Seattle Now & Then: The Central Business District from Harborview

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: The photographer of this fresh look into the business district’s north end was most likely from the Post-Intelligencer. The style of grease pencil marking left near the edge of the original negative was typical of the P-I. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: After gaining permission to visit the roof of Harborview (directly below and south of its central tower) it was, so to speak, an obvious snap for Jean Sherrard to find the exact position of the historical photographer.

A likely year for this look into the Central Business district is the year, or even month*, the photographer’s “platform” – Harborview Hospital – was dedicated.  That was in February 1931. (*I must have been concentrating on the towers and missed the trees.  How painfully silly of me to write “even month” when the trees are all bulked up with leaves. This cannot be February.)

Of course a sincerely excited photographer might have got early access for a wonderfully elevated recording of this part of the business district northwest of the hospital. Directly one block west, however, it may have been still hidden behind the grotesque old King County Court house.  On Jan 8, 1931, it was then razed to rubble by dynamite, a reduction that was also an unveiling of the hospital behind it.  In a few seconds Harborview was the best elevation from which to look at the city in all directions.

This view to the northwest displays what were then most of the city’s new landmarks.   Left of center is the highest among them, the still gorgeous Northern Life Tower (Seattle Tower) completed in 1929 at Third and University.  Right-of-center, the other and “whiter” tower is also nearly new, the 1930 Washington Athletic Club at Sixth and Union.  Directly to the right of WAC is the Medical Dental Building (1924) and behind it, both left and right, are parts of the featureless and flattened blocks left by the last of the Denny Hill Regrades (1929-1931).

The Olympic Hotel (1924) is at the view’s center, and far left is the new YMCA (1929-1931) with its small arched windows high above 4th Avenue and north of Marion Street. The familiar and saved domed of First Methodist Episcopal Church (1910) is just right of the “Y.”  Far right and far off at the base of Queen Anne Hill is the Civic Auditorium (1928).  And for a keen eye the thin white line of the reinforced concrete bridge on Garfield Street can be followed through the distant haze, top-center, in its climb to Magnolia.  The bridge was dedicated early December 1930, mere weeks before the hospital.


This ‘Now’ was accomplished with the aid of a number of helpful Harborview personnel, particularly Orlando Galves, who escorted me through every door that would open. I snapped a shot of Orlando on the spot, which I include below.

Orlando Galves, Harborview security

Views from the top of Harborview will surely be included in future columns, as well as in our upcoming exhibition at MOHAI opening in April.

Anything to add, Paul?

Yes Jean.  (First a reminder to the readers that sometimes you – at least I on this MAC – will want to click twice on a picture in order to enlarge it to full glory.)

Searching the brand new prospect from Harborview featured above I understandably found quite a few structures that I have visited over the last now 29 years of writing weekly features for Pacific Mag, the inheritor of The Seattle Times’ old Sunday rotogravure section tradition.   I have picked a few of them and will now pour them forth, but I will make a bit of a puzzle.  I will not identify the same structures in the 1931 view from the hospital – except those that appear in the text above proper.  We’ll start with Trinity Episcopal Church which was hit badly by the earthquake now a few years ago.  But the church has bound its wounds and bounded back to do its inner-city service.


Looking west on James Street from 9th Avenue. Trinity at 8th is on the right. Note the billboards on the hill to the left. They were controversial at the time.

On the Sunday afternoon of Jan. 20, 1902, Edmond Butler gave his first recital on Trinity Episcopal Parish’s new organ. Since the instrument was declared to be the finest north of San Francisco, the church’s pews were crowded long before Butler took his place behind the console. There, he played a program which a local reviewer reported as “carefully selected with a view to contrast and to show off the capabilities of the instrument.”  Later that night, when Butler and his appreciative audience were fast asleep, the organ performed an encore of its own.

Two days later, after sifting through the ashes, the fire department concluded that it was the organ that had burned down the church. A short circuit in the wiring ignited the chancel and then spread to the nave. There, hidden behind stone walls and dark glass and fueled by Christmas decorations still hanging for Epiphany, the heat built up under the high roof until the windows exploded and the roof fell in with the organ’s last crescendo. Only the rock walls remained. And they remain today as the granite shell for the rebuilt Trinity which we see in both our then and now photos.  (My now was taken long ago.  This first appeared in Pacific on July 31, 1983.) The view is west down James Street and past the parish at Eighth Avenue.

This was not the first time that fire had figured in the building plans of Seattle’s original Episcopal congregation.  Trinity’s first church was built by its parishioners in 1870 at Third Avenue and Jefferson Street. That cozy Gothic clapboard covered a floor of only 24-by-48 feet and was not adorned with a tower until 1880. However, it then made music with the largest bell in Washington Territory.  In 1889 the rector, George Watson, bought property on First Hill where many in his congregation were building lavish homes. The motivation to move followed the destruction of the wooden church during the Great Fire of 1889.  It was the only structure destroyed on Third Avenue north of Yesler Way.

In its new home on First Hill Trinity continued to grow into a family church serving the often upper-crust residents. However, by the early years of this century, this distinguished society was moving out of its mansions as the apartment houses moved in. Trinity was then faced with the difficult decision of whether to follow the flight or stay and serve the central city. It stayed.

Look west on James during the 1916 Big Snow. Billboards are still on the hill and now the Smith Tower (dedicated in 1914) is over it.


Looking north with his or her back nearly against Mill (Yesler Way) Street, Central School holds the horizon facing Madison Street on its south side between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. On the left is Providence Hospital with its tower. Most of this is now part of the Interstate-5 Freeway ditch.


Throughout the 1860s and ’70s, the Territorial University on Denny’s Knoll, the present site of the Olympic Hotel, was the crowning landmark on the city’s horizon.

During the winter of 1882-83 eyes for skyline landmarks shifted two blocks east and two blocks south. Grabbing attention was the great white wooden hulk of the new Central School at the southeast comer of Sixth Avenue and Madison Street. With six rooms on each of its two floors and another two stories of tower above, it was the largest school in Washington Territory.  It could seat 800 students.

The new crowning glory was short-lived. In the spring of 1888 the Central School burned to the ground. The five years the school was around covered a time of radical change for Seattle. The school was started amid the small town flavor where everything and everyone was familiar. On Jan. 14, 1882 citizens gathered in Yesler Hall to vote for the speedy construction of the new schoolhouse. Three days later many of these same grassroots, civic-minded agitators pulled from the city jail two prisoners accused of murdering a local businessman named Reynolds. After “encouraging” a confession, the crowd lynched them on two maples along Yesler Way.

During the next few years strangers crowded out the familiar faces. By 1889 outsiders were coming in on the-transcontinental Northern Pacific at a rate of 1,000 a month. From 1880 to 1890 a city anxious to attract immigrants, yet still fearful of strangers, had grown from 4,000 to 40,000.  The 1880s in Seattle was soiled with violent racial resentment in the anti-Chinese riots of 1886.  The ‘80s also brought technological innovations like the telephone, public transportation and a general electric lighting system, and physical devastation like the city’s “Great Fire” of 1889.

The brick Central School with a grand was built on the same footprint - nearly - on the southside of Madison. This recording of it looks south on 6th Avenue towards Madison.
The School sans tower. You might try to date it from the vintage of the cars.


Photographed only a year after the fire, the two-part panorama above by LaRouche, looks north of most of the blocks razed by the late spring informer of June 6, 1889.  The dirt street in the foreground is Seventh Avenue.  The pan was photographed from the front lawn of the then new King County Courthouse.

Most of the landmarks shown here had short lives. The spire at the center, topping the First Methodist Church at Third Avenue and Marion Street, was destroyed in 1907 during the Third Avenue regrade.  The building with the square profile on the background horizon, right of the spire, was the York Hotel at the northwest comer of First Avenue and Pike Street. At that point new, it was razed 14 years later because when rattled during the construction of the railroad tunnel beneath the city and directly below it. The Rainier Hotel, the huge and barnlike building left of the power pole on 7th, was built quickly after the fire. Later it became a boarding house for working women.  The Denny Hotel, atop Denny Hill and above the Rainier’s roof line, closed in 1906 closed to the Denny regrade and was soon razed for it.

The longest-lived landmark was the red brick Central School, right of the power pole, at Sixth Avenue and Madison Street. It lasted till 1953, nine years before the 1-5 ditch sliced through its block.


The Northern Life Tower, th enew skyscraper in the view above from Harborview, is seen her from the opposite direction looking south on 3rd Avenue. The Pantages/Palomar theatre is on the left.



(The following feature on the Rainier Club appeared in Pacific April17, 1988 – the club’s centennial.]

This year the Rainier Club celebrates its own centennial, one year before the state’s. Appropriately, it is writing its own history. In a draft of the book, author Walter Crowley concludes, “as the wheel turns and future generations regard this curious mansion nestled at the feet of skyscrapers, the Rainier Club will still serve as a reminder of the remarkable individuals who shaped Seattle out of forests and mudflats.”

It was only in 1986 that the club was recognized for what it has been since it was first constructed in 1904: a historical landmark. Wishing to keep its options, the club itself for a time resisted the description because the landmark designation restricts a structure’s future to those that preserve its historical integrity. However, Seattle’s central business district would surely be more severe than it already is were it not for the gracious relief of this well-wrought clubhouse.

Modeled after the English example, Seattle’s men’s club held its first meeting on Feb. 23, 1888. The next day’s Seattle Press reported, “the object of the club is like that of a hundred other kindred bands scattered over the face of the civilized world, the pursuit of pleasure among congenial conductors,” Of course, the club is no longer exclusively a men’s club. In 1977 its bylaws were amended to admit women. As of now (In 1988) forty women are numbered among the 1,200 members.

Walt Crowley and Marie McCaffrey at a Rainier Club signing of their new book on the Club's history.

The early view of the club (its third home) looks across Fourth Avenue and dates from about 1909 or soon after the 1908 regrading of Fourth. Of the club’s Jacobean style, the work of Spokane-based architect Kirtland K. Cutter, Crowley notes: “However antiquated the club was designed to appear on the outside, the trustees spared no expense for modem luxuries on the inside, including telephones in every room.” The club’s style was preserved when its size nearly doubled in 1929 with the south extension. That was the work of Seattle architects Charles Bebb and Carl Gould. Within the walls of this chummy setting many landmark projects were planned, including Metro, Forward Thrust and both of Seattle’s world’s fairs.

The enlarged Rainier Club looking north across Columbia Street in 1958. The photo was mostly likely taken by Robert Bradley.


Elks home at the southwest corner of Spring Street and 4th Avenue, across the street from the Central Library and next to the Lincoln Hotel, here in part on the left.


(First appeared in Pacific August 27,1995)

Seattle’s Elks took three days in 1914 to dedicate their lodge at the southwest corner of Fourth and Spring.  There was plenty to do.  The basement and sub-basement had a Turkish bath, bowling alleys and a big swimming pool. The Lodge Room on the top floor had a pipe organ and this hall was also used for social events. Three floors were reserved for members’ living quarters and, aside from rented shops on the street, the rest of this nine-story landmark was used for lodge activities.

The Seattle lodge was the third largest in the order and, when counted with the Ballard Elks, made Seattle the only community outside of New York with two lodges. Within two years of taking possession of their new lodge, membership swelled to more than 2,000, four times the number that met 10 years earlier in temporary quarters on the top floors of the Alaska Building.

The Ballard Elks on Leary Way

Seattle Lodge 92 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks was instituted in 1888 with eight members. Its records were destroyed in the city’s “Great Fire” of June 6, 1889. The Frye Opera House, the Lodge’s home, was one of the first structures consumed.

Lodge 92 sold its Fourth Avenue quarters in 1958. Nine years later, in preparation for the building’s razing for the construction of the Seafirst Bank tower, bank publicist Jim Faber staged one of great conceptual arts moments in Seattle history. In monumental block-cartoon letters he wrote “POW” on the brick south wall of the old lodge, a target for the wrecker’s ball.

Since leaving Fourth and Spring the Seattle Elks have had two homes: first on the west shore of Lake Union and now in lower Queen Anne. Lodge members have been at Queen Anne Avenue and Thomas Street for a year and half (in 1995) but withheld the dedication until tomorrow’s visit of Grand Exalted Ruler Edward Mahan.

Built later the Yakima Elks exhibits some sympathy for the Seattle Lodge. Jean photographed this in 2005 - most likely - when we were working on our book "Washington Then and Now."


Jean's look across 4th Avenue at the Kristalkoolhaus - the latest of three Seattle Central libraries to hold the block between Madison and Spring, nicely contrasts or compares the curves of sculptor Henry Moore's Vertebrae with the elegantly angled glass curtains of the Rem Koolhaas library. This comparison - above and below - will be one of those included in the exhibit that is now in production for an early April opening at MOHAI, the Museum of History and Industry. Jean and I and Berangere are doing it together, and many repeats from Paris, Washington State and Seattle will be featured, along with some examples of animations from my Wallingford Walks, 2006-2009. Please visit it and us at the opening. Check MOHAI's schedule. We will continue to toot this horn.
The text below was written to this look at the McNaught mansion across 4th Avenue. Courtesy, Seattle Public Library
The "Library in between" the "second library" on the same site. This one photographed by Bradley on May 17, 1963. To his left was no Henry Moore sculpture then, but still a gas station and parking lot.


(This feature first appeared in Pacific long ago – on July 25, 1982.)

When local booklovers met at Yesler’s Hall in August 1868 to organize Seattle’s first library association, they appointed Sara Yesler librarian. On the executive board’s list of classic titles for acquisition were Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Essays,” William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis” and Percy Shelley’s “Collected Poems.” But one board member objected to the latter selection, calling the poet a “freethinker.” Fortunately for freethinking this objection was overruled.

A board member who was probably an advocate of Shelly was the association’s first president, James McNaught, an erudite young lawyer with bad eyes and thick lenses. Whatever McNaught read, including romantic poets, he held it four inches from his face.

Looking northeast through the intersection of Madison Street and 4th Avenue. Notice the cable car tracks on Madison.

When McNaught arrived in town only one year earlier he created a sensation with his exceedingly high silk hat and long frock coat. But McNaught’s cosmopolitan costume fit neither his new hometown of rough-palmed stump pullers nor his own financial condition. The dapper young McNaught had only enough cash to pay for one week’s board, and no prospects. However, he kept wearing that hat and coat, and 22 years later McNaught was working in New York City as Northern Pacific Railroad’s chief solicitor and commuting to his high fashion home on the Hudson River near WestPoint. When he left his Seattle home on Fourth Avenue, he had a high status among the legal fraternity of Washington Territory.

The home James and Agnes McNaught and their two children left behind in Seattle is the mansion prominent in the historical photograph that is two above. Built at the southeast comer of Fourth Avenue and Spring Street in 1883 for $50,000 it was a monument to the entrepreneur who designed and built it to be conspicuously included in all the local tour books. A home like this one required servants, and there were three or four rooms for everyone. The sumptuous display of furnishings cost nearly as much as the many wings, gables and towers that sheltered them.

About the same time McNaught left town his old friends and associates started a new social organization they called the Rainier Club. Their purpose was to further nurture the success of their “Seattle Spirit” by promoting their social and business connections. The club’s first home was the McNaught mansion, where it stayed until 1893 when the grand still young home was converted into a boarding house.

By 1904 the city had bought the entire block of the mansion site to put up the local library’s first permanent home. The photograph looking across Fourth Avenue from the present location of the Seafirst Building (it’s name in 1982) was most likely taken some short time before the big house was moved across Spring Street to the northeast corner of its intersection with Fourth Avenue. A small portion of the mansion’s southern side is revealed at the far left of the second historical photograph. It focuses on the new Carnegie Library, taken shortly after it was completed in 1907.

The new Carnegie Library before the 4th Ave. regrade.
The library with steps and across Spring Street from the McNaught Mansion -on the far left - that was saved and moved there.
The McNaught mansion, to repeat, was moved from its original footprint to its new home at the northeast corner of Spring and 4th, as it is seen here, in part, on the right high above with a story added during the 4th Ave. regrade.

The Carnegie Library was built with a $220,000 donation from its namesake, Andrew Carnegie, steel magnate and philanthropist. At the time, it was considered the most elegant structure in town. Fifty years later it was described by Kenneth Colman, chairman of the citizens for the library bond issue as “A community eyesore, not fit for a progressive and forward looking city like Seattle.” The bond issue passed and by 1957 the same forces of local modernism that gave us a city hall and Public Safety Building that look like airport hotels were at work on the new library, the one that preceded the one seen over the Moore sculpture in Jean’s contemporary photograph.

The Carnegie's mendary-bindery at the back of the Library - on the 5th Ave. side.
1959 construction on the new Central Library, looking east on Spring and across 4th Avenue.

In our oldest image (by now far above), behind the McNaught mansion we can see the center tower and southern half of Providence Hospital at the present location of the Federal Courthouse at Fifth Avenue and Madison Street. To the right of the hospital and one block east at Sixth Avenue rise the brick towers of the Central School that was completed in 1889.

The buildings in these historical scenes are long gone. Providence Hospital moved to its present location at 17th Avenue and East Jefferson Street in 1911. Central School was leveled in August 1953. The McNaught residence was replaced by the Hotel Hungerford, and the Carnegie Library was leveled in 1956.  There is, however, still some continuity with those first library association meetings where McNaught presided in 1868. Shelley’s poetry has still been neither expunged nor outmoded.


(This little feature appears first in The Seattle Times Sunday magazine Pacific on April 28, 1991.)

This month (April, 1991) the Seattle Public Library celebrates its centennial.  On April 8, 1891, a reading room opened on the fifth floor of the Occidental Building (later the Seattle Hotel), which filled Pioneer Place’s pie-shaped block west of Second Avenue and between James Street and Yesler Way.

The Collins Bldg, home of Occidental Hotel and Seattle Public Library. This is a very early LaRouche look at it, and soon after its construction following the 1889 fire.

The library moved many times between then and the 1906 dedication of its Carnegie-endowed permanent on Fourth Ave.  This view of the main branch’s vaulting lobby was photographed about 1912 and shows the talents of its architect, P.J.Weber of Chicago.

Although formidable the Carnegie gifted structure was not so safe.  Shakes from the region’s 1949 earthquake revealed what Weber no doubt once knew that neither steel nor reinforced concrete had been used to strengthen the classic structure’s masonry.  Officials (one’s with degrees in engineering) decided the structure might collapse in another quake.

Consequently it was with some prudent justice that the library board’s 1955 campaign for a new plant repeatedly denounced the old beau arts beauty as a “death trap.”  It was demolished in 1957 and replaced what has since been replaced.  The lobby of the current library has its own sublimity.

In or near the lobby of the modern structure that served for the 45-plus years before the post-modern (or is that post-post-modern or neither?) replaced it a few years ago. Here it appears to be an exhibit of regional art that is on show. (Courtesy Seattle Public Library)
The familiar - to many - art screen in the central library that preceeded the library as art screen that we have now.



(First appeared in Pacific on August 22, 1999.)

Is it the example of organizations such as the Washington Athletic Club (WAC) that makes America’s rhapsodies about its can-do qualities seem like science. The WAC’s “myth of origin,” as revealed in its own chronology, begins most practically. In 1928, “California real estate developer Noel B. Clark came to Seattle to develop residential subdivisions and couldn’t find a place to play handball, so decided to start a club.”

America’s self-advertised speed was fulfilled by the initial WAC membership drive. In 90 days, 2,600 physical culturists were persuaded to pony up $100 each. Matters then sped along. Architect Sherwood D. Ford, an English immigrant, quickly shaped the many longings of a large volunteer building committee, and just over two years from the moment Clark felt deprived of handball, a new 22-story clubhouse was in place.

The ground at the southwest corner of Sixth Avenue and Union Street was broken on Dec. 16, 1929, and one year later to the day the new sanctuary – with super-sun rooms, swimming pool, pining room, baths living quarters (for members) and much else, including handball – was dedicated.

The dedication was two months after the market crash of ’29.  But the WAC was well stocked with optimism that prosperity was just around the comer. It wasn’t, and membership soon took a big hit.  Nearly 500 resigned or had their memberships canceled. The club, of course, survived the Great Depression. A 1932 joining with the Arctic Club was neither needed nor consummated. When the Arctic Club at last disbanded in the early 1970s, WAC grew yet again welcoming many of its members.  WAC added $3 million in new facilities, including a larger gymnasium, a women’s conditioning department, a beauty salon and boutique, and – surely in the spirit of Noel Clark – three more handball courts.


MADISON STREET Looking East from 6th AVENUE

(Printed first in Pacific on February 2, 1985.)

In 1910, Madison Street, where it climbs First Hill, was a fashionable strip bordered by better brick apartments and hotels. This stretch of Madison was also lined by what Sophie Frye Bass described in her book Pigtail Day in Old Seattle, as “the pride of Madison Street – the stately poplar trees made it the most attractive place in town.”

The strip was not only popular but also populated. Madison was evolving into a vital city link. The two cable cars pictured in the early 20th century view up Madison from Sixth Avenue started running there in 1890 when the Madison Street Cable Railway first opened service up First Hill and Second Hill and through the forest to Madison Park on Lake Washington.

The white sign hanging from the front of the closest car reads, “White City, Madison Park, Cool Place, Refreshments, Amusements.” White City was a short-lived promotion designed by the cable railway’s owners to attract riders onto the cars and out to the lake. White City failed in 1912, but by then the top attraction at the lake end of the line was not the park but the ferry slip and the ferry named after the 16th president of the United States: Lincoln.

Madison’s popular poplars did not survive into the 1930s, according to author Bass. The granddaughter of pioneer Arthur Denny lamented in her book that by then the endearing trees “had given way protestingly to business.”

In 1940, Madison lamented another loss when its cable cars gave way to gasoline-powered buses. Then, 20 years later, the entire block pictured in the foreground of the historical scene gave way to the interstate freeway built in the early I 960s.

Madison Street was named for the county’s fifth president. Arthur Denny, while platting Seattle’s streets in alliterative pairs, named the street one block south of Madison “Marion” after a young brother, James Marion Denny. Arthur needed another “M.”

East on Madison from 6th Avenue, June 19, 1961 when its days were numbered
Madison Street, still looking east over 6th Avenue, this time on April 3, 1965. The old First Presbyterian sanctuary is seen on the left, bordering 7th Ave. between Madison and Spring Streets.
Less than a year later, March 21, 1966
December 18, 1975 with a new Presby sanctuary. This sequence of photos were taken by Lawton Gowey, who was also an organist - for his neighborhood Presbyterian church on Queen Anne Hill.
Finally - perhaps, for Jean recently did a repeat of this for the MOHAI show in April and when I find him I'll urge that it be included here - a repeat I took in May of 1995.
Here's that same location, Paul, taken this winter...

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