Seattle Now & Then: Weights and Measures

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: A winter of 1918 inspection of some captured scales on Terrace Street.  The view looks east from near 4th Avenue.  (Courtesy City Municipal Archives)
THEN: A winter of 1918 inspection of some captured scales on Terrace Street. The view looks east from near 4th Avenue. (Courtesy City Municipal Archives)
NOW: The bus stop at the southeast corner of 4th and Terrace. King County’s nearly new Chinook Building is upper-left. (Now photo by Jean Sherrard)
NOW: The bus stop at the southeast corner of 4th and Terrace. King County’s nearly new Chinook Building is upper-left. (Now photo by Jean Sherrard)

The scales spilling on the sidewalk beside City Hall are in such disarray that we can’t believe that these were very nice machines.  Rather, they are captured scoundrels who did not give an honest measure and proved what the city’s investigators reported sententiously as proof that “with certain trade practices custom does not make right.”

Two sturdy officers of the city’s Weights and Measure Division stand between the exposed scales and the department’s trucks.  They may have just returned from one of the city’s open public markets where, the division’s annual report for 1917 explains, “the largest number of transactions in food stuffs occur.”  The division was then also doing “war work” helping the Federal Food Administration search for “food hoarders.”

This view is dated January 1918.  It looks east on Terrace Street towards what is ordinarily still called First Hill, although there have been other names for it as well including Yesler’s Hill, Pill Hill (somewhat later than 1918) and Profanity Hill.  This last came from expressions heard especially on the southern slope of the hill.  But the name also derived from what is just out of frame to the right and, if we could see it, looming high on the horizon, the old and long since destroyed King County Courthouse.

Litigants and lawyers could reach the grotesquely domed courthouse by either the James Street or Yesler Way cable cars or they could swear while climbing the long and steep Terrace Street stairway seen here ascending the hill upper-right from 5th Avenue east to beyond 7th Avenue.  The lower block was a planked path for the most part, and the top half a steep and wide stairway.

Just left of the stairway stands the curiously named Pleasanton Hotel. It is set back a ways from the northeast corner of Terrace and Sixth, and now in the path of 1-5.  To its left and also topping the horizon is the domed roofline of the Seattle-Tacoma Power Company at 7th & Jefferson.  The frame building below it, nearby at the northwest corner of 5th and Terrace, is the ambitiously named Royal Hotel. A small part of the Our Lady of Good Hope Catholic Church’s steeple peeks out upper left.

Jean’s note: This weekend, I’m off in Portland narrating a show. I didn’t quite have time enough to put up the color version of this week’s now, but will when I return.  Anything to add, Paul?

Yes Jean.  First regarding you and your narration this evening of Chopin’s “Letters to Konstantja” to the accompaniment of his music with dance by the Agnieszka Laska Dancers on the stage of the World Trade Center Auditorium in Portland, “break a leg” while climbing it – or rather don’t, for you have been a bit accident prone lately, losing your pens and such.  Here below is another weighted and found wanting picture from Lawton Gowey.  It comes probably by way of the old Public Works Department and eventually will be returned to what is now the Municipal Archive.  It is, I believe, another storeroom of transgressing scales, (STS).  Some of those scattered on the sidewalk above may be here in this room two years later.  As you know the original 8×10 inch negative to this image has great clarity and so on your instruction I searched it in detail with magnification but I found no thumbs.  [Click to enlarge and search]


And in sympathy with the spatial relations seen in the storeroom above, a kind of mingling of boxes and balls, I have printed below something I created yesterday – by coincidence.  I like many others who once used dark rooms for developing and printing, had a practice of exposing strips of photo paper to a negative before exposing an entire sheet of the expensive stuff to a full projection.  While cleaning up a corner of my basement I came upon a box stuffed with these developed test strips, and I knew exactly what to do with the contents – scan them.   I had kept them for possible use in collage but now with digital ease I have used them for this montage.  The circles that appear on all the strips were made from an opaque ring that rested on each strip while it was being exposed in order to hide the paper the ring covered and so see an undeveloped white area when the strip was placed in the developer for slowly revealing the image and testing the exposure.   Here I have made six different montages from these strips.  I then joined them and then flip-flopped them four times to make this mandala-like montage.   The original negatives all have something to do with Alki Beach history and not weights and measures.  They have come, I think, from an exhibit I produced for SPUDS fish and chips years ago.  The exhibit is a permanent one and on the large size too.  [Click to Enlarge and explore the details for historical Alki locations.  Or go have some fish and chips at SPUDS and study the exhibit.]

West Seattle Alki Beach Ca. 1910 Fragments Perhaps as a Buddhist "Well-Packed Region."
West Seattle Alki Beach Ca. 1910 Fragments Perhaps as a Buddhist "Well-Packed Region."

5 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Weights and Measures”

  1. I love the photo from 4th. I’ve seen the indoor scales photo before and it’s frighteningly claustrophobic!

    One small comment (in importance if not length).

    The photo is indeed taken looking up the ghost of Yesler Hill, but it seems that Yesler and First Hills were not exactly the same.

    You can see models of the proposed regrade of Yesler Hill at this link, but it was eventually rendered unnecessary due to I-5.

    Quoting from a 1929 newspaper article about the regrade discussion:

    “Two Hills are One
    “… It has become customary in the course of years to speak of Yesler Hill as if it were a separate eminence. The obvious physical fact is that Yesler and First Hills are virtually one in elevation and general contour.”

    If I’m oriented correctly, from the regrade models it looks as though there was a steep rise from 5th peaking before 7th, and then back down gently to 9th. 6th was regraded/built in 1914 apparently, hence the steep steps in our Terrace photograph. Yesler Way was along the south side of the “peak”, the “peak” at Jefferson, and then sloping north to perhaps Columbia. I’m not sure where the south end was before all the regrades – maybe around Jackson?

    Based on the Municipal Archives photos, it seems that Yesler Hill has had more landslides per square foot than any other hill in Seattle! I doubt the engineers cried as they cut it away for Interstate 5.

    Is the difference between Yesler and First Hills entirely a technicality, though?

  2. Rob
    Super and very good. There was a marked depression between 5&1/2 and 7th, James &1/2 and Columbia and also a big gouge-cliff to the southeast of 7th and James. 8th going south could not go through that cliff. I’m looking for pictures to show this and will describe it then and also reflect on the meaning of the names “First” and “Yesler” and “Profanity” and without a cuss word of my own. So hold on. I think I’ll put it directly on to the story – attach it. Well I don’t know how else to do it, other than to put it there in the main body of the stream of this blog and no other. Perhaps later today – Monday.

  3. Rob again
    We have a story coming soon on the regrade at the intersection of 6th and Marion. I’ll include mention of your points as part of that and “answer” you with a few pictures of the neighborhood – at least two from the 1880s.

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