Seattle Now & Then: the Pike Street Hill Climb

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: This is one of hundreds of images showing how Seattle changed between the early 1960s and the mid-1980s, recorded by Frank Shaw who lived in an apartment on Lower Queen Anne Hill. The Pike Place Public Market and the waterfront were two subjects he often visited.
NOW: Jean Sherrard's "now" repeat of Shaw's Pike Street Hill Climb was photographed on a blustery day in May.

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:

Evening market

Anything to add, Paul?

Yes Jean – a few more variations on Pike Street Hill Climb aka Hillclimb.

First the wide version of Peterson & Brothers ca. 1877 look north up the waterfront from the back window (or porch) of their photography studio at the foot of Cherry Street. Note the shipwrecked Winward resting off shore (of Columbia Street) for her eventual internment beneath the fill and pavement of Western Avenue and the now long gone Society Candies factory, AKA Colman Building Annex. The more relevant part is upper right where the Pike Street Coal Wharf (and bunkers) reach shore and ascend it with a timber hill climb to carry/crank the coal cars to the trestle filled with eastside coal and then back empty for more. The next subject shows this part of the Peterson subject in detail.
Detail of the above - the ca. 1877 hill climb on Pike Street.
In 1912 (or late 1911 or both) a pedestrian trestle was constructed from the waterside sidewalk on Railroad Avenue, just north of the Pike Pier, over Railroad Avenue and onward and upward to the Public Market. The waterfront part of it was temporarily removed for the 1934-36 construction of the seawall, but then replaced. The trestle appears here, in part, left-of-center.
A ground view of the hill climb trestle on Pike looking west from Western. This was photographed some little time before the trestle was removed for the construction of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Seattle Mayor & populist dentist Edwin Brown's mid-1920s proposal for a grand hill climb enclosed in a business block extending from the market and over Railroad Avenue.
Work on the extant hill climb. Photo by Frank Shaw.
Frank Shaw's Pike Street Hill Climb looking up it . . . Feb. 21, 1978
Shaw, again, looking down the Pike Street Hill Climb from Western on Feb. 21, 1978.
Frank Shaw looks east on Pike to the market steps from Western Ave. Nov. 20, 1976

5 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: the Pike Street Hill Climb”

  1. 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.

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