The progressive citizen spirit of the 1890s created Seattle City Light in 1902-03 and the construction of the first publicly owned hydroelectric installation in the country. Soon, however, the rock-filled timber-crib dam on the Cedar River was inadequate to serve all the locals wanting their own electricity — which was also cheaper than the competing private company’s.
The two elegant factories, small and big, recorded here in the spring of 1917 were built in response to these surging public-power needs. First was the Mission style Lake Union Water Power Auxiliary Plant on the left. It generated power from water that fell with a head of about 300 feet from overflow at the Volunteer Park reservoir. Locals enjoyed the coincidence that here, too, as with the timber-crib dam, electricity was being generated by the Cedar River, for Seattle’s supply of fresh community water came by pipeline from that source as well.
Snug to the side of the charming “power factory” the much larger and better-known City Light Lake Union Steam Plant was constructed in 1914, enlarged in 1918 and again in 1921. Perhaps somewhat in the public spirit of this pleasantly sprawling City Light alignment, Daniel Riggs Huntington, their creator, was hired as city architect in 1912 and served the city until 1921.
Through its years Now & Then has featured a good sample of Huntington’s creations, including the Fremont branch of the Seattle Public Library (in the Mission style), the Gothic Firland Sanatorium, new concrete piers for the University (Eastlake) Bridge in the late 1920s, and the D.A.R. Rainier Chapter House on Capitol Hill. All of them survive and are well-preserved.
Anything to add, Paul?
Only a few photos Jean – a nearly random sample.
Jean, I’m revived after six hours of sleep with pleasant dreams. Now I have more for the Eastlake location.
4 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Seattle City Light Steam Plant”
I have a picture that I would like to send to you but I will have to get it copied by my daughter and email it to you. We found it when we were going through old pictures at my moms. It is a picture of my dad being shipped out to Japan. We think. I don’t know if you have any old pictures of army guys shipping out from the Seattle Port of Embarkment. I will get that done tomorrow if you like but I will need your email address. Thank you!
Patty (This is a really cool building) I love the look of old architecture.
Thanks Patty. I have seen a few pixs of the troops returning to bands and princesses and such but none to them disembarking from the Seattle Port of Embarkation or Embarkment (can’t remember.) During the war it was the busiest place on the waterfront. After after it for a while as well. Here’s my e-mail. firstname.lastname@example.org Better than photocopy it – have it scanned. You don’t lose as much in the generation.
Did you ever hear the story about the names of the six smoke stacks of the steam plant? Professor Paul Heyne, popular economics instructor at the University of Washington told this story to my class in the fall of 1979.
He was riding a metro bus and two guys sitting near him and dressed in laborers clothing were having what seemed like a nonsensical conversation.
First laborer: “Yesterday I was working on Monday but today I’ll be working on Wednesday and Thursday.”
Second laborer: “I have to work on Sunday. It’s been giving us trouble.”
Finally Heyne couldn’t stand it and turned to the two. “What in the hell are you two talking about?”
Turns out that the smokestacks/boilers were nicknamed after days of the week. Much more fun than “Boiler #1, boiler #2, etc. I think of Paul Heyne’s story every time I drive by the plant.
Almost True Stories of Life at http://dennisbrooke.wordpress.com
This story IS true.
very nice . very good