Seattle Now & Then: Looking North on 3rd

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Looking north on Third Avenue and thru its intersection with Cherry Street, circa 1903. Courtesy MOHAI
NOW: In the intervening 100-plus years all has changed including the grade of Third Avenue.

Signed at the lower left corner, “1225 W&S” is an early and low number for the Webster and Stevens Studio.  Soon after they opened for business, Webster and Stevens became the primary editorial photographers for The Seattle Times when the newspaper was beginning to feature screened photographs rather than etchings on its pages.

Judging from the negative’s fledgling status and the structures showing we will give this subject a circa 1903 date.  That’s the year that the Denny Hotel on top of Denny Hill opened in the spring for its first guest, President Theo Roosevelt.  Here the hotel and the hill stand in the way of Third Avenue ten blocks and a few yards north of where the photographer stood in the middle of the avenue a few yards south of Cherry Street.

Right to left, the landmarks here include the St. Elmo Hotel, which opened in 1888 and so in time to host and care for those who fled and fought the city’s Great Fire of 1889.  The Russell House, as it was then called, was one of the few hotels in Seattle to escape incineration.  The proprietor, Sarah Russell, also the first music teacher at the U.W., fed the fire fighters and played the piano for them as well.

Across Cherry Street the Seattle Theatre (1892) was one of the city’s leading venues for variety, and later for programs that paired vaudeville with silent films.  Across Third Avenue from the theatre is the brick Dexter Horton Building.  It was constructed soon after the 1889 fire and in a rush.  It took about three months from setting the foundation to welcoming its tenants.  The venerable bookman Samuel Shorey kept his bookstore in the corner storefront until the building was razed in the early 1920s. You can see his books in the window facing Cherry Street.

The 1906-7 regrade of Third Avenue made deep cuts in Third Avenue north of Cherry Street, and brought with it the grades showing in Jean Sherrard’s “now.”   The Denny Hotel’s last hurrah was a closing ball in May of 1906.   The hotel was soon razed and then the hill too.


Anything to add, Paul?

Thank you Jean, and yes, although not as much as I’d like for those nighty bears are gently growling at the top of the stairs and I must soon join them.   We’ll stay in the neighborhood with five features previously published as “now-and-then” features in Pacific Mag. of The Sunday Seattle Times.   First – if we take the position the Webster and Stevens photographer used above to look north of Third and turn 90 degrees to the left (west) and go back a few years we might see Lyman and Nellie Wood on their front porch, as they are seen directly below.  This first appears in Pacific sometime in 1988, and thanks to collector William Mix for sharing them now many years ago.


One won’t find Lyman Wood mentioned in any of Seattle’s earliest histories, although Wood once had a song written about him, which was sung with a brass band before 4,000 people in Pioneer Square. And in his time both Lyman and his wife Nellie were consistently popular with the people.

Not long after the Woods arrived in Seattle, Lyman went to work at the post office’s general delivery window, a job that eventually put him face to face with most of the town’s 5,000 residents. Within five years Lyman Wood was King County’s auditor, and this view of him framed by his front door with Nellie to his left was photographed in either 1888, his second and last year as auditor, or 1889. The 1889 city directory, compiled in 1888, lists the Woods’ residence on the west side of Third Avenue between James and Cherry streets. That this is that place is corroborated by the appearance in the photograph of the Yesler-Leary Building’s landmark tower on the scene’s far left between the ornate fence post and the tree. Then the most lavish structure in Seattle, it did not survive the city’s “Great Fire” of June 6, 1889.

Lyman Wood held a variety of government positions, some elected but most assigned: deputy assessor, clerk of Seattle School District Number One, bailiff in the federal court, deputy county treasurer. He was also exalted in the International Order of Odd Fellows, (I.O.O.F.), and his wife Nellie was a charter member of Rebekah Lodge, No. 6, and its chaplain for twenty years.

After 53 years of living with Lyman, Nellie Wood died suddenly on her eightieth birthday. In customary good humor, Lyman printed a memorial card featuring 16 portraits of his wife at different ages surrounding a portrait of himself. He captioned it, “Lyman Wood and his wives.” [This montage can be found published with the 45th chapter included in “Seattle Now and Then, Vol. 3,” which can be found as a PDF file through our book-button on the front page of this blog.]  On the backside Wood printed a poem of his own which included the lines,

Stately, handsome Nell;

Your eyes are as clear as the eagle’s

They fling ’round me a magical spell

You sparkle, you radiate, you shine,

In all the walks of life

As friend, lover and wife.

Lyman died in 1924 at the age of 85, seven years after his “Beloved Nell.”  Both of their funerals were officiated by a Rev. J.D.O. Powers, pastor of the People’s Church.

The Woods’ sentiments consistently ran with the people. Lyman Wood was the People’s Party (the Populists) nominee for secretary of state in 1892, and earlier that year he was their candidate for mayor of Seattle as well. It was during the mayoral campaign that Lyman was praised in a Pioneer Square rally with a song including these lines.

Ho , the People’s Party are in the race;

They’ll never fly the track;

For there’s our fore-horse Lyman,

Running neck and neck . . .

Three candidates are in the field,

Now . . .vote for an honest man

So vote for the People’s man.


The city’s oldest congregation has moved twice, but never far. Since 1908 First United Methodist Church has worshiped in the light of 16 windows that support its classical dome at Fifth Avenue and Marion Street. This low-rise Christian landmark is surrounded by skyscrapers in the heart of Seattle’s banking Babylon.

In 1855 the Methodists dedicated Seattle’s first church at Second Avenue and Columbia Street, or less than four blocks from its present location. This Spartan little clapboard was modest in every respect, including its color. It was called simply the “White Church.” As the size of its congregation grew so did the price of its promising commercial corner, which the church sold for $30,000 in 1887.

With those thousands the congregation skipped two blocks to Marion Street and Third Avenue and built the lavish Gothic pile we see above. Its first “white church” was moved too, by its new owners up to Third Avenue & Cherry Street. There, the First Methodist’s published history laments, “it fell into the hands of selfish men who used it for a saloon, gambling den, dance hall and other evil purposes.”

Looking south on Third Avenue through its intersection with Madison Street. The Third Ave. Theatre is on the left, the First Presbyterian Church across the street, and the Gothic sanctuary of the Methodists is one block south at Marion Street. The scene dates from the years 1890s.

Both buildings survived the disastrous June 6, 1889 fire that swept through about three dozen city blocks, but destroyed only one building on Third Avenue north of Yesler Way, and that a church: Trinity Episcopal ‘s first sanctuary at Jefferson Street. But the Methodists at Marion Street did not survive the clean sweep of the 1906-7 Third Avenue regrade which put their front steps a few feet in the air.

Third Avenue regade south from near Columbia. The Russel Hotel at the southeast corner of 3rd and Cherry is at the scene’s center, which can be compared to the subject at the top of this “list.” Courtesy Lawton Gowey
Third Ave. Regrade looking north across Marion Street. Note the wreckage of the Third Ave. Theatre, right of center, at the northeast corner of Madison and Third. Courtesy Lawton Gowey.

As with their former property, the commercial value of this corner had also risen, this time considerably higher than the expensive, but not priceless, architectural detailing on their second home’s gothic spires. So the corner was sold, the landmark razed and the congregation moved, again only two blocks, up Marion Street to its present home. The first church survived three decades, the second but two, and the third still stands on a central city block the present value of which would have excited Nebuchadnezzar.

It also excites some of the mainstay members in the First Methodist congregation who would like to sell their landmark – for millions no doubt – and move Seattle’s first church onto a fourth corner. Although there were no landmark laws to save the Methodists’ first two historic sanctuaries, there are for the third. Preservationists both within and without the congregation like the distinguished old church where it is: a soulful center for a neighborhood of bankers and lawyers. Both sides have their lawyers. This old contest between the bottom-liners and the fine-liners is now (in 1988) in the courts, and will, no doubt, stay there for a long time.   (This feature appeared first in Pacific long ago, and as we now know they have saved their third home and stayed put.)

This subject is included in our “Repeat Photography” exhibit that recently opened at the Museum of History and Industry. It will be up until June of next year. It is then that the museum hopes to move to its new quarters at the south end of Lake Union. If you decide to visit MOHAI for the exhibit please call them first to see if the conference room that holds the exhibit is not preoccupied for some other use.


Considering that the whole world is a spectacular stage which is electronically delivered 24 hours a day into our well-wired living rooms, we may be forgiven for not fathoming the excitement that once was part of leaving the house and stepping out to the theatre.

Seattle pioneer real estate nabob and theatre patron Henry Broderick remembered those early-century times as “an era when little pleasures were looked upon as treasures. Going to a theatre now is an incident in one’s life. Then, it was an event.”

And those events were decidedly democratic. You would almost certainly see a friend or acquaintance at the performance whether you were a “mechanic or a member of the 400.” You might well have dined out with friends before the show.

When the Seattle Theatre, at the northeast corner of Cherry and 3rd Avenue, was opened in 1892, it was the city’s premier showplace.  J. Willis Sayer, who in his time was an early-century theatre critic for both the Times and the P-I, remembered it as “a beautiful modern structure that housed leading attractions for a dozen years and was used until 1915.” This view of it dates from about 1910, or a few years after its heyday. The billboard here reads, “Emma Bunting, In Excellent Company with Anita the Singing Girl.”

During the 1890s when the Seattle Theatre was the city’s leading stage for variety theatre, it billed national acts like Hopkin’s Trans-Oceanic Star Specialty Company for a three-day run in May of 1894; David Henderson’s American Extravaganza Co. in “Sinbad the Sailor” for two days in April, 1895; and Professor Bristol’s Educated Horses for a full week during the summer of 1896. Traveling minstrel shows like the Georgia Minstrels, Black Patti’s Troubadours, Dante the Magician, Rusco and Holland’s Operatic Minstrels, and Hi Henry’s Big City Minstrels were also popular acts that made it on the Seattle Theatre’s stage in the 1890s.

Even motion pictures in their early dim and jerky form made it into a darkened Seattle Theatre. In August,1897 a “Veriscope” exhibition of the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight was projected there. Film, which didn’t get a voice of its own until the late 1920s, was throughout the early 1900s often run on the same program as vaudeville (the 20th century name for “Variety.”) As Eugene Elliott notes in his A History of Variety-Vaudeville in Seattle, it was “the motion picture that freed variety from the saloon. The darkened house made the sale of drinks during the show impractical . . . Now income depended solely upon admissions, a rapid turnover was necessary . . . Sometimes as many as 15 or 20 performances were given in a day. When the vaudeville part of the show was still the most important, motion pictures were used as ‘chasers’ to clear the house for the next performance.”

Seattle Theatre, in and out.

Of course, ultimately the movies eclipsed vaudeville. It was much easier to move a few reels around the country than a seven-act variety show with seven stars and supporting paraphernalia.

When John Cort, one of Seattle’s nationally known early century impresarios, opened his Grand Opera House in 1900, only one-half block down Cherry Street from the Seattle Theatre, the latter was superseded.  For a while Cort also controlled the Seattle, introducing burlesque there after he captured the lease in 1905. But as Broderick recalled, this burlesque was of a “genteel character with only occasional lapses into the visceral vernacular.”

The Seattle Theatre’s run was, all in all, a rather long and successful one. It survived until the elegant terra cotta Arctic Club took its place. And more recently, beginning in the 1970s with a proliferation of many new companies, theatre in Seattle has once again become, for many residents, something more than a mere incident.


By all descriptions Samuel Shorey, an old bachelor in a skull cap, was a fussy eccentric, and he loved books. He and his partner Bradford Trask started out selling magazines and tobacco from a little storefront on Third Avenue near Yesler Way. In 1894 or ’95, they moved to 701 Third Ave., at its northwest comer with Cherry Street. The front window of Shorey’s Old Book Store reads “Old Books Bought and Exchanged.”

Shorey also was an essayist and aphorist with wide interests. This was a tradition continued into the 1970s with Shorey’s Publications, publishers of hundreds of out-of-print Northwest titles. Their limited first runs of inexpensive reprints could amount to as few as 25 books.  (Many are now cherished by collectors.)  Early century Shorey’s was a hangout for undergraduate intellectuals. The bookman was a kind of free tutor to university students in pursuit of scholarly leads and citations for school assignments.

Shorey’s on Third Ave. south of Marion Street, Nov. 12, 1975.

In 1922, Shorey’s was forced to move one block north on Third Avenue when Seattle First National Bank razed this corner for the creation of the terra-cotta Dexter Horton Building.  Sam and his brother William took 100,000 volumes with them to 815 Third Avenue, seen directly above.  Millions of books and 53 years later the store moved to the northeast comer of First Avenue – then still “Flesh Avenue” – and Union Street.

Seattle’s largest used-book store celebrated its centennial in 1990. In 1991, displaced again, Shorey’s moved across First Avenue to the South Arcade Building of Pike Place Market.  About ten years later it moved to its last location in “Freford” (aka Wallmont) the interstitial strip to both sides of Stone Way between the Fremont and Wallingford Avenues.   There it lasted until – and this is from a very imperfect memory – about 2005, when Shorey’s became strictly an on-line book seller.


When new in 1911 – and so a century ago – the Frye Hotel was described by consensus as simply the finest hotel in Seattle. It was also one of the tallest of the city’s new steel-frame skyscrapers.  In the early photo, construction continues at the retail level facing the sidewalk on Yesler Way. Eleven stories up, the grandly ornamented cornice nearly overflows like a fountain at the cap of this elegant Italian Renaissance landmark.

The Frye Hotel was the last of Seattle pioneer George F. Frye’s many accomplishments. Arriving in Seattle in 1853, the 20-year-old German immigrant helped Henry Yesler assemble his steam sawmill and quickly became a favorite of Arthur and Mary Denny and, later, their daughter Louisa who was 17 when George married her in 1860. Together they had six children and many businesses, and Louisa was very much a partner in both. They ran the first meat market in Seattle, opened a bakery, raised the city’s first distinguished stage (the Frye Opera House), and built and managed at least three hotels.

Typically, the Fryes formed their own contracting company to build their grandest hotel. George, entering his late 70s, managed the construction. A little more than a year after the hotel’s grand opening in 1911, George Frye died. His widow continued to manage the Louisa C. Frye Hotel.  George had named it for her.

The commercial heart of Seattle was already moving north from Pioneer Square when the Frye was opened. In the early 1970s, the hotel was converted into low-income apartments.  Some brief time before this feature first appeared in Pacific on July 2, 2000, the Low Income Housing Institute purchased the hotel, restored the marble grandeur of its main floor, strengthened it against earthquakes and repainted and appointed its 234 units.  Congratulations to the Frye on its centennial.

This look north on Third Avenue from James Street may be compared to the one at the top. The public works photograph was recorded on Nov. 13, 1928, about a quarter-century after the Webster & Stevens subject.  The Russell House at the southeast corner of Third and Cherry is still standing.

2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Looking North on 3rd”

  1. Hello Mr. Dorpat. I have been wanting to reach out to you for some time. As my Great Grandfather was Richard T Shannon who owned and operated several Vaudeville Theaters in Seattle. Mostly at 1220-1222-1/2 Second Avenue. If you zoom in on one of your photos of the Savoy Hotel that has the Berkshire to the right (in the photo) you will see that my Great Grandfather had a business there. On the photo you will see it says Shannon’s.

    In this location he owned and operated Shannon’s Boston Grocery, the Central, the Manhattan, and Shannon’s Theater. He was also the Manager of the Star Theater in Seattle for a time.

    My Great Grandfather was born in Boston in 1865 and died here in Seattle in 1936. My mother is 80 yrs old and was born in Seattle and still alive. We would love to talk to you about our Family history here in Seattle.

    Thanks so kindly for your time and your affection for all things Seattle.

    Looking forward to hearing from you soon.


  2. As you see Kimberly I may take years to review what I write and so come upon responses to it. I am now nearly the age of your mom and have lost much of my pizazz. I recommend that you should or might interview your mom with a recorder – or your phone perhaps and then transcribe it for sharing. Paul

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