Seattle Now & Then: "Before Seattle Rocked"

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Left to right, Alice Stuart, Bill Sheldon and Dallas Williams at the Pamir Folksingers cabaret on “the Ave” in 1962. (Courtesy Alice Stuart)
NOW: Forty-nine years later Alice is still singing professionally, sometimes with the same Martin D-18 guitar she carried with her into the coffee houses of Seattle in the early 1960s. Beside her is Kurt Einar Armbruster holding a copy of his latest book, “Before Seattle Rocked.”

Jean and I recently met Alice Stuart and Kurt Einar Armbruster on the University District’s “Ave.” in front where the Pamir House – featuring “variety coffees” and folk singing – might have been had it not been replaced by a parking lot more than forty years ago.

Two lots north of 41st Street, Alice led us from the sidewalk thru the parked cars to the eloquent spot where she sang and played her resonant Martin D-18 guitar one year short of a half-century earlier.  It was near the beginning of a remarkable singing career for the then 20-year old folk artist from Lake Chelan and blessed with a beautiful voice.  She still uses it regularly.  (This past year Stuart was on stage “gigging” an average of nearly three times a week – often with her band named Alice Stuart & The Formerlys.)

Alice Stuart is one of the many Seattle musicians that author-musician Kurt E. Armbruster splendidly treats in his new book “Before Seattle Rocked.” The index of this University of Washington Press publication runs 25 pages and covers most imaginable music-related subjects in our community’s past from Bach thru Be-bop to the Wang Doodle Orchestra. This author has a gift for interviewing his subjects.  Stuart expressed amazement at his elegant edit of what she thought of as her “rambling on” about her long career.

Armbruster’s first book, “Whistle Down the Valley” (1991) was built on interviews with railroad workers in the Green River valley.  His second book “The Orphan Road” took a difficult subject, Washington’s first railroads, and unraveled its tangles with wisdom and good wit.   The “Orphan” is easily one of our classics.  Now with “Before Seattle Rocked” Armbruster’s place is insured among those who chose important regional subjects that waited years for their devoted revelators.

Armbruster is a “proud member of Seattle Musicians’ Association, AFM Local 76-493.”  Among other instruments, Kurt plays the bass for music of many kinds including rock and pop.  The book’s dedication reads, “To Ed ‘Tuba Man’ McMichael (1955-2008), a working musician.”


A couple more shots of Alice Stuart and her guitar:

Alice with her Martin D18
One of a kind

Anything to add, Paul?

Yes Jean.  Directly below Ron Edge has added a cluster of relevant extras with a link to a blog contribution that appeared here first on July 9, 1911.  (Just click on the photo of the WW2 war bonds rally at the corner of 45th and University Way.) It features several items touching on University District history, many of them also on “The Ave.”   Following the Edge link, I’ll insert a few other related features and photos from diverse sources.



(Remember, if you wish, to CLICK to ENLARGE)


The Pamir House as captured with a tax photo on May 11, 1960. (Courtesy Washington State Archive, Bellevue branch)
Ads appearing in the Seattle Times that include minimal one column displays for the Pamir House. The ads on the left date from July 8, 1960 and those on the right from February 4, 1961.


And now for something completely different. Seattle developer James Moore's adver in The Seattle Press for Dec. 1, 1890 promoting his new BROOKLYN ADDITION, the first name that survived for the years before the University of Washington became Brooklyn's neighbor and ultimately changed the neighborhood's name.


Above:  The University District’s “main street” 14th Avenue was renamed University Way by contest in 1918, or about nine years after this record of the street and its then principal intersection at 42nd Street was photographed.  (Courtesy Dan Kerlee)  Below:  A few of the structures in the historical view do survive in the “now’ although most of these have been “modernized” with new facades like the buildings on the far right at the southeast corner of University Way and 42nd Street.


Now often called simply “The Ave”, University Way was first platted in 1890 as Columbus Avenue.  Two years later an electric trolley was laid along its centerline to help sell lots in the new neighborhood (then still known as Brooklyn) but also to prepare for the daily delivery of students when the University of Washington fulfilled its plans to relocate there in 1895.

This postcard view looks north on the Ave to its intersection with 42nd Street, which the students soon learned to call “University Station” for the waiting shed built at its northeast corner, and also for the familiar bark of the trolley conductor.  “The Station”, for short, quickly become the center of neighborhood activity, and with the transfer of the old Latona Post Office to the northwest corner of the intersection in 1902, Columbus and 42nd had a second direct reason to be so called.

A dozen businesses crowded to all sides of the intersection in 1905.  Three more, including the district’s first bank, opened in 1906.  By then the Station was also the off-campus stage for fraternity initiation rites. Freshman were directed to sweep the street in front of any woman crossing it, and perform as sidewalk mimes acting out the business being done inside the storefronts.  Also in the summer of 1906 the intersection had its own musical accompaniment when the University Station Band played from a pavilion built beside it.

In preparation for the summer-long1909 Alaska Yukon and Pacific Expo (AYP) on the university campus, a second trolley track was added to Columbus, AKA 14th Avenue, and the street itself was paved with asphalt in the early fall of 1908.  During the AYP the Station’s commercial dominance was temporarily deflected one and two blocks south on 14th, closer to the Expo’s main gate on 40th Street.  And after the AYP the center of the district’s business life jumped north to 45th Street and 14th Avenue.  When the post office joined in this move, businesses near 42nd first complained but then pleaded for at least a sidewalk letterbox on the Station corner.


Looking north on University Way from 45th Street before the long block was developed for business, and still an avenue for often palatial fraternity houses like the Beta House showing right-of-center.
The BETA HOUSE ca. 1910
The same "Ave" block north of 45th street after its development with storefronts. Linkletter, the photographer, was the district's principal professional photographer for many years.
Still at the northeast corner of 45th and the Ave, the University National Bank was built in 1913 on the site of the S.A.E. Fraternity.
From the Merry mid-1920s - if memory serves . . .
The tide of pedestrians visiting a University District Street Fair is released momentarily across 45th Street. The bank on the corner is here still an Interstate, but is now and long since a Wells Fargo. (Unless I have missed any recent financial crisis changes.) Both banks have covered or hidden the bank's original terra-cotta tile ornaments at the corner, in part, with flashing electric signs. (Unless and again I have missed any recent financial crisis changes.)
In the 1990s - early - I had it in mind to write a history of the Ave. It developed into an unpublished narrative for which I handled the years through World War Two and Walt Crowley took it from there. He was then working on his personal memoire of the 1960s - published by the U.W. Press - and so was primed to write a modern Ave. short history. The little book, however, was never published. The forces behind it either expired and/or fled. Here Laura V. helps with both soliciting "informants" and selling books and videos. That is the old VHS version of Seattle Chronicle on the table next to Seattle Now and Then Vol. 2. For quite a few years we were part of that fair - and the one in Fremont too.


On the twelfth of May, 1940 gas-powered busses replaced the then 48-year-old trolley service to the University District.  Here two months later in July, we look north on the Ave through its intersection with 45th Street. After the trolley tracks were removed the rough center of the street was exploited as a temporary parking strip while the curb lanes were reserved for moving traffic the busses included.  On August 11, trolleys returned to the Ave but they were maneuverable trackless ones.  In this scene their overhead wires are not yet installed.

The Ave got its cosmopolitan advantage in 1895 when the University arrived beside it.  In 1940 U.W. English Professor Frederick Padelford described University Way as “the silver chord” or “vital connecting link between the life of the campus and the life in the community . . . where town and gown mingle to their mutual advantage.”  And by Seattle standards life on the Ave has always been extraordinary.

In the nearly 63 years that separates then above from now (in 2003) all the same structures on the west side of University Way north of its main intersection at 45th Street have survived. (And continue to in 2011.)   However all the 56 listed tenants (including the apartments) on this west side of the street have changed and most of the uses have changed as well.  By example, gone from 1940 are G.O. Guy Drugs, Buster Brown Shoes, the Diamond 5 Cents and $1.00 Store, Brehm’s Delicatessen, VandeKamp’s Dutch Bakery, Mode O’Day Women’s shop, Mannings Coffee Shop and the Egyptian Theater. Gone but still remembered.

Looking south on the Ave. from 45th soon after the tracks have been removed and motorists are still using the rough centerstrip for parking.
Six years later and looking north through the same block as above, the block between 43rd and 45th Streets. The snapshot is part of the evidence accumulated by a special Commercial Club committee formed to study the district's parking problems.

Above and Below: Two more July 1946 Parking Conditions survey snapshots taken from a U.Book Store upper floor.

NEXT: Looking south thru the same block from 45th.  First in 1908 when the 4300 block of 14th Avenue, (University Way) was still as much residential as commercial, followed by another Merry 20’s look south through the intersection with 45th Street.

Again, south on the Ave, this time from the front door of the bank and showing the band new trackless trolley that replaced the streetcars. The date is Aug. 11, 1940.
The University Book Store has not yet made its 1925 move from Meany Hall to the east side of the Ave. in this block (on the right, or not on it). The book store shows up in the next scene taken from nearly the same prospect. (Courtesy, MOHAI)
The University Book Store can be found on the right in this merry scene, ca. 1925. (Courtesy MOHAI)


The Main Gate to the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition (AYP) on the University of Washington campus was sumptuously set looking west on 40th Street from the east side of 15th Avenue. E.  After the Exposition the entrance on 40th was developed for driving onto the UW campus.   (Historical photo by A. Price)

At the main gate, 1909


Here is where most visitors to the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition got their first inkling for what awaited them within in the way of edifying instruction or cheap thrills.  And these ordinarily conflicting emotions may have been enjoyed together when crossing the threshold beneath a gateway that could have been erected for Caesar’s return.

The photograph looks west across Puget Plaza and over the shoulders of sculptor Loredo Taft’s bronze statue of the American Caesar, George Washington, left-of-center. (Washington was later moved one block north and now looks west on Campus Parkway.) To the sides of the gate and through its three arches can be glimpsed the confusion of commercial signs and small shops on 15th Avenue hoping to pick up a few dimes from the fair visitors.  Included are the AYP Laundry, a KODAK store, and a big billboard (far right) promoting Charles Cowen’s University Park Addition.  This is mildly ironic for Cowen was one the boomers for beautifying the University District in preparation for the exposition.

The bandstand on the far left is busy with musicians – perhaps AYP regular, Wagner’s Band.  AYP expert-enthusiast and bassoonist Dan Kerlee notes that the exposition campus was generally alive with music – live music.

The date may be Sept 18, for a banner stretched above 15th Avenue on the far side of the gate has that date printed large at both its ends.  September18th was Exhibitor’s Day with lots of prizes promised.

Early hysterical rumors that the fair was too expensive for families was answered with a Seattle Times editorial, which claimed that for two dollars a workingman could take a family of four under this gateway and still have fifty cents left “for ice cream, soda water, peanuts or whatever they may desire.”  For comparison the Times also noted “There are many men in Seattle and every other city who live on 20 cents a day – ten cents for trolley car fare and ten cents for lunch.”

The main gate to AYP seen from University Way with part of the College Inn on the left.
The College Inn was built at the northeast corner of University Way and 40th Street in time for the 1909 APY Expo, although this view dates from a few years following the fair.
College Inn on the right and looking north on the Ave circa 1924.



(First appeared in Pacific, March 28, 1999)

This symmetrical structure that, it seems, is still under construction was a temporary feature of the 1909 Alaska Yukon and Pacific Exposition. The summer-long fair temporarily remade the University of Washington campus and also stirred the University District. This looks north along the centerline of Brooklyn Avenue from near what, since 1950 has been its intersection with Campus Parkway. The temporary trolley station was designed to handle the throngs expected to visit the fair.  This terminus was only three blocks from the main entrance to the fair at 15th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 40thStreet.

The full message of the signs emblazoned on the south walls of the waiting sheds is revealed in another photograph recorded on the same occasion. The sign on the left reads “TO CITY Via Eastlake Ave. & Broadway – Save Exact Change Ready, No Change Given At Turnstile.” The sign concludes “Get Change Here.”  “Here” is the little window showing at the far left. The sign on the right offers an alternate route to the city by way of Wallingford and Fremont avenues.

One landmark survives.  The church steeple rising at the middle of the “then” scene tops the University Methodist Sanctuary, at the southeast corner of Brooklyn and 42nd Street. Later the steeple was removed and replaced by a neon-lit cross, which the University Methodists used in advertising themselves as the “church of the revolving cross.” Eventually the congregation removed its cross, and moved to its present home nearby on 15th Avenue Northeast. The old church, however, has survived as a mixed commercial-spiritual property.



(First appeared in Pacific, May 4, 1986)

The old Showboat Theater on the University of Washington campus was recently called “a distant derivation of a derivation of a derivation of the riverboat.”  That description was offered by Ellen Miller-Wolfe, coordinator of the local Landmarks Preservation Board [in 1986]. It may be that lack of architectural purity which will eventually doom the sagging Showboat. It is scheduled to be demolished soon.

When or if it bows out, the Showboat will leave a legacy of fine theater and personal stories. (It is said to be haunted by the ghost of its founder Glenn Hughes, a man once known on the English-speaking stage west of Broadway as “Mr. Theater. “)

The theater’s opening night, Sept. 22, 1938, was a banner-draped, lantern-lighted, elegant black-tie setting for the old farce, “Charlie’s Aunt.” One of the showboat’s best remembered offerings was the 1949 production of “Mrs. Carlyle, ” written by Hughes and starring Lillian Gish, the silent screen star and stage actress.

Opening night with Lillian Gish on the right.

The theatrical variety and often professional quality performances that six nights a week moved upon the Showboat’s stage were a far cry from the fare of the old ”’mellerdrammers” that played the real showboats of the Mississippi River days. Chekhov, Thurber, Sophocles and, of course, Shakespeare all made it onto Seattle’s revolving proscenium stage. And some of its players were Frances Farmer, Robert Culp and Chet Huntley (who later switched careers to the theater of national news).

The original design for the Works Progress Administration-built “boat” came from another member of the UW’s drama faculty, John Ashby Conway, who envisioned it being occasionally tugged about Lakes Washington and Union for off-shore performances. Instead, for its nearly 50 years [by 1986] it has been in permanent port on Portage Bay, supported, for the sake of illusion, a short ways off shore on concrete piling.

The Showboat seen across Portage Bay on the right ca, 1946. The fated Fantome on the left. (We'll attach some of the Fantome's story later - once we find it.)

[In 1the mid-1980s the destruction of the then unused but not sinking showboat was forestalled for a time by a group called SOS (Save Our Showboat).  Many of its members once acted on its stage and have left their sentimental shadows there.  As I recall it was long after an SOS denouement that, as if in the night, the Showboat was razed to below its waterline.]

The Showboat mid-1980s.


Meany Hall, for years the U.W.’s primary auditorium, was built for the Alaska Yukon and Pacific Exposition held on campus in 1909.  After the regional earthquake of April 29, 1965 twisted its foundation and loosened its cornice the old hall was torn down.   It was replaced by a new Meany Hall with the 1968-69 makeover with red tiles (hence its nick name “Red Square”) replacing the green sward that once faced the old hall.


Meany Hall on the University of Washington campus was – and still is – named for a red headed history professor who arrived in Seattle as a tall and slender 15 year old.  Edmond Meany’s elaborate and legendary connections with the University begin ceremonially with his graduation from it in 1885.  Six years later as a member of the Washington State Legislature he was the primary political mover behind the University leaving its downtown site on Denny’s Knoll in 1895 for its new “Interlaken” campus.

In 1906when a committee of Seattle’s most prominent boomers visited the school with a request to make it over for the 1909 Alaska Yukon Exposition (AYP) it was the by then Professor Meany who welcomed and promoted them.   The campus was given over to the Expo in part to get some funds out of the ordinarily reluctant state legislature for new permanent buildings.  The largest of these was the auditorium seen here.  A mere five years after the AYP the school’s regents broke tradition and reluctantly renamed the auditorium for the still very alive Edmond Meany after the students refused to call it anything else.

The long front steps of Meany Hall were the school’s ceremonial stage.  Here class pictures were recorded and it was here also on an October night each year that the venerable “keeper of traditions” lighted only by torches led freshman in a ceremony that from the year 2003 may seem fabulous: the recitation of the Ephebie Oath.  With upraised hands the new students led by Meany dedicated the education they were about to receive from the people of the state to the service of the state and of society.

A 72-year-old Edmond Meany died quickly in this campus office from a stroke in 1935.  By then he also had a hotel and a mountain named for him.


TWO FAVORED RESTAURANTS on the AVE in their time.

The European Pastry Shop, nearly across the Ave. from the Pamir House, below in 1994 and above with a tax photo from 1955.   Many intense conversations have passed across its tables or been digested with its pastries.  (Top pix courtesy of Washington State Archives, Bellevue Branch.)

The LUN TING RESTAURANT, long a cherished destination on the Ave. and very near the University Book Store.   Both are tax photos with the dates scribbled on them.

Just north of the Lun Ting and beside the old Academic Goth facade of the University Book Store in 1950. It was soon after given a modern glass curtain face and expanded south through these shops.
Late 30's tax photo of the Ben Franklin Thrift Market that was converted into and for the 1940 opening of Varsity Theatre on the Ave. and still across it from the University Book Store.

Follows the storefront directly north of the Varsity Theatre, first in the late 1930s and then in 1996, showing a typical modernizing that followed for many of the original ornate facades on Ave addresses.


[Here we will return Victor Lygdman’s look east from the Freeway Bridge construction zone toward the University District and campus during the winter of 1961-62.  We do so that the reader (aka you) might search within for the back west facade of Mean Hall on campus.  This photograph, with a caption, appeared first on Friday last as part of the most recent posting for Seattle Confidential.  Best to CLICK THIS ONE TWICE!]


One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: "Before Seattle Rocked"”

  1. Having grown up in the Hawthorn Hills area in the early 50’s and prior to that on 42nd St. NE, I have many fond childhood memories ot the “U” district and especially the 45th Ave. N.E. & University Ave.”The Ave” intersection with the Edmund Meany Hotel on the N.W. corner. As a young child I recall the Santa Claus parade on NE 45th that my parents would take my brother, sister, and me to each year at Christmas. What wonderful memories I have of those days back in the early 50’s. You’ve done a tremendous in capturing the “U district” history and the photos that you’ve provided are wonderful. Great job!

    Best regards, Bob LaMay

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.