Seattle Now & Then: Westlake Night Lights

(click to enlarge photos)

Great railroad signs, theatre signs and ranks of neon were still the greatest contributors to night light at 4th and Westlake in 1949. (Photo by Robert Bradley compliment of Lawton and Jean Gowey)
THEN: Great railroad signs, theatre signs and ranks of neon were still the greatest contributors to night light at 4th and Westlake in 1949. (Photo by Robert Bradley compliment of Lawton and Jean Gowey)

For those who can remember it, Jean Sherrard’s “now” with its starburst lights, repeats the illuminated Christmas star that the Bon Marche Department Store once hung from its nearby corner at 4th and Pine. [Here follows the main body of text.]

This week’s view north on Fourth Avenue from Pike Street shines with neon and those by now nostalgic flame-shape municipal light standards that once graced nearly all the streets in the business district and a few beyond it.

Written on the slide with a steady hand is its most important information – except the photographer’s name.  “4th and Pike, Night, Kodak 35mm, Ansco Film, 8 f-stop, Dec 22, 1949.”  The shutter was left open for 10 seconds, plenty of time for the passing cars to write illuminated lines along both 4th and Westlake with their headlights.  With help from the Seattle Public Library’s Seattle Room I found the photographer: Robert D. Bradley.

I was given this slide and several thousand more in 1984 – a quarter century ago! – by my friend Jean Gowey, who was then recently widowed by her husband Lawton.  With thanks Lawton’s name has often appeared here as responsible for providing many of the historical photographs I have used through the now 27 years of this feature.  Beyond his professional life of keeping books for the Seattle Water Department, Lawton was very good at playing the organ for his Queen Anne neighborhood church and both studying and sharing his love for local history.  Hoping that I would make good public use of Lawton’s own color photography tracking the changes in the business district, Jean included them in the gift.

Along with Gowey’s slides came Bradley’s, and like this night shot, most of them are examples of cityscape beginning in the late 1940s and ending with his death in 1973. The largest part of Jean’s gift, Horace Sykes’s thousands of Kodachrome landscapes of the west from the 1940s and early 1950s, have little to do with Seattle but much to do with the human heart.  Until his death in 1956 at the age of 70, Sykes was a relentless explorer and a master of picturesque landscapes.   Almost certainly, Sykes, Gowey and Bradley were also friends.

I have often used both Gowey and Bradley’s recordings to better understand the modern changes of Seattle.  And now at last at 70 I am also exploring the west with the enchanted Horace.    I include now directly below an example of a Horace Sykes Kodachrome landscape.  Most of his slide are not identified, but that will make more the adventure of studying them – a Sykes Hide and Seek.  (For instance I for now speculate that the blow “burning bush” photo is of a scene on the Yakima River.)  We intend to eventually give Horace and his art is own picturesque “button” here at dorpatsherrardlomont.



To illustrate the point above about Jean’s street lights reiterating the radiant Christmas star that once the Bon and now Macy’s hangs from its corner at 4th and Pine here’s two snapshots of it by an old friend, Lawton Gowey. (As with the survival of Bon-Macy’s Christmas Star above, I was wrong in this as well, first identifying the two Kodachromes as by Robert Bradley, a friend of Lawton’s too. ) The second also shows the Colonial.  The oldish car in the foreground in both belies the year.  The original Gowey slides are dated, Dec. 22, 1965.  Note that except for the Great Northern RR’s neon goat the transportation being promoted here is by air not rail.   Below the two Gowey recordings is Jean standing in the street with his gear and either preparing to take or taking his long exposure photograph of the intersection that appears above with its fortuitous stars.




The almost unique – for Seattle – flatiron block bordered by 4th Ave., Pine St., and Westlake Ave., was formed in 1906 when Westlake was cut through the neighborhood from Pike and 4th to join Westlake at Denny Way.  In the below photo the Plaza Hotel, which took that pie-shaped block first, is under construction, and on the left 4th Avenue still climbs the southeast corner of Denny Hill.   The photo of the same intersection below this construction scene was recorded in 1908-9, when 4th still climbed the hill.



The area-wide mass transit proposed during the teens was only partially fulfilled here on Westlake with the building of the Century 21 Monorail.



We will conclude this “web extra” with two more postcards.  The top one is from 1938 – at least that is how I have marked the date.  Besides the fire engines it show both a trackless trolley heading south on 4th and a trolley heading west on its Pine Street tracks.   The postcard below it dates from after WW2 and can be compared in detail with Bradley’s Kodachrome slide used at the top.



3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Westlake Night Lights”

  1. As usual, your blog posts lead me down a rabbit hole of “whatever happened to? . . .” and this was no exception! I got to wondering about the Colonial movie theater and came across information that this theater, along with six other Seattle movie theaters, had been targeted with bombs in 1928 via theater union labor skirmishes. There doesn’t seem to be really any information about these bombings on the internet though. Got any more information on this you could shoot my way? Here’s the only online source I could find:

  2. Hi Paul, If you are still alive and kicking I wanted to thank you for these photos you have shared. Seattle is my favorite city out of all. I lived there in the 90’s and want to move back but you have to be extremely rich to afford it now. Do you have other photos of Seattle that you can share? I love the old hotels and theaters. I stayed at the Commodore Hotel before it disappeared. Thank you again for sharing

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