Seattle Now & Then: Antique Alki Swimwear

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: A century ago the Seattle Parks Department built the large Alki Beach Municipal Bathhouse seen here behind the four posing flappers. None of the woman are identified. The bathhouse was a city-wide magnet for summer fun with thousands often swarming this beach on weekends. (Courtesy Southwest Seattle Historical Society.)
NOW: In early 20th Century swim attire on loan from the Goodwill collection of antique apparel, four West Seattle enthusiasts pose in front of the west wall of the replacement Alki Bathhouse. After the original structure surrendered to age in 1955, part of its west façade became the foundation for the west wall of the new structure shown here. (Now photo by Clay Eals)

Next weekend, July 23 and 24, you may wish to visit Alki Beach for its Alki Arts Fair.  Former West Seattle Herald editor, Clay Eals, who is also the step-in photographer for this week’s “now” repeat, and for his friend, Jean Sherrard (Jean is away) notes that this beach fair is a “fun raiser” and not a fundraiser.  Past editors are permitted such pleasantries.

Apropos the “now” photograph that Clay has both snapped and arranged, the weekend’s beach celebration will include a fashion show of antique swim wear, much of it more than a century old.  For his “repeat” Clay persuaded four West Seattle women to take poses, which are improvisations of those held by the four flappers kneeling in the sand, ca. 1920.  It took no coaxing on Clay’s part for the members of this modern quartet are connected with the Southwest Seattle Historical Society’s landmark Log Cabin Museum.  Both Clay and Carol Vincent, far left, are former presidents of the Society.

Continuing to the right from Vincent, the remaining contemporary women are, Lucy Kuhn, Kerry Korsgaard and Charlene Preston.  The swimsuits they model were all loaned to the Society out of Goodwill’s historical collection of diverse duds.  They date from ca. 1910 and so are typical of swimwear at least a decade older that the more revealing suits chosen by the women in the “then.”

Wool was once the commonplace material for swims suits, and it may be that all eight of these women are dressed in it.  Considering how much of Seattle’s weather in 2011 has resembled Juneau, Alaska’s, wool might be an appropriate material to wear to the beach next weekend.  We hope not.  Whatever, readers are encouraged to come join in the fashion show this weekend wearing their grandmother’s suit – or grandfather’s – if they can find them.  If not, be creative.

Similar prospect but at higher tide.
The wind is straightening the flags and cooling the swimmers or freezing them, depending.
Tide's out so if the sun is shining the sand will warm the incoming tide.

Detail from contemporary bath house door.


Anything to add, Paul?

Yes Jean, a few past features that touch on Alki Beach. First some things on the natatoriam that was one on the beach between Duwamish Head and Alki Point and also something on another and earlier but short-lived ‘nat that was at Alki Point.

For the 19 years that the Alki Natatorium covered the beach it was closed and or in disrepair about as much as it was open to plungers and other recreations. The sprawling facility was camped on the tides side of Alki Avenue between 58th and Marine Avenues Southwest.   Historical Pix courtesy of Don Myers.


If we could but read the license plate on the bumper of the car (that looks very much like the one my dad drove the family west in from North Dakota in 1946) we could date this stark portrait of the Alki Natatorium.  Since much of the glass along the Alki Avenue façade is busted out we know that this scene was photographed sometime when the fitful entertainment center was not serving.

But when jumping there was more than swimming here.  For instance, the neon sign with the diving swimmer also advertises dining and dancing at the Shore Café.  And at least during the late 1930s when the Premier Amusement Company was running it, the “Nat” was also a skating rink.

The short-lived Alki Point Natatorium is marked on this 1906 real estate sales map. Note that there is, as yet, no bath house.
It is tempting to think that this is the Alki Nat photogaphed from the dock also indicated on the map. I found this in a collection of unmarked Seattle postcards. No one, so far, has come up with another explanation for this, nor for another photograph of the, again, sort-lived nat on the point.

This natatorium was the last of three built along the beach.  The first opened near Alki Point in 1905, but quietly closed while planning an “Oriental-styled” enlargement complete with “real Geisha Girls” serving tea and the “world’s largest swimming pool.”  The second opened in 1907 with Luna Park at Duwamish Head.  And although the amusement park was soon closed for introducing “lewd and disorderly behavior” the big indoor natatorium stayed open until 1931 when it was one of many targets torched by an arsonist that year.  (More on that below.)

Three years later this “Nat” opened a short distance up the beach from the Municipal Bath House towards the Head not the Point.  The “Nat” managed to survive the Great Depression but not a lawsuit by an injured swimmer in 1939.  In 1942 the Seattle Park’s Department renovated and reopened it in time for the preoccupations and parsimony of the war, and the place again closed.  Especially when dark, its great expanse of roof glass was pelted by naughty children (read boys) with rocks borrowed from the beach.  Several moves by the Parks Department and City Council to restore it following the war turned out to be good intentions only and in 1953 the Alki Natatorium was razed to the beach.

An Alki Point public works fantasy from the early 1950s. As ever Click to Enlarge.



Whatever its name or primacy the Alki cabin in this photograph was razed in the fall of 1892.  The photograph is not dated.  Its site may have been lost as well – temporarily.  The contemporary photograph looks towards the corner of Alki Avenue and 63rd Avenue S.W., the original location of the Founder’s pylon that commemorates the builders of this log cabin. (The pylon has long since been moved across Alki Avenue.) Historical photo courtesy of Seattle Public Library.

The Stockade


[Nov. 2004]

Our punning headline plays with the uncertainty about this celebrated photograph.  Is this the Denny Cabin or the Low Cabin?   To add to the confusion, for reasons that still grieve John and Lydia Low’s descendants, the Low Cabin is most often called the Denny Cabin?

After scouting and then choosing Alki Point for a townsite John Low hired the teenager David Denny to build a cabin beside Alki beach while he returned to Portland to bring back his family and the rest of what later became known as “The Denny Party” and not the Low Party.  The foundation was laid on Sept 28, 1851 and when the immigrants (22 of them) arrived on the schooner Exact on Nov. 13th the cabin still had no roof.  Injured by his axe, a dismal David welcomed his older brother Arthur so, “I wish you hadn’t come.”

The Museum of History & Industries diorama of the Denny Party landing.

While building a second cabin – the Denny Cabin – the dampened settlers crammed into the Low Cabin.  So the Low Cabin was first cabin, but in practically every printing of this photograph the structure is described, in some variation n, as “The Denny Cabin, the settler’s first home on Alki.”  I think it is the Low Cabin.  Greg Lange, of the Washington State Archive, thinks it is the Denny Cabin – or the second cabin.

Drawing with the cattle yoke showing in the photograph.
Drawing with notes but sans yoke.

Both Greg and I are members of the growing “Cabin Committee”—hitched to the Southwest Seattle Historical Society.   (Since this is a committee without meetings you might like to join.)  Members agree to two collective goals.  The first is to investigate and share the early history of the Alki townsite and its architecture.  The second is to identify where this cabin sat, and for this our standard is both liberal and circumspect.  We want to locate it to within “the length of a medium sized horse, from nose to extended tail.”

When this was first printed in Pacific in 2004 the CABIN COMMITTEE boldly promised to make its public report on Nov. 13, 2005, the centennial of the First Founders Day and the dedication of the Alki Beach landmark, the “Birthplace of Seattle” Pylon.  Here in 2011 we are still working on that report.  Our calling has been more difficult than we imagined.)

A 1951 Centennial reinactment of the 1852 landing. Courtesy, MOHAI



The Museum of History and Industry library dates this photograph of the Alki Beach Founders Pylon from September, 1949.  The library’s records do not, however, name the members of the monument’s small crew of tenders. Let us know if you know.  In the “now” repeat, Jim Seaver, one of SPUD’S proprietors, studies the pylon  (Historical photo courtesy of the Museum of History and Industry.)


At the beginning we may have had a hard time either pronouncing or spelling it.   Now three years and four days latter while bidding it adieu we should be practiced in saying “Sesquicentennial” and pleased as well to review it.  Seattle was founded in 1851.  In 1852 King County was separated from Thurston County, and in 1853 Washington Territory from Oregon.

The first year of the three-year celebration featured a re-enactment of the original pioneer “Denny Party” landing near Alki Point 150 days later to the day – the thirteenth of November.  Both days – in 1851 and 2001 – turned exceedingly dismal with heavy rain. The children of the founders dedicated the Founder’s Pylon at the West Seattle site in 1905, and here in 1949 an unidentified quartet is cleaning it up, perhaps in early preparation for the Seattle Centennial of 1951.

In addition to staging the re-enactment at Alki the Southwest Seattle Historical Society (of the Birthplace of Seattle — Log Cabin Museum) also made two important additions to the Founders Pylon in 2001: plaques recognizing the roles of both the Duwamish Peoples and the Pioneer Women in the origin of the city.  The original carvers failed to mention either.

The added plaques.

For the city’s sesquicentennial the Museum of History and History mounted its “Metro 150 Exhibit” and also gathered a committee of local historians to do the impossible: name the 150 most influential citizens in the city’s first 150 years.  The committee generally favored cultural figures over politicians.

Above and below: two looks at the pylon in its original location on the front lawn of the Stockade Restaurant.

Perhaps the most enduringly useful child of our triple anniversary will be, the on-line encyclopedia of Seattle and King County history that was launched in 1999 by local historian-pundit Walt Crowley his wife Marie McCaffrey (and myself in a lesser role) in anticipation of the sesquicentennial. On March 2, 2003 – Washington’s 150th anniversary – HistoryLink began to also explore state history with its pithy essays.  For more in this line on-line open and type “sesquicentennial” in the key-word line.

Pylon 1905 dedication photogaphed from the Stockade balcony.
Survivors of the 1851 Denny Party landing pose with the Pylon in 1905. Carson Boren wears the beard. To his left (our right) is Mary Denny, Arthur's wife. Next to her is her son Roland Denny who was a babe-in-arms when the party arrived.
A page from a scrapbook and a lesson too. Never use scotch tape with fastening ephemera.




(First appeared in Pacific on Sept. 2, 1984)

For a few thousand years winds and tides have been manufacturing a fine sand on West Seattle’s Alki Beach. Its exposed and rather shallow shore has made an excellent resort but a lousy port.

Yet it was the port that the original settler, Charles Terry, was looking for when he stepped ashore here with the Denny Party in November 1851. Terry had visions of turning this beach into a big city and almost immediately opened the New York Cash Store on this exposed point.

When the Dennys, Borens, and Bells left it to found and settle Seattle on the east short of Elliott Bay early in 1852, Charles and his brother Lee embraced it and named the whole peninsula New York after their home town. For the younger Lee it was probably homesickness that motivated the naming for he soon returned to the real Gotham. But the enterprising Charles stayed on his point New York and sold necessities like grindstones and brandy. It was a good place from which to spot customers.

And the customers could see the point, however, some of them didn’t share Terry’s big-city vision. So, to his name they added the Indian-trade-talk word for “in a while.” It stuck, and for a while it was New York-Alki or New York-in-awhile (or bye and bye) before the point became just plain Alki.

In the summer of 1852 while Terry was in his New York-Alki selling brogan shoes and hard bread to the settlers who didn’t have their own stores, the real New Yorkers were escaping the heat of Manhattan for the recreational sands of a New Jersey resort named Long Branch. Fifty years later West Seattle’s beach would be compared to this New Jersey resort and not New York.

In 1902 the hottest trading on Alki was not in hickory shirts but in bathing suits. Under the heading “Bathing At West Seattle Draws the Summer Crowds,”a summer edition of the Seattle Newsletter drew this analogy: “West Seattle is to Seattle what Long Branch is to New York – the haven of the Sunday crowds and an ideal bathing resort.”

This historical beach scene accompanied that article, which went on to say, “The Seattleite sweltering from the sun’s warm rays can within 15 minutes reach West Seattle and enjoy a swim along as fine a beach to be found anywhere in the world. A welcome breeze is always present from Duwamish Head to Alki Point. For three miles the beach is lined and dotted with tents, with here and there frame refreshment houses, bath houses, dime side shows, merry-go-rounds, ice cream stands and sandwich counters. It is estimated that at least 2,000 people are camping on the beach this summer and on pleasant Sundays the ferry carries hundreds who merely go to see the sights, bathe, buy red lemonade and peanuts . . . there is really no inconvenience in coming from and returning to town.”

The Newsletter predicted, “Some day, when a driveway is built along the shoreline connecting the ferry landing, or with a road circling the head of the bay, Seattle’s Long Branch will be an even more extensively visited resort.”

The trolley made it to Duwamish Head in 1907 and on to South Alki within the year following, making big changes on the beach.
Before the beach was graded and reclaimed for tracks and a road the trollies ran above a trestle thru part of their trip around Duwamish Head and onward to Alki Point.
A smaller trestle for pedestrians was constructed between the tides and the beach community of tents and otherwise sheltered campers and purveyors.


In 1910 the city purchased much of the Alki Beach waterfront for the development of a groomed park and the seawall showing on the far right of the “now” scene.  Both views look east on Alki Beach from near 64th Avenue NW. About one century separates them. Historical photo courtesy of Lawton Gowey.  Contemporary photo taken by Jean Sherrard.


(OCT. 2004)

This beach party scene comes from that most popular and yet unknown source: somewhere.   The beach is familiar enough – at the scene’s center is Duwamish Head marking the entrance to Elliott Bay – but neither the year nor the group nor the photographer whose back is to Alki Point are identified.

Depending upon who is throwing it this scene is a stone throw or two from the site where the Denny Party landed on Nov. 13, 1851.  Judging from the costumes and the development  (or rather lack of it) on the beach it was photographed about a half century later.  Most likely then if this is not a group from the neighborhood its members came to their picnic by boat for the electric trolley did not reach the beach until 1907, the year that West Seattle incorporated into Seattle.

By the time this driftwood tableau was photographed the attraction of Alki Beach as a summer retreat was already commonplace.  After regular steamer service was launched across Elliott Bay in 1877 the Daily Intelligencer advised “Now is a good time for picnics on the beach at Alki Point, so it will pay some of our new settlers to go over and see the spot where Messrs. Denny, Maynard and others lived during the ‘times that tried men’s souls.’” (I found this reference in “The West Side Story”, the big book of West Seattle history.)  We can only imagine what pains those we see frolicking and lounging here gave to the hardships of the founders.

There is a revealing similarity between the beach visitors in the “now” and the “then” scene: how few of them there are.  Alki Beach was frequented by throngs after the arrival of the trolley and the 1911 opening of Alki Beach Park with its oversized bathing and recreation pavilion  – 73,000 of them in 1913.  By comparison Jean Sherrard took this week’s “now” photograph last July 24, one of the hottest days of the summer.  While there are surely many more offshore attractions in 2004 then in 1913 when it comes to chilling dips we may also have become less robust.

Not an afternoon for a beach party. Duwamish Head is in the distance, and a pier shed stocked with whaling gear shows far left. Part of the bath house is far right.
Alki Beach has been cleaned and regularly kept clear of driftwood in this real photo postcard by the prolific Ellis. The Alki Bath House, painted white, appears up the beack, at the center. Courtesy, John Cooper



About 80 years separate the two later afternoon views on Alki Beach Park. Both look to the southwest from near the foot of 61st Avenue Southwest. (Historical photo courtesy of Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma. Contemporary photo by Jean Sherrard.)


Last week’s “then” looked northeast on Alki Beach.  This week’s record surveys the same stretch of sand but in the opposite direction.  Why spend two weeks on one beach?  Because about a quarter century separates the two historical photographs – last week’s and this one – and the changes are revealing.

As shown seven days ago a picturesque litter of driftwood distinguished the ca. 1900 West Seattle waterfront.  Here a quarter-century later the same waterfront is littered instead with bathers in wool suits and separated from a wide planked promenade by a seawall.   Actually the change from the irregular strand landed on by the founding settlers of 1851 to a groomed shoreline occurred very rapidly after the city condemned and purchased in 1910 the nearly 2500 feet of this shoreline between 57th and 65th Avenues Southwest.

In quick order the city built a large bathing pavilion (the historical photo is photographed from its roof) and the wide walk protected by the sturdy wall.  This radical makeover was dedicated on Independence Day 1911 and the following year the covered bandstand was extended over the tides.  That first year the city’s Parks Department estimated that 103,000 persons were attracted to the 75 concerts performed from its octagonal stage.

From the band stand

In 1925 the wooden seawall was replaced with a concrete one that was designed to protect the beach with a concave profile that inhibited the undertow of high tides. (See the Ellis postcard one feature up.)  In five years more the seawall was extended in the other direction (to the northeast) to within 150 feet of Duwamish Head.  At last in 1945 this gap was also acquired and improved to make a continuous recreational shore between the Head and the string of homes that lie between the public park and the closed – since 9/11 – Alki Point lighthouse (1913).

This chronology was gleaned from the book “West Side Story” and Don Sherwood’s unpublished (but often photocopied) manuscript history on local parks.  Much on Alki Beach history is featured in the exhibits and publications of the Log House Museum (one block from the beach at the corner of Stevens St. and 61st Avenue) and also in permanent display on the walls of the by now venerable SPUDS fish and chips on Alki Avenue.

These look to the greater part of Alki Beach that runs northwest from the bath house, which is seen here during a ca.1913 storm. At the bottom of this view is the beach looking southwest from Luna Park. The chain dance was recorded by Max Loudon. Below are three or four more of the athletic and convivial Max's beach shots. In his album there are several other examples of such early 20th-century pulchritude.

With this view of Max's unnamed subject we learn the setting. An outside wall of Luna Park, below Duwamish Head, shows in the background. All these are courtesy of Grace McAdams, Max's sister.



(First appeared in Pacific on Sept. 5, 1983.)

Where West Seattle drops its northern face into Puget Sound, a tideflat continues for a hundred yards or more. Here for centuries an aquaculture of mussels and clams thrived in a deposit of Duwamish silt cleaned by the tides. It was, naturally, a favorite place for the natives. This changed in 1906.

West Seattle residents understood that their exposed Duwamish Head with its shallow tideflat was a tough location for ship-tending piers, and in 1906 their city council agreed it was the perfect place for “the greatest outdoor amusement park in the Northwest.” The pile driving began for an acre or two of thrilling rides and gaudy amusements.

In the spring of 1907, Seattle looked across Elliott Bay at a Duwamish Head with an altered profIle. At night the tideflats would sparkle with thousands of lights that lined the Chute-the-Chutes Water Slide, the Figure Eight Roller Coaster, the Giant Swing, Canal of Venice, Merry-go-round, Salt Water Natatorium, and Dance Palace. With Luna  Park the West Seattle

City Council had found another way, besides the ferry from MarionStreet, the trolley along Railroad Avenue, and the real estate atop the bluff to get Seattle to West Seattle. There was another attraction: the “best-stocked bar on the bay.”

Luna, the name for the Roman goddess of the moon, makes one think of romance or lunacy or both. It was the latter that disturbed the residents of West Seattle. The spirits that escaped from their “longest bar” threatened to drive some of them crazy with drunken revelers running the length of Alki Beach. These citizens of West Seattle accused their council of planning a beachhead of bars for “the boozers from Seattle” and thereby turning their “Coney Island of the West” into the “Sin City of West Seattle.” When the council conceded and voted to stop building bars, the citizens soon went further and voted no more council. The 1907 election count was 325 to 8 for annexation to Seattle.

In 1907 Seattle was in an expansionist mood, annexing Ballard, Columbia City, Rainier Beach, as well as West Seattle. It was also in one of its moral moods, electing for mayor a judge named Moore who promised to close the town to unnatural vices and open  it to municipal ownership of those “natural monopolies” like water and light. This is just what the citizens of West Seattle landslided for: better city services and an administration with a moralist’s nerve to fight vice.

But like the phases of the moon, Seattle’s moral moods waxed and waned. In 1910 Seattle allowed its new Mayor, Hi Gill, to once again open up the city. This, of course, now included West Seattle, Luna Park and its one long, well-stocked bar.

Almost as soon as Gill took office, a group calling itself the “Forces of Decency” tried to take it back by recall. These progressives, prohibitionists, and newly enfranchised women voters were aided by the muckraking reportage of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. One P.1. story was headlined “Many Drunken Girls and Boys at Luna Park.”

The January 31, 1911 accusations claimed that at “the Sunday night dances at Luna Park . . . girls hardly 14 years old, mere children in appearance, mingled with the older, more dissipated patrons and sat in the dark corners drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and singing.” Against this spirit of righteousness, his honor Gill temporarily lost his honor in the February recall election.

Gill is best remembered for allowing his chief of police Wappenstein and a few of the latter’s shady cronies to build a 500-room brothel on the side of Beacon Hill. In this Luna Park was implicated. Its manager W. W. Powers, a Gill supporter, was also, the P.1. reported, “the owner of 50 shares of stock in the corporation organized to erect a brothel on a public street at 10th Avenue S. and Hanford Street.”

The industrial-sized brothel with its back to Beacon Hill.

Two years later in 1913, most of Luna Park was closed. Three years later, Gill was once again elected mayor of Seattle.

One of the above views of Luna Park looks west from atop the Figure Eight roller coaster. The merry-go-round’s onion-domed round house is easily found. In the distant center of the photograph is the Bath House. The water was cold and salty. An indoor balcony circled the pool at the level where the roof line meets the great arching domed windows. From there one could enjoy the swimming without getting wet.

In 1931 swimming was still a favorite recreation at Luna Park but the Merry-go-round, Figure Eight, Sunday dances, and Infant Electrobator were long gone. In April of that year, the Natatorium also was gone, torched by an arsonist.

Now the stubby remnants of those Luna Park pilings, which once supported a popular culture of dime sensations, show themselves only at low tide mixing with kelp, clams, barnacles, and human waders. Up the beach on the Alki strip, one can visit, or more properly “cruise” what is still on hot summer days one of the most popular outdoor amusement resorts in the Northwest.

Carl Hinckly and his pig were popular entertainers on the Luna Park boardwalk.





(First appeared in Pacific on May 19, 1985.)


The Alki Point lighthouse was constructed in 1912 and completed the following year. The historical photo dates from then. The guard fence is not yet up, and the ladder leaning against the lighthouse’s west wall (on the right) leads to an oil lantern which may have been used, during construction, as a temporary warning beacon to Mosquito Fleet steamers slipping through the night between Seattle and Tacoma.

Alki’s first warning light was also just a simple lantern hung from a pole. Sometime in the mid-1870s Hans Martin Hanson, who in 1868 bought the point from pioneer Doc Maynard, began his public service of lighting that lantern every night, or encouraging his son Edmund to do it.  Edmund soon passed the responsibility on to his cousin Linda Olson who each night and morning precariously negotiated the planking above an old swamp that separated the sandy tip of Alki Point from the rest of the peninsula, to ignite and dowse the light, trim the wick, and polish the brass.

Detail of a 1899 NOAA map of Alki Point shows the marsh that the Linda Olson crossed to reach the lantern. Another map detail shared by Ron Edge.

In 1887 the U.S. Lighthouse Service took notice and replaced the homemade beacon with a lens-lantern mounted on a scaffold. But the tending was still kept in the Hanson-Olson family when Hans Hanson was appointed the official keeper of the light. The pay was $15 a month, and it was probably Linda Olson who kept walking the plank.

Hans Hanson died in 1900, but not before he divided his land among his children. Edmund got the tip of Alki and the tender’s job. Ivar Haglund was Edmund Hanson’s nephew, and remembered him as an odd sort of lighthouse keeper. Edmund was a fashionable dresser with yellow gloves, top hat, and cane and, like Ivar (who was an uncommon sort of fish-seller), he wrote jingles and told stories to the accompaniment of his guitar. Ivar remembered these performances as “incredible, but of the sheerest delight.” The young nephew was, no doubt, both charmed and influenced.

In 1911 Edmund sold the point to the U.S. Lighthouse Service, and with the $9,999 he gained, took his wife, children, and guitar on an extended vacation to California. By 1913, the 37-ft. octagonal tower was up and its light flashing every second for five seconds followed by five seconds of darkness.

The Alki light was converted to electricity in 1918, and 21 years later its control and keeping were handed over to the Coast Guard. In October 1984, its operation was made fully automatic.

Its last officer in manual charge was Coast Guardsman Andrew Roberts. (Roberts stands on the bulkhead at the right of the contemporary scene.) Roberts, who must have one of the Coast Guards’ better billets, now caretakes the grounds and leads weekend tours of the tower. Visitors are invited to sign in on the lighthouse log and make their comments.

There, many pages earlier, in 1954, H. Nelms wrote, “Looked on by ye land-lubbers with but a passing glance, looked on by ye seafarers as a beacon of hope, ye light must not fail.”

(As noted above, this feature first appeared in Pacific more than a quarter-century ago.  No doubt Guardsman Roberts has long gone from the Point, and the last time I visited it I was turned back from even approaching the lighthouse campus.   This, off course, was another 9-11 inhibition.  This feature also appears in Seattle Now and Then Volume 2, the 42nd chapter or feature therein.  You can find it on this blog’s homepage under or within in the books button.)

That’s it for now Jean – it’s rolling towards 3am, and so it is once more (and with fond thoughts for Bill Burden the originator long ago of the nightly goodbye, “Nighty Bears”) it  is Nighty Bears to you and our readers, what there are of them – bless them.  Tomorrow (later this morning) after breakfast I’ll add something on the Alki Beach SPUD.   And proof it too.



On Sunday Morning (Remember the poem of that title by Wallace Stevens, with its chocolate, coffee, oranges and fish and chips?) we conclude with a visit to SPUD.  This Alki Beach institution is old – older even than I am old, but not by much.   It is also well-stocked with beach heritage.  We mounted a “permanent” exhibit on its walls about eight years ago.  Near the bottom we will attach a pix or two of the hanging when it was in process.  We encourage visitors to Alki Beach to visit it and the West Seattle Historical Society’s Log House Museum, which is a short stroll away from SPUD – behind it and off the beach.


Probably the earliest view of SPUD, copied from a 1938 tax card. Courtesy Washington State Archives.

Brothers Jack and Frank Alger opened The SPUD on Alki Beach in June of 1935.  It was the beginning of summer but also the dead of the depression. At 10 Cent for a cardboard boat stuffed with fries and two big pieces of breaded ling cod the English-born Alger’s fish and chips serving was affordable, delicious and filling – but only in the warmer months.   In late fall the stand was closed and looked as it does here in this Works Progress Administration tax inventory photo recorded on Oct. 14, 1938.

To either side of SPUD in 1938 was a line of small beach homes, a few small apartments, Turner’s Shell station, Sea Home Grocery, Seaside Pharmacy, Alki Bakery, two groceries, a barber, a cobbler, a plumber, a tailor and four other eateries — two serving hamburgers and hot dogs and the other two fish and chips.  Most commonly on Alki Ave. s.w. were the late depression vacancies but most importantly for the life of the beach was the Alki Natatorium Swimming Pool built across from Spud on pilings over the tides.

Following the war the shanty seen here was replaced with a nifty modern plant featuring portholes, and SPUD written in big bas-relief block letters over the front door.  Sheltered inside was a counter with four stools.   By then there were Spuds at Green Lake and Juanita as well.   The family continued to run the Alki Spud until Frank’s son Rick decided prudently at the age of 55 that he needed “to slow down and enjoy life more.”   Recently retiring to build their “dream home” on Hood Canal Rick and Terry Alger sold Spud to Ivar’s.

This is one of several night exposures of popular cafe's shared with me by Larry Polmateer

It was a both sensitive and poetic choice for also in 1938 when Ivar Haglund opened his first café – a fish and chips stand at the entrance to his aquarium on Pier 54 — the Alger brothers helped him.   Roy Buckley, Ivar’s first employee, learned his fish and chips while working at Spud.  All of them, Frank, Jack, Ivar and Roy were West Seattle lads.

SPUD ca. 2002. The Alki Point historical exhibit hangs on the walls of the upper floor and in the stairwell as well.

While both Spud and Ivar’s survive in 2003, we may conclude by listing a few popular restaurants of 1938 that do not.  All are still savored in memory only.  Manca’s and the swank Maison Blanc; The Green Apple (home of the Green Apple Pie); The Jolly Rogers, The Dolly Madison Dining Room, and Mannings Coffee (several of them); the Moscow Restaurant and the Russian Samovar; Ben Paris downtown and Jules Maes in Georgetown; the Mystic Tea Cup, and the Twin T-P’s, Seattle’s Aurora strip landmark most recently lost to a tasteless midnight wrecker.

Mounting the SPUD exhibit on Alki Point history.
A move from personal reflections to neighborhood history - the mirrors come down and the now-then's go up.

A "now and then" example from the SPUD show.



4 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Antique Alki Swimwear”

  1. Reading this blog is one of my favorite Sunday morning routines – thanks for all your hard work!

    Regarding the date of the picture of the Alki Natatorium: there were only two years where Washington’s license plates had white letters on a dark background with the state name at the top left: 1937 (white letters on a blue background) and 1941 (white letters on a green background). This car looks like a 1941 Ford, so 1941 seems a safe bet for dating this photo.

    A clear picture of a 1941 license plate can be seen here:

    Here is a 1941 Ford that looks very much like the car in the photo:

  2. Thanks Much Danny Beard. I am convinced. By the way it is fun to take most of my Saturdays pulling together these Sundays. If I keep doing it for a few years hence I’ll perhaps get up all 1500-plus features I have written for Pacific over the last now nearly 30 years. Whoopee! (That’s a French expression I have learned.)

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