In the gaggle of vessels hugging the sides of the Pike Street pier it is the 1200-ton wooden steamship Santa Ana that shows a full profile. She may be backing out of the slip between the Pike Street and Schwabacher’s piers. However, there is a chop on Elliot bay and the black smoke from her stack may be pushed east by a breeze off of Elliott Bay. Perhaps the Santa Ana is coming home from Alaska to her Northwestern Steamship Company (the name is written on the pier) terminus.
The Pike Pier is a triumph of preservation for us, as are the other “Gold Rush Piers” that still line up behind the photographer of this scene – and so behind Jean too. Both the “now and then” were snapped from the water end of Pier 57, the old Milwaukee Railroad pier. All of the old piers follow the angle into the bay prescribed for them in 1897, although all were built in the early 20th Century. The wealth got from warehousing and wharf rates during the gold rush of the late 1890s allowed the dock owners to build these conforming and bigger piers after the greatest excitement of the rush settled down – although some gold fever continued with the rush to Nome during their construction.
The Pike Pier was planned in 1903 and completed a year later by Ainsworth and Dunn. They also rented space to both the steamship line and the Mt. Vernon farmer Willis Wilbur Robinson, whose name is writ large along all sides of the Pike Pier. Robinson stuffed Skagit River sternwheelers with hay for delivery to the Pike Pier, until railroads did the hauling cheaper. About 1911 Robinson’s block letters were replaced by ones for a steamship agent named Dodwell.
Ainsworth and Dunn sold fish primarily. They started the move of fish merchants to the north end of the central waterfront in the mid 1890s. Before their lead most fish commerce was handled south of Yesler’s Wharf. In 1916 Dodwell was replaced by Pacific Net and Twine Company, and from then until after World War Two, Pike Pier was home for fishermen and the professionals who serve and represent them.