Seattle Now & Then: Green Lake Swimmers

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: This record of the southwest corner of Green Lake is another scene pulled from the large Webster and Stevens collection at the Museum of History and Industry. “W&S” was the contracted photography studio used by The Seattle Times for many years and it is possible that this subject first appeared in this paper a century ago. (Courtesy, MOHAI)
NOW: For his contemporary repeat Jean Sherrard has kept close to the lowered lake in order to show the racing shell side of the parks’ – both Green Lake and Woodland – recreational diversity. His subject also includes the surviving section of the Aqua Theatre, which when it was built in 1950 seated 5,500 for big aquatic shows that were a mix of costume theatre, stunt and high diving and synchronized swimming.

This Green Lake tableau looks south over the shoulders of young boys enjoying the eternity of a summer day at the southwest corner of the lake.  The likely year is 1908 or perhaps ’09.  On the horizon is the nearly new Wallingford sanctuary for St. Benedict parish, which was dedicated in September 1907.

This south end of Green Lake was first reached from Lake Union by a wagon trail in the late 1880s, and soon after by an electric trolley.  The streetcars completed their run along the east and north shores of Green Lake on the grade of a logging railroad that had helped clear-cut all the Green Lake neighborhood except this Woodland Park part of it, then still a country retreat for the Guy Phinney family.

Green Lake was lowered seven feet in 1911 in order to create the park that now rings the lake.  In Seattle Parks historian Don Sherwood’s hand-written manuscript for Woodland Park it is described as including “the first major playfield, swim beach, boating and fishing facility to come under the jurisdiction of the Park Department.”   In the century between this “now and then” the park acres (for both Green Lake and Woodland parks) nearby this scene have also been appointed for track and field, soccer, baseball, golf (the pitch and putt variety), lawn bowling, horseshoes, tennis, soapbox racing, and skateboarding.

An exotic moment with the Green Lake Aqua Follies.

For this southwest corner of the lake the most consequential park development was one that did not happen – here.  Despite the vigorous objections of, it seems, most Seattle citizens and this newspaper too, the 1932 extension of the Aurora Speedway (Highway 99) was cut directly through Woodland Park.  The alternative would have directed the north-south traffic linked to the Aurora Bridge in a detour along Stone Way and the west shore of Green Lake, and so directly thru this scene.


Anything to add, Paul?

A few features as time allows, starting with the TEXT for the 1903 panorama of Green Lake as see today from a prospect that looks over the 1-5 Freeway.  Jean, you will need to put up the images as illustrations for what follows – put up when you get up in the morning, for a richly deserved slumber after directing the last night of “AS YOU LIKE IT” with your students at Hillside School.   Bravo.    Perhaps you will write something about taking your repeat for the 1903 pan.  For now, I’ll insert a photo of the lumber mill that felled the old grown forest that once surrounded the lake, and a ca. 1890 photo of part of the same East Green Lake neighborhood, and describe these briefly within their captions.

Green Lake Panorama by A.Curtis, 1903. Click to ENLARGE.
NOW: Jean's repeat, taken for the exhibit at MOHAI. Jean comments, "This was a tough one, given Curtis' perspective and the modern interference of the freeway. After attempting a couple other locations - one atop the roof of a nearby church - we settled on this view between 71st and 72nd overlooking the mare's nest of exits and entrances to and from I-5."


Hidden, but not lost, in the files of the Green Lake Library are the 16 pages of The Green Lake News: Anniversary Number. On November 26, 1903 the News was one year old and excited at having survived to record and promote the suburb’s “amazing growth.” The anniversary number includes a wide-angle photograph of this booming neighborhood captioned “Birdseye View of Green Lake, taken in 1903.” It is a composite of three negatives photographed – probably on commission from the newspaper – by Asahel Curtis. (Curtis’ 1903 panorama is reproduced here with the middle and right panels merged. If I can find the left – north Wallingford – panel I’ll insert it later.)

In 1903 Green Lake was in the midst of its second spurt. John Martin, one of its boomers, confessed in the pages of the anniversary number, “A little more than three years ago an irrepressible desire for freedom from the ‘noisy traffic of the city forced the writer into a search for a quiet home . . . The attractiveness of  Green Lake was irresistible. Then not more than 500 people surrounded it. Now there are nearly 10,000!” Martin was not complaining. Three years earlier he had purchased 20 Green Lake lots.

Martin claimed that this flight to the suburban lake was caused by the congested city, effective advertising (like his own), and what he called the “two-mile charmed circle.” This referred to the liquor-free zone which radiated from the University of Washington and “within which by the grace of the legislature, no saloon can come.”

The Green Lake Mill, which was active in the late 1880s and early 1890s, unless Green Lake historian Louis Fiset corrects me on it. It was set near where the Green Lake Library is today.

The first boom was in the early 1890s when settler-promoters like W. D. Wood, F. A. McDonald, and Guy Phinney bought up big chunks of forest about the lake, cleared and platted some of it, and constructed the Green Lake Circle Railroad Loop around the lake and up from Fremont.  The international crash of 1893 stopped the land rush and slowed the trolleys. Phinney’s land is now Woodland Park. We can see its uncut verdure on the far left of the pan.  And the ridge that runs across the photograph (just under the snowy Olympics) still bears his name.

A stump puller at work in the early 1890s in what is now the principal Green Lake business district, which is on the northeast side of the lake. Phinney ridge is on the horizon. This image was mostly likely photogreaphed by a Green Lake resident, the teacher called Professor Conn, by some. About a dozen of his neighborhood (including Ravenna Park) views survive.

McDonald’s parcel was to the southeast, much of it now included in Wallingford, Wood’s property covers much of the panorama’s center in east Green Lake. Wood was the visionary (and one-time Seattle mayor) who for years pleaded – to quote him from the Anniversary Issue – that “the Green Lake frontage be secured by the city for park purposes, and that the lake be made a water park upon the plan that has made Minneapolis so famous.”

Wood was convincing. The city soon purchased the lake, and in 1911 lowered it seven feet, thereby exposing hundreds of acres for park use. The largest part of this reclamation was the bay that used to dip into east Green Lake and which is now the large playfield across from the Green Lake shopping district.

The one landmark that survived almost into the present is the Green Lake Public School on the far left of the center panel. It was first opened to students in September of 1903 – or within a few weeks of Curtis’ recording it. The wooden school, closed in 1983 by the fire marshal, was designated a landmark in 1981 by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Board. This did not prevent it from being razed, however, in the summer of 1986.  It has been replaced by a modern plant in the same location.

The ca. 1855 federal survey and timber marking map - easily the earliest map of Green Lake, surved with a Gunther Chain and marking section lines.
Olmsted plan for a Green Lake Park developed on land exposed and relaimed with the lowering of the lake.
Circa 1967 aerial looking west over Interstate Five and Green Lake.


(We may have included the above subject previously in this blog, but without the story below that first appeared in Pacific Mag. on May 1, 1984.)

In the late 1970s Don Sherwood, then a Seattle Park Department employee, organized his department’s historical records. The results of this ambitious project are packed into four 5-foot cabinets in City Hall’s Municipal Library. (This was first published on May Day, 1984.  Now once access Sherwood’s papers on the Seattle Park Department’s webpage.) The Green Lake folder is the Sherwood Collection’s thickest file, and the original photographic print for this historical subject is from it.

Many of the homes in the older view survive. Because most are now hidden behind trees, I used the overlapping rooflines of the houses across the lake to locate the original photographer’s shooting site.  (I have long since misplaced – but not lost – the 1984 “now” for all this.) Wallingford’s Home of the Good Shepherd is faintly evident right of center and through the limbs of the almost leafless tree which is above and to the left of the touring car. Of course, this car and its riders are not touring but posing. There is no one in the front seat because the driver of the car is probably the photographer. “1911” is lightly penciled on the back of the original print. The year is probably correct and the shedding tree suggests it is fall.

It is certainly not spring. If it were, then this planked viaduct would be over Green Lake, not beside it; those two dark boathouses in the scene’s center would be floating on the lake rather than leaning toward it, and there would be no sandy peninsula intruding into this the southern end of the lake. 1911 was the year Green Lake was lowered seven feet. The lake was lowered at the recommendation of the Olmsted brothers, those famous landscapers who designed much of Seattle’s park system. Although the city owned the lake, only a narrow strip of squeezed land lay between the water and the privately owned streetcar line that nearly circled the lakeshore.

In 1908 the Olmsteds proposed that by lowering and thus shrinking Green Lake, it would become “a lake within a park.” They asked for four feet, and three years later the park department obliged and went three feet more.  The lake’s lowering created a park; however, it also provoked decades of “swimmer’s itch,” recurring attacks of anacharis cana densis (a lake weed with a political-sounding name) and clouds of algae. This small lake made smaller did not drain itself well, and so was forced to outfall into the city’s sewers. The irritating “greening of Green Lake” followed with three-quarters-of-a-century of emergency studies, chlorinations, dredgings, and lake closings. Swimmers are still scratching.

The 1908 Olmsted report also recommended that a “pleasure drive run south along the shore of Woodland Park by easy curves.” The pile bridge pictured here was the city’s first response. The city council approved its plans on March 8, 1909. The plans (and the photograph in part) show three rows of pilings supporting a roadway of 4″ x 12″ planks, sided by three-foot railings made from 4 ” x 4 ” posts and 2″ x 6 ” top and side rails.

Once stranded with the lake’s lowering, this picturesque pile bridge’s future was insecure. On October 14, 1914, the city council approved another “plan of improvement” for West Green Lake Way. Within a year the bridge was gone and replaced with a paved boulevard that sill keeps to the grade and line of Green Lake Way.




The city’s early-century regarding mania smoothed many of its downtown streets, and it also reached the shores of its lakes. It was so politically fashionable to propose large-mannered public works that in 1909 City Councilman Hiram Gill, fresh from a nearly finished-off Denny Hill (as far east as 5th Avenue), proposed cutting the top off Queen Anne Hill and filling in most of Lake Union.

Fortunately, when Gill later won the mayor’s race, he was distracted from the project by “regrading” the city’s ethics and opening it up to the good-paying pleasures of gambling, booze and bawdy services. While Lake Union was spared having the city’s highest hill dumped into it, Green Lake was subjected to a less drastic alteration – a kind of manicuring of its rough natural cuticles.

Park building along the east shore of Green Lake looking north to the - marked - Green Lake Public Liberary.

The Olmsted Brothers, those visionary landscape architects, proposed buying up the shoreline around Green Lake, lowering the lake, then landscaping the perimeter as a park. Over a period of years, the city did just that. Showing in this 1913 scene is the intermediate mess between the old and new lake looking north along the eastern shore. The fine-tuning of Green Lake’s shoreline continued until 1933. The final fill dirt was dumped at the south end of the lake in 1932.  The soil was grabbed during the cutting of Aurora  Avenue  through  Woodland Park.


More than twenty years of work went into shaping Green Lake’s new shoreline and with it the enlarging of Green Lake Park.  The East Green Lake Playfield, shown in part here twice, was the largest addition of park land made from fill piled on top of the old lakebed.   The view looks north along the curving western border of that fill.  I recorded the “now” for use in Pacific in 2005.   It is at the bottom of this cluster.  Jean took another for our “REPEAT PHOTOGRAPHY” that is now on exhibit at MOHAI – for another year, so take your time.  Historical pic. courtesy of Paul G. Pearson


Thanks to Paul G. Pearson who sent along this week’s revelation of how a new shoreline was constructed for Green Lake, and with it the gift of a new city park.

This view of a pile driver constructing its own throughway across the East Green Lake Bay was photographed in 1912.   One year earlier the lake was lowered seven feet with mixed results.  It robbed the lake of its natural circulation by drying up the stream that ran between the Lake and Union Bay on Lake Washington. (Decades of “Green Lake Itch” would follow.)  But it also exposed a shoreline that was the first ground for the new park that was extended with fill.

The pile driver is following the curves of the Olmsted Bros. 1908 design for Green Lake Park.  Following the driver a narrow gauge railroad track was laid atop the trestle and by this efficient means dirt was dumped to all sides eventually covering the trestle itself.  (Unless I am contradicted “by other means” the trestle seen here in the “then” survives beneath the park visitors walking the Green Lake recreational path in the “now.”)

In all about two miles of trestle was built off shore from which more than 250,000 cubic yards of earth was dumped to form the dike.  After another 900,000-plus cubic yards of lake bottom was dredged and distributed between the dike and the shoreline it was discovered that when dry the dredgings were too “fluffy” to support the park’s new landscape.  More substantial fill from the usual sources – like street regarding, construction sites and garbage then still rich with coal ashes, AKA “clinkers”– was added.

The historical photograph was recorded by the Maple Leaf Studio whose offices were one block from the new Green Lake Library seen here on the far right of their photograph.  The exposed shoreline is also revealed there.   Next week we will take a close-up look at this same section of E. Green Lake Way North in 1910 when the library was new and Green Lake seven feet higher.




(This appeared first in Pacific Mag., May 15, 1994.  The events described within it as contemporary are now in their teens, and so are memories of them.)

“I would rather spend one dollar on libraries than $100,000 reforming criminals.”  So spoke Seattle Mayor Hiram Gill to the crowd attending the July 29, 1910 opening of the public library’s new Green Lake Branch library.

Actually, it was Andrew Carnegie not Gill who paid the $35000 required to build this elegant structure in 1910.  The way was cleared for the robber baron turned philanthropist’s gift by the libraries neighbors who bought the lot with $3000 raised in part by door belling the neighborhood for contributions.  The city library board pitched in the additional thousand required to purchase this site on East Green Lake Drive North.

The Green Lake Library  — and this early view of it — is one of the 500 structures treated in the Museum of History and Industry’s major new exhibit, Blueprints: 100 Years of Seattle Architecture.  Curated by Lawrence Kreisman, a frequent contributor to Pacific, Blueprints is much more than blueprints.  Hundreds of historical photographs, building artifacts and architectural models create a exhibition “main street” for the area’s historical landmarks both lost and extant.  (In the coming weeks I will share with Pacific Readers a number of these views.)

This view of its home has also been submitted to The Green Lake Local History Archive, a growing inventory of neighborhood materials  — photos and ephemera — cared for at the Green Lake Branch by its manager Toni Myers and her staff.


Before Green Lake was lowered in 1911 a stream ran between its eastern shore and Union Bay on Lake Union. The first few hundred feet of its course took the creek through what is now the Albertson’s Supermarket parking lot.  From there it cut through the block between 5th Ave. NE and NE Ravenna Blvd.   Although there is no telling where along the creek the historical scene was recorded I chose for its contemporary repeat this temporarily rapped duplex facing Ravenna Boulevard.   (Historical view courtesy MUSEUM OF HISTORY and INDUSTRY)


The original print for this scene is preserved with its variation – a second print of the same log, stream, bridge, and gun but of a different person – in the air-conditioned library of the Museum of History and Industry.   In this scene a woman sits on the bridge aiming the rifle.  In the other a man (or older boy) stands merely holding it.  For the two shots they may have traded instruments – gun for camera.

Or was A.P. Dukinfield the photographer.   It was the pressman Dukinfield who donated the snapshots to MOHAI in the 1950s.  In 1910, the year typed in his caption, the printer lived on 11th Avenue NE, a stones throw from this stream he calls “Duke Creek – under Ravenna Blvd, an outlet of Green Lake.”  I know this outlet as Ravenna Creek.  Neither Green Lake historian Louis Fiset nor I know of any Duke.  Surely this is not the “Duke” in Dukinfield.  (Alas, hereabouts no contemporary Dukinfield has been uncovered.)

Following the Dukinfield caption, this is the stream that once flowed gently from Green Lake to the southeast to the Ravenna Park ravine where it rushed along through rapids and swirling pools until it slowed again in the lush wet lands of Union Bay, now mostly the parking lots of University Village.   There are a number of photographs of the stream in the park, but this is the only view I have ever encountered of it near its source where Green Lake John built his log cabin in the early 1870s.

Given the scene’s scrubbiness it was probably taken closer to Dukinfield’s home and Cowen Park than to Green Lake.  By 1910 the lake was surrounded with manicured dwellings.  It was no longer a suburban community.  The reader of 2002 might find the selling of the neighborhood in the Nov. 26, 1903 issue of the Green Lake News revealing and/or amusing.  “Every businessman of common sense knows that the farther away he gets in the evening from his daily commercial association the better off he is and the wiser life he leads.  As to the women, it is a safe assertion that the majority if given their own free choice, would live out in the suburbs, away form the nerve-distracting tumult and hubbub of the city.”

To create the park that circles it today Green Lake was lowered 7 feet in 1911.  This, of course, dried up the creek a year after this scene was recorded.  At the same time a good deal of dredging was done along the eastern shore of the lake and the greater part of this was used to build Ravenna Boulevard above the old creek bed.  This fluffy fill was loose enough to create its own urban legends including that surrounding Green Lake blacksmith Alfred Nelson’s wagon team.  Heading south on Ravenna Boulevard soon after it was completed the teamster reached a spot in the road of especially light fill (opposite the future site of Marshall School) where both the horse and wagon sank out of site.   And there – believe it or not! — they remain buried.



I have another uncanning feeling that we have included the above subject in this blog earlier but, again, not the story that appeared with it in Pacific.

The primordial grove of Douglas Fire and Cedar giants that were just saved from the lumberman’s axe by the creation of Ravenna Park in the late 1880s were later felled by Seattle Park Department axes following World War One. The site was then developed for tennis courts and picnic grounds near the park’s eastern entrance off of Ravenna Boulevard. (Historical photo courtesy of Kurt Jackson.)


This may be the oldest surviving photograph of Ravenna Park. It is part of a collection of a glass negatives recorded by Charles Morford in the late 1880s along the then new line of the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad (now the Burke Gilman Trail). Morford worked temporarily for the railroad.

The trout stream that once flowed from Green Lake through the future Ravenna Park ravine to Union Bay on Lake Washington was first crossed by the railroad late in 1887. The following year the Presbyterian Preacher and north end real estate developer W.W. Burke bought up the ravine and developed 60 acres of it as a park. With the new interurban conveniently at the front gate of “Natural Ravenna Park”this well-appointed party was almost certainly delivered to Ravenna station and park by friend Morford on “his” railroad.

The photographer has artfully arranged his friends in front of one the park’s giants. With Douglas Firs 15 to 20 feet in diameter and 300 feet tall the exceptional grove near the park’s southeast entrance was considered one of the natural treasures of West, before it was strangely felled (at least in part for chord wood) after the City purchased the park by condemnation in 1911.

Eventually this tree and most of the others were named by the Burkes for distinguished or oversized persons many of whom visited the park like the musician Paderewski (a friend of Mrs. Burke, herself a musician) and Seattle Mayor Hi Gill. The violinist Fritz Kritzler kissed and hugged one of the big trees. His wife explained, “Fritz is always wild about the woods.” The biggest tree was christened for Theodore Roosevelt after his visit to the park in 1908. At the time Mrs. Burke made allusion to TR’s slogan “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”

The Mineral Spring noted by the attached sign was one of about forty springs in Ravenna Park. Many were also given names such as Lemonade, Petroleum, Sulfur and Iron, and the Fountain of Youth. An early-published source describes the bubbling Mineral Spring as containing “many health-giving properties whose waters are unlike many mineral springs in being exceedingly pleasant to the taste.”



In this 1910 photograph the lake still rests against it northern shore.  That was the year that the Green Lake Library opened and while we can see it on the far right we cannot, of course, tell if all the tables and books are yet in place.  As noted, by perhaps too often, after the lake was lowered 7 feet in 1911 this shore, like all others, was exposed.   The Seattle Park Department did not simply drop a few grass seeds and plant a few exotics on the exposed beach but rather prepared and extended the new park land with considerable fill.

Most of the homes showing in the historical view were built in the first years of the 20th Century — Green Lake’s boom years.  It is a double block extending between Latona and Sunnyside Streets.  With three exceptions these homes survive, although most have had lots of changes.  For instance, the big house on the left at 7438 E. Green Lake Way North is here nearly new.  Built in 1908 it has by now lost its tower, but gained much else.  (But you’ll have to visit the sidewalk beyond the park trees to inspect these additions for yourself.)  The missing homes have been replaced with a row of three nondescript multi-unit boxes.  For these the park landscape is an effective screen.

One of Green Lake’s principal early developers, W.D. Wood, proposed to the city in the early 1890s that they acquire the lake’s waterfront for a surrounding park.  Had the city followed Wood’s advice there would have been no need to lower the lake and so dry up the stream that ran from its east side to Lake Washington.  Nor of course would the homes we see here have been built on park-land.

Wood, a man of ideas and initiative, was later elected Mayor of Seattle in time to resign and join the Yukon gold rush n 1897.



In 1921, Seattle’s health department closed Green Lake to swimmers. The seven-foot lowering of the lake 10 years earlier had accelerated its natural tendency to become a swamp. In 1922, runoff from the nearby Green Lake and Maple Leaf reservoirs was diverted into the lake to freshen it. The south end of the lake became especially stagnant with aromatic algae. So, also in 1922, the Seattle Parks Department carefully disassembled its bathhouse and moved it from the southwest (Woodland Park) corner of the lake one mile north to the crowded beach scene recorded here by Asahel Curtis.

The new beach was sanded and made sporting with a couple of large off-shore rafts, one with a high-dive platform. With this, the park department created a decent beach for swimmers. The more-or-less unisex swim gear of the time did not encourage sunbathing and, anyway, a “good tan” was a carcinogenic desire not yet widely cultivated.

Soon after the swimmers moved north, however, their end of the lake developed the same algae soup that gave the lake its name. By 1925 the beach was closed again, and Dr. E.T. Hanley of the city’s health department made the radical proposal that Green Lake be drained so that the muck on its 20,000-year-old bottom might be scraped away. After three years of tests and debates, Hanley’s plan was abandoned, as well as another drastic proposal that would have transformed Green Lake into a salt lake, with water pumped in from Elliott Bay.

Rather, in 1928, temporary relief was engineered by a combination of chlorinating the Licton Springs water that fed the lake; sprinkling the lake’s surface with copper sulfate, an algae retardant, and increasing the feed of fresh water from the Green Lake reservoir’s runoff.

At this beach, 1928 was also a big year for changes ashore. With the 1927-to-1928 construction of the brick bathhouse the shoreline was terraced with a long line of gracefully curving concrete steps. The same modern mores that exposed the skin disposed of the need for bathhouses. The bathhouse, which in its first year, 1928, serviced 53,000 people, was converted in 1970 into a 130-seat theater. Now bathers come to the beach in their swim suits.  Given the recurring restraint of the “Green Lake Itch,” many of them stay on the beach.

Above: a look at the beach showing raft with diving tower and Green Lake Primary School on the far shore.  Below: a look back to shore from the diving tower.

We include this Green Lake subject taken by Price (the founder of Price Photo on Roosevelt) in the 20s (or thereabouts) as a challenge. We may know where it is but leave it to you to figure it out. If you correct our own hunch we will admit to your instruction. Whatever, we will put up a "then" - when I find it - that I recorded perhaps six years ago. What say you dear reader-commenter?
Not so mysterious in its location but perhaps in its appointments. The view looks south from near the northwest "corner" of the lake. The still impressive timber of Woodland Park marks most of the horizon. On the far left is the profile of Lincoln High School and its tall chimney. This is another Price photo.



Thanks to the industry of M. L. Oakes we have a few score photographs of Seattle neighborhoods in the early 20th Century that might otherwise not have been “captured.”  Here with his back to Green Lake, Oaks recorded this view up Northeast 72nd Street and across E. Green Lake Drive North about 1909.

Also close to the photographer – but still like the lake behind him – is the primary stop for the Green Lake Electric Railway that by this time had been making settlement around the lake a great deal easier for twenty years.  Much like the University District, which for a number of its early years was referred to most often as “The University Station”, so this most vibrant of commercial neighborhoods beside the lake was known as “Green Lake Station.”

The number of businesses and services available just in this short block running one block east from NE 72nd Street to its intersection with Woodlawn Ave. N.E. is an impressive witness to the commercial vitality of this then booming neighborhood.  Included here on the right or south side of 72nd  – moving right to left – are Green Lake Hardware and Furniture, a dentist, a real estate office, an Ice Cream parlor that stocks candy and cigars as well, the Model Grocery Co. and the Hill Bros who established the first store in the East Green Lake Shopping District in 1901.   At the end of the block – still on this south side – is the Central Market.  Across 72nd on its north side are the neighborhood hotel, post office and a paint and wallpaper merchant.

Completing this tour of 72nd, two blocks to the east the belfry of Green Lake Baptist rises above its southeast corner with 5th Avenue NE.  And to this side of the church, worshipers can complete their cleansing if they feel the need with a visit to the North Seattle Bath House.  But then so can the bankers.  Green Lake’s only brick structure at the time, the single story Green Lake State Bank, is set at the southeast corner of 72nn Street and Woodlawn Ave – at the scene’s center.



Above: Photographer M. L. Oakes “real photo” postcard looks from Corliss Avenue west on 62nd Street towards Green Lake during the week-long “cold snap” of 1909.  Photo courtesy John Cooper  Below: Jean Sherrard used a ten-foot pole – and his 6 feet 6 inch frame – to lift his camera to the point-of-view Oakes took more easily from a neighbor’s second floor window.   Jean’s “now” was photographed at noon on Jan 16th last.


If we accept the date scribbled at the bottom of this print – it reads “January 6, 1909” — then this is not only a rare glimpse into the Green Lake neighborhood but also a record from what The Seattle Times described three days later as the “longest cold spell on record.”

This Wednesday view looks west towards Green Lake and the Phinney Ridge horizon through the southwest corner of Corliss Avenue and 62nd Street.  The stately home on the left takes advantage of its corner setting with a tower and a wrapping front porch.  The home is listed in the 1905 assessment roles but not in those from 1900, so it is here somewhat new and perhaps very new.  In both 1905 and 1910 Alice Leroy George is listed as the owner, but it is George A. Kelly who is paying the taxes, and Kelly is also listed as the resident at late as 1911 – but not in 1912.   So here in 1909 this is probably the Kelly home.

Early the next morning, Thursday, the temperature dropped to15 degrees, and by Saturday the Times notes “Green Lake is taking on a coating of ice sufficient to bear a man’s weight in safety.”  But the kids of this neighborhood had by then already been skating on the still unlined floor of the unfinished Green Lake Reservoir at 75th and 15th, which was covered with the six inches of trapped water frozen solid.

This snowscape includes a horse drawn buggy descending – carefully – 62nd Avenue.  “Laundry” is written on the back flap.  Here, at least, the freeze actually improved deliveries.  As the Times again explained, before the storm many of the still new Green Lake neighborhood’s unpaved streets had “been impassable owing to the deep mud.”

Since the trolleys kept running throughout this cold snap the city schools stayed open, except for Broadway High School, which closed on Friday for want of fuel.  The storm’s greatest worry was the city’s shrinking reservoirs.  Residents were warned to stop running their water through the night or have the mains shut down.




The landmark Green Lake Methodist Church is best known for its formidable stone work and the more than fifty stained glass windows that at Sunday morning service transform the light of day into a reverent kaleidoscope.  And in 1918, the year of this week’s historical scene, the Methodists at First Avenue NE and 65th Street were also known for the size of their Sunday School — here about 300 strong.

For many — perhaps most — of these kids church and school were across the street from one another — a part of old Green Lake Elementary shows here, far right.  Note that the capped older boys have been allowed to ascend like angels above the sanctuaries side porch for this Sunday School portrait.  Except for one wearing a white top they all don suit and tie.  It was the costume of the day worn for almost any outing including church and fishing.

The Green Lake Methodists are approaching their centennial.  The congregation began in Fremont in 1895 but soon moved into a north Wallingford  (or south Green Lake) tent at 58th and Kirkwood Place.  Because from the beginning this was a singing church the congregation did not worship for long in the open but below canvas before neighbors arranged their own chorus of complaints.  They were forced to meet again in homes until the 1908 dedication of their Green Lake landmark.

As constructed their sanctuary was a fanciful antiphony of granite and plaster.  The natural randomness of the stacked  boulders was repeated by lines freely drawn in the plaster siding that reached to the sanctuary’s roof line.  There all was framed by a tasteful trim.  In the late 60s the worn plaster and the decorative roof line were replaced by the wooden siding seen in the contemporary view.  Some of the playful plaster survives in the stack but the tower’s comely cap has been removed.

In 1918 the church’s main entrance was still at the base of their main stone tower on 65th.  Part of the that tower’s pointed top can be seen to the right of the church’s smoke stack.  In 1977 the primary entrance was moved to this the First Avenue side.

The sunlight’s angle times the Sunday School scene as shortly after twelve noon.  Given that Methodist’s are also known for their feasts, the Green Lake church’s historian, Nita Wylie, speculates that these kids may have been rewarded for their posing with a church potluck.

That is all in the way of EXTRAS for now.

Now back to Ivar, Ivar’s and “Keep Clam.”







3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Green Lake Swimmers”

  1. Love the early Photo’s my Grandfather built some homes and business’s around Greenlake in the early years.

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