Seattle Now & Then: The Eaton Apartments

Looking kitty-corner across Thomas Street and Second Ave. North to the Eaton Apartments, ca. 1940. It is a rare recording of Seattle Center acres before their make-over for the 1962 Century 21. (Please Click to Enlarge All the Illustrations)
Jean Sherrard visited the intersection during the recent playing of the Folklife Festival, and caught folk-jazz artist Eric Apoe, with his guitar, leaving the festival after his performance. (Photo by Jean Sherrard)

I know nothing about the provenance of this photograph, except that it showed up on my front porch among a small bundle of negatives.  Still with the help of a tax card, a few city directories, and a scattering of other sources we can make some notes.

With his or her back to Sacred Heart Catholic Church, an unknown photographer looked northeast through the intersection of Second Avenue North and Thomas Street.  The Eaton Apartment House across the way was built in 1909 – in time perhaps for the city’s first world’s fair. (It is at least an irony that is was torn down for the second.)  It held 19 of everything: tubs, sinks, basins, through its 52 plastered rooms.  In the 1938 tax assessment it is described as in “fair condition” with a “future life” of about 13 years.  In fact, it held the corner for a full half century until it and much else in the neighborhood was cleared for construction of  Century 21.

The Eaton and its nearby neighbor, the Warren Avenue School, were two of the larger structures razed for Century 21.  However, the neighborhood’s biggest – the Civic Auditorium, Ice Arena, and the 146th Field Artillery Armory – were given makeovers and saved for the fair.  Built in 1939, the old Armory shows on the far right.  (Another view of it is included below.)  Although not so easy to find it is also in the “now” having served in its 71 years first as the Armory, then the ’62 fair’s Food Circus, and long since the Center House.

This is part of David and Louisa Denny’s pioneer land claim, which Salish history explains served for centuries as a favorite place to snag low-flying ducks and hold potlatches.  The oldest user of the Eaton Apt. site was even more ancient.  The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) brought King Tut, or at least parts of his tomb, to the Flag Pavilion in 1978.  It was about then that Andy Warhol also showed up to party with SAM in the old pavilion, which in 2002 was replaced and greatly improved with the Fisher Pavilion.

Readers who have old photographs of this neighborhood from before the 1962 fair (they are rare) or of the fair itself might like to share them with historylink.  That non-profit encyclopedia of regional history is preparing a book on the fair, one that will resemble, we expect, its impressive publication on the recent Alaska Yukon Pacific Centennial.  As with the AYP book, the now hard-at-work authors are Paula Becker and Alan Stein.  You can reach them by phone at 206-447-8140 or on line at

North and west facades of the Eaton Apartments, right of center, seen looking south from the intersection of Second Ave. and Harrison Street, ca. 1959. The photographer, Frank Shaw, snapped this from a prospect that is now under the roof of the Coliseum - near its east entrance.
Like the photograph directly above it, this too is by Frank Shaw. It looks through some of the same Seattle Center acreage as the one above, although in the opposite direction. Here construction work has started on Century 21, and the prospect is from somewhere near the center of what would become the Pacific Science Center. Sacred Heart Catholic Parish sits at the center of this scene and the long and leaning yellow roof supports for the Coliseum are easily picked out. The primary now-then photos printed at the top were taken within feet of the church's northeast corner, the one here furthest to the right. Evidently there was no prohibitions against burning the wreckage and rubbish of the these blocks in preparation for the 21st Century. Photo by Frank Shaw
Page 356 from King County Plat Book No. 1 dated July 13th (or possibly 18th) 1869, featuring a plat map for David Denny's addition called North Seattle. Gardiner Kellogg, the country auditor, has attempted to give the map some gravitas by rendering depth to some of the letters in "Plat." Kellog's hand writing is difficult for me, at least, to read. We can make out that the streets are 66 ft wide, the alleys 16 feet wide and the lots to be sold are 60 by 120 feet - a typical lot size for that time. This is scanned from a hand-held slide I took from this book with available "bunker" light a quarter-century ago or so at the county archive. The copy is consequently soft in its focus. (Still click the image TWICE to enlarge it TWICE.) The page on the right does not, I think, relate to the North Seattle plat, but it too is hard to read - for me. Is Kellogg's writing "explained" when we understand that he was also a druggist for most of his many years in Seattle, and the first Fire Chief, and the City's Postmaster from 1864 to 1872? It was this year, 1869, that Seattle was at last incorporated, although the north city limit was set at Howell Street. In 1883 it was pushed north to the top of Queen Anne Hill at McGraw Street and so then also included Denny's North Seattle additions. Note the street names on the map - they are legible. Some are familiar, like Mercer, Republican, Harrison, Thomas, and John. Some are not. Temperance, a favorite Denny preoccupation, was later changed to Queen Anne Ave., and Depot Street, which expressed Denny's hope that a railroad depot would be built as its waterfront end, never got its depot. The name was changed to Denny to honor the plat's namesake.
Armory, later named the Food Circus for Century 21. Following the fair's development into Seattle Center, it was renamed again: the Center House. The view looks west on Thomas St. from near 4th Avenue.
WE COME IN PEACE (Victor Lydgman)

8 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Eaton Apartments”

  1. I posted this over at Seattle Times last night, but I’ll leave it here since you probably won’t see that.
    Paul, it looks like Eaton was built as “Bonito Vista”, 302 2nd Avenue North. Renamed to Eaton by 1925.

    The first ad I can find is April 30, 1909, so it just made it under the wire for the fair. This is Seattle Times page 23 that date.
    Finest 2 and 3-room apartments on the Coast. All outside rooms. Beautiful view. Patent wall beds, elevated gas ranges, coolers, hot and cold water, private bath, new ready for inspection Saturday. Ten minutes’ walk of business center.
    But, an article ran on November 15, 1908 Seattle Times page 34 about the pending construction. It includes an architectural sketch, nothing remarkable but it looks exactly like your photo. Here’s the caption:

    Apartments for Second and Thomas

    An apartment house for Alfred C. Smith will be erected at Second and Thomas Street containing eighteen two- and three-room suites, all the rooms of which, including baths and kitchens, will have direct outside light and ventilation. The basement will contain janitor’s quarters, laundries and steam heating plant. The bedrooms in each suite will be furnished with folding wall beds. The exterior will be finished with plaster. Willcox & Sayward are the architects.
    On the next page was a the brief construction notice:

    Alfred Smith, 302 Second Avenue North, 3-story frame apartment building, $15,000.

    Alfred C. Smith owned at least another apartment in the area, destroyed for the 62 fair.

    Great fair-to-fair arc through an unexpected medium!

    Thank you – Rob K.

  2. Wonderful images of the pre-C21 fairgrounds. I am wondering what street that is between the armory and those houses? (sixth photo down) That street would be where the Fun Forest starts, yes?

  3. @Louis,
    I was about to email you a link to this, just in case you missed it. How about that last photo, eh? Brilliant composition and Paul, I love your caption. That was my first thought, too. Thanks for this. One of my favorites.

  4. Thanks Matt. That pix is by one of Seattle’s now passed but when still breathing consistent eccentrics. He left a lot of drawings, paintings, negatives, writings, and the smell of tobacco on everything. It finally smothered him in his early 70s. Victor Lydgman. (Although the last name is hard to spell).

    Rob. Good to hear from you. I knew that – or most of it. But I have a problem. The Times allows me four or five short paragraphs. (When I started 28 years ago I got two pages, but the joint operating agreement soon shrunk almost everything.) So do I spend time revealing the name complexity of the building? I chose not to. Even as it was submitted to my editor much was cut, including my “favorite” part. The hotel later became quarters for that big barn of a building – I forget the name for the moment – that was home to both King Tut and Andy Warhol. In fact I and others conversed with Andy there about nothing. Or am I imagining this? Try researching that. (Now I remember the building’s name – the Flag Plaza Pavilion.)

    Louis: That is Nob Hill. Hardly hill-like, but it continues south from Queen Anne Hill where some street name nominator (Denny?) liked the San Francisco connotation I presume. If you go to Google Earth you can follow the line of Nob Hill through the Center, although it is not a precise fit. It overlaps some. If you could have read it, the name also appears on the street sign that shows in that pix. Alas the quality of web pixs is not rich enough to hold on to those details. It is in the original. I’ll send it to you through the regular mail ’cause I do not know how to illustrate these replies. Perhaps one cannot.

  5. @ Matt – I can´t stop looking at that picture. How many times I´ve walked up that street past the monorail station making my way to the Food Circus. It´s so wonderfully strange to see the fair grounds when it was a neighborhood with an armory. Re: Your observation on britches – LOL.

    @Paul – Thank you so much for sending the image of the street sign. I noticed it in the picture, but my eyes are not what they used to be. And how many times did I walk down that lane to throw darts at balloons and baseballs at bottles…I most certainly will take a look at Nob Hill on Google Earth. Cheers.

  6. Hello, there is some controversy on a vintage Seattle group I belong to regarding the last photo in this post. Doors any have a reference for the WE COME IN PEACE (Victor Lydgman) photo? Thanks, Kevin S

    1. Hi Kevin – not sure what your question is. Victor Lygdman’s photo was taken looking east-north-east – the low hill on the horizon is North Capitol Hill.

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