Seattle Now & Then: The Swedish Baptists

(click to enlarge)

THEN: The Ballard Public Library in 1903-4, and here the Swedish Baptist Church at 9th and Pine, 1904-5, were architect Henderson Ryan’s first large contracts after the 20 year old southerner first reached Seattle in 1898.   Later he would also design both the Liberty and Neptune Theatres, the latter still projecting films in the University District. (Photo courtesy Lawton Gowey)
THEN: The Ballard Public Library in 1903-4, and here the Swedish Baptist Church at 9th and Pine, 1904-5, were architect Henderson Ryan’s first large contracts after the 20 year old southerner first reached Seattle in 1898. Later he would also design both the Liberty and Neptune Theatres, the latter still projecting films in the University District. (Photo courtesy Lawton Gowey)
NOW: High rises continue to advance on the parking lot that took the place of the Swedish Baptist Church in the early 1970s. (Photo by Jean Sherrard)
NOW: High rises continue to advance on the parking lot that took the place of the Swedish Baptist Church in the early 1970s. (Photo by Jean Sherrard)

When Seattle became a boisterous “boom town,” especially following its “great fire” of 1889, the immigrant Euro-American communities that fed the growth rarely created neighborhoods of size that were clearly theirs.  However, they could organize churches and did.

The Swedish Baptists are an example. Organized as a mission in 1881 for a Seattle of about five thousand, it was “instituted” in 1889 for a community of over 30,000.   A stately if typical frame sanctuary with soaring steeple was built on then still affordable land at Olive Way near 5th Avenue.   Fifteen years more and the ballooning opportunities of land values moved the congregation five blocks east into this spectacularly towered church of pressed brick and stone at the northwest corner of 9th Avenue and Pine Street.

At its dedication on July 16, 1905, addresses were given in both Swedish and English.  Thirty years later, Dr. Emil Friburg, by then its pastor for 24 years, announced to his congregation that Sunday evening services, which for 55 years had been given in Swedish, would from then on be delivered in English only.  The immigrant’s children, of course, were not so disappointed.  Raised in Seattle and its public schools – more than in the church – their principal language was English.

In 1970 the congregation sold its corner to the Vance Corporation, which given the then slumping economy probably got a deal.  It has, I believe, been a parking lot ever since.  Many of the church’s members and assets joined with Seattle First Baptist on the northern “ledge” of First Hill.


At the opposite corner stands the Paramount Theatre, newly signed.  Its beautifully wrought fire escapes remain unchanged.

The Paramount Theatre
The Paramount Theatre

Anything to add, Paul?

Yes Jean, here’s something we might call . . . CAN YOU FIND THE SWEDISH BAPTISTS? Remember Jean to click to enlarge.  It will help you find the Baptists. 


Here we look west towards a Capitol Hill horizon from the nearly new New Washington Hotel, still standing at the northeast corner of Second and Stewart although long since renamed the Josephinum.  The Swedish Baptist Church at its new location, the northwest corner of 9th Avenue and Pine Street, appears here left-of-center.  It can be best identified by the shine of its tower arches.  They are small from this distance but still sparkle. Beginning in this scene at 5th Avenue, Pine Street cuts across the scene from its bottom-right corner.   Some of Olive Way appears on the left.

The likely date for this is 1911 (but possibly 1910), for the rear unadorned facade of the Seattle Electric Company’s new administration building appears far left at the southwest corner of 7th Ave and Olive Way.  See how the fresh sidewalk on Olive Way shines at the base of the new headquarters.  The same company’s old trolley car barn is to this side of 6th Avenue.  The new – since 1906 – cut of Westlake is twice evident: in both the bottom-right and bottom-left corners.  Broadway High School at Broadway and Pine just touches the horizon, left-of-center.   Also up there, but not reaching the horizon, is the wide west facade of Summit School, right-of-center, at 1415 Summit Avenue.  It is still in use as Northwest School.

12 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Swedish Baptists”

  1. As a 63 year-old Seattle native, every Sunday I eagerly look for your historic short story and photos of Seattle in “Now & Then.” What a delight to read today’s “Steeple Chasing Swedes” and the story of the Swedish Baptist Church, which was a huge part of my mother’s childhood and young adult years. Dr. Emil Friburg performed her wedding to my none-Swedish father, George R. Guppy Jr., in 1942 at the then-new Edmund Meany Hotel on NE 45th Street. My maternal grandmother, Anna Carlson, operated the Howell Hotel near 9th and Howell Street, a by-the-week hotel patronized by mostly Swedish seamen and off-season loggers. On the street level of the Howell Hotel was the Scandia Cafe, which dished up wonderful Scandinavian fare (I always had the pancakes) well into the mid-1970’s. A Mrs. Johanson was the last owner-cook from, I’m guessing, the 1940’s until its sad closing. The Scandia Cafe is beautifully remembered in a diorama display in the Swedish Room at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard. My Swedish grandparents died long before I was born, but my mother’s Swedish relatives blessed me with a modest exposure to Scandinavian culture, which I did not come to fully appreciate until my more mature years. Through most of my adult life I have been a Baptist minister, and yearned to know more about Dr. Friburg and the First Swedish Baptist Church. After some searching, last year I found a marvelous book (ca 1960) on the Swedish Baptists of the Pacific Northwest at the huge Powell’s Books in Portland. It contained a short biography of Dr. Friburg, who was the longest-serving Swedish Baptist pastor in the Puget Sound region. Before its demise the downtown Swedish Baptist Church was renamed the Central Baptist Church. In the early 20th Century the Swedish Baptists even ran a ministry-training school on the north end of Capital Hill, and the building still stands today as part of Seattle Prep high school.

    Please know you are deeply appreciated for helping us older and younger proud Seattleites in remembering the treasured heritage of our city.

    Russ Guppy
    Chaplain, Tacoma Police Department
    Auburn, WA

    1. I am looking for information on my grandpa, Olaf Ling. He attended 1st Swedish Baptist sometime between 1890 and 1920. Do you know what happened to early documents when the church closed? Were they transfer to another church or were they destroyed?

      1. All records are located in the Paul Allen library at univ. Of wash. Several boxes of materials. The original church ledger is there. One could spend days looking through the papers. Worth the time.

  2. Pastor Russ
    I too had pancakes at Scandia in the 70s. I think we knew it could not last, but someone discovered it and we made frequent visits because of it. Thanks for your fine letter.
    P.S. My mom was a Christiansen – Danish. Close. And my dad a Lutheran preacher in Spokane.

  3. Today, Feb. 16th, 2010, I was cleaning out a cupboard where I have a Bible collection of relatives etc. One Bible is not ours but has an inscription in it and I would hope to perhaps find the family who would appreciate it. It says, as follows:

    Edwin Anderson on your 12th Birthday from the Sunday School of The First Swedish Baptist Church, 9th Ave & Pine St, Seattle Wash. March 20, 1918 To Sandra Joan Anderson born Sept 12, 1944 2:50 pm Seattle Wash. It appears to be signed by Sigrud Edwin Anderson, Marach 31, 1946.

    If anyone knows of these names etc, please contact me.
    Thank you,


  4. Wednesday, August 18, 2010
    I was interested in finding this site. My parents, grandparents, and relatives were active members at Swedish Baptist.

    Our family were good friends to Fred and Helga Lind.
    Helga was the Organist and Choir Director there for many years.

    Many of my parents friends left the church and went to either Queen Anne Baptist or Seattle 1st Baptist.
    My parents moved to Bellevue (Lake Sammamish) in 1951.

    I remember going to many reunions of the Swedish Baptist group.

    I think most of that generation are all gone but wonderful memories remain.

    My father and I attended the last service at Central Baptist. It was quite an emotional event for people. I had the great honor of being the last person to play the pipe organ at Central before its was dismantled.

    Having just come back from a family reunion in Seattle where much of this was discussed, I would be very interested in hearing from any other folks with connections to Swedish Baptist Church.

    With warm regards,
    Paul Richard Olson
    Organist and Choirmaster
    Grace Church Brooklyn Heights
    New York

    (I was one of 5 children born to Gerald and Amy (Lindskog) Olson

    1. My grandfather’ s was Charles Solomon Johnson who was the treasurer of the church for over 50 years.

    2. My father, Clayton Booth, was Music Director at Central Baptist Church from 1957-59. I also believe my mother, Gene Booth, preceded you at Highland Covenant Church as organist.

  5. With the passing of my Dad (Helmer) I went looking for nfo on the old church as I call it. My family were members there from the mid sixties till it’s demise. Many memories come to mind from the wedding of a sister to great Christmas dinners held there. I remember when we first became members I snuck up the big bell tower which was minus it’s pointed cap by then, what a view I was presented, both directions up and down Pine, spectacular! The balcony was way past it’s structural safety by then as well but the creaking of the last fights of stairs will always be dear to my heart. I will always remember this church as I hope others do as well.
    I was one of five children of Helmer & Leona Peterson

  6. I, too, have childhood memories of what was The Central Baptist Church. My parents, John & Doris Gerry were active members, teaching English to Swedish immigrants in 1948 prior to moving our of the state with the Air Force. My great aunts, Elida & Mary Nordeen were both school teachers and members of Central until their passings in 1966 and 1972. My family is all gone now, absent in the body, present with the Lord, but my childhood memories remain.

  7. I’m looking for information on Oscar E. Swanson, who led a group of Swedish American bell ringers from the Swedish Baptist Church in the 1920s and ’30s.

  8. Correction: Charles S. Johnson was my grandfather’s uncle. CS Johnson was the treasurer at 1st Swedish Baptist for over 50 years.
    Rumor had it he controlled the money/spending! We knew his daughter
    Hulda Johnson Elzey very well and was in our home many times. She died in 1983.

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