Seattle Now & Then: the Jackson Street Regrade

(click photos to enlarge – sometimes TWICE!)

THEN: Lowering the grade of Weller Street with eroding blasts of salt water was one of the early goals of the Jackson Street Regrade. Much the resulting mud was directed west to the tide flats, helping to raise and reclaim them for saleable real estate. The construction scaffolding for the Frye Hotel at 3rd and Yelser is seen on the left. Courtesy: John Cooper
NOW: Jean’s repeat was taken from the second floor balcony of the Kinon Community Health Care center in the Eng Suey Sun Plaza at the southeast corner of Eighth Ave. and Weller Street.

Although named for Jackson Street, the city’s second most ambitious regrade (First, was the razing of Denny Hill.) extended blocks south of what is still the neighborhood’s principal thruway: Jackson Street.   Nearly six miles of streets and about fifty-six city blocks were involved – twenty-nine of them excavated and twenty-seven filled in a “balance” of eroding and collecting.

This look into the reducing work of what the press liked to call “giants” – the cannons blasting salt water sucked from Elliott Bay – was taken from the south side of Weller Street, one of the early targets of the regraders.  The historical photographer looks northwest from near the southeast corner of Eight Avenue and Weller Street.  The canons seen here are moving east – the blast at the bottom – and north – the shooter nearer the scene’s center.  They are carving their way to lower grades at 12th Ave and Jackson Streets, respectively.  Ultimately, with 85 feet cut from the ridge at 12th Avenue the grade of Jackson Street was reduced from fifteen percent to five. The Weller Street statistics are similar.

The June 7, 1908 Post-Intelligencer described two “giants working on Eight Ave in the rear of the Catholic school property.”  The school is Holy Names Academy, originally a formidable landmark with a high central spire that opened on the east side of 7th Avenue, mid-block between Jackson and King streets, in 1884. On June 8, ‘08 the school’s newest graduates, eleven of them, drew a large audience of parents and alums for their baccalaureate.  Everyone understood that within a few days the water canons would be turned directly at their campus and memories.

The same issue of the P-I revealed that school administrators had not yet decided what to do with what the paper agreed was “one of the most valuable buildings in the district.”   Three alternatives were described and all involved moving the school to a new lot.  However, it was an easier backup that was picked.   The building was razed, and parts of it salvaged, or so it would seem from the neatness of it’s dismantling as recorded here.


Hey Paul, happy holidays! Anything to add?

Some few things more about Weller Street, different points-of-view on Holy Names, a jump to the academy’s new home on Capitol Hill, followed by three of for Christmas related features concluding with a seasonal sampler.

Looking north into the city from Beacon Hill, ca. 1885. Holy Names appears about one-fourth of the way into the frame from its right border. The horizon is drawn by Queen Anne Hill thru the center and Magnolia left-of-center. First Hill is closer, and on the right.
Beacon Hill from First Hill with Holy Names at the right. For "timing" this photo may be compared to the one above it. They are close. South school is on the far left.
Holy Names seen across Jackson Street.
Looking west on Jackson from near 9th Avenue ca. 1888. This part of the ridge was lowered nearly 90 feet during the regrade 1907-09. West Seattle is in the distance.
Photographed from at least near Frasch's photo, on top, the view looks west on Weller Street, ca. 1908. Some of the structures included here appear also in the view next in line.
Photographed (or dated) on Oct. 30, 1908 for Lewis and Wiley, the primary contractors for the Jackson Street Regrade. Weller Street is far right - or nearly. This subject looks east from near 5th Avenue, and includes some of the same structures as those in the photo above it. South School still holds on the horizon. (The left half of this pan has - tempoarily - gone missing.)


Holy Names from the Volunteer Park standpipe.


(First appeared in Pacific, Jan. 14, 2007)

A century of greening on the Holy Names Academy campus has half-draped the full figure of this Capitol Hill landmark by architects Breitung & Buchinger.  If the landscape were stripped away we would discover a Baroque Revival plant that has changed very little since the “real photo postcard” photographer Otto Frasch recorded it almost certainly in 1908. The big exception is the tower at the north end of the school, on the left. While a 1965 earthquake did not collapse the tower, it did weaken the structure so much it had to be removed.

The Sisters of Holy Names arrived in Seattle in 1880 and opened their school for girls in a home downtown. In 1884 the school moved to its own stately structure on Seventh Avenue near Jackson Street and remained there until the Jackson Street Regrade (1907-1909) made kindling of the school. Construction on this third campus began in 1906, the cornerstone was laid in 1907, and in the fall of 1908 the school was dedicated. Of the 282 students then attending, 127 of them boarded there. Many came from Alaska, some from “off the farm,” others from distant rural communities, and a few from nearby and yet still-hard-to-reach areas such as Mercer Island.

In 1908 Holy Names served all 12 grades plus a “Normal School” for training teachers. By 1930 the Normal School was closed. The grade school was shut down in 1963, and by 1967, the school also quit boarding students.

Classes may already have begun when Frasch took this photo, but certainly the structure’s north wing (the one closest to the photographer) with the chapel was not finished, and wouldn’t be until 1925. The chapel was included in restoration that began in 1990.



(First appeared in Pacific, Dec.25, 2005)

Considering the mix of reflections and fancy stuff in this elegant window, the reader may miss the “Merry Christmas” that is written with fur sprigs. The letters are attached to a wide, white ribbon that arches from two posts of presents. In the center is a third pile of gifts, including dolls and a cluster of oil lanterns just below the banner bearing the company name, Seattle Hardware Co.

Once a stalwart of home improvements, Seattle Hardware tempted shoppers through these plate-glass windows at First Avenue and Marion Street beginning in 1890 when the Colman Building was new. Like the clapboard structure John Colman lost here to the Great Fire of 1889, this brick replacement was kept at two stories until it proved itself. Eventually, with both Seattle Hardware and the popular grocer Louch and Augustine (predecessor to Augustine and Kyer) at street level, this was one of the busiest sidewalks in town.

When Colman was preparing to add four more floors to his building, Seattle Hardware moved to its own brick pile at King Street and First Avenue South in the fall of 1905. The elegant post-fire neighborhood you see reflected in these windows, of course, stayed put. The Burke Building at Second and Marion, and the Stevens Hotel – seen here back-to-back on the right – were razed in the early 1970s to make way for the Henry M. Jackson Federal Office Building.

In the century since the hardware building grew to six floors, this storefront has been home to a parade of purveyors beginning with Wells Fargo. More recently Bartell Drugs and B. Dalton Books held the corner, and now Starbucks. In the “now” photograph [from 2005], a man holds a sign that reads, “Disabled. Will Work. Navy Vet 78/82 Thanks.”



Earlier this now failing year an old and fine friend Warren Wing died.  Warren was an extraordinary rail fan who both collected and shared his evidences of railroads, trolleys, with a good measure of “Mosquito Fleet” steamers as well.   He was a pleasure to be with, and a fine story teller.   During part of WW2 Warren worked as a chef – aka cook – on an army train that moved around the states carrying soldiers from one camp to another.  After the war he kept moving, working as a postman here in Seattle.  While walking his route in the Green Lake neighborhood Warren happened upon a “customer” playing with a model train in his basement.  It was not the beginning of Warren’s interest in rolling stock but it quickened it.  He started collecting negatives and then published several books from the images in his own collection.   Sometimes we lectured together.  It was a delight.  Three times I featured Warren and examples of his work, while helping spread the word about one of his books.   The last time was in 1998: a copy of his Christmas card that year.  The Pacific clip that came from it is printed next and below it is another Seattle Christmas car, one from 1935.  That too I learned of from the helpful Mr. Wing.   Finally, at the bottom of this, is another look at Warren from an earlier feature, that one on the border of Georgetown.  He was a good and sharing friend.

Warren Wing dated this Seattle Santa Car, December 12, 1935.



(First appeared in Pacific, Dec. 23, 1984.)

When the wife of a pioneer clergyman was asked what she did on her first Christmas Day in Seattle, she replied, “Why it came on a Monday, so I did the wash.”

The first Christmases in Seattle were subdued celebrations that only momentarily interrupted the normal regimen of survival. And there was not much call for gathering around Christmas trees since the trees surrounded the pioneer settlement.  Once the forest had been safely pruned away, however, the settlers began embracing the symbol of Christmas time. The first big community Christmas tree was set up in Yesler’s Hall on Pioneer Square in 1864. It was like a family affair, with almost the entire community (nearly 300 persons) attending the party. People sang carols and retold yuletide stories, and Santa Claus was there with a sack full of presents.

As the town grew, the Christmas celebrations multiplied and moved to the churches. Then Christmas was the most ecumenical day of the year as townspeople paraded from church to church, enjoying the decorations, fellowship and potluck dinners.

By the turn of the century, Seattle had grown too big for citywide ceremonies, and a tree in every home became the tradition. They were decorated with strings of popcorn, ornaments of colored cardboard and tinfoil and covered with candles. Homes were filled with the region’s own vast assortment of yuletide trappings, including mistletoe, and native holly.

The historical Christmas subjects include here are from 1900 or near it. The first scene, above, shows a brother and sister sitting by a tree decorated with cut-out paper figures, tinsel stars and strings of cranberries. It is lit by candles and topped by an angel. With one hand, the daughter presses a toy’ trumpet to her lips and, with the other, hangs on to a stuffed black sheep. Beside her is a tower of blocks decorated with sentimental scenes from childhood. Behind the tree is a painting of Snoqualmie Falls, and on the far left of the photograph are the folded hands of the children’s mother resting on her knees.

Most likely, the photo of the Siblings was taken by George Brown, their father.  Brown was a plumber by trade and also played the clarinet in Wagner’s Band. These are a few of many Brown negatives discovered by Bill Greer, which we have for now a quarter century of use shared with many.

The Brown children have grown some between the top photo, of three, and the bottom one.  The “now” that follows is not of the Brown kids grown up on Dexter Ave., but of Anne and George Luther MacClaren in 1952, who lived on Latona Street, near Green Lake.  Anne especially was an enthused photographer, although her focus was, as here, often on the soft side.

The Sykes family tree ca. 1953. Such an ice-cycle laden tree is what I remember, from the same time, as a proper tree.
A Sykes pet at the door, from a slide captioned, "Mary Xmas to Sable from Alicia."
Northgate Model Train - 1958 (Photo by Lawton Gowey)

A young Father Christmas in Pioneer Square, 1976. Photo by Frank Shaw.
Bus Stop Tree, Capitol Hill, 1976-77, southwest corner of Broadway and Republican, as snapped from my kitchen window above Peters on Broadway.
Lights on at the Arthur Dunn home in Laurelhurst, 1954.
Another Ron Edge clipping, or more accurately one of the Christmas cards from his collection. This one, ca. 1900, features a photograph-painting of Mt. Rainier, that appears to be hand-colored, although faded too. The setting is typical of paintings of the mountain that were set as if seen from the Seattle neighborhoods of Madronna, Leschi and Mt. Baker. Seward Park has been set adrift in order to make an inviting chanel for boats and the eye.


Ivar taking Patsy to see Santa, ca. 1938

[An excerpt from “Keep Clam,” a work-in-progress – still.]

. . .  As The Seattle Star’s Jamie Jamison recalled the Santa episode, “That first Christmas he had Patsy, he dressed her up in a pinafore, put a baby’s lace cap on her head, placed her in a baby buggy and wheeled her up to Seattle’s leading department store (Frederick and Nelson) to see Santa.” It was, of course, Ivar who alerted the press and whom we may thank for the surviving photographs of the performance.  Much later he would bluster, “Of course, a lot of people thought I was nuts, but the newspapers and news wire services gobbled up the story and soon Patsy and I were celebrities of a sort, and customers started flocking down to the waterfront to see the only baby seal in the world who had visited with Santa Claus.”  On his way the “aquarist” wheeled Patsy through the Pike Place Market repeating in reverse the path of reverie he frequently took as a college student on his way to the waterfront after school as he dreamed of one day working on the docks.



One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: the Jackson Street Regrade”

Leave a Reply

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