7, 1916, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 4.
March 4, 1917, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 10.
Sept. 30, 1917, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 30.
Oct. 6, 1918, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 9.
Nov. 3, 1918, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 30.
Dec. 8, 1918, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 39.
Jan. 1, 1920, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 17.
April 24, 1920, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 22.
June 9, 1921, Seattle Times, page 20.
Dec. 5, 1923, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 5.
Sept. 10, 1939, Seattle Times, page 25.
Aug. 7, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 19.
June 7, 1942, Seattle Times, page 24.
Sept. 6, 1943, Seattle Times, page 17.
Nov. 24, 1947, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 16.
Oct. 30, 1949, Seattle Times, page 23.
June 22, 1955, Seattle Times, page 31.
Dec. 30, 1955, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 23.
March 6, 1956, Seattle Times, page 26.
May 6, 1956, Seattle Times, page 115.
Oct. 20, 1959, Seattle Times, page 23.

 

Feb. 1, 1961, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 13.
Feb. 2, 1965, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Mike Mailway column, page 8.
Dec. 10, 1967, Seattle Times, page 75.
Oct. 20, 1969, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 1.
Oct. 21, 1969, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 18.
July 17, 1971, A.A. McKillop obituary, Vancouver Sun. (Courtesy Barbara Manning)
Nov. 17, 1971, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Emmett Watson column, page 11.
May 17, 1972, Seattle Times, page 60.
Dec. 19, 1972, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 31.
March 16, 1979, Seattle Times, Mack’s successor The Legacy, page 78.
March 8, 1981, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Mack’s successor The Legacy, page 84.
July 13, 1982, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Mack’s successor The Legacy, page 29.

Seattle Now & Then: The Post Edwards Building (aka Lusty Lady), 1904

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN1: Workers at C. Sidney Shepard & Co. assemble for a portrait in March 1904. The windows reflect the block-long Arcade Building directly across First Avenue, where the Seattle Art Museum stands today. (Courtesy, Ron Edge)
THEN2: To mark the Lusty Lady’s last day on June 12, 2010, dancers – from left, Hexe, Wildflower, Isis, Heather and Tonya – gather at the entrance. For more of the story, visit photographer Erika Langley’s website at http://www.erikalangley.com. (Erika Langley)
NOW: The Post Edwards building has been unoccupied since the 2010 closing of the Lusty Lady, though the interior has been gutted for eventual renovation. Two modern towers, the 25-story Harbor Steps Apartments and the Four Seasons Hotel, muscle in on either side. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Oct. 22, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Oct. 25, 2020)

This classic masonry building met a lot of peeps along ‘Flesh Avenue’
By Jean Sherrard

This week’s “Then” photo features an amiable bunch of C. Sidney Shepard Co. employees who might have enjoyed a bit of wordplay if given a chance. Their short-lived wholesale metal shop operated between University and Union streets on the west side of First Avenue.

Mirrored reflections in the shop windows date the image. A billboard across the street promotes Denman Thompson’s touring production of “The Old Homestead” for March 17-19, 1904. Though the hit play tempted audiences for years to come, Shepard’s shop ended its run at the Post Edwards Building in 1906.

The Post Edwards (aka the Hotel Vendome) arose in the boom one year after the 1889 Great Seattle Fire. Prolific architect William E. Boone (descendant of Daniel of the legendary raccoon-skin cap) adopted the then-popular Romanesque Revival style. For torched Seattle, the fireproof masonry stonework offered a sense of security that wood could not.

The Hotel Vendome (“Commercial and Family Patronage specially solicited”) promoted itself as a respectable alternative to sketchier lodging on First Avenue, though itinerant psychics, mediums and spiritualists prowled its lower floors for decades. Madame Melbourne and Venus the Gypsy (who promised “satisfaction or no fee”) read the palms of Yukon-bound gold seekers, while the Rev. Edward Earle (“world’s greatest psychic”) foretold the fortunes of soldiers headed into what then was called the Great War.

By the mid-1940s, Anne and Lucius Avery had bought Post Edwards, rechristening it the Seven Seas Hotel and Tavern. Upon her death in 1969, “Mom” Avery was feted for her fondness for seafarers and skills as a bouncer, but the increasingly gritty street had filled with strip shows, porn and pawn shops, cementing its reputation as “Flesh Avenue.”

So when the Lusty Lady, the peep show with a famously punny marquee, arrived at the Post Edwards in 1985, it seemed to suit the neighborhood. Uniquely, however, the venue was run by women, and it was there, in 1992, that young photographer Erika Langley found a gutsy and radical project.

To tell the real story of the place, manager June Cade urged her to sign on as a dancer. Shy and terrified, Langley nevertheless agreed and never looked back. Her 1997 book “The Lusty Lady” was the celebrated result.

After publication, Langley continued dancing until 2004. “I learned so much about humans and sexuality and judgment,” she says, “and in this unlikely place, I had found my tribe.”

Since the 2010 closure of the Lusty Lady, the Post Edwards has drooped with inactivity. As the marquee might say, the building needs more than a sheet to test its metal.

WEB EXTRAS

First, most definitely visit ErikaLangley.com. She’s an amazing photographer with a genius for both image and storytelling.

To see our 360 video taken along First Avenue, and hear Jean’s accompanying narration, dance on over here.

Seattle Now & Then: car-sales lots, 1957, and today’s Amazon Spheres

JOIN US ON ZOOM!

“Now & Then” columnists Clay Eals and Jean Sherrard soon will give illustrated Zoom talks, titled “An Insider’s Look at ‘Now & Then’ ,” for three local heritage organizations. Here are times, dates and registration links for the free presentations:

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(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN: This property-value assessor’s photo, looking west and slightly north from the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Lenora Street north of downtown, was taken Dec. 18, 1957. Car details from our automotive informant Bob Carney: (from left) on street 1953 Chevrolet, 1956 Buick Special and 1953 Chevrolet 210 sedan. To left of Lee Moran building: 1953 Chevrolet. To right of building: 1955 Mercury. The lineup of used cars facing the street: 1956 Lincoln, 1956 Mercury, 1954 Mercury, 1956 Mercury, 1955 Oldsmobile 88, 1955 Studebaker coupe, 1950 Buick (can barely see the portholes) and, at far right, 1957 Ford. (Puget Sound Regional Branch, Washington State Archives)
NOW: Opened Jan. 30, 2018, the Amazon Spheres complex serves as the signature structure for the internet-based colossus. Standing three to four stories tall, the spheres mix 40,000 plants with meeting spaces and stores, but the orbs are closed during the coronavirus pandemic. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Oct. 15, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Oct. 18, 2020)

Who could have predicted what these car lots would become?
By Clay Eals

Will Ferrell is mortally worried. Using the phrase “little did he know,” a stranger’s voice in his head is foretelling his death. He consults a literature professor, Dustin Hoffman, who warms to the puzzle by saying that he “once gave an entire seminar on ‘little did he know’ .”

Dustin Hoffman (left) and Will Ferrell in the 2006 film “Stranger Than Fiction.”

We jump from that scene in the 2006 film “Stranger than Fiction” (left) to our “Then” photo from Dec. 18, 1957. It captures a gent in a fedora driving a 1956 Buick Special and in momentary contemplation while stopped on Seventh Avenue at Lenora Street. Little did he know — or could anyone conceive — of the transformation 60 years later of this down-to-earth commercial tableau.

A stone’s throw from post-World War II downtown, this block is a typical 1950s tribute to the internal combustion engine, featuring the Lee Moran, W.R. Smith and ABC Fair-Way businesses and their symphony of signs: from “Cash for Cars” and “Cars under Cover” to “Highest Price for Used Cars” and “All Makes All Prices.” Car dealers had covered the block since the early 1940s, preceded by rental housing back to the century’s turn.

On the day this photo was taken (for use by the county to aid in assessing property tax), the weather forecast was familiar: “mostly cloudy with a few showers, occasional sun,” with a high of 45 to 50 degrees.

Gov. Albert Rosellini was inviting Seattle and King County to lead construction of a controversial second bridge across Lake Washington. Nationally, the first Atlas intercontinental missile was launched at Cape Canaveral, Alabama voters allowed the state to abolish a county in which Blacks outnumbered whites by more than 7 to 1, and actress Elizabeth Taylor underwent an appendectomy. Internationally, NATO delegates pushed Russia to resume disarmament talks.

Dec. 18, 1957, Frederick & Nelson ad, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 16. (Illustration by Bob Cram.) The “ultra-chrome dome home” resembles, among other things, the legendary Kalakala ferry.

Among newspaper ads this day was one for the classy Frederick & Nelson department store (right). The pitched product was women’s stockings, but the accompanying Bob Cram illustration was a huge, pre-Jetsons cartoon featuring a “man of tomorrow” having landed in a space vehicle and his wife dashing to greet him — in “Round-the-Clock superb sheers” — at the front door of their “ultra-chrome dome home.”

One might say that the many round-topped sedans in our “Then” photo serve as figurative domes, each one a sphere to represent the life of a driver or family.

Today we find the block dominated by the triple-orb greenhouse of Seattle-based Amazon. The online giant is doing everything it can — including, most recently, dabbling in drone delivery — to encompass all of us in its shopping sphere.

Where will that lead? Little do we know.

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Below are three supplemental photos and, in chronological order, 21 historical clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and other online newspaper sources that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

Sept. 29, 1943, tax assessor’s photo of the same site as our “then” but taken from Sixth Avenue at the address 2016 Sixth Ave. Car details from our automotive informant Bob Carney: (from left) 1934 Studebaker, 1940 Plymouth, 1939 Ford Standard, and 1930 Studebaker Dictator. (Puget Sound Regional Branch, Washington State Archives)
Dec. 18, 1957, tax assessor’s photo of the same site as our “then” but taken from Sixth Avenue at the address 2016 Sixth Ave. Car details from our automotive informant Bob Carney: (from left) 1956 Ford Fairlane, 1954 Chevrolet 210 station wagon, 1951 Nash and 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air. (Puget Sound Regional Branch, Washington State Archives)
Sept. 8, 2020, Amazon Spheres, facing east from Sixth Avenue. (Jean Sherrard)
May 31, 1903, Seattle Times, page 26.
June 12, 1904, Seattle Times, page 13.
June 3, 1910, Seattle Times, page 23.
April 30, 1911, Seattle Times, page 39.
July 9, 1911, Seattle Times, page 22.
Oct. 5, 1913, Seattle Times, page 43.
Dec. 14, 1913, Seattle Times, page 38.
March 1, 1914, Seattle Times, page 43.
Sept. 2, 1926, Seattle Times, page 27.
Sept. 3, 1926, Seattle Times, page 29.
Feb. 1, 1944, Seattle Times, page 19.
Sept. 3, 1948, Seattle Times, page 35.
May 19, 1954, Seattle Times, page 48.
Feb. 25, 1955, Seattle Times, page 39.
May 19, 1957, Seattle Times, page 56.
Dec. 17, 1957, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 28.
Dec. 18, 1957, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 11.
Dec. 18, 1957, Frederick & Nelson ad, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 16. (Illustration by Bob Cram.)
Dec. 18, 1957, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 17. (Illustration by Bob Cram.)
Dec. 18, 1957, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 27.
Dec. 19, 1957, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 40.

Seattle Now & Then: Great Northern Tunnel construction, 1904

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Three years before the creation of the Pike Place Market in 1907, an unknown photographer captured savory treats. Just right of the tunnel entrance, a temporary assembly line supplied rivers of concrete to line the tunnel walls. Meanwhile, at upper left, an intrepid gent peers over the precipitous edge of the retaining wall at the laborers below.
NOW: A northbound Burlington Northern train emerges from the still-vital north portal onto a waterfront under construction. Concrete pillars and beams are being poured to support a new road connecting the waterfront to Belltown, the four-lane Elliott Way.

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Oct. 8, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Oct. 11, 2020)

The tunnel that reshaped the waterfront (no, not THAT one)
by Jean Sherrard

Just over a year and half has passed since the ribbon-cutting ceremony opening the 1.7-mile Highway 99 tunnel that replaced the geriatric Alaskan Way Viaduct. Four years of burrowing with Bertha, one of the world’s largest tunnel borers, followed by two years of construction and months of viaduct demolition, left behind a wide-open waterfront, ripe for re-imagining.

That most ambitious of Seattle tunnels invites comparison with another one completed 115 years ago. It, too, was an attempt to solve a waterfront problem. Alaskan Way, originally Railroad Avenue, was ribbed with a wide swath of eight sets of parallel train tracks. The dangerous clatter and din of passing trains separated the upland city from its vigorous bay.

Seattle’s transformational city engineer, Reginald H. Thomson, devised the re-routing of some of that traffic, convincing James J. Hill, the Great Northern railroad magnate, to send his trains through a 5,141.5-foot tunnel from the waterfront to the proposed King Street train station (built in 1906 as a marble temple of transport suitable for the aspiring young city).

On April Fools Day 1903, construction commenced at the tunnel’s northern portal, employing pressure hoses to wash away vast tons of dirt and expose the face of the hillside. Within two months, work began a mile away on the south portal.

Hundreds of men at both ends dug day and night for two years in a fiercely competitive race to the middle. In a marvel of precision engineering, the two boreholes were only a fraction of an inch off when in October 1904 they met. Wags among the workers joked that they had built the longest tunnel in the world: from Virginia to Washington — streets, that is. And for its time, the tunnel did break records. When completed, it was the highest (25.8 feet) and widest (30 feet) tunnel in the world.

The tube was lined with 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 feet of concrete, reaching its deepest point 111 feet below Fourth and Spring. Curiously, it also delved through remains of an anaerobically preserved primeval forest at Fourth and Marion. (Soon after exposure to air, the trees reportedly turned to mulch.)

Though overhead property owners worried about their buildings’ foundations, the only actual casualty of construction was the Hotel York at the northwest corner of First and Pike (in our “Then” photo sporting an enormous mural puffing up Owl cigars). Its underpinning undermined, it was razed in November 1904. In 1912, it was replaced by the Corner Market Building, which to this day anchors the Pike Place Market.

WEB EXTRAS

To watch our 360 degree video, which includes two passing trains and Jean’s narration, click here.

Plus a bit of a backstory here. I found a lovely ‘then’ and tried to repeat it, only to discover that the quality was subpar. The original is not lost, but included in the many thousands that Paul donated to the SPL; so for the time being, unavailable. Here, then, is my first attempt at repeating the shot from below:

Alternate THEN: North portal under construction from below
My alternate NOW
More from below. Girders lined up for the new Elliott Way. Victor Steinbrueck Park above…

And, in no particular order, shots of construction and trains!

Construction, double decker train cars and a receding ferry. Who could ask for anything more?

 

Seattle Now & Then: Mount Baker tunnel, 1940

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN: This nighttime view of the eastbound Mount Baker tunnel shows that the original twin tubes had two lanes apiece. The photo was taken at least a few weeks after the tunnel’s July 2, 1940, opening because the 3-foot wide interior sidewalks, with high curbs and pipe guardrail, were not installed until later that month. (University of Washington Special Collections)
NOW: Repeating the original path of our “Then,” this daytime view shows only two of the Mount Baker tunnel’s four present-day eastbound lanes for auto traffic. The other two, not pictured, emerge from the formerly westbound tunnel immediately to the north. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Oct. 1, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Oct. 4, 2020)

In 1940, tunnel vision created a connection to the Eastside
By Clay Eals

As spooky as it is ethereal, our “Then” photo suggests Seattle barreling through a spacey cylinder to meet the future. The scene typifies our city’s bent for transforming its topography to satisfy urban dreams.

Eighty years ago, on July 2, 1940, an audacious dream — twin tunnels drilled through Mount Baker Ridge to connect Seattle to Mercer Island and the greater Eastside via an innovative bridge with floating concrete pontoons that crossed Lake Washington — became a reality that countless motorists take for granted today.

From the outset, the inextricably linked tunnels and bridge personified popularity, drawing 11,611 vehicles in the first 10-1/2 hours alone. To sustain this full-to-bursting stretch of what became an interstate artery, a companion tunnel and span were added a half-century later while, astonishingly, the original bridge sank and was quickly rebuilt.

Time was, Seattleites traveled east only by ferrying across or circumnavigating the elongated next-door lake. Some, including James Wood, Seattle Times associate editor, wanted to keep it that way.

“Just about the wildest dream ever to afflict an engineering mind is the proposed 8,000-foot concrete fence,” he wrote on Aug. 13, 1937. He called the tunnel-bridge project “a gross and wholly unnecessary obstruction.”

Prevailing, however, were campaigners for commerce. “The future prosperity of Seattle depends upon removing the barrier of the lake in order to gain easier access to the hinterland,” wrote Medina mogul Miller Freeman in the Jan. 9, 1938, Times. “It will providentially afford Seattle room for expansion in the only direction it can grow successfully.”

Thus the bridge and tunnels joined Seattle’s indelible identity. We of a certain age recall holding our breath through all 1,465 feet when parents drove us through one of the tunnels. Sometimes our elders humored us, generating a riotous echo by honking the car horn. But all was not childish fun.

As the neon indicates in our “Then,” when crossing the bridge to Mercer Island, drivers faced a variable toll of 25 to 45 cents, which ended in 1949. The curved arrow pointed to an abrupt “Lake Shore” entrance/exit opportunity tucked between the tunnels and bridge both east- and westbound at 35th Avenue South. A treacherous invitation to high-speed fender-benders and worse, it was curtailed in 1989.

Other tunnel-bridge idiosyncrasies, inconceivable today, triggered repeated fatalities. An awkward mid-bridge bulge to allow boat crossings was mercifully removed in 1981. Unprotected reversible lanes, instituted in 1960 to ease commuting, finally were eliminated in 1984.

Momentarily inattentive to the latter, as a fledgling 16-year-old driver in 1967 I barely avoided a head-on crash one afternoon.

The prospect still spooks me.

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Below are seven present-day photos and, in chronological order, 62 historical clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and other online newspaper sources that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

Traffic heads eastbound out of the two original Mount Baker tunnels on Aug. 28, 2020. Westbound traffic uses newer tunnels out of view at far right. (Clay Eals)
A car emerges from the southernmost original Mount Baker tunnel, Aug. 28, 2020. The original “Portal of the North Pacific” concrete artwork is barely discernible at upper middle. (Clay Eals)
Traffic crosses the Mercer Island Floating Bridge in this eastbound view from atop the Mount Baker tunnels, Aug. 28, 2020. (Clay Eals)
Now a mere side street, 35th Avenue South dead-ends on the south side of the original Mount Baker tunnels, on Aug. 28, 2020. Here is where, for decades, eastbound drivers could enter the highway bridge or exit immediately after driving through the tunnel. Such access to the tunnel and bridge today is blocked and restricted to emergency vehicles. (Clay Eals)
A plaque dedicating the bridge to designer Homer Hadley, Aug. 28, 2020. (Clay Eals)
A plaque designating the bridge and tunnel a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, Aug. 28, 2020. (Clay Eals)
With bridge traffic roaring in the distance, this plaque dedicates the bridge to state highway director Lacey V. Murrow, Aug. 28, 2020. (Clay Eals)
Aug. 13, 1937, Seattle Times, page 6.
Jan. 9, 1938, Seattle Times, page 8.
May 15, 1938, Seattle Times, page 1.
May 15, 1938, Seattle Times, page 4.
June 26, 1938, Seattle Times, page 11.
April 1, 1939, Seattle Times, page 27.
Aug. 13, 1939, Seattle Times, page 42.
Sept. 3, 1939, Seattle Times, page 35.
Oct. 13, 1939, Seattle Times, page 16.
Oct. 21, 1939, Seattle Times, page 1.
Oct. 21, 1939, Seattle Times, page 2.
Jan. 26, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 17.
Feb. 5, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 11.
Feb. 26, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 9.
April 12, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 6.
April 13, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 3.
April 13, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, pages 1 and 3.
May 19, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 27.
May 31, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 17.
June 8, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 9.
June 14, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 1.
June 14, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 3.
June 14, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 5.
June 30, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 1.
June 30, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 16.
June 30, 1940, Seattle Times, page 17.
June 30, 1940, Seattle Times, page 19.
July 3, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 1.
July 3, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 6.
July 3, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 6.
July 3, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 7.
July 4, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 6.
July 10, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 10.
July 21, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 66.
Sept. 2, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 3.
Sept. 19, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 9.
Oct. 11, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 31.
Oct. 13, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 58.
Dec. 17, 1947, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 28.
July 19, 1949, Southeast Missourian.
Aug. 24, 1954, Seattle Times, page 4.
Jan. 7, 1955, Seattle Times, page 8.
May 31, 1955, Seattle Times, page 8.
Feb. 3, 1957, Seattle Times, page 2.
May 31, 1957, Seattle Times, page 21.
Dec. 30, 1959, Seattle Times, page 17.
March 16, 1960, Seattle Times, page 13.
Feb. 22, 1961, Mercer Island Reporter.
March 25, 1963, Seattle Times, page 5.
Dec. 17, 1963, Seattle Times, page 10.
Dec. 25, 1963, Seattle Times, page 67.
Dec. 26, 1963, Seattle Times, page 10.
Jan. 3, 1964, Seattle Times, page 10.
Sept. 23, 1970, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 3.
Jan. 17, 1974, Seattle Times, page 4.
May 20, 1974, Seattle Times, page 11.
Feb. 27, 1979, Seattle Times, page 12.
Jan. 30, 1980, Seattle Times, page 10.
Sept. 4, 1981, Seattle Times, page 98.
Sept. 7, 1981, Seattle Times, page 1.
April 13, 1984, Seattle Times, page 10.
Aug. 16, 1984, Seattle Times, page 56.

Now & Then here and now