Seattle Now & Then: Central Business District, ca.1872

Jean here, with a quick note on behalf of dorpatsherrardlomont. Our server has once again become somewhat unstable, preventing the addition of the usual Web Extras which accompany ‘Seattle Now & Then’. We apologize for this disruption of our regular service, but will try our best to get things back up and running smoothly as soon as possible.

(click to enlarge photos)

We preface the unmarked historical view below with this painted one above, because we got a note from a reader (of both the smaller version that appears in Pacific and the larger one in this blog below), asking for some pointers for finding many of the landmarks noted in the text below: for instance, Second Ave., Union Street, the Denny barn, the Methodist church and the the future site of Plymouth Congregational Church’s first sanctuary. Here it is, the marked version. Have the site/server not given us so much trouble we would have added all sort of other pans and details of the neighborhood. Now that will need to come later, and there will most likely be other opportunities to add such stuff then.
THEN: The still forested First Hill, upper left, and Beacon Hill, center and right, draw the horizon above the still sparsely developed north end of Seattle’s residential neighborhood in 1872-73. Second Avenue angles across the center of the subject, and also intersects there with Union Street. (Courtesy, Seattle Public Library)
NOW: Looking south through the alleyway between Pine and Stewart Streets. The rear concrete wall of the Nordstom Rack appears center-left. It was completed in 1907 at the northwest corner of Second Ave. and Pine Street, a ten-story home for “Your Credit is Good,” Standard Furniture.

Here an unnamed pioneer photographer has chosen a prospect on the southwest slope of Denny Hill to look south through what was then Seattle’s “north end.”  This may be the first look from an elevation that was understandably for years after – until it was regraded away – a favorite platform for recording the city.

The photograph was taken mid-block (block 27 of A.A. Denny’s 3rd Addition) between Pine and Stewart Streets and First and Second Avenues.  Jean Sherrard’s now is adjusted to both use and relish the alleyway that runs thru the center of the block.  The historical photographer stood a few feet left, behind (or embedded in) the concrete wall, and somewhat closer to Pine Street.  He was also thirty or forty feet above Jean, for this part of Denny Hill was graded away between 1903 and 1905.

By a mistake of my own I’d considered 1875 a most “deserving” date for this subject, but I preferred 1876, a boom year for Seattle, and an annum that “explains itself” with Seattle’s first city directory.   I was wrong by three or four years.  The date here is the blooming months of either late 1872 or early 1873, and the evidence is in two churches – one showing and the other not.

Second Avenue angles through the center of the scene.  On August 24, 1873 Plymouth Congregational Church dedicated its first (of now four) downtown sanctuary on Second a little ways north of Spring Street.  It would – but does not – appear above the roofline of Arthur and Mary Denny’s barn, here right-of-center at the southwest corner of Second and Union.

Appearing – but barely – also above the Denny barn, but to its right, is the Methodist Protestant Church near the northeast corner of Second and Madison.  In 1871 its pastor Daniel Bagley gave it a “remodel,” a second floor with mansard windows.  Both additions are showing.

In “This City of Ours,” J. Willis Sayre’s 1936 school textbook of Seattle historical trivia, Sayre makes this apt point about the Second Avenue showing here. “In the seventies it had narrow wooden sidewalks which went up and down, over the ungraded surfaces, like a roller-coaster . . . The street was like a frog pond every winter.”


I thought I’d throw in a related picture with a short sketch. City alleys provide us with back doors, service entrances, garages – but also occasionally reveal darker aspects. Looking for this week’s ‘now’, I took several photos up and down the alley between Pine and Stewart, and snapped ( and eavesdropped on) two kids, boyfriend and girlfriend, just arrived from a small town by bus. Something heartrending here, with that little pink backpack bobbing down the alley.

Kids in the alley

Anything to add, Paul?

This time Jean’s question is rhetorical.  We have had such a time with this blog and its “server” that it is ordinarily impossible to get on it.  The chances are that what I am writing here will not be saved.  I’ll keep it brief.  It seems we must find a different server.  This may take a while.  Again, if any of your have suggestions in this regard please share them with us.  Meanwhile please check the blog daily – if you will – but know that nothing new might appear, and  you too may not be able to open it, for instance for browsing through past features.   Hopefully we will escape these problems early in February, and come back with a site that is confident and stable.


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