Seattle Now & Then: The View from Belvedere Viewpoint

(Click to enlarge photos)

THEN: The view of Seattle from West Seattle’s Admiral Way ca. 1934-35. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)
NOW: A few central business district structures and waterfront piers survive, although with few exceptions, like the Smith Tower, they are hard to find or hidden. (Photo by Jean Sherrard)

I will fudge some with this depression-time view of Seattle from West Seattle’s Belvedere Viewpoint, and date it circa 1934-35.   It includes at least one small structure (too small to point out) that was completed in 1933, and it shows Pier 48 near the foot of Main Street before it was widened and lengthened in 1935-36.  That’s my meager evidence.

Embracing the 1934 date may help explain why Elliott Bay is stirred here by but two spiffy white naval vessels, far left, and what I propose is the then nearly-new stern-wheeler Skagit Chief heading north, just above the scene’s center.  Perhaps this is a moment in the International Longshoremen’s Association coast-wide eighty-three day long Waterfront Strike that summer.  The strike inspired The Times to make this satiric account of its effects in the issue for July 8, 1934.

“Seattle exports of wheat, flour, salmon and lumber, produced by industries which give employment to many thousands in the Northwest, reached the same level in June they were when Capt. George Vancouver and his little band of explorers arrived on Puget Sound and began selecting names for mountains, bays and rivers.  They were nil . . . Twenty-five deep-sea vessels with a total net tonnage of 90,007 arrived in Seattle in June compared with 150 deep-sea vessels with a total net tonnage of 503,537 the same month last year.”

Above the bay, a key to comparing about 75-years of changes in the central business district is to find the Smith Tower.  It appears in both views roughly a third of the way in from the right border.  The northwest corner of Harbor Island protrudes into the bay directly beneath the tower.
In the foreground of the “then” but subtracted from the “now,” are the 1,150 foot long Colman Creosoting Wharf and the Nettleton Lumber Company just beyond it, both built above pilings and both long-time fixtures in this southwest corner of Elliott Bay.


For several detailed comparison views of Seattle’s skyline, taken from West Seattle’s Duwamish Head between 1907 to 2007, please visit our Washington Then and Now site.

Anything to add, Paul?   Yes indeed, Jean.

First a picture of your tail at Duwamish Head.  You have been there often enough steadying yourself and your camera on the railing at Hamilton Park Viewpoint.   This look at you and your hometown is from our visit there this Spring when we attended the memorial service for Clay Eals’ mother near by on California Avenue.  I’ll hope that you remember that it was then that you also took the now photo you inserted just above of the city from the Admiral Way viewpoint at Belvedere Place.  I’ll conclude these additions with a now-then first published in Pacific on October 3, 2004.   It shows the city skyline from Belvedere Viewpoint circa 1958, and still a few years before  the great uplifting of the generic modern skyline – Seattle’s version – beginning, we will say, in 1967 with the construction of the big box, AKA the SeaFirst Tower.  We will also show the penultimate totem in 2004 and another vibrant Kodachrome look at it from the 1960.

Jean "capturing" Seattle from Hamilton Park on West Seattle's Duwamish Head, May 24, 2010.
Seattle through Belvedere Viewpoint ca. 1958.
A 2004 repeat of the view directly above - followed by the now-then that first appeared in Pacific Northwest on Oct. 3, 2004.

The text below anticipates a new totem – only.   Subsequently, the Bella Coola Pole shown above was moved to the Log Cabin Museum, home of the West Seattle Historical Society, and replaced with a less colorful pole but one which is perhaps more “correct” than the loving replica of the Bella Coola Pole done by two skilled Boeing Engineers.  The new pole was carved by Michael Halady, a fifth-generation descendent of Chief Sealth (Seattle).  It is 25 feet high and made from a western red cedar that was approximately 500 years old when it was dropped by tree poachers on the Olympic Peninsula.  It is better to call the new pole a “Story Pole” rather than a “Totem Pole” for reasons you might wish to research on your own.

Here’s a request. If someone is in the neighborhood of Belvedere Viewpoint and carrying a digital camera will then snap it in the direction of the new Story Pole and send the results to us, we will thank them and place it directly below these words with proper credit and thanks.


Like the “Seattle Totem” at Pioneer Square the West Seattle totem that overlooks Elliott Bay from the top of Admiral Way is a copy of the pole that was first placed there. The two poles, however, were both carved and “shipped” with different motives.

The older and taller pole (by twice) at Pioneer Square was cut in two and “lifted” in 1899 from Tongass Island by a “goodwill committee” of local dignitaries while they were on a kind of giddy celebratory cruise of southeast Alaska during the gold rush. Two years later in 1901 on the coast of British Columbia the smaller 25-foot high pole, shown here in the ca. 1958 view at the Belvedere Viewpoint, was built by Bella Coola Indians to be sold, not stolen. Consequently, according to James M. Rupp in his book “Art in Seattle’s Public Places”, the West Seattle pole with its stacked figures — from the top a beaver, frog, whale and bear – does not tell an ancestral story.

To continue the comparison between the two poles, in 1939 when “Daddy” Standley, West Seattle resident and owner of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, gave the original Bella Coola pole to the city, the replacement pole at Pioneer Square was being prepared for installation. The original was both rotting and torched by an arsonist in 1938. By the mid 1960s the Bella Coola pole at Belvedere View Point was only rotting, but it was replaced by a near duplicate in 1966, which was carved for free by Michael Morgan and Robert Fleishman, two Boeing engineers.

Now this cedar pole is being eaten at its center by carpenter ants. (Remember this was first written and published in 2004.)  The Seattle Park Department holds funds for its replacement, although it has yet to be determined who will carve it or whether the new pole will be a copy of its two predecessors or of a different design. The pole it will replace – the one showing here in the “now” view – will most likely get a second and more protected life at West Seattle’s Log House Museum.

The slide for this vibrant Kodachrome of the Bella Coola Pole replica is dated Nov. 13, 1960. it was photographed by Robert Bradley. Those colors were neither crushed from berries nor pebbles.

Jean again.  Here’s a shot looking back the other way at Duwamish Head on a recent gusty evening.

From Victor Steinbrueck Park

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.