Seattle Now & Then: Street Photography

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: With a cacophony of marquees and merchant come-ons behind them, West Seattleite Virginia Slate (right), 22, and nephew Jerry Johnson, 8, are caught by a candid street photographer strolling north along the west sidewalk of Seattle's Fourth Avenue between Pike and Pine streets in mid-1945. (Courtesy Clay Eals)
NOW: Retracing the steps of their elders on a crisp October Sunday morning 65 years later before a more subdued swath of regimented storefront signs are Virginia's grandson, Chris Eals (right), 29, and his son, Connor, 11, both of Bremerton.

This past spring, Jean Sherrard and I attended the memorial service for Virginia Lee Slate Eals, mother of our friend, the writer Clay Eals. The oldest of three sons, Clay was the principal eulogist, and his memories of his mother were stirring.

The memorial was held at Park West Care Center, where Virginia spent the last six years of a buoyant life that began 87 years earlier, only seven West Seattle blocks away. The big room was filled with flowers, family, friends and photographs. The candid sidewalk snapshot shown here was among them.

From the 1930s into the 1950s, coming upon sidewalk photographers with the pitch of a candid portrait for a low price was commonplace. Virginia Slate had four of them in her album, all taken in her prime, before and during World War II. Clay explains, “She had many jobs downtown, and several of them were copy-girl type positions, delivering printed material from one place to another, so it’s no surprise that person-on-the-street photographers snapped her multiple times.”

With the then-popular Manning’s coffee house and the Colonial Theatre marquee behind her, both the place and time are easy to identify. The view looks north on the west side of Fourth Avenue between Pike and Pine streets in 1945, the year the films “Castle of Crime” and “Hotel Berlin,” on the marquees, upper-left, were making their American runs.

In 1970, Virginia went back to work, in part to help pay for her sons’ education. Clay notes that her job with the Bellevue Traffic Violations Bureau “was both tough and enlightening.” In a letter to Clay during her 18 years there, Virginia reflected, “It’s amazing how many people are repeaters on traffic violations. I’ve been cussed at and told off, which I was expecting, and also lied to. You can never tell by just looking at people what they are like. … I saw a part of life I’ve not been exposed to before, and it’s fascinating and depressing. It makes you appreciate good friends and family all the more.”


Hey Paul, this time round, I just know you’ve got a treasure trove to share with us – but let’s begin with Clay’s extraordinary and moving eulogy for his mom Virginia. What’s more, we’ve illustrated it with a sampler of family photographs supplied by Clay.

1948: Virginia Eals, 25, Bon Marche portrait

And now, on to your mini-survey of street photography now and then from around the planet. And of course I’ll prompt this outpouring with my usual query:

Anything to add, Paul?

YES Jean.

First something more about Clay Eals and 4th Avenue north of Pike.   This part of 4th first – here in 1947 with the old Colonial.

On October 18, 2009 we put up on this blog a look at this from about the same year – about.  It was – do you remember Jean? – a night shots with all the lovely neon aglow and you repeating it in the evening too.  I came with you.   That now-then also featured an excerpt from film reviewer Bill White’s work-in-progress, “Cinema Penitentiary.”  If might be something to visit again for those who know how to use the search machinery.   Ask to see anything with “Colonial.”

Next, Clay also figured in another 2009 insertion – the one for June 5th.  This was an article putting the Portola Theatre in its proper place – a long move from West Seattle to Queen Anne Hill.  Ask to see anything with “Portola” or ask for “Eals.”   He comes up in some other stories although he is not identified.  He hides more than lurks.  You can also – you know Jean because you put him there – find him in the “now” repeat shot for this candid photo of his mother in this – and back to it – block.

Now as time allows (bedtime) I’ll lay in three stories that include street candor, followed by examples of another photographer’s (Victor Lydgman) candid shots on Pike Street (mostly) from the early 1960s, and a samples of my own Broadway Bus Stop project of 1976-77.  (About this last I have an uncanny feeling that I showed a lot of these earlier on this blog but I could only find one, and so I will go ahead with it.)  I might mix in some other grace notes if they make themselves heard before another nights “nightybears,” which  you know is our mutual friend Bill Burden’s (of the button on our front page) customary salutation for metabolic closure, that is, which is his “good night.”


This "caught" couple appeared in Pacific on April 18, 1993. The photographer Miller looks north on First, ca. 1902, through its intersection with Union Street.
My "now" for Miller's then was shot - my negative holder tells me - in February, 1993.

The Seattle News-Letter, a turn-of-the-century weekly, published candid photographs of locals on the city’s sidewalks to accompany a gossipy front-page column, “Stories of the Streets and of the Town.”  The couple “posing” here was photographed for the series, although it seems that this shot never made it to print.  Perhaps the photographer could not pry any stories from them.

The photographer was a young Walter P. Miller.  Pieces of his estate, including these negatives for the tabloid – about 100 of them – survived in their original wraps.  Roger Dudley Jr.s’ father worked for Walter Miller and in the mid-1930s bought out the business.  The 3-inch-square flexible negatives were part of the deal.  Roger Dudley Jr. took over his father’s studio 20 years later, and after a quarter-century more of commercial photography he retire and gave the negatives – these candid ones – to me.  Miller lightly penciled the names of most of his subjects on his negative holders.  This couple was one of the exceptions.

According to Lois Bark, costume curator for the Museum of History and Industry [in 1993 when this story first appeared in Pacific – on April 12] the woman is dressed conservatively but still modishly.  Her hat, held in place with a long pin, is most likely straw-trimmed with tulle (a fine net) and artificial flowers.  Her S-shaped figure is a creation of corsets, whale bones, petticoats, hip pads and hooks, and below all that maybe an S-shaped anatomy.  Her two-piece walking dress was certainly black, the common dress color of the time, and most likely wool.  It required help to get on and off and could not be cleaned, only brushed and spotted.

The man is distinguished by his gold chain.  His double-vested waistline is another projection of his affluence or, at least, self-importance.

The couple stands on the southeast corner of First Ave. and Union Street.  The pioneer Arthur and Mary Denny home is directly behind them and over their shoulders at the northeast corner is their son Orion Denny’s home.   In 1852 he became the first boy born to white settlers in the village of Seattle.  He died in 1916.


Walter Millers example of candid street photography are rare – for Seattle.  Perhaps for anywhere, for the practice of “catching” subjects that were not confused by their own movement was dependent on still subjects and/or fast equipment.

Somewhere near Pioneer Square. I write this indefinite but with confidence for I once knew - figured it out.
Walter Miller also visited Alki Beach with his camera. From this visit he produced a sizeable report for his Seattle Mail and Herald.


Although the date for this Fourth and Pike scene is recorded on neither the original negative nor its protective envelop, uncovering it was not difficult.  The newsstand at the center of this view includes copies of both The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. A 15-power magnifying glass reveals the date.  It is Monday, July 25, 1938.

The Post-Intelligencer, just above the dealer’s head, announced “A New Forest Fire Rages at Sol Duc.”  A week and a half of record heat had not only encouraged fires around Puget Sound, but also filled its beaches.

On this Monday, Seattle was even hotter with anticipation of a Tuesday-night fight.  Jack Dempsey’s photograph is on the front page of the P-I. The “Mighty Manassa Mauler” was in town to referee what those who sport so consider one of the great sporting events in the city’s history: the Freddie Steele-Al Hostak fight for the middleweight title.

About 30 yours after this photograph was recorded, hometown-tough Hostak, in front of 35,000 sweating fans at Civic Field (now the Seattle Center Stadium) made quick work of the champion Steele.  The P.I.’s purple-penned sports reporter, Royal Brougham, reported “Four times the twenty-two-year-old Seattle boy’s steel-tempered knuckles sent the champion reeling into the rosin.”  Hostak brought the belt to Seattle by a knockout in the first minute of the first round.

The day’s fevered condition was also encouraged at the Colonial Theatre (a half-block up Fourth) where, the Time’s reported, “an eternal triangle in the heart of the African jungle brings added thrills in Tarzan’s Revenge.”   The apeman’s affection for a young lady on safari with her father fires the resentment of her jealous fiancé.  We will not reveal the ending of this hot affair, although by Wednesday the 27th, Seattle had cooled off.

[HERE we remind the reader that another visit to the Colonial was offered on this blog on Oct. 18, 2009 with an excerpt from film critic Bill White’s work-in-progress, “Cinema Penitentiary.”  It is illustrated with a neon-lighted night view of Fourth from this corner  in 1945.  Search for “Colonial.”]



(This was first published in Pacific on August 6, 2006.  The Pike Place Market and the city were preparing for the former’s100th Anniversary.)

A century ago Seattle, although barely over fifty, was already a metropolis with a population surging towards 200,000.   Consequently, now our community’s centennials are multiplying.  This view of boxes, sacks and rows of wagons and customers is offered as an early marker for the coming100th birthday of one of Seattle’s greatest institutions, the Pike Place Public Market.

Both the “then” and “now” look east from the inside angle of this L-shaped landmark.  The contemporary view also looks over the rump of Rachel, (bottom-left) the Market’s famous brass piggy bank, which when empty is 200 pounds lighter than her namesake 750 pound Rachel, the 1985 winner of the Island County Fair.   Since she was introduced to the Market in 1986 Rachel has contributed about $8,000 a year to its supporting Market Foundation.  Most of this largess has been dropped through the slot in her back as small coins.  It has amounted to heavy heaps of them.

Next year – the Centennial Year – the Market Foundation, and the Friends of the Market, and many other vital players in the closely-packed universe that is the Market will be helping and coaxing us to celebrate what local architect Fred Bassetti famously describe in the mid-1960s as “An honest place in a phony time.”  And while it may be argued that the times have gotten even phonier the market has held onto much of its candor.

The historical view may well date from the Market’s first year, 1907.  If not, then the postcard photographer Otto Frasch recorded it soon after.   It is a scene revealing the original purpose of the Public Market:  “farmers and families” meeting directly and with no “middleman” between them.

Then and Now Captions together:  The Pike Place Market started out in the summer of 1907 as a city-supported place where farmers could sell their produce directly to homemakers.  Since then the Market culture has developed many more attractions including crafts, performers, restaurants, and the human delights that are only delivered by milling and moving crowds.


The revered poster wall where Post Alley descends from First Avenue is interrupted by a stairway that leads to the alley from the Pig above it - or near the pig. This "radical juxtaposition" of a young woman in pause and a fireman advancing for the alley I was "given" about two years ago by being there.


Without explanation Frank Shaw recorded this bed at the southeast corner of Second Avenue and Pike Street on Sept. 27, 1983, a mere 28 years ago. Is the man handing out fliers on the subject of street living and the homeless? The bed has since been removed.


This morning I suggested to both our Jean and our Berangere that they apply some candor to this and they have with the following examples pulled from their profound larders or happy hordes or profound multitudes.  Four for each – with Jean first.

Pier Music
EMP Maze
Pink Gorilla & Dog - Spectacle
Queen Anne Jump
Some Are Students - All Wear Shoes
Assisted Passion on the Quay
Parisians Walk More Than We Do (Dorpat's caption)
Here is Christophe the sweet owner standing in the doorway of his little bar where the best teachers from Collège de France have been accustomed to come. And inside! Perhaps Claude Levy Strauss with Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault. The tabac du college de France is located 21 rue Jean de Beauvais 75005 Paris, and so the nearest bar to the College de France.


This quartet hangs around Pike Street too.

First looking south across Pike with the famous doughnut shop on the southeast corner.
Second and Pike Southwest Corner
At the Elbow where Pike Place Originates - the Elbow
Second Ave. south from Pike


For the two years I lived above Peter’s on Broadway in the grand-box apartment with two floors handed on from Cornish students and faculty to Cornish faculty and students through many years, I took the opportunity to photograph the bus stop across Broadway.  It was laid beside the east facade of Marketime, a big place with food and sundries.  The light was wonderfully mellow as it bounced off our side of Broadway in the afternoons.  In the mornings it slanted from the south – left – directly into the architecture of the bus stop shed and those who were protected by it.  I recorded a few thousand shots, both black and white and color.  The Friends of Rag also put on a fashion show at the bus stop for the project.  I asked many friends to sit for portraits with my zoom lens poking out below the open kitchen window on the second floor above the kindly Peter’s front door.  Peter, I think, was the first gay clothier in Seattle, and he was also one of the first oulets for the Helix weekly in the late 60s.  Here are a few examples taken from the thousands.  A few of these – or others – were exhibited on city buses at the time.  (Not all the buses.)

Asked to "take" a portrait and sit in the shelter Art Bernstein (with Jim Osteen one of the two founders of the Harvard Exit Theatre) brings a broom and tidies up.
Dowager, perhaps, shares a bench with Sleeping Dude
A few Friends of the Rag in a summer show
A few more - with bus full up and leaving without them
Judy "Sabika" - of the popular cafe on Pine Street - in jeans
Friendships made if fleeting
Take notice
Turn or Respond
Wait and Watch
Remember - You Promised to Behave
A Regular - and more to come
Ask and . . .
A Regular in Black
Timeless Flower Pattern. It may be noted that in none of these, of course, is anyone holding anything to their ear - it seems.
Friends of the Rag with Bag
Crowd with Smoker
You Cannot Tell
Not their first date
Santa and The Regular in Street Light. The "Regular" hung out at the bus stop but never, as far as I could determine, took the bus. She probably was not homeless, but certainly some combination of curious and lonely. And here is Santa for her. She is amused. Merry Christmas Regular. 1976
A Lesson in Brushing from the Pro, a Metro Attendant.
Graduates waiting for work
You Can Never Tell - Part 2
Morning Shadows
Leaping Girl with Socialist to the Side
You Will Know Them By Their Bags
I Could Teach You to Act
Dude Dudette
Capitol Hil Colossus, 1976


Back on Fourth at Mannings
Not Far Away Beside the Embassy


Delia and Lewis, like may others, had a custom of doing much of their shopping downtown, and often the Pike Place Market was among their stops.  As with Clay Eals’ mother Virginia this frequency meant that they had more than one chance to purchase a candid snapshot of them having their ways on a downtown street.  Lewis Whittelsey “contribued” to his blog with his photography on another Sunday.  You can search for him.

The famous and favorite Ben Paris restaurant is behind.

9 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Street Photography”

  1. This photo grabbed me immediately. One of my family’s treasures is a photo of our mother and father strolling in Seattle, he in his Navy uniform and her in a classy outfit. The setting is so like the one of Virginia Slate, that I wonder if the photographer could be the same one.
    Our parents’ photo would be from this same year, 1945, can’t pin down the season.

  2. I think I have about four of those pictures taken on the Seattle streets, even have the receipt from one to buy the photo. The photographer would take the picture and according to my father rush up and hand you a slip of paper with a serial number on it. You’d take that into the store (I think I have one from Bartell’s) and buy the snapshot which would be ready in a day or two. It’s helpful in seeing what family members looked like casually from 65-70 years ago.

  3. An old-fashioned whodunit murder mystery, The House of the Arrow was produced by the Associated British Picture Corporation in October 1940. For it’s American release in March 1945 the film was renamed Castle of Crimes and opened in Seattle at Sterling’s Colonial Theatre on Monday, July 2 for a three day run. The WWII espionage thriller Hotel Berlin was part two of the double bill, returning for a second run after playing at the Roosevelt and Orpheum in April. An anxious and hopeful time, it was roughly halfway between VE Day on May 8 and VJ Day, August 15. I’ll bet the newsreel has survived. I’d give anything to see it. “Open All Night. Buy War Bonds!”

  4. Paul, a nit to pick…That first shot of Virginia…I don’t think it can be looking “north on the west side of Fourth Avenue”, unless the neg is flipped, in which case the writing on the signs would be inverted. This must be either the east side of the street, or the shot looks south, nez pah?

  5. Fabulous photos! My Mother just gave me three b/w prints of her, taken in Seattle in June of 1951. It’s so nostalgic… and my Mom looked like a hot little number. Ha! Ha!

  6. William P. Miller> Could the shot you identify as being Pioneer Square but you’re not sure be his photo studio?

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