Seattle Now & Then: 3rd and Pine

(click to enlarge photos – sometimes click twice!)

THEN: The steps, left of center, and above the steps the one-block long counterbalanced trolley connect to the front door of the Washington Hotel at the top of Denny Hill. The unnamed photographer looks across Pine Street and north on Third Avenue. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)
NOW: Since 1928/9 the Bon Marche – now Macy’s – has held the northeast corner of Third and Pine and much else. For nearly a quarter century previously it was home for Seattle Fire Station No. 2.

This week and next we will abide near the southeast corner of Pine Street and Third Avenue.  The two subjects are but twelve years apart, however, as you will see next week the difference is total.  An exception might be the curb showing here, in part, behind the man crossing Pine Street.  The shadowed hole to the right of the pedestrian was home for Seattle Fire Station No. 2 until 1903 when it was moved a half-block east to make room for a new brick station that will be revealed in next week’s “then.”

While not the earliest of the several regarding projects that cut into Denny Hill the Pine Street regrade was still early. It began in 1903 and continued into 1905 when it paused waiting for the earth movers to return in 1906 to begin carving away the south summit of the hill seen here with the Washington Hotel atop it.

I’ll pick late 1905 for this recording but it could be early the next year.  The classy closing party for the hotel was held on May 7, 1906, which was only three years after it first opened to its first guest, then Pres. Theodore Roosevelt.

On the occasion of the landmark’s last good-byes, one of the more influential characters in Seattle history, Judge Thomas Burke (of the museum, trail and monument) lamented to the press “It is a matter of the greatest regret that the Washington Hotel is to be taken down . . . It would have been much better to have saved Denny Hill and to have carried Third Ave under it, (with a proposed tunnel) thus . . . preserving the natural beauty that means to much to any city . . . The site would have been ideal for a park, or even for an art gallery.”

Next week a new corner.


Anything to add, Paul?

Yes Jean but less than planned.  I have made a blog blunder.   That is, I prepared extras for a different feature, one that comes around, it seems, in two weeks.   Still in a scramble I have tried to make a small redemption with a few things having to do with the hill and the hotel.  I am also a little shy about confessing what a horde of features I have written about that damn hill and hotel.   So here is only a pinch.  We’ll start with two looks at the counterbalance that took folks up the one block from Pine Street to the portico of the hotel.  We’ll follow that by grabbing an early feature that appeared in the first collection of the now-and-then contributions in 1984, “Seattle Now and Then, Vol. One.”  It is a pretty long feature on the Denny Hotel.  Again we will grab and half-illustrate it.  It was first written when I was still doing two pages in Pacific.   The joint operating agreement with the P-I put a stop to that – I think it was.

A close-up of Moore's counterbalance to his hotel, renamed Washington, from Denny, when he first opened it in 1903.
Both the hotel and its counterbalance mostly destroyed. On the right is the new fire station at the northeast corner of 3rd and Pine and still under construction.
The city as seen from the "scenic hotel," photographed by A. Wilse before the hotel opened or its counterbalance installed. Third Avenue is below and a part of the old frame fire station appears at the bottom left corner. A likely range of dates is 1898 to 1900. Courtesy Lawton Gowey.

The above first appeared in Pacific on May 29, 1983.  The “now” below was photographed this year (2011) for the pair’s part in our exhibit on “Repeat Photography” currently up at MOHAI until next June, 2012, when they take it down and leave the 1952 plant for their new one in the revamped naval armory at the south end of Lake Union.   (Historical picture courtesy of Murray Morgan)


For 16 years from 1890 to 1906, the Denny Hotel stood high above the city. From where it topped the front hump of Denny Hill, the Denny, renamed the Washington in 1903, nearly met the hotel’s huckstering attempts to exaggerate its glories.  And example: From this “largest and best equipped hotel in the Pacific Northwest,” one could have “one of the most beautiful views that can be found anywhere in the United States.”

For years Arthur Denny had reserved this six-acre double block atop his original donation claim for a state capitol. He called it “Capitol Hill.” However, in 1888 he was convinced by fellow patriarchs, Thomas Burke included, to abandon these political dreams for another stately speculation.

A clear-cut Denny Hill, on the left, as seem from Elliott Bay in the late 1880s. Here the hill is still without the hotel or much else. The front hump (or south summit) shows but not much of the back elevation.

As the local historian Thomas Prosch described it only a few years later: “It was thought that if a large, showy, modern house were built upon an eligible, commanding site, with spacious grounds and grand view, properly managed and with the money-making idea of secondary consideration, that tourists from all parts of the country would be attracted to it, and that the town would be greatly benefited thereby.”

Denny agreed that his most eligible hill would be the first asset of the Denny Hotel Company. And the plans were indeed lavish, inspired by something more like civic pride than a quick profit. The 200,000 locally subscribed dollars were for a hostelry with 100 more rooms than the competitive Tacoma’s prestigious Tacoma Hotel.

The Tacoma Hotel as seen from the Murray Morgan Bridge, although long before it was so renamed. Courtesy of Murray Morgan.
A steamer's stack hides the center portion of the Denny Hotel, when it was still a work-in-progress. Construction shots of the hotel are more than rare. This is the only one I've seen - I think. (Please show me more.) It was photographed by Haynes, the Norther Pacific Railroad's official photographer on his visit here in 1890.

The beginning of construction on the Denny was announced in the March 20th issue of the Weekly Intelligencer, only two-and-a-half months before the Great Fire of June 1889 would wipe out most of Seattle’s hotels. Ten years and ten days later, the March 30, 1899 issue of the P.I. still vainly promised that “within six weeks from today the building which bears the honored name of the pioneer founder of Seattle, will be completed to the original plans and ready for occupancy.” It actually would not open to its first guest, Teddy Roosevelt, for another four years. What happened?

The cost of building the Denny Hotel had more than doubled when the international crash of 1893 stopped the work and put all parties in the courts. While this litigation dragged on toward the twentieth century, the city was running wild with a population and building boom that by 1900 would completely surround Denny’s vacant hotel and make it the centerpiece of over 500 structures that covered his namesake hill. But for more than a decade only a solitary watchman lived in this nearly completed “castle” whose looming presence above the  city must have seemed haunted on moonlit nights.

There had been no “quick profits” with the Denny. Yet, after the developer James A. Moore took it over in 1903, spent over $100,000 repairing and appointing it, and renamed it the Washington, it became a paying hotel every day. (It is not recorded whether T. R., its first patron, paid for this inaugural slumber.)

The Denny Hotel fitted with opening-day bunting. Teddy Roosevelt's portrait hangs over the front door. Courtesy, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.

Moore set competitive rates with the “hotels downtown by the depots,” attracted special events and conventions to its larger halls, and proclaimed the clumsy but effective line, “a trip to Seattle without a stop at the Washington is no kind of a trip to brag of at all!”

But even before the spring day in 1903, when the Washington Hotel opened to its impressed guests, the regrade rhetoric was preparing for the “great work” of both closing the hotel and dropping the hill beneath it into the sea. Only when Moore was at last convinced that a “New Washington” highrise (today’s Josephinum) on lowland could make more coin than this grand hotel on the hill, did he surrender to the city engineers and their urge to flatten North Seattle into today’s Denny Regrade district.

Mr. and Mrs. Moore hosted the Old Washington’s last hurrah on Monday night May 7, 1906. The lobby and grand ballroom were draped with scotch broom, Easter lilies, ferns, palms, rhododendrons, roses, and carnations. Red tulips shaded the lights. Mrs. Moore was draped in cream silk, lace, and diamonds. Many more of the distinguished guests wore black lace, white chiffon and taffeta, yellow satin, and lots more diamonds.

Both one of the party guests and one of the hotel’s original investors, Judge Thomas Burke, on the hotel’s last day announced to the press: “It is a matter of the greatest regret that the Washington Hotel is to be taken down, and what used to be known as the Denny Hill is to be leveled . . . From a commercial point of view and certainly from an aesthetic one, it would have been much better to have saved Denny Hill by carrying Third Avenue under it, [with a proposed tunnel] thus obtaining the desired result while preserving the natural beauty that means so much to any city . . . If the city could have acquired the hotel, the site would have been ideal for a park, or even for an art gallery.”

This might sound familiar. (Footnote from 1984. “In 1983, when I first wrote this, I was thinking of the failed proposal for an art museum in Westlake Mall.  However, there is a long list of frustrated opportunities for preservation and innovative use of old and cherished resources – buildings and hills included. To think the City Hall might have been moved from its travel lodge into the Smith Tower.”)

This postcard is slightly misleading. While the center photo of the three the "same spot," it is also seen from the opposite direction.
The artist's vision of "the city on a hill" includes it's own hill, the pimple-like swelling on the far left. Otherwise it is all city-grid and most importantly those ships in Elliott Bay, the artist's real affections.
Heads up for the hotel in it last days intact. Courtesy Ron Edge
The Hotel is more than half razed, but a gleaming new Washington Annex holds the southeast corner of Stewart and 2nd Avenue - now a parking lot. The first steel members for the new Washington Hotel at the northeast corner of 2nd and Stewart are evident on the left.

Above: An early 20th-Century scene during the Second Avenue Regrade looking east into its intersection with Virginia Street.  A home is being moved from harm’s way.  The hotel on the hill behind it would not survive the regrade’s spoiling.  (Photo used courtesy of Ronald K. Edge) Below: The Moore Theatre at the southeast corner of Virginia St. and Second Avenue and, behind it to the right, the New Washington Hotel, replaced the hill here and the old hotel.  (Photo by Jean Sherrard.)


Like the next “now and then” comparison below, this one looks towards the front entrance of the Moore Theatre.  We may imagine this view also peeking into the lobby, or where its plush appointments would be admired about two years after this unique photograph was recorded.  It looks east through the intersection of Virginia Street and Second Avenue, during the razing of Denny Hill for the Denny Regrade.

Use Jean Sherrard’s “now” view to grab a sense of where the Moore marquee would later stand after the regarding on Second Avenue was completed and the theatre quickly constructed.  It would materialize to the far side of the steam-power excavator with the black roof, which stands right-of-center beyond the house-moving trestle.  This crude but workable timber skid temporarily crosses the curving tracks used for the regarding work of removing the hill, most of it into Elliott bay.

Of the scores of homes that covered Denny Hill few were saved.  This Italianate box being inched along the skids was one of the survivors.  The grand Victorian landmark looming behind it was not.  The Washington Hotel was one of the greater architectural losses in our still brief history.

Built in 1890 straddling Third Avenue on the front (south) hump of the hill, the hotel did not open until 1903 when James Moore – of the theatre – purchased it from its squabbling owners, and welcomed Theodore Roosevelt that spring as it first guest.  Moore’s first plans were to enlarge the hotel and put a roof garden on his promised theatre that would blend with the landscaping for the hotel.   About the time this photo was recorded in late 1905 or early 1906 he changed his mind, and allowed the hotel to be destroyed with the hill.

ABOVE: Steel beams clutter the center of a freshly regarded Second Avenue during the 1907 construction of the Moore Theatre.  The view looks north towards Virginia Street. Courtesy,  Lawton Gowey   BELOW: One hundred and one years later, the Moore is one of early-20th Century famed theatre architect Edwin W. Houghton’s few survivors.  (Pic by Jean Sherrard)


(First published in Pacific in 2008)

Last year (2007) with deserved fanfares and events, the Moore Theatre celebrated its centennial.  First imagined in 1903 by its namesake James Moore, Seattle’s super-developer at that time, the opening night curtain did not open until Dec. 28, 1907.  Many in the overflow crowd were devoted to live theatre, but then the dulling effects of television were still decades away although the delights of silent films were available.

The inaugural night’s VIPs, included Governor Albert E. Mead who from the stage gave a learned speech on the part played by history in theatre, for the Moore’s inaugural faire was an operetta, “The Alaskan.”  The scenario was taken from the book of the same name, written by Joseph Blethen who was also the librettist.  Since the author was the son of Seattle Times publisher Col. Alden J. Blethen, the family newspaper fittingly declined to review what was described in another newspaper as “the event of the season.”

This moment in the Moore’s construction was also recorded in 1907.  The theatre was built very quickly.   Moments before the doors opened to the happy crowd, workers were still installing their seats.

James Moore was another one to climb the stage to share some wit.  Once the thankful and admiring applause stopped — and here I borrow from Eric Flom’s historylink essay on the theatre — “Moore’s comments were brief and, quite literally, off-the-cuff.  ‘In anticipation I wrote out a very good speech.  I wrote it on my cuff and I laid out that cuff tonight to wear.  Mrs. Moore is a careful sort of woman and she discovered what she believed as a soiled cuff and took it away.  So I come before you speechless.’”

Now (that is, in 2003) but four years short of its centennial, the Moore Theater at Second Avenue and Virginia Street has run touring plays, vaudeville, opera, concert series, musicals, political rallies and lectures.  Beginning in 1935 it became the venue for impresario Cecilia Schultz, one of Seattle’s cultural treasures, and in 1976 the Seattle International Film Festival got its start here.


(First published in Pacific in 2003.)

When the Moore Theater opened in December of 1907 its namesake James Moore, then Seattle’s resident super-developer, claimed it was the third largest in the county.   Moore was himself both large and large-mannered.  When he died in a San Francisco hotel in 1929 this motivating maxim was found in his papers: “Make no little plans. They have not magic to stir men’s blood.  Make big plans.”

At the opening night performance of “The Alaskan” a packed crowd gave Moore a standing ovation.  Some were already standing for the audience was a few hundred more than the 2436 seat fire code capacity.    From every point on the floor one could see Moore, for the innovative balcony was supported by such hefty steel girders than none of the action or oratory on the widest and deepest stage in town was obscured by posts.

That was on the inside.  On the outside the Moore was restrained like we see it here looking north on 2nd Avenue towards Virginia Street.  This is still very early in the life of the theater.  Construction is not yet completed on most of the store fronts to either side of the also unfinished stone arch to the Moore Hotel.  Most likely it is the spring of 1908. “Coming Thro The Rye” a fine fair weather musical fabricated from the lines of the poet Robert Burns is advertised on the marquee.   (Burn’s ballad is now a popular selection for karaoke artists.)

A part of the old Denny Hill neighborhood is glimpsed on the far left across Virginia Street.  Moore first proposed his theater in the fall of 1903 when Seattle contractor C.J. Erickson started lowering Second Avenue to its present grade between Pine and Denny Streets.  Before this Second Avenue regrade the intersection at Virginia Street was in the valley between the south and north summits of Denny Hill.  It was described as the “saddle on a two-humped camel.”

After the road work the intersection at Virginia was the highest on Second — as it is now.  For those who wanted it lower, like city engineer R. H. Thomas, it was forever after the regrade’s stupid “terrestrial dunce cap.”  The intersection’s altitude was left as is to serve the theater because the megalomaniac Moore had won his argument with Thomson to keep it so. It was one of the few concessions that Thomson, whom The Seattle Times described in 1907 as one who could “bring the mayor of the city on his knees begging favors,” made in his nearly 20 years with the city.

Readers wishing to learn more about this landmark theater can consult  for the detailed essay on it by Eric L. Flom.

Above: Webster and Stevens, the studio responsible for recording these soldiers marching south on Second Avenue towards Stewart Street, describes the scene simply as “drafted men.”  The next photo in the studio’s numbered stock at the Museum of History and Industry is also a parade shot and it is dated September 20, 1917.  We may safely assume that this too is that parade.  (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)  Below: A few of the most substantial structures survive from the 1917 parade scene into the contemporary street setting that also looks north on Second Avenue to Virginia Street.


By the fall of 1917 Seattle was well practiced in patriotic parading.  The first wartime parade for Prepardeness stuffed the central business district with flag wavers on June 10, 1916.  It required another nine months of Pres. Woodrow Wilson’s promoting the idea of joining a war to “save the world for democracy” before the periodic hoopla turned outright bellicose.  On April 3, 1917 congress was ready to back Wilson’s war plan and the following day uniformed sailors paraded the downtown sidewalks carrying signs reading, “We are recruits and have answered our country’s call.  Why don’t you?”

Also on the 4th, Seattle’s third daily, The Seattle Sun, got downright threatening.  Across the top of the front page it trumpeted, “Today, in this land of ours, there are only two classes of people.  One class consists of Americans.  These will stand solidly behind President Wilson.  All others are TRAITORS.”

Two days more and on April 6 congress voted 373 to 50 to fight Germany – or “the Hun” or “Kaiserism” or “Prussian savagery.”  That evening a “monster parade” was staged downtown.  Then after weeks of arguing for conscription the president got it on April 28 when the draft law passed.  Eight senators voted against it.  The Star tarred these with a shame list explaining that this war was, after all, “a fight made in behalf of all humanity.”

For its June 18 night parade the Red Cross asked merchants to “darken all electric signs” in order to “enhance the value of the spectacular features of the parade.”  The next big parade – this one from Sept. 20 — was called to exhibit Wilson’s new warriors.  And filling the force had been made easier in early July when the war department revised its policy about small men.  Thereafter one needed to stand shoeless at least 5’1” and weigh at least 110 lbs when stripped to shorts.   One recruit, a 21-year-old janitor at St. James Cathedral, ask for an exemption because he had earlier lost most of his trigger finger.  He was denied and told to use his middle finger.

The startling differences between this week’s now and then are the results of more than 110 years of development.   The older photograph looks northeast from a 4th Avenue prospect on Denny Hill. The contemporary scene was recorded in line with the old but from the top of the 4-story garage on the east side of Third Avenue.


When detailed panoramas like this rare look from Denny Hill to Capitol Hill are printed small we are left for the most part with describing impressions and larger features like the fresh grade of Denny Way, upper-right, where it begins to climb Capitol Hill.

The original print shares the photographer’s name, A.J.McDonald, on the border.  McDonald is listed only in the 1892-93 Corbett Seattle Directory.  Perhaps the economic panic of 1893 drove him back to California.   The California State Library preserves a large collection of his San Francisco subjects but only a few Seattle scenes survive in local collections.   Probably most of his Seattle subjects – maybe all -were taken during the photographer’s brief stay here.

The street on the right is Stewart, and its most evident part is the then still steep block between 8th and 9th Avenues.   The large box-shaped building at the northwest corner of 9th and Stewart is home for Hendrick Bresee’s Grocery.  He appears in the 1892-93 directory with McDonald.  Ten years later it was J. M. Ryan’s Grocery.  In 1910 the intersection was lowered fourteen feet.   One block west at 8th Avenue Stewart was also raised with fill, thereby creating the contemporary gentle grade between 8th and 9th appropriate for the Greyhound Bus Depot built there on south side of the street in 1927.

In 1892-93 Westlake Avenue between Pike Street and Denny Way is still 15 years in the future and Virginia Street, one block north of Stewart, has not yet been developed through the two steep blocks east of 8th Avenue.  Cascade School, one of the scene’s future landmarks opened in 1895.  But the scene is dappled with many residents.  All of them are relatively new, the creations of Seattle’s explosive growth in the early 1890s, including the Gothic steeple of the Norwegian Danish Baptist Church at the northeast corner of 6th Avenue and Virginia Street that appears at the border on the left.

Ten years before McDonald recorded this cityscape it was practically all forest.  A few stragglers stand above City Park (Volunteer Park since 1901) on the rim of the ridge that in 1900 James Moore, its primary developer, named Capitol Hill.   [For more on Capitol Hill history please consult]

Bert in Robert, Wisconsin gets a letter from  . . . whom?  Perhaps it is Eva.  And is that Eva posing with a dirt “spike” on the Denny Regrade behind her?   Eva – if it is she – lives in Hermiston, Oregon, and misses Bert, if we can believe her.   We cannot know what is wrong with Uncle Will.  The postcard “taken in Seattle last summer”  is a rare moment of candor, even if it is posed.   Most regrade shots are about the often dramatic public works with the human content incidental.  (Click to Enlarge)

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