Seattle Now & Then: Row Houses on 5th

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: With his or her back to the then still future site of the Seattle Public Library, an unnamed photographer looks south on 5th Avenue thru its intersection with Madison Street. The piles of dirt and temporary small construction in the street may have something to do with building the Madison Street cable railway, which begin giving service in the summer of 1890. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)
NOW: The row houses at the southeast corner survived until replaced in 1934 by a Gilmore service station, which was razed for the 1966 construction of the College Club. The club had lost its old home on 7th Avenue to freeway construction in 1961.

I confess an attraction to “row houses,” and these at the southeast corner of 5th Avenue and Madison Street were one – or six – of Seattle’s best examples.  While they depart from that domestic ideal (often put to rhyme) of a “stand alone home of one’s own,” together they share a cozy community, and show some architectural rhythm as well.
The likely date for this subject is sometime in the fall of 1889.  The leaves have fallen from the tree on the far left but not on the saplings protected along the south side of Madison Street. Those young poplars survived to grow tall and once lined Madison thru its climb up First Hill.  The year is chosen because the oversized Rainier Hotel, which here rises above the roof of the row, was quickly hammered together following the city’s “great fire” of June 6, 1889.  It was meant to service a city that had lost most of its hostelries to the fire.  Here, some of the Rainier’s construction scaffolding is still in place.
The row itself is nearly new.  While the six homes do not appear in a city birdseye that was prepared in 1888 they do receive a careful rendering in one of the glories of Seattle cityscape, a 1891 colored lithograph birdseye.  Also, with six addresses – 912 through 922 Fifth Avenue – it was easy enough to find some renters in this row with a little finger-browsing thru a city directory from 1892.  For instance, insurance agent Frank Beach, his wife (not named) and two daughters, Annie and Nellie (both listed as artists) lived then at 916 Fifth, here the next to last flat at the far south end of the row.
On March 21, 1941 Nellie Beach was interviewed by this paper in anticipation of a performance by Polish piano virtuoso Artur Rubinstein for the Ladies Musical Club’s 50th anniversary celebration.  We learn that Nellie Beach was not only one of the founders of this locally acclaimed club, but performed the first number in its first performance fifty years earlier when she was still living with her family here on 5th Avenue.  Her mother was pleased, explaining in 1891, “I hope it will spur you on to keep practicing.”  Nellie Beach taught piano in Seattle for forty years.


Anything to add, Paul?

Yes Jean – more Rows, Duplexes and other habitats.  With the help of Ron Edge we will first link six previous front pages from our blog.  We chose them because the are relevant, at least at the front or near it.  Other associations will creep in that were apt for the story when it first ran, but may not be for these Rows, and Duplexes and such.   We will also give a brief introduction to each of the six.
We begin with a feature that first appeared here on Dec. 4, 2010.  It shares another boom-time example of a Seattle row house, one on Western Avenue in Belltown.   I remember building this one around row houses – a few more of them.
The next link gets going with a wreck on the Madison Street cable railway.  Its immediate relevance is the street.
The third link brings back – as introduction – a story done here about the view from Harborview Hospital to the Central Business District.  It first appeared here (on the blog)  on Jan 15, 2011.
The fourth link begins with the Sprague Hotel on Yesler Way, and appeared here first on Nov. 28, 2009.
Number Five – counting Links – takes a look into Belltown from Denny Hill, and was first published in the blog on May 3, 2009..
Finally – for this elaboration – our sixth link takes us again to the top of Queen Anne Hill for a feature that first appeared here on Oct. 9, 2010.


(First appear in Pacific, Oct. 1, 1995)

Between Seattle’s “great fire” of 1889 and the First World War, the sparsely developed neighborhood between downtown and the top of First Hill was rapidly filled in. Rental homes, duplexes and wooden terraces or row houses accommodated the migration that swelled the city’s population sevenfold in 25 years.

As with these duplexes on Columbia Street just west of Fifth Avenue, there was great variety among them. Strip the Victorian rooming house in the center of this scene of its ornaments – the balusters, posts, extended eaves, trusses and the decorated terra-cotta tiles at the peak of its roofline – and a large shed would remain. But their owners seemed required to give their renters, however transitory, some touches of architectural grace. Here these concerns end at the roof, which is covered minimally with what appears to be unrolled tar-paper. To the right of the telephone pole a front porch sign reads “The Home Light Housekeeping Furnished Rooms.” The two white dots below it are milk bottles.

The duplex on the left is upscale from its neighbor, with a roof of cedar shingles and a brick foundation. (The center structure is most likely built on posts hidden behind wooden skirts.) All these residences use horizontal clapboards, but the house on the left frames its siding at other angles below and above the windows in the building’s front bays. The popular Victorian ornament of fish-scale shingles appears where the bay window swells between the first and second floors.

A glimpse of the brick south wall of the new First United Methodist Church is evident just above the gable, upper right, of the center duplex. The congregation still worships there. In 1951, they dedicated their new Parish House on the site of these old duplexes.

With a little searching the row on Columbia can be found in both the above photo from circa 1891-2 and the view below taken from the Hoge building at Second and Cherry when it was topped-off in 1911 or soon after.  The landmarks on the horizon above are, to the left, the Central School on the south side of Madison between Sixth and Seventh Aves. (now the freeway) and, center, the Rainier Hotel between Columbia, the street that runs up through the scene, and Marion, 5th and 6th Avenue.  It is seen also in the “featured” photo for today – the row on 5th and Madison.  In the view below the hotel has been scraped away in preparation for a mess of smaller buildings.  St. James has been added to the horizon (1907) and still with its dome, which it lost to the “Big Snow” of 1916.  Also filling the bottom-left quarter of the format is the Central Building on the east side of Third between Columbia and Madison.   If you are still searching for the row on Columbia’s north side and west of 5th Ave. you will find them in both images some distance above and to the right of the scene’s centers.


The triplex at Spring and Boren is an example of the distinguished and yet affordable Victorian housing that was typical of Seattle during its boom decades between 1880 and 1910.  Although both sturdy and stately many of these structures were short-lived, replaced with larger brick structures like the apartment house that took the place of 1017, 1019 and 1021 Spring Street.     Historical photo courtesy of John E. Kelly III.


Barely detectable, John E. Kelly Jr., the youngest of the then nine Kelly kids, here sits on the lowest of the steps that lead up to 1019 Spring Street, the center address for this triplex of Victorian row houses.   It is a short row and compared to some it displays only a modest face of ornaments, latticework, shingle styles and recessed balconies.  (However, it may have been quite colorful – a “painted lady.”)

Taking the Northern Pacific Route in only its tenth year as a transcontinental, the Kellys moved here from Waterford, New York in 1893 — just in time for the national depression beginning that year.  Still the Kelly’s continued to prosper and multiply with John Senior opening a popular dry goods store downtown.  And John Jr. soon rose from these steps on Spring Street to nurture a Seattle career as an architect.

Next the architect’s son John E. Kelly III continued the family’s talent for professional handiwork with a long career as a naval architect, and a valued activist for heritage with the Sea Scouts, the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society, the Southwest Seattle Historical Society and, thankfully, Kelly-Gailey family history as well.

John “the third’s” mother Eileen, was the daughter of another First Hill household, the David and Elisabeth Gailey family.  While Eileen was attending Broadway High School the Gailey’s bought a hotel, the Knickerbocker at 7th and Madison, and moved in.  The maturing Eileen’s creative calendar included piano lessons with Nellie Cornish and courtship with John E. Kelly Jr. the lad on the steps.

It was during their dating that the couple shared a moment of unforeseen amusement – a brush of domestic kismet — when they determined that four years after the Kelly family moved out of 1019 Spring Street in 1896 the Gaileys moved in and kept it for eleven years before they left to care for their big hotel.


“Bridal Row” at the northeast corner of Pike and 6th.


(Appeared first in Pacific, Feb. 23, 1983)


In 1888 young Dr. Frantz Coe came west from Michigan looking for a practice and found one in Seattle when ex-mayor Gideon Weed, who was also one of the oldest and most respected physicians in town, invited Coe to share his offices. So the 32-year-old doctor sent for his wife, Carrie, and soon they were settled into 606 Pike Street – one of the six newly built and joined abodes that together were called “Bridal Row.”

The Coes, however, were not on an extended honeymoon, for Carrie had brought with her their three children, Frantzel, Harry and their first-born Herbert. Within a year the Great Fire of 1889 would destroy the Weed and Coe medical offices but not the domestic peace along Bridal Row, which was described by Sophie Fry Bass in her book Pigtail Days in Old Seattle as “an attractive place with flowers in the garden and birds singing in the windows.”

Sophie also lived on Pike Street with her pioneer parents, George and Louisa Frye, just across Sixth Avenue from the Coes. The Fryes had moved there many years before when Pike was a path and their back door opened to the forest. In 1890 the corner of Sixth and Pike was no longer at the edge of town, but it was still largely residential. While the central city was loud with the noises escaping from its booming efforts to rebuild itself after the fire, the residents along Pike were still listening to birds sing, sniffing flowers, and some of them like the Fryes were even milking their own cows and gathering eggs.

Around 9:30 on the Saturday morning of September 20, this settled peace was interrupted by what the next day’s Post-Intelligencer called the “Panic on Pike Street.” Both Sophie Fry and young Herbert Coe were witnesses to a wild event that had “passers-by scattering in terror and women relieving themselves with piercing screams.” Sophie Fry Bass recalled how “I heard the chickens cackle loudly and . . .  I shuddered when I saw the cougar cross Sixth A venue; I could hardly believe my eyes.” The cat had killed a chicken in the Kentucky stables a short distance from the Frye home. There it was also shot in its behind and, quoting the newspaper’s account, “enraged and uttering a terrific yell, it bounded the sidewalk and rushed down Sixth Avenue.” It turned up Pike Street and as “the panic spread to the thronged thoroughfare and all pedestrians made a rush for safety, with two great bounds the cougar landed in the yard of Dr. E.H. Coe’s residence.” Nine-year-old Herbert, who was playing on the porch, heard the warning shots and fled inside behind the fragile safety of the front room window. The big cat went to the window and looked back at him with his claws upon the pane. For one long transfixed moment they stared at one another until a man with a 44-caliber revolver emptied it into the cougar. Eight feet and 160 pounds of wild cat lay still in the flowers along Bridal Row.

In this view of the “Row,” Herbert sits atop the fence post. Behind him is the window that kept the cat from him. In front of him is the wooden planking across Pike Street, which Sophie Frye Bass remembered as at times “mighty smelly like a stable, owing to the horses . . . In summer the water wagon went down the dusty planks each day. There was a street sweeper too, and when it came, all would rush frantically to close the windows.”

By 1895 with the encouragement of a very good practice and the steady conversion of Pike Street into a commercial thoroughfare, Frantz Coe and his wife Carrie left Bridal Row and took their children up to a bigger home on First Hill. There an older Herbert recalled he no longer needed to check under his bed each night for the lurking cougar. By 1902 they moved again to Washington Park and into a new home with a view out over the lake.

Another row, this one at the southwest corner of Pine and Sixth. The rears of the Bridal Row parts are showing above left at the northeast corner of Sixth and Pike. They have been lifted above storefronts.

In 1903 Pike Street was regraded all the way to Broadway Avenue, and Bridal Row was put up on stilts and a new story of storefronts moved in beneath.

Dr. Frantz Coe died suddenly in 1904, two years before his son Herbert graduated from his father’s alma mater, the University of Michigan Medical School. On July 15, 1962 the Seattle Times published a feature article titled “Seattle’s Four Grand Old Men.” One of these was the “beloved” Dr. Herbert Coe who by then had for 54 years been an essential part of the Children’s Orthopedic Hospital, including 30 years as its chief of surgical services and ten years as chief of staff.

Herbert Coe died in 1968 at the age of 87. He is survived by his two sons and widow Lucy Campbell Coe, daughter of pioneer hardware man James Campbell. Mrs. Coe recalled for us the details of young Herbert’s confrontation with the cougar and supplied the photograph of Bridal Row. She was born here in 1887 or one year before her future husband’s family settled into Bridal Row.  (Remembering that it is now nearly 30 years since this feature first appeared in Pacific.)

Lucy Campbell Coe at home in Washington Park. I am meeting with her here about 1983. I propped the camera on the fireplace mantle, if I remember correctly. This is one of those wonderfully frequent examples of a subject that is remembered so well - in spite of the camera's position - that it seems much more recent.


Also at 6th and Pike, this time looking south on 6th from the Bridal Row corner and about 30 years later.


(First appeared in Pacific, Jan. 19 1997)

The occasion for this small disaster on Sixth Avenue has eluded me. Neither the records of the city’s engineering department (the photo is theirs), nor those of the fire or water department’s (a hydrant has been broken), nor a search of the daily papers for March 3, 1920 (the date captioned on the negative), has offered the slightest hint. Still, the event was significant enough to call out the city’s photographer to record it.

One flood at Sixth and Pike, however, gives me an excuse to refer to another.

In her delightful book “Pig-tail Days in Old Seattle” – a treasure of local pioneer reminiscences – Sophie Frye Bass, who grew up beside this intersection when Pike was still an ungraded wagon road, recalls how after a rain the streams that once ran across Pike “became torrents.” One stormy Christmas, Sophie took a “pretty mug” she had found in her stocking outside “to play in the water when the swift current caught it out of my hand and carried it away. Evidently it was not meant for me, for it said on it, in nice gold letters, ‘For a good girl.’ ”

Also in her book, Bass, granddaughter of Mary and Arthur Denny, recalls how on a Saturday morning in the late summer of 1890 the peace of this place was suddenly interrupted when a cougar raided a chicken coop and bounded through the intersection, scattering pedestrians along Pike. (The incident described in the feature directly above this one.)  The puma’s Pike was already a mix of residences and storefronts, and Sophie Fry Bass’ streams had by then been diverted. Still, the difference between that Sixth and Pike and this one in 1920, 30 years later, is nearly as radical as that between 1920 and 1997.  (This feature, of course, first appeared in 1997.)


Looking east on Pike towards its intersection with 5th Avenue.


(First appeared in Pacific, Jan 29, 1995)

This flash flood along Pike Street did not come from above, but from below. On the morning of May 3, 1911, a contractor’s steam shovel cutting a grade for Fifth Avenue through the old University of Washington campus sunk its steel teeth into a sizable city water main. In moments the pressure within tore the pipe like a cooked noodle, releasing a geyser at Fifth Avenue’s intersection with University Street. There the flood divided, one channel moving west along University toward First Avenue and the other north on Fifth Avenue, where it split twice more, first at Union and then Pike streets.

This view – complete with wading dog – looks east on Pike toward its intersection with Fifth Avenue. “For half an hour the district between Pike and Madison streets from Third to First avenue was flooded,” reported the next morning’s Post-Intelligencer. “Improvised bridges of planks served to carry pedestrians across the rivers, horses floundered along hock-deep in the yellow waters, street cars left a swell like motor boats and the appearance of things was generally demoralized.”

Damage from this man-made freshet was minimal – a few basements were puddled. The water rarely leaped the curbs, although this sidewalk along Pike seems an exception. At the alley behind the former Seattle Times plant on Union Street, a dike was quickly constructed from bundles of news•papers, preventing the tide from spilling onto the presses. The reporter for The Times was amused by the many “funny situations” created, including the scene “where a hurrying couple avoided delay and kept the feet of a least one dry by the man picking up his companion and carrying her across the small river.”


The diverse row above was ultimately razed for the building of the Yesler Terrace Housing.  The example of the new housing below is not, however, from the same corner at Jefferson and Eighth but from some distance to the south in the main body of the project.  But it was recorded with the project was brand new and a national model..


(First appeared in Pacific, Aug. 5, 1990)

Working for the Seattle Housing Authority, the photographer of this historical view was gathering evidence of an aging neighborhood that soon would be razed for the modern public housing planned by the agency. Harborview Hospital’s bright Art Deco facade offers a contrast to the weathered clapboards of the old homes, and it was the houses, not the hospital, that interested the photographer of the older scene. The professional even has decapitated the hospital’s tower at the top of the view’s original 5-by-7 -inch negative.

The house with the hanging laundry was at the southwest corner of Eighth Avenue and Jefferson Street. The scene was recorded around 1939, the year the city directory lists Florence Pinkerton and Herbert Curtis living in the corner house. Rinosuke Hiroshige lived next door – the home in the middle – and Bernard Brereton lived in the house on the right.

In the window on the far left the afternoon sun reflects from the back of a chair and an elbow it supports. Perhaps either Herbert Curtis or Florence Pinkerton are keeping a watch on the photographer whose big camera is another indication that they will soon be moving.

Homes nearby between Jefferson and James, looking east.
Another (un-joined) row with a glimpse of the Harborview tower upper-left. (Somewhere I have a wide shot from a central business district elevation that puts these in their place, and when I find it I will add it IN THIS SPACE. This view comes from a collection left with me by Lawton Gowey.



Two kinds of row / Above the bluff and down below.

(First appears in Pacific, July 12, 1998)

In the 1890s, the waterfront from Pike Street north to Broad Street was developed into a community of shacks made from scrounged materials, including those deposited by the tides. There was only one break in the bluff separating this squatters’ strip from the Denny Hill neighbors above them. The north entrance to this “Belltown ravine” shows at far left in this scene recorded from the Great Northern Railroad trestle in 1898 or ’99 by Norwegian photographer Anders Wilse. North of Bell Street, a lower bluff resumed and petered away by Broad Street.

Same row of improvised quarters and also taken from the railroad trestle although looking here to the north, and recorded three or four years after the Wilse shot at the top.
A mid-1890s topo-map of the Belltown Ravine. East is at the top, with the row at the bottom.

Photographs of this same section of waterfront recorded in the late 1880s show a native camp of tents and lean-tos. Pioneer and Native American accounts tell of the Duwamish tribe using this spring-fed site as a traditional campground. Here (referring to the top picture of this small beach group) the entrance to the ravine is crowded with the waterfront’s most ambitious grouping of shacks, appointed with their own seawall and flagpole.

The earliest subject in this group, circa 1890. The Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Trestle (1887) is on the left. The view looks north from near Bell Street.
This "repeat" I took in the early 1980s for the subject directly above this one. Much has changed here since.

A Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter who visited this “strange beachcombers’ village” in 1891 noted that “you can hear a dozen languages and dialects. Heavy-faced Indians, black-eyed Greeks, swarthy Italians, red-haired Irishmen and Danes, Swedes and Norwegians with flaxen locks are mingled in this cosmopolitan settlement. The men fish, do longshore jobs, pick up driftwood and lounge in the sun, while the women stand at their doors and gossip, and the children, too young to know social or race distinctions, dig holes in the cliff and the beach, make houses of pebbles and launch boats in the waves.” ,

Beginning in 1903, construction of the north approach to the Great Northern tunnel beneath the city uprooted this beach community, replacing it with more tracks and fill. Soon the ravine was also filled with Denny Hill dirt, which, included at least one native skeleton, discovered last February at this site during foundation work on the Port of Seattle’s World Trade Center.  (This, as noted, was written in 1998.)

{Best to click this TWICE) Several "rows" below and on the Belltown bluff, as seen from Elliott Bay. The green Belltown Ravine is on the right, and above it the Belltown skyline with the Bell Hotel (with the central tower at the southeast corner of First and Battery) and the Austin Bell building next to it, to the right. The front facade of the A.Bell survives in a condo remake of the landmark about a dozen years ago. A glimpse of the "Belltown Row" feature far above with the first pdf link can be seen directly below the Austin Bell facade. And there are other rows to find in this panorama. The "skyline" of the beach community appears just above the railroad trestle. Elliott Ave. curves on a trestle into Bell Street at the scene's center. The Queen Anne horizon is on the left.



Looking north on Third Ave. from Columbia Street. Here are at least two evidences of boomtown stresses, the regrade itself, and the juxtaposition – nearly – of the row houses facing Marion on the right and the new Stander Hotel across Marion, and the Martin Van Buren Stacy mansion at the northeast corner of Marion and Third. Eventually, the mansion would also be “stressed” by change, and turned 90 degrees to face Marion Street, where it served for decades as the home of one of Seattle’s better restaurants, the Maison Blanc.

Looking north on First Ave. from Pike Street, circa 1909.


One of the grander early rows appears on the left of this snow scene from the 1890s with the familiar landmarks of Central School, on the right, and the Rainier Hotel, on the left.  The row faces Columbia Street from its north side between Seventh and Sixth Avenues, now part of the I-5 trench.  The same row appears below – its back side.  This subject is shot from Sixth Avenue looking to the southeast.  The age of it may be estimated by the models of the cars.   It is a Standard station.


Two unidentified rows – above and below – printed from nitrate negatives gone bad and long ago extracted from the Municipal Archive.


A mystery row - to me - but seems or feels like the Martin Luther King Jr. incline. It may also be Tacoma. Someone will know and share.


Fort Lawton Row - officers also need housing.
A modern sort of row - this one near North Seattle Community College (on the byway - rather than the freeway - to Costco.)
Early 1960s candidates for Urban Renewal. Here one of the facing houses has been "treated" earlier to a "war brick" facade, but both were later shaken by that blue-green trim.


Somewhere on First Hill and from the Whittlesey collection of family snapshots.


5 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Row Houses on 5th”

  1. Thank you for the wonderful bits of history each week. In today’s photo there are 6 ladders. What do you think they were for?

  2. Well observed, Anna. However, if you look closer, I think you might find that each “ladder” supports a sapling.

  3. Re “A mystery row – to me – but seems or feels like the Martin Luther King Jr. incline. It may also be Tacoma. Someone will know and share.” — Those are the 23rd Avenue Houses, a designated Seattle landmark (less the Gothic-windowed one on the far left).

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