Seattle Now & Then: The First Presbyterians

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: M.L. Oakes, Seattle’s prolific “real photo postcard artist,” recorded this interior of Seattle’s First Presbyterian Church most like when it was brand new, or nearly, in 1907. The church was located at Seventh Ave. and Spring Street, and there the congregation has stayed. (Courtesy, John Cooper)
NOW: The modern sanctuary, which replaced the classical one of 1907, was designed by Seattle architect William J. Bain Jr., and completed in 1970 on the same footprint.

Saturday, Dec. 14, 1907, a Seattle Times page two headline announced that members of Seattle’s First Presbyterian Church “Will Listen to First Sermon in Half Million Dollar Edifice Tomorrow Morning.”  The paper claimed that the new octagonal sanctuary would “seat 2,500 comfortably,” and the congregation’s principal preacher, the tall Tennessean Mark A. Matthews, explained that “there will be no pews for rent, and persons who are not identified with the church as members will be given seats the same as the oldest members of the institution.”

He might have sold tickets.  On the Monday following, the Times described the “immense audience” that swelled not only the sanctuary but the neighborhood around it.  The streets were “congested for hours” and five thousand were turned away.  The enthusiasm was predictable.  With his sensational sermons, the charismatic and suitably confident Matthews was the biggest show in town.  Since his arrival in Seattle in 1902, he had built First Presbyterian into what was routinely described as “the largest Presbyterian church in Seattle.”  Sometimes this was adjusted to “in the world.”

Monday Times coverage of the dedication was printed on page three, while on the front page was another Matthews story that was so foul – it was about two quail – that it now seems fishy.  Headlined “Divine Eats Forbidden Birds,” the story describes Matthews “quietly” asking a waiter at the Rathskeller Cafe if he might be served for lunch that same day some quail. Somehow the protracted event was witnessed by the city’s Game Warden.  After “two nice hot birds” were served and enjoyed by the cleric, Warden Rief collected the forbidden bones for evidence and arrested the waiter with the likely name John Doe.  Rief left no doubt that he thought the Divine was “equally culpable with the waiter” but, he compassionately told the Times reporter, if Mathews “acts properly in the matter I may not prosecute him.”


The back wall of 1st Presbyterian Church's loft

Visiting the sanctuary of First Presbyterian, my guide pointed over my shoulder at an enormous, vibrant stained glass window, located at the back of the choir loft.

The full monty

It was donated anonymously by a Boeing chairman in the early 60s.

Evidence for this, I was told, lies in the red pane to the right of Jesus’ foot, which evidently sports the faint image of a Boeing jet, but eludes me.

The red pane on the right, it's claimed, contains the image of a Boeing jetliner

Can you make it out, Paul?

No, Jean, I do not see it.  Perhaps it requires an even greater enlargement that the one you provide above.  If you have time and talent to blow it up real good perhaps a 707 will materialize.  Will you try it?

I will indeed, Paul.

Maximum detail

Sadly, Paul, I still can’t see it. Even though my grandfather, Lewis G. Randal, was a Presbyterian minister, I have long-since lapsed. Can your old post-Lutheran eyes see it any better?……

BUT WAIT! I went to the wrong red pane – the plane is much more evident than I’d assumed. Even an agnostic could see it, Paul!

Something springs to mind here – faith in things unseen? The blind leading the blind? The mile high club?

Btw, anything to add?

Yes, Jean, our gracious friend and contributor Ron Edge is providing some links to other features that have appeared in these pages that relate – however remotely – to this week’s feature.  Thanks Ron.  After those I’ll gather up some other subjects that have sat in these or other pews.


In the first years of the 20th Century three collections of caricatures of local VIPs were published, and First Presby’s principal pastor got into two of them – a local record for a “man of cloth.”   Top one is from “Men Behind the Seattle Spirit, The Argus Cartoons,” published by Argus editor W.A. Chadwick in 1906.  The Argus was a long-lived tabloid.  I remember it still from the 1970s.    The second cartoon dates from 1911 and is pulled from “The Cartoon, A Reference Book of Seattle’s Successful Men with Decorations by the Seattle Cartoonists’ Club.”  Frank Calvert was the editor, and yes there are no women represented in either collection.

(DOUBLE CLICK to read the text.)


Matthews arrived in Seattle in 1902, and was soon demonstrating his talents for promotions, which included frequent insertions of his sermons and other lessons in local publications.  Here are two examples.  The first is copied from Pacific Northwest, the tabloids Nov. 1903 issue, and the second from The Seattle Mail and Herald, from May 23, 1902.

(DOUBLE CLICK to read the text.)



Seattle Mayor Hi Gill (right) and Mark Matthews (left), especially during the former's prelude to impeachment, were combatants regularly exposed in the local papers. Here for some unexplain reason they share the Smith Tower's observation platform with a unnamed couple that are perhaps betrothed.


Above:  A procession led by Archbishop Tikhon of San Francisco prepares to carry the church’s relics to the altar during the Dec. 19, 1937 consecration of the then new and unfinished St. Nicolas sanctuary on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)  Below:  Jean Sherrard’s contemporary repeat looks east across Thirteenth Avenue near mid-block between Howell and Olive Streets.


(First appeared in Pacific Dec. 13, 2007)

When the St. Nicholas congregation consecrated their new cathedral on December 19, 1937 it was not quite completed.  The accompanying photograph of that day’s procession led by Archbishop Tikhon of San Francisco reveals the tarpaper that still wraps most of the sanctuary.  Church historian Sergie Kalfov explains that the brick façade was added sometime later in 1938.  The sprightly and surviving entryway was also constructed then.

The five cupolas springing from the roof symbolized Jesus Christ and the four evangelists.  Kalfov notes that a church with seven cupolas might stand for the seven sacraments, and so on.  Ivan Palmov, the architect, was also responsible for the St. Spiridon sanctuary in the Cascade Neighborhood.

Both congregations primarily served Russian immigrants, beginning with those that fled the 1917 revolution, when the church in Russian was persecuted and the Czar Nicholas II and his family assassinated.   The Cathedral was dedicated to the memory of the Czar, but its name also refers to the fourth century “wonderworker” St. Nicholas the bishop of Myra in what is now Turkey.

What separated the members of St. Nicholas from those of St. Spiridon was, in part, the former’s continued devotion to the Russian monarchy.   This past May 17th the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russian and the Russian Church, after nearly 90 years of separation reunited in Moscow.  Kalfov explains “St. Nicholas was the first Cathedral to a host a pan Orthodox service shortly after the signing of the Act, where over 14 local Orthodox clergy served for the fist time in such a service.”

The congregation’s 75-anniversary celebration continues until May 22, another St. Nicholas Day.


Above & Below: The obvious continuities between this week’s photographs are the monumental twin towers of St. James Cathedral, upper right, at 9th and Marion and far left the unadorned rear west wall and south sidewall of the Lee Hotel that faces 8th Avenue.  Judging from the cars, the older scene dates from near the end of World War Two. The weathered two-story frame building at the scene’s center also marks time.  It was torn down in 1950 and replaced with the parking lot seen in the “now.” (Historical photo by Werner Lenggenhager, courtesy of Seattle Public Library.)


In 1949 architects Naramore, Bain and Brady began construction on new offices for themselves at the northeast corner of 7th Avenue and Marion Street. Their new two-story building filled the vacant lot that shows here, in part, in the foreground of the older scene.  Consequently if I had returned to the precise prospect from which Werner Lenggenhager (the historical photographer) recorded his view ca. 1947 I would have faced the interior wall of an office that was likely large enough to have once held several draughting tables.  Instead I went to the alley between 7th and 8th and took the “now” scene about eight feet to the left of where the little boy stands near the bottom of the older view.

That little boy is still younger than many of us – myself included – and he helps me make a point about nostalgia.  The less ancient is the historical photograph used here the more likely am I to receive responses (and corrections) from readers.  Clearly for identifying photographs like the thousands that Lenggenhager recorded around Seattle there are many surviving “experts.” And more often than not they are familiar not only with his “middle-aged” subjects but also with the feelings that may hold tight to them like hosiery – Rayon hosiery.

Swiss by birth Lenggenhager arrived in Seattle in 1939, went to work for Boeing and soon started taking his pictures.  He never stopped.  Several books – including two in collaboration with long-time Seattle Times reporter Lucile McDonald – resulted and honors as well like the Seattle Historical Society’s Certificate of Merit in 1959 for building a photographic record of Seattle’s past.  The greater part of his collection is held at the Seattle Public Library. For a few years more at least Lenggenhager will be Seattle’s principle recorder of nostalgia.


Above and Below: St. Edward’s Chapel held the northwest corner of Columbia Street and Terry Avenue between 1904 and 1912.  It served as the temporary sanctuary for the Catholic see during the development and construction of the St. James Cathedral.  Cathedral School, which took the place of St. Edward’s, still holds the corner.   Historical photo courtesy of the Archives of the Archdiocese of Seattle.


In what may be the single surviving photograph of the two together here stand the Cathedral and the pro-Cathedral — the former towering above and behind the latter.  (The contrast is made the more impressive by the Cathedral dome which collapsed in the “big snow” of 1916.)

As its name by type suggests, the “pro-Cathedral” was built as a temporary home for worship while the new St. James Cathedral was being constructed.  It was designed by James Stephen, a Seattle architect better known for the many plans he created for public school during his term as the Official School Architect for Seattle Public School during the first years of the 20th Century.

Of course, the Catholic pro-Cathedral also had a proper name.   A centuryago – this coming Saturday, Nov. 13, 2004 – Bishop O’Dea dedicated St. Edward’s with “full rights of dedication” not typical for a sanctuary so small and short-lived.  It was named for the English King who was canonized in 1008, with the added connotation that the Bishop’s first name was Edward and the martyred monarch was his patron saint. Edward O’Dea moved his see from Vancouver to Seattle in 1903.  By then Seattle was established as the center of Washington State urbanity and the more likely site for the construction and financing of a Catholic cathedral for the region.

About 200 parishioners attended the dedication of St. Edwards pro-cathedral. Only a year later (less one day) on Nov. 12, 1905 an estimated 5000 were on hand to watch their bishop bending beside a temporary altar helping with the laying of the St. James cornerstone.  The Cathedral was itself was dedicated in 1907 and five years later the pro-Cathedral was razed and replaced with the Cathedral School seen here in the “now.”


Above:  The landmark Epiphany Episcopal Church at 3719 Denny Way in the Denny-Blaine neighborhood was built in 1911 from designs by Ellsworth Story, a member of the parish.   Courtesy, Epiphany Episcopal Church. Below: In order to see around a tree and through the parish landscaping the contemporary photo was recorded from a position somewhat closer to the sanctuary.


(First appeared in Pacific, Jan. 15, 2007)

The city’s boom years of the early 20th century was accompanied by a proliferation of services and institutions into Seattle’s new neighborhoods.   This included the churches and this example, the Episcopalians in the Denny-Blaine neighborhood.

Often the idea for a new church was seeded by members of an older or pioneer parish that was founded in the central business district.  As Mary Henry, Epiphany Episcopal’s church archivist explains in her essay on the parish, the idea for this congregation was promoted when “Bishop F. W. Keator took a group of Episcopalian men from St. Mark’s Episcopal (later St. Mark’s Cathedral) on a yachting trip in Lake Washington and as they passed the Madrona area, he commented on the need for a church in the neighborhood.”

The date for this waterborne inspiration was August 1907, which makes this the Centennial year for the parish.  The rustic English Gothic chapel printed here took four years more to build and another sixty-seven years to become an early pick for Seattle’s official registry of landmarks in 1978.

The natural charm of this wood and brick sanctuary was created to compliment the style of the “city beautiful” Denny-Blaine Addition, which is appointed with streets that do not march through the neighborhood on a grid but rather curve through the natural topography as it descends to the shores of Lake Washington.  Many of the Denny-Blaine homes are also landmarks, whether listed or not, and a few are by one of Seattle’s most cherished architects Ellsworth Story (1897-1960).  Story was both a member of Epiphany Episcopal and the architect of this its first parish.

Mary Henry’s thumbnail history of the parish is, as noted, on and easy to find.  (It is Essay 7825.)  Later in this its centennial year Epiphany heritage will also get another and longer account with a book history by Barbara Spaeth that is now still a work-in-progress.


Above: Unidentified members of Holy Angels softball team wait and take their turns at bat in this 1937 playground scenes at Ballard’s St. Alphonsus Parish.   Perhaps a reader will recognize one or more of these players. Below: The members of the contemporary St. Alphonsus community posing in the “now” scene are named in the accompanying story. (photo courtesy St. Alphonsus School)


(First appeared in Pacific Oct. 11, 2007)

Thankfully centennials will often stimulate an archival rigor in whatever is celebrating its first 100 years.   Gloria Kruzner, designated parent-historian for Ballard’s St. Alphonsus Parish School, collected boxes and sacks filled with school ephemera including what she describes as “wonderful and historically significant photos” while preparing her history for the school, which Dominican Sisters first opened as the Holy Angels Academy in 1907, the year Ballard was annexed into Seattle.

This snapshot of eleven members of the 1936-37 Holy Angels softball team is, we agree, a wonderful example.  Kruzner has determined that this is a scene from that school term’s “Play Day” program.  But who are the players and might a reader know?

1937 graduate Elizabeth Crisman Morrow holds the bat in the contemporary “repeat” photograph.  She played shortstop on the 1937 team, but doubts that she is included in this bunch of out-of-uniform players, with the slim chance, she notes, that she is the batter in the historical scene as well.

Behind the players both views show the same three-story brick schoolhouse that opened in 1923 for what was by then with more than 600 students the largest Catholic school in the state.   The third floor was reserved for the high school.  From the late 1920s on, only girls were admitted to the Holy Angels Academy, which survived until 1972 when it was closed for want of both funds and students.   The coeducational St. Alphonsus School carried on with lay instructors and since 2004 with the help of new sisters from the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, (SOLT).

In the “now” reenactment SOLT Sister Mirium James convincingly acts the role of catcher on the far left.  Besides the batter-alum, Elizabeth Crisman Morrow, the other members of the Alphonsus community include, left to right, Kathi Abendroth, class of 1955, Maggie Kruzner (daughter of the school historian), Joseph Chamberlin, Megan Chamberlin, Joseph Bentley and Emmiline Nordale who is half hidden beyond the batter. School principal Bob Rutledge is on the right, and climbing the fence, third grader Hanna Nordale takes the part of the “Holy Angel” peering over the fence in the 1937 scene.


Above:  Dedicated in 1926 the Seventh Church of Christ Scientists has survived on the roof of Queen Anne Hill as one of Seattle’s finest creations. (Historic photo Courtesy Special Collections Division, U. W. Libraries.  Negative no:  26935)   Below: Sturdy, intact and wrapped in its own landscape the landmark is yet threatened with destruction for the building of three or four more homes in a neighborhood primarily of homes.  Many of the sanctuary’s neighbors are fighting alongside the Queen Anne Historical Society to keep their unique landmark.


On the late morning of Tuesday, May 22nd last (2007), the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation held a press conference intended to turn the fate of one of Seattle’s most exquisite landmarks away from its planned destruction and towards something else – something “adaptive” like another church, a community center or even a home – a big home.

The Trust not only included the Seventh Church of Christ Scientist on its 2007 list of the Washington State’s “most endangered historic properties.”   It then also used the front steps of this Queen Anne landmark as the place to circle the wagons for statewide preservation.  It was an especially strong sign by the Trust and for its extended family of historians, architects, citizens – including sensitive neighbors of the church – of how cherished is the Seventh Church.

Seattle architect and painter Harlan Thomas (1870 – 1953) created the unique sanctuary for the then energetic congregation of Christ Scientists on Seattle’ Queen Ann Hill in 1926.  It was the year he was also made head of the Architecture Department at the University of Washington, a position he held until 1940.

Although a local architectural marvel this sanctuary is not well know because of its almost secreted location.  The address is 2555 8th Ave. W. — at the Avenue’s northwest corner with West Halladay Street.  Except to live near it or to visit someone living near it there are few extraordinary reasons to visit this peaceful neighborhood, except to enjoy this fine melding of architectural features from the Byzantine, Mission, Spanish Colonial and other traditions.

Since the Trust created it in 1992 the “Endangered List” has not been an immoderate tool in the service of state heritage.  Less than 100 sites have made this register, which is really the Trust’s emergency broadside for historic preservation.


Above & Below:  For a few years in the 1920s a cross revolved fitfully above the corner of the University Methodist Temple.  Since the Methodists moved three blocks to their present home in 1927, the surviving 1907 sanctuary at 42nd and Brooklyn has been used for a variety of sacred and secular enterprises — sometimes together   The Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Seattle purchased the building 1991.  Fellowship offices in the 1902 chapel receive the rising redolence of the popular Thai restaurant in the basement.


(Appeared in Pacific first in the spring – sometime – of 2007)

For a few years after its remodel in the early 1920s the University Methodist Temple at the southeast corner of Brooklyn Ave. N.E. and 42nd Street was known as “The Church of the Revolving Cross.”   The slender spire that had topped the 1907 sanctuary at its corner leaked and was replaced during the remodel with a motorized cross.   The mechanism, however, was less than miraculous.  It frequently broke down and the cross, seen here, was soon removed.

North end Methodists first met in Latona (now part of Wallingford) in the locally vigorous year of 1891.  Seattle annexed new territory as far north as 85th Street in 1891; the first electric trolley crossed the then new Latona Bridge that year.   Also in ‘91 the state chose the northeast shore of Lake Union at Brooklyn for a new university campus, although the school waited four years more to make the move.  By the time the Methodists built their first small chapel here on 42nd beside the alley in 1902 Brooklyn was just as likely to be called the University District.

The larger corner sanctuary was added in 1907, a year made repeatedly noisy by the dynamite used to shape the nearby campus for the 1909 Alaska Yukon and Pacific Exposition.  Besides replacing the spire with the cross, the 20’s remodel also expanded the sanctuary, joining it to the chapel – as seen here.  Still in 1927 the Methodists left this clapboard sanctuary for a bigger brick one on 43rd Street, across 15th Avenue from the campus.

Although born in 1927 church historian David Van Zandt was too young to march with the congregation and its preacher Dr. James Crowther the three blocks to its new home.  According to Van Zandt, Warren Kraft Jr. is the only surviving church member who walked in that Sunday parade.   Kraft was then a two-year-old toddler whose wandering distinguished him at the dedication ceremony.  The first words spoken by Crowther from his new pulpit were “Has anyone seen Warren Kraft Jr.”


Above & Below:  And official local landmark since 1977, in 2004 the Immaculate Conception Parish at 18th and Marion celebrated its centennial.  (Historical photo courtesy Loomis Miller.)


The twin Italianate towers of the Immaculate Conception Church have distinguished Seattle’s skyline from their pedestal on Seattle’s Second Hill (AKA Renton Hill) for nearly 100 years.  The ground was broken for Seattle’s oldest surviving Roman Catholic sanctuary (used continuously for services) in April 1904, and the first ceremonial opportunity that followed was the traditional laying of the corner stone.

The May 15th procession up the hill from the interim parish (in what has since been renamed the surviving Gerrard Building on the campus of Seattle University) to the foundation work for the new parish at18th Avenue and Marion Street was given historical perspective on the spot by diocese Bishop Edward O’Dea.  “It is a pleasure to look back into the history of Seattle . . . Twenty years ago one small church sufficed for the needs or our limited membership and now we have four churches and fourteen priests.”

Remarkably, in less than seven months Seattle’s Catholics were ready to march up the hill again for the dedication on the 4th of December.  The eight-block procession between the two parishes was led by a platoon of local police and Wagner’s Band, the traditional accompanists for Seattle celebrations.  Behind the band marched the Hibernian Knights, the Knights of Columbus, and the Catholic Foresters of Seattle, Tacoma and Ballard — Ballard was then still its own town.  Bishop O’Dea and ranked clergy were fit in carriages to elegantly cap but not conclude the procession. “Following them and lining the route” to quote now from an early history of the parish, “was a motley but magnificent parade of priests, sisters and local gentry all in a jovial spirit.”

For the dedicatory High Mass Father Prefontaine, Seattle’s pioneer priest who arrived here in 1867, assisted Bishop O’Dea.  The day’s celebrants filled what the local press advised was “the city’s largest seating auditorium.”  (The 950 seat record, however,  was temporary.  It was surpassed by more than one of the large theatres that would soon be built downtown.)

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