(click to enlarge photos. click TWICE for the full size of many)
In the ninety years that separate Jean Sherrard’s portrait of the Seattle Kung Fu Society, and the Webster and Stevens Studio’s 1921 record of posing players in Chinatown’s week-long Go-Hing celebration that May, this part of King Street looking east through its intersection with 7th Avenue has hardly changed. Both views also show a lion.
“Go-Hing,” – if I have used my Chinese phrase book correctly – in Cantonese means something close to “pleased to meet you.” Surely civic conviviality was one result of the six day carnival, but its concentrated purpose was to raise relief funds for the famine that had already killed millions in northern China, and encouraged the formation in Shanghai of the Chinese Communist Party in July, two months after the last day parade of Go-Hing, a procession in which this lion played its part.
Go-Hing was also a kind of belated civic atonement for the atrocious treatment of the town’s Chinese residents during the 1886 Anti-Chinese riots. For the carnival, Chinatown was elaborately decorated on the street and off it too in the alley shops and upstairs in the tongs, which were opened to visitors that week. The neighborhoods arts were also put on show and its many talents proven on a stage set up in the intersection of 8th Ave. and King Street. There was dancing in the streets.
Here’s Jean’s description on how he arranged his repeat of the May 1921 photo. “I stopped by the Wing Luke Museum, just up the street in the photos. Bob Fisher, the museum’s Collections Manager, confirmed that the mask in the old photo was that of a lion – not of a dragon as Paul and I had first assumed – which meant we were on the hunt for lion dancers. The museum’s Vivian Chan recommended we visit the Seattle Kung Fu Society, serendipitously located just two doors down from the Milwaukee Hotel. (The hotel is on the left of both views.)
I was heartily welcomed by society founder Sifu John Leong who, in his mid-70s could easily pass for twenty years younger, a testament to the benefits of his life-long discipline. Next year will mark his fiftieth anniversary in the International District. Sifu Leong unpacked his spectacular multi-colored collection of lion heads, and we chose the gold lion featured in our ‘now’ photo, planning to assemble the next day before sunset to repeat the ‘then’.”
Anything to add, Paul?
Yup Jean. But first here’s hoping that this year’s Tale of Hillside Horror (for your Students at Hillside and their annual Halloween Party) went as well as you hoped and even expect when you were putting the story’s last lines to your tablet (for scribbling while you soaked in the tub this afternoon). The combination of horror and bathtub reminds me of the French class, Diabolique. A very scary movie, indeed. Hope to be frightened by your creation.
First, there are several links from past blog efforts that will take one to stories that have something to do, as well, with King Street. The relevance may not be at the top but it is there in every case. Please click them and search them.
Then I’ll put up five more features with a scattering of supporting illustrations. They will concern, in order, the coal trade that came down King Street on a trestle from the late 1870s to the first years of the 20th Century. Next, a few items on gas and the gas plant between 4th and 5th, Main and King – during pretty much the same years as the coal road. Follows the Felker House, Seattle’s first structure built from milled planks and not logs or split cedar. Then a photograph of a Salvation Army parade preparing, perhaps, to serenade a bar on Jackson Street. We will finish up with the “Flower of Italy” on 5th south of Jackson.
Comments: First the links to click – seven of them. Be patient please. It may take moments for a link to materialize.
(Click to Enlarge these Illustrations – often CLICK TWICE to call forth their full size.)
The KING STREET COAL WHARF
(First appeared in Pacific, June 10, 1984)
The biggest thing in Seattle in 1881 was the King Street coal wharf. The Lilliputian pair in the foreground gives the pier its scale. It was both a favorite perch from which to photograph the city and a popular subject itself for photographers throughout the 1880s and 1890s.
In this view the camera looks east towards Beacon Hill, or what is really the ridge that once ran continuously – if with a slight slump – from Beacon Hill to First Hill. The two were not separated until 1909 when work began on the Dearborn cut just a little left of the hump that appears at the photographer’s center horizon. To the right of the railroad’s right-of-way is the beginning of Seattle’s first industrial neighborhood. Most of these manufacturer’s sheds are on pilings driven into the sand. The systematic filling of the tidelands began later, in 1896.
The sheds just behind the water tower are parts of a planning mill for the manufacture of sash and blinds. Behind that is a box and furniture factory, and, further on, the long sheds that cross the center of the scene are the repair shops for the Columbia and Puget Sound Railroad.
The C.&P. S. was originally the Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad, the narrow-gauged line completed in 1878 to the coal deposits east of Lake Washington. The first coal-filled gondolas pulled out of Newcastle on February 5 of that year, and for another half-century delivered much of it the this “south side” of Seattle central waterfront.
Another pioneer landmark, the Felker House, is on the scene’s left. This glossy white clapboard with the dark shutters and second floor veranda was built in 1853 when it shined like a temple amidst the rough log cabins of the then year-old settlement. It was Seattle’s first hotel and often called Mother Damnable’s after its quick-tempered manager, the profane Mary Conklin, who was as salty as her patrons.
(The above dates from the mid-1880s. The Holy Names Academy – with the spire left-of-center, was completed in 1884,)
There were 54 marriages in King County in 1881. Seattle got its first foreign language churches (the German Reformed and the Scandinavian Baptist), a city-wide water company, and a telephone franchise, even though there were no telephones. Other 1881 highlights included the first local demonstration of electric lamps aboard the Willamette, which was one of the 42 steamers licensed that year for business on Puget Sound.
It was also in 1881 that the two newspapers the Post and the Intelligencer came together as something you can still hold in your hands 103 years later. (Or could. As noted above this was first composed a quarter-century ago.)
GAS YARD on KING STREET
(First appeared in Pacific, April 25, 1993)
This view looks east on King Street from Fourth Avenue. The date, March 24, 1907, is scribbled at the bottom of the original print, one of many Seattle Gas Company scenes pasted to the black pages of a photo album shared with me now long ago by my friend Michael Maslan.
The first gas lights illuminated a few intersections and 42 residences on New Year’s Eve 1873. The gas was delivered through bored fir logs imported from Olympia; the plant where the gas was manufactured from coal and stored in a wooden tank was on Jackson Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, just off-camera to the left.
The photographer’s back is to the King Street Station. The station and the railroad tunnel beneath the city made these reclaimed tidelands just south of Jackson too valuable for mere manufacturing. The album from which this view was copied includes many more on the 1906-07 construction of the alternative gas works in Wallingford – now Gas Works Park.
Soon after this view was recorded, the gas plant on Jackson was razed for construction of the Union Pacific Station, whose rear shows in the contemporary view – when I find it.
Everything in the background of this scene was radically altered in 1909 with the Jackson Street regrade. Among the structures razed was Holy Names Academy on Seventh Avenue, which had opened to girl students in 1884. Its domed spire dominates the skyline, top left.
Most of the dirt scraped away during the regrade was used to reclaim more of the tidelands south of King Street. The wagon, the barrels and the stacks of pipes in the foreground are supported by a timber scaffolding, over which a thin layer of dirt has been spread. With the beginning of the regrade in 1909 this construction was torn away, dropping what we see here (or will later) to roughly its contemporary level as an abandoned railroad yard.
(First appeared in Pacific, June 18, 1989.)
When Captain Leonard Felker built his hotel at the southern end of town in 1853, he out did the prescriptions of his friend and sometime partner Doc Maynard. Maynard, one of city’s founders, sold the captain the block south of Jackson Street and west of First Avenue South for $350 on the growth-promoting condition that a “substantial building be constructed on the premises within three months.” The captain complied very substantially.
Felker’s two-story frame Felker House was the first hard-finished construction on Elliott Bay with milled clapboard sides, an imported southern pine floor, and lath-and-plaster walls and ceilings. The rest of the less than two-year old village was built from rough planks, split cedar, and logs. The brilliant white hotel was so prominently set atop a low bluff at Maynard’s Point that navigators aimed for it. What else they aimed for at Felker’s hostelry is a natter of controversy.
According to Roberta Frye Watt, a pioneer’s daughter and the author of “The Story of Seattle,” it was clean sheets and Mary Conklin’s cuisine. Conklin, Felker’s proprietor, was “noted for her good cooking, nasty temper and rough tongue.” She was the wife of an old sea captain whom “she could out swear any day.” So, by Frye’s description, it was from a fearful respect that she earned her nickname, Madame Damnable. But according to Bill Speidel, the recently deceased historian and sometimes creator of Seattle’s sinful past, Conklin was called Madame because she ran a whorehouse in the back of the hotel. Whatever the case, uncommon sensation followed this “stout, coarse Irish woman” to her grave where, it was nearly universally believed by Seattle’s pioneers, her body turned to stone – a claim made when her hefty casket was later moved to a new cemetery.
The woman posing between the men on the hotel’s veranda may or may not be Mary Conklin. If we had a portrait of her we would probably still not know, for this surviving view, which is one of the city’s oldest and most valued photographic records, is, no doubt, a few generations removed from the lost and sharper original.
The ARMY on JACKSON ST.
(First appeared in Pacific, March 30, 1986)
In 1865, William Booth founded his first mission in the slums of London’s East End. Twenty-two years later, General Booth’s “soldiers without swords” opened fire on Seattle when the young newlyweds, Captains Duke and Harris, held service in a rented room beneath a bar at First Avenue and Washington Street. The sounds of their praying and hymn-singing did antiphonal battle with the honky-tonk piano and laughter above them.
The Salvation Army in its war with the devil developed an elaborate military metaphor. General Booth led a world-wide force of uniformed batteries fighting from Fort Salvations with the battle cry of “Blood [of Christ] and Fire [of the Holy Spirit].”
What distinguished this army, and still does, was its willingness to fight in the meanest streets where the down-and-out often did not hunger after righteousness so much as for a meal. The Salvation Army’s confident compassion is still appealing.
The Army’s most effective form of street fighting used swords that were beat not into plow shares but cornets, trombones and flugelhorns. As General Booth explained, the end of salvation justified any means including brass bands – often accompanied by a formation of Hallelujah Lassies beating their tambourines.
Here we see a battery – with brass band and tambourines – in the mud on Jackson Street sometime in the 1890s – a decade that was peculiarly sinful, especially on Jackson. Writing of Seattle in 1900, Salvation Army adjutant Earnest Hawkes (a fine fighting name) charged that “its hundreds of saloons and scores of gambling dens, concert halls, and dives of various description were filled with a surging, seething mass of people and crime and outlawry that seemed to defy every attempt to suppress it.”
But here they are trying on Jackson Street where this entire line of false front businesses was put up after the fire of 1889 and many were designed for the business of sin. The Palace Theatre (behind the band) was probably a box house or combination saloon-theatre-whore house (it is not listed in any city directory). There a tired and drunken workingman could recline in a half-hidden, box-like loge while he looked upon some stage show and/or participated in his own where half the talent pays the other half.
These theatres were often the targets for the musical ammunition shot from the Salvation Army’s comets and bass drums – the drums were said to beat repentance. Sometimes the theatre’s own band would set up on an outside balcony and fight back. To the avant-garde among them, the cacophony was, no doubt, often quite appealing.
And the Army’s bands could also play popular tunes. Founder Booth agreed with another Protestant composer, Martin Luther, that the devil should not have all the good tunes. But these songs-of-the-day were always accompanied with sanctified lyrics.
Here, however, the cornets are quiet and whatever sin is on Jackson Street is seething behind the clapboards. The Army is at ease and posing for what is probably a scheduled portrait. The occasion might be the beginning of an early morning parade through skid road to wake up the sinners, or perhaps a parade to celebrate the visit of an out-of-town officer.
Perhaps this is the parade for Lieutenant Colonel Brewer who visited Seattle in March of 1900 – a celebration which a Salvation Army reporter remembered this way. “Walking three abreast with the concertina playing, [they] marched up the center of the street. It caused quite a stir, and greatly increased the attendance at the meeting attracting many who otherwise would have been indifferent. The Colonel sprang a surprise upon us by playing a comet solo in the open-air meeting, which was greatly appreciated by the great crowd who stood around us.”
These too make music and see the light. Ivar’s good works on the waterfront were most appreciated by his neighbors. His knack for putting the best construction on anything — including the jokes directed at his singing – shown in the late winter of 1950 when he linked the bright new but glaucous-green light on the waterfront with a traditional celebration. On the sixteenth of March, 1950 at 6:15 P.M. between Bay Street and Yesler Way the new mercury vapor lights were turned on giving the waterfront what Ivar described as a properly “romantic green tinge” for St. Partick’s Day. (Certainly brighter, the green light still seemed to many to be also frightening. They cast a cadaverous tone on human flesh.)
Members of the Seattle Chowder and Marching Society and the Ale and Quail Society, diverted for the moment from their Seafair business, joined with Ivar in parading along Alaskan Way to the music of Jackie Sounder’s Chowder and Marching Band. And as host of the lighting ceremony, Ivar fed them all. It was, the restaurateur mused, “A day to make the Swedish sailors and the Norwegian navigators glad. For the first time since 1852 when the settlers moved from Alki Point to Elliott Bay, there is adequate light on Seattle’s waterfront. In fact, not since Chief Seattle held his big tribal meetings around giant beach fires has the Seattle waterfront been so well lit up.” Dressed in green, the combined memberships posed in front of the Acres of Clams in time to watch the new mercury vapor lights turn on, and some enterprising press photographer climbed above the sidewalk festivities and recorded the moment. Looking like one of the “little people” Ivar gazes up admiringly at the new light from his place between the lamppost and his nearly new Fish Bar.
The FLOWER OF ITALY
(First appeared in Pacific, May 18, 1986)
In 1924 or ’25, Giacomo and Maria Traverso opened their Fiore d’Italia at 414 Fifth Ave. S., between Jackson and King St. South. These Genoese cooks had the knack for fixing delicious traditional dishes, and soon their cafe was favored for serving the best Italian cooking in the city. Naturally, many of their regulars came from the Italian community, most of whom, the Traversos included, lived in or near Rainier Valley.
The aromas that wafted within this flower of Italy were also for many years the favorite lunchtime relief of the city’s garbage collectors, many of whom were, like the Traversos and Christopher Columbus, Genoese. Favorite dishes included: a codfish concoction called Baccala, a generously seasoned cornmeal mush named Polenta, and a meat-and-potatoes mix called Stufato. And every Wednesday Maria Traverso would prepare the week’s noodles for the pasta of the the day.
The Fiore d’ Italia was Traverso’s third and most successful attempt at Italian cooking. In 1917 and 18 the city directories list him at the Pentema Restaurant at 116 2nd Ave. S. But in 1919, with the Pentema closed, the Polk Directory canvassers recorded Giacomo not as a cook but as a wartime shipbuilder. (Traverso, may have taken part in the 1919 general strike which started in the shipyards.) However, as the Traverso’s daughter, Jenny Cella, recalls, her father could not be kept out of the kitchen. Soon he was cooking at another skid road cafe, the Columbus Cabaret at 167 Washington St. South.
The mid-20s opening of the Fiore d’Italia at 414 5th Ave. was not the Traverso’s last move. By 1928 they shifted their cafe a few doors north to 404 5th Ave. South in a storefront below the St. Paul Hotel. Still, the Fiore d’ Italia was the fixture on a block that saw many alterations.
Appearing in this scene to either side of the cafe are the N. P. Restaurant and the Midget Lunch. Neither can be found in any city directory. The Dreamland Cabaret was a short-lived dive in the St. Paul’s basement. It should not be confused with the notorious Dreamland Hotel, a crib house for prostitution that was located but a block-and-a-half away at 6th Ave. and King St. (See accompanying photo.)
Fifth Ave., south of Jackson Street, could be described as the Mediterranean western border of the International District. There were other Italian establishments on the street including a grocery at the comer of Jackson. Here Fifth Ave. is half a street, for it is bordered on the west by the big pit of the railroad yards and grand stations. And to the east is the East, the international community, which is still largely Asian and more often named Chinatown.
This scene (the primary or featured one – four photos up) was photographed by one of the Traverso’s Asian neighbors, Yoshiro Okawa, whose Aiko Photographic Studio was located at 6th Ave. and Jackson Street. For years Okawa’s fine commercial photography “at reasonable prices” was a neighborhood given – until 1942 when the Okawa family, and all Japanese persons in the district were shipped off to internment. Since they could take with them only what they could carry, Yoshiro Okawa’s years of work were destroyed, including the original negative for this record of the Traverso’s cafe. Luckily the print survived. And so did Okawa to open another studio in Chicago after the war. Later he retired to Seattle where he died in 1976 at the age of 85.
: Nelson is standing on his column of course, his ship (the largest model )in a bottle on the right created by Yinka Shonibare attracts so many passers-by, there is a concert, and free hugs…
Il y a tant d’évènements dans les rues de Londres actuellement ! Ici à Trafalgar Square on se croirait déjà en 2012 : Nelson se tient en haut de sa colonne bien sûr, son navire( la plus grande maquette ) dans une bouteille sur la droite crée par Yinka Shonibare attire beaucoup de monde, il y a aussi un concert et des embrassades gratuites…
(click to enlarge photos)
I first showed this Kodachrome slide of the Rivoli Follies, Seattle’s last house of burlesque, to the Daughters of the American Revolution in the mid-1980s. I was asked to do an illustrated lecture (we then still called them “slide shows”) on local history by the DAR’s program director, then also in her mid-eighties, but still wonderfully spry and good-humored. I confess now to including the Rivoli in that lecture in order to ask the members – whom I imagined as more prudent than impetuous — if any of them had gone there to see a show.
The response was startling, and it came first and fast from my “sponsor.” She exclaimed, “Oh I danced there!” This clamors for some explanation.
Lawton Gowey date-stamped his slide April 11, 1967. Knowing Lawton, I think it most likely that he photographed this east side of the block on First Avenue between Madison Street – where he stood – and Marion, because it would soon be razed for architect Fred Bassetti’s Federal Office Building. The Times theatre ad on that spring day for the Rivoli promised “Blonde, Beautiful and Buxom Maria Christy in person! Plus extra added Zsa Zsa Cortez Mexican Spitfire – plus a stage full of beauties” in “4 shows daily.” *
Of course, the DAR’s program manager appeared on stage here much earlier than Ms. Christy and Cortez – perhaps already in the teens, for she was part of a small local class of amateur dancers performing for a mixed audience – often including their parents – at a weekend matinee.
On Oct. 27, 1939 the State Movie Theatre changed its name to Rivoli and its programing to a “vaudeville policy.” Actually, stage acts had been all or part of the entertainment here since 1905 when vaudeville impresario John Considine bought and booked the corner as the Star Theatre. Years later during the Second World War the more loving and/or libidinous urges of young soldiers moved the Rivoli to “refine” its vaudeville policy into programs that mixed B Movies with the refined arts of removing clothes.
* One browsing and perhaps blue reader has found this attachment: a web page dedicated to campy erotica including a moving duet by the Rivoli stars for April 11, 1967. Here’s a desktop “grab” of the Ms. Christy and Ms. Cortez. In the interest of you the reader I turned it on and discovered that about ten second and two winks into the show it stops and asks one to subscribe. At that point I left and returned to this sober and demure blog.
Anything to add, Paul? A few other past Pacific features from the neighborhood, starting with something more on the Star Theatre. Correction – we will start with a few recordings of the Rivoli’s destruction and then of the Burke Block as well in early 1971. This may be the second insertion in this blog for some of these subjects, but who is keep track? We will act as if they bear repeating with this new “cross-reference.”
The BURKE BUILDING
(First appeared in Pacific, March 3, 1996)
Elmer Fisher was the most prolific of the batch of mostly imported architects who rebuilt Seattle after its Great Fire of 1889. He designed this well-lit red brick pile of Chicago design – modern at the time – for the city’s biggest post-fire shaker: Thomas Burke. Appropriately, Fisher dressed Burke’s namesake building in a uniform of affluence and influence, with hand-carved pilasters, molded corners and tons of marble and granite effects.
At the northwest corner of Second Avenue and Marion Street, in the heart of the city’s financial district, the Burke Building survived in its Victorian raiment well into the 20th century. Its eight stories were transcended by more modern neighbors, first across Marion Street by the 278-foot-high Art Deco Exchange Building in 1929, followed 30 years later by the modern glass-curtain Norton Building, one block south at Columbia Street.
In the mid-1960s the federal government bought the Burke Building – and everything else on its block – after studying more than 40 proposed sites for its new “branch home” in Seattle. If the Henry M. Jackson Federal Office Building had been clad in red brick, as its architect, Fred Bassetti, intended, the Burke Building’s usurper would have, at least, repeated the warmth of its skin. But the office building, late in construction largely because of its price tag, was finally raised without its expensive masonry.
Still, Bassetti and Richard Haag, the site’s landscape architect, did manage to preserve parts of the Burke Building’s ornamental handiwork, along the Federal Building’s Second Avenue Plaza and down the long red-brick stairway to First Avenue along the Marion Street sid
The STAR THEATRE
(First appeared in Pacific, Feb. 10, 1991)
The sign on the Madison Street side of the Star Theatre reads “Continuous Vaudeville.” The general-admission price of one dime bought a seat for eight acts, featuring performers such as ragtime pianists and jazz singers – AI Jolson appeared at the Star in 1907 – and lantern-slide shows illustrating ballads sung by nasal tenors.
The acts were frequently changed. When Seattle’s John Considine, who bought the Star in 1905, signed an act he liked, he could keep the artists at work for more than a year, packing costumes and instruments from coast to coast into scores of theaters he owned or booked.
In 1911, the Star was eclipsed when Considine opened the Orpheum, a grander vaudeville stage two blocks up Madison Street at Third Avenue. This, however, was not the end of theater on the east side of First Avenue between Marion and Madison streets; the Star’s space was converted for motion pictures, first as the Owl Theatre and then as the State Theatre.
In 1885, George Frye had opened his namesake opera house in this same block. It was the best stage north of San Francisco. The last performers to strut this site were strippers. During World War II the New Rivoli Garden Theatre was popular with servicemen. The closure of the Rivoli in the late 1950s marked the end of burlesque in Seattle, and the end of theater on this block. In its place – and all others on the block – the Henry M. Jackson Office Building opened in 1974. (Historical photo courtesy U.W. Libraries, Special Collections.)
The PIPERS on FRONT STREET
(First appeared in Pacific, Oct. 28, 1984)
Front Street couldn’t have been a more appropriate name for First Avenue before the tum of the century. The historic scene, taken in 1878 or ’79, shows Elliott Bay at high tide lapping up against the timber retaining wall that held the street high and dry above the waterfront. This, was Seattle’s first major public work – the regrading of Front Street from a stump-strewn, ravine-ridden path to a filled-in, smooth road with guardrails and a sidewalk promenade.
The photo was taken from a balcony above Maddock’s drugstore at the northeast comer of Front’s intersection with Madison Street. The ” now” shot was taken from the second floor of a brick building which replaced the drugstore after the 1889 fire. (Something we will prove only when we recover it.)
In the far right of the older photo is the balcony of the Pontius Building. The great fire began in the basement. It and the Woodward Grain House (the building that holds the photo’s center-right) were both built on piling. In between them is a gIimpse of a Section of Henry Yesler’s wharf and mill.
Posing in the photograph’s lower left corner are A.W. Piper; his son, Wallis; and their dog, Jack. As the proprietor of the Puget Sound Candy Manufactory, Piper was very popular. He lived in Seattle making candy and friends for 30 years. When Piper died in 1904, his obituary was an unusually good-natured one. He was remembered not only for his great candy and bakery goods, but for his artistic abilities and pranks. “He could draw true to life,” said his obituary, “could mold in clay, cut stone . . . His Christmas display was noted for its Originality, humor and beauty.”
The candy-maker also was unconventional. A religious Unitarian, he also was a socialist member of the Seattle City Council. Many remembered him for being a successful practical joker as well. Once, he mimicked Henry Yesler so convincingly at a public dance that the real Yesler ran home to construct a sign which read, “This is the only original Yesler.” The same could have been said for Piper.
GRANDEST STAGE NORTH of SAN FANCISCO
(First appeared in Pacific, May 5, 1987.)
Several landmarks formed Seattle’s early skyline, the effect advertising the city’s new urban confidence of the mid-I880s. The most formidable in this view is the mansard roof line of the Frye Opera House. When it was completed in 1885, George Frye’s opera house was the grandest stage north of San Francisco. It was modeled after the Bay City’s famed Baldwin Theater, and dominated the northeast corner of First Avenue and Marion Street.
Kitty-corner from the opera house and above a grocery store, the YMCA quarters are marked by what appears to be a banner. The Y moved into this spot in 1882 and out in October 1886, and so this scene dates from sometime in 1885 or ’86. Across the street from the Y, with its own high-minded sign, is the Golden Rule Bazaar. Just above the bazaar and behind the opera house is the Stetson Post Building at Second Avenue and Marion Street. When the Post building was built in 1882 it was the most fashionable address in Seattle.
The mansion with tower and cupola to the right of the Stetson Post is the Stacy Mansion at Third Avenue and Marion Street. This lavish pile of Second Empire architecture lasted much longer than anything else in this scene. In the 1920s, having escaped the fire of 1889, it was pivoted 90 degrees to face Marion Street and became Maison Blanc, one of Seattle’s legendary restaurants. Unfortunately, it was damaged in a lesser fire in 1960.
With its landmarks, what also sets this scene apart are the two sailboats in profile in front of Budlong’s Boathquse. They were rentals from the popular boathouse. In 1886 the Puget Sound Yacht Club was established here.
The Great Fire in 1889, which started at the southwest corner of First and Madison in the far left of this scene, destroyed Frye’s Opera House and practically everything else showing west of Second Avenue.
FIRE STATION No. 1
(First appeared in Pacific, Jan 5, 1992)
The ornate brick façade of Seattle’s first dedicated engine house faced Columbia Street west of Second Avenue. It was built in 1883 to house the fire department’s Washington No. 1 – most likely the steam fire engine posed here with its crew.
Earlier, the department’s other engine, the smaller man-powered Washington No.2, was also housed here in a barn. In the summer of 1882, when No.2 attempted to answer an alarm on the waterfront – sans horses – the weight of the rig dragged the men holding its pole down Columbia street and into the bay. Fortunately, both the firemen and the fire engine were pulled from the water with little injury.
By the time of the city’s fire of 1889, the Seattle Fire Department had a half~ dozen pieces of apparatus, but only one, No. 1 on Columbia Street, was horse-drawn. The ornate brick station that No. 1 left on the afternoon of June 6 to fight the “Great Fire” would not welcome it home. Of the 30-some city blocks destroyed that night, all those south of Spring Street and west of Second Avenue, including this one, were razed.
The PROSPECT From the FRYE OPERA HOUSE
(First printed in Pacific, July 16, 2000.)
What this scene lacks in photographic qualities it makes up with architectural highlights. Landmark gables, towers and steeples surmount the blotches, thumb prints and dark recesses of the photographic print. The view looks south-southeast from an upper story of the Frye Opera House at the northeast comer of Front Street (First Avenue) and Marion Street.
Included here is much of Seattle’s first residential neighborhood – the area east and northeast of Pioneer Place (Square). At this time, in the late 1880s, business was still centered at the square. It also ran through the four blocks of Commercial Street (First Avenue South) that extended south from Yesler Way as far as King Street. There, until the mid-1890s, development was stopped by tideflats.
The largest landmark showing here is the Occidental Hotel on the far right. Built in 1883 in the flatiron block (now home of the “Sinking Ship Garage”) facing Pioneer Square, it was expanded east to Second Avenue in 1887 as we see it here. One of the oldest structures – perhaps the oldest – is far left: the Methodist Episcopal Church built in 1855 near the southeast comer of Second and Columbia. In 1887, the congregation moved two blocks to a new sanctuary at Third and Marion and sold its “White Church” -Seattle’s first – to a new proprietor who moved the building two blocks to Third and Cherry and reopened it as a saloon and gambling house.
The centerpiece here (near the center) is the fire station with the bell tower and ornate brick facade facing Columbia Street between First and Second avenues. This was the home of the horses, apparatuses, and firemen who for want of water pressure proved so ineffective during the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. Everything west of Second Avenue in this scene was destroyed, including the fire station.
Above: Most of the structures in this view up Front Street (First Ave.) north of Madison St. in 1886 would be consumed in the city’s Great Fire of 1889. The fire started at the Southwest corner of First and Madison. Below: The Alexis Hotel, on the left, and the 20-story Waterfront Tower, on the right, are landmarks in the six-block Waterfront Place, first developed in the early 1980s.
FRONT STREET, 1886
(First appeared in Pacific July 26, 1992.)
The landmark in this scene – the “finest theater north of San Francisco” – is implied. From its fourth-floor roof, the Frye Opera House was an obvious perch from which to look down on Front Street (First Avenue).
The opera house was opened in 1885; this view northwest across the intersection of First and Madison to the waterfront was photographed probably in the summer of 1886. This was the 10th anniversary of the city’s first major public work, which regraded Front Street north of Yesler Way.
Also in 1886, the U.S. Post Office Department reprimanded the Northern Pacific Railroad for regularly holding up (for 22 hours) Seattle mail in Tacoma, the railroad’s company town. The department awarded Seattle the southern terminus for mail collected from communities to the north of the city – a role previously Tacoma’s. Despite the Northern Pacific’s best efforts to neglect or outright inhibit use of the “orphan road” railroad line that ran between the two cities, commerce across it was increasing rapidly.
The northern end of that Seattle spur appears here. This is a rare view of the “Ram’s Horn” track that snaked along the waterfront north of King Street about as far as Pike. It was the trigger for sustained bellicosity between waterfront land owners, shippers and public officials who wanted to get around or under it.
The following year it would be surpassed by a straighter trestle of the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad (SLSE), which ran north from the waterfront to Interbay and, eventually, to Canada on what is now part of the Burke-Gilman Recreation Trail. Together the “Ram’s Hom” and the SLSE were the beginning of Railroad Avenue, the wide swath of timber trestles that is now our waterfront.
FIRST AVE. North Thru MADISON STREET
(First appeared in Pacific, June 22, 1986)
Although several decades separate our “now” and “then,” not much has changed. Indeed, this First Avenue block between Madison Street (in the foreground) and Spring Street is one of the best-preserved in the city. This lucky situation is the result of some unlucky happenings.
The first of these was the Great Fire of 1889, which razed to a rubble this intersection. Then, before the elaborate post-fire rebuilding could make its way up First Avenue from Pioneer Square, the street (and the nation) suffered another setback: the economic crash of 1893.
In 1897, First Avenue finally enjoyed some fortunate attention when thousands of travelers came crashing through Seattle en route to the lavish hardships of the gold fields in the north. First Avenue was built up from the wealth of the gold rush, and it shows. The three elegant buildings on left, historically the Globe and Beebe buildings and the Hotel Cecil, are all the satisfying 1901 creations of architect Max Umbrecht. In this photo they are brand new, showplaces along what was for a bief time one of the busiest blocks in Seattle. But this elegant energy was short-lived. For all the terra cotta tiles, fluted pilasters and arched bays lavished on these facades, behind them it was primarily a strip of workingmen’s hotels serving the rougher businesses of the waterfront.
The economic crash of 1907, although not as bad as 1893’s, hit this avenue particularly hard. It never really rebounded – never, that is, until now. And the irony of First Avenue’s years of neglect is that it was thereby preserved. (A reminder: this was written a quarter-century ago.)
It was because the Globe Building, on the left, was for years the home of a penny arcade that its savior, Cornerstone Development Co., could renovate it as the centerpiece of its six-block Waterfront Place project.
Here, between Madison and Seneca streets, Cornerstone has saved five architectural delights, including the Globe which is now the European-styled Alexis Hotel. Cornerstone’s one exception on First is its 20-story Watermark Tower at Spring Street. And this is but half an exception since the sculptured tower with its art deco touches and cream-colored tile skin emerges from within the preserved terra cotta facade of the 1915 Colman Building.
A real exception to this ornate First Avenue story is the simple two-story brick structure on the right of this week’s historical scene. Although it is one of the oldest buildings in Seattle, put up soon after the fire of 1889, its longest continuous occupant is still there. This year (1986), Warshal’s Sporting Goods celebrates its golden anniversary at First and Madison. (In that quarter-century since, Warshal’s has gone missing and the corner has been developed to greater heights.)
The EXCHANGE BUILDING
(First appeared in Pacific, Jan 10, 1999)
Architect John Graham Sr.’s Exchange Building is one of the graces of local architecture – a modest grace. Facing Marion Street, its great front facade is not shown off as it might have been fronting Second Avenue or looking out to Elliott Bay across First Avenue. Since the opening of the Federal Office Building in 1974 it looks demurely across Marion Street into the fed’s greater but less alluring north façade.
In his contribution on Graham for the U.W. Press book “Shaping Seattle Architecture,” Grant Hildebrand, a professor in the School of Architecture, comes to the mildly restrained conclusion that the Exchange Building is perhaps Graham’s finest work. Hildebrand finds it “an engaging play of Art Deco motifs” and delights in its “all-over massing, but especially in its street-level treatment and its lobby.”
The jewel-like arches at the entrance to the main lobby off Second Avenue are evident in this view. (What follows was written for the clipping included directly above, and not the photograph exhibited above it.) The American flags adorning City Light’s street fixtures are grouped with signs, which read – certainly – “Exchange Building,” but also seem to read “Grand Opening.” Most likely this dates from 1931, when the landmark was new. More evidence: Most of the windows are still without shades, and many of the rooms seem empty.
Graham was born in Liverpool, England, in 1873 and came to Seattle in 1901. A few of his other works are the Frederick and Nelson Building, The Bon Marche, the Dexter Horton Building and, immediately south of the Exchange Building on Second Avenue, the Bank of California. A small portion of its classical front shows here. To quote Hildebrand once more, Graham’s “work was significant . . . because in playing a major role in the making of downtown Seattle, it was invariably executed with a sure and sensitive hand.”
The GARDEN OF ALLAH
(Appeared in Pacific first on Feb. 1, 1998)
Although these two scenes (if we had the “now” in hand, which we don’t for now) were not figured with a surveyor’s chain, a bet that they were photographed from within a few feet of one another is as good as the likelihood that this organist could accompany Jackie Starr, right, in her dosing number. The sheet music, with the title “Oh! What It Seemed To Be,” shows between organist Jimmy Baker and drummer Earl Steves.
The historical scene was photographed a half-century ago on – to use the full title of the book from which the photo was taken – “An Evening At The Garden of Allah, A Gay Cabaret in Seattle.” So, as her closing number perhaps suggests, the elegantly dressed and coifed Starr is not a she but a he.
The Garden began as a Prohibition speakeasy in the basement of the old Arlington Hotel. In 1946 it reopened primarily for the postwar, high-camp performances of mostly female impersonators who, like Starr, learned their art in vaudeville. Resembling Gypsy Rose Lee, Starr once filled in for her so convincingly in a Music Hall performance that the sophisticated New York audience was fooled.
The Garden, which lasted 10 years, was also a sanctuary for Seattle’s gay population. First Amendment rights to comedy, love songs and bawdy routines (tame by today’s standards) were “guaranteed” by police payoffs.
The contemporary scene was shot in the library of Harbor Steps’ new high-rise apartments on First Avenue. Skippy LaRue was a friend to whom Jackie Starr left the photographs used throughout Don Paulson’s remarkable book. With University of Washington associate professor Roger Simpson’s creative help, Paulson shaped his hundred-plus interviews with Garden performers and regulars – including LaRue – into a Columbia University Press publication, which won the Governor’s Writers Award for 1997.