2009-03-15 Union Station on Gas Cove

THEN: 1910 construction of the Union Pacific Railroad’s grand depot. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: Jean Sherrard has moved a few feet north of the historical photographer’s prospect on 5th Avenue South in order to see the landmark station around the corner an International District Station artifact, on the left.
NOW: Jean Sherrard has moved a few feet north of the historical photographer’s prospect on 5th Avenue South in order to see the landmark station around the corner an International District Station artifact, on the left.

For the historical construction scene a staff photographer from Webster and Stevens (the studio that the Seattle Times contracted early in the 20th Century to do much of the paper’s photography) stands on a then Fifth Avenue S. trestle a few feet south of King Street to record this work-in-progress on the Union Station, the second of the big “palace stations” built facing Jackson Street and the business district.

The steel supports for the vaulted roof are being set.  The waiting lobby below it  – what is now called the “Great Hall” – gave Union Pacific and Milwaukee road riders a sublime welcome and/or good bye.  At its peak, the Washington-Oregon Station (its other name) employed more than 100 men in the baggage room providing for the almost 40 daily train arrivals and departures.

The station was built in 1910-11 at the corner of the reclaimed tideflats close to what would become the International District, or Chinatown.  Because of this location the site was a tidal collector and one of the most polluted parts of the waterfront. Had the photographer stood here three years earlier she or he would have look into the sprawling gas manufacturing plant that then still filled this pit, which was sometimes called Gas Cove.  (In 1907 the gas makers moved to Wallingford – Gas Works Park – and lower Queen Anne – the “Blue Flame Building” – to open the cove for the coming railroad.)

Standing on the same spot 29 years earlier anyone would have felt the commotion of the trains loaded with coal charging directly through this scene over a trestle and under full steam to carry them up and on to the oversized King Street wharf where California colliers lined up waiting for the coals of Newcastle and Renton.

Now much of the old cleaned-up cove between 5th Avenue and Union Station is covered with a patio, which itself only partly covers the open-air International District Station.  This is the southern terminus for the Downtown Transit Tunnel, and soon Sound Transit Central Link light rail trains will be stopping here as well.  A century ago the Union Pacific Railroad still had plans to continue north from here with their own tunnel beneath the city.

A closer view from the plaza
A closer view from the plaza
Inside Union Station
Union Station's "Great Hall"

For more on Seattle’s Union Station, please see the following related Seattle Now & Thens: “The King Street Gas Yard” (originally from 1993) and “High on Labor” (from 2002)

3 thoughts on “2009-03-15 Union Station on Gas Cove”

  1. As I reviewed the photos posted with the Now and Then article at the Seattle Times website this morning I noticed discrepancies between the architectural character of the Union Station of the present and the historic photograph.

    Suspicious of the accuracy of the article, I came to this blog from the Seattle Times website, and found the larger versions of the photos I could more closely exam. After doing so, I believe the Webster and Stevens photo from the MOHAI collection is in fact a photograph of the construction of King Street Station, not Union Station. I believe this for the following reasons:

    (1) Differing Architectural Details. Looking at the historic photo side-by-side with the contemporary photo of Union Station taken from the plaza above International District/Chinatown transit tunnel station, a casual viewer might not be cognizant that the ground level of Union Station is indeed hidden below the level of the plaza. But if we examine the contemporary photo with the emerging details of the second floor of the building under construction in the historic photo, you’ll see differing details–details that indicate that we’re looking at two different buildings. First, if we look at the corner of Union Station nearest the viewer in the contemporary photo (the southeast corner), you can see a brick reveal that creates a repeating horizontal shadow line that extends up to the frieze and cornice band. Now looking at the historic photograph we do not see this same repeating horizontal detail, instead we see a blind window being gradually surrounded by concrete or stone jambs (see it there in the historic photo–its that light colored material) at the corner of the building as the building is built. Second, examine the south elevation of both buildings. The contemporary photo of Union Station shows a gable with a large arched window which hints at the magnificent barrel vault inside. These two features are on a form that “bumps” out from the main mass of the building further south than the rest of the building. Now look at the historic photo–there is no such form evident.

    (2) Structural Clues in the Historical Photograph. I believe some clues in the original photo have been overlooked or misinterpreted. First, I believe it is erroneous when Mr. Dorpat’s writes that the skeletal steel trusses in the photograph are being erected to support the great hall. What is portrayed in the photo are roof trusses that are not designed for a clear span. Look closely, you can see vertical columns supporting the trusses at mid span. But there are clues that indicate this is a historical photo of King Street Station under construction. Looking just above and beyond the corner with blind windows (the southeast corner) you can see some rather beefy looking steel–that’s the rising King Street Station clock tower. Also, rising above the partially complete south elevation you see six columns which will shortly support the trusses and ceiling of King Street Station’s waiting room. If these were for Union Station, they would be positioned on the east and west sides.

    These things I can see in short order by comparing the two photographs. But the mistake is truly revealed by,

    (3) The Metadata of Original Photograph. The entry for the photograph in MOHAI collection explicitly says that the historical photograph is King Street Station. There you can read the caption on the back of the photograph where it says “King St. Station being built”.

    I think somewhere along the way, a mistake was made. If you agree with my assessment, please provide a correction here and in the Times in the service of historic accuracy.

    All the best,

    L. Vine

  2. Mea Culpa. And stupid too.

    Greetings dear L. We are working at rectitude. Jean thinks he also took a view from 4th (not 5th) of the Great Northern Depot. If not he will snap it late Monday. I’ll will rewrite the description of this now-then – with something about the King Street Station – and preface that with a “true confession” and a suggestion that the readers also look at your detailed analysis. For that we will also keep a copy of Jean’s photo from 5th near it and near the new pair. Thanks for your interest and thoughtful care in this. It makes good hide-and-seek reading and should be appreciated for that too. My best excuses are that I first thought it was the King Station, that I might have better used the landmark fire station on the old not yet extended 2nd Ave. and beyond it the Stewart and Holmes drugs signs as clues. All are in the photo. There must be other excuses too. Unfortuntely, I don’t think that I am sick, nor was I instructed by any politician, preacher or other authority to make this mistake. I did it on my own. But I have not made another such blooper in 27 years – or about 1400 stories – and that may be taken into consideration during the sentencing. Here’s the other excuse. I am at this time preoccupied. I need to get this Ivar biography “Keep Clam” out by the end of the year or I’ll be ostracized by my friends, but if I make any more mistakes like this one, perhaps also ostracized by the community. I’ll need to move to Tacoma. Yes I WILL move to Tacoma. Meanwhile I shall try to Keep Clam.

    More than the best for you L. Thanks much.


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