Frank Shaw recorded his look up the old Pike Street Hill Climb less than two months before Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman grabbed a shovel to break ground here for the grand stairway that Jean Sherrard shows us with his “now.” So it is not so long ago that Uhlman shoveled (Jan. 17, 1977) and Shaw snapped (Nov. 22, 1976). Shaw almost always dated his negatives, and the roving photographer returned many times to this scene to track with his Hasselblad how this public work advanced.
The oldest built hill climb here was a trestle, down and up, which coal cars were winched between the Pike Street Coal Wharf and a narrow-gauged railroad that was run to the south end of Lake Union.
There the cars took on coal from scows that were alternately hauled and floated there from mines on the east side of Lake Washington. It was a difficult route, but it paid very well. In 1878 the entire operation was smartly replaced by a new railroad that ran around the south end of Lake Washington and thereby directly between the coal fields of Newcastle and a new coal wharf at the foot of King Street.
Panoramic photographs from the 1890s of Denny Hill show what appear to be steps near the top of this incline. Otherwise, buildings obscure the view. In 1911-13 a steep pedestrian trestle was built over the dangerous Railroad Avenue, and the trestle continued on high above these steps to connect the Pike Street Pier directly with the then 6-year-old Pike Place Public Market. The trestle was lost to the Alaskan Way Viaduct in the early 1950s, but not the steps below it.
Shaw’s photograph may make some readers downright nostalgic for the old public market and its rough surrounds.
Looking into the Market from the north on a recent evening:
Anything to add, Paul?
Yes Jean – a few more variations on Pike Street Hill Climb aka Hillclimb.
5 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: the Pike Street Hill Climb”
Are those clouds and/or mountains drawn in towards the Olympics in the 1877 shot?
Yes they are drawn in Ralph Palmer Hart. It was not unusual for a skilled pro to paint what was considered a scenic necessity directly onto an original negative. Peterson and Bros were very much the pros. The best part of that is that no one delivered prints that were sharper than theirs. They did not, however, stick to cityscape and landscape for all that long. Eventually that work peters out and they stick to portraits. I don’t know why.
Wow, Paul, these are magnificent photos!
I keep coming across more treasures deposited by your hand. Thank you.