Seattle Now & Then: Westlake and Thomas

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: In January of 1902, the probable year for this cityscape on Westlake, City Council decided to connect this oldest part of Westlake between Lake Union and Denny Way with the central business district by extending it directly through and upsetting the city grid as far south as 4th and Pike. A Seattle Times clipping from the time and describing this decision is printed below. (Courtesy Ron Edge)
NOW: An early arm of the Denny Regrade reached this corner of Thomas Street and Westlake in 1911 when north of Denny Way 9th Avenue was lowered to nearly conform to the grade of Westlake. The change can easily be detected by comparing the grades of Thomas west of Westlake (to the right) between this week’s “now and then.” (Included below is a feature on the 9th Ave. Regrade of 1911.)
Seattle Times clip from April 9, 1934

This look south on Westlake through its intersection with Thomas Street first appeared in The Seattle Times on Monday April 9th, 1934.  It was used by the paper for it’s then popular feature based on historical photographs and titled “Way Back.”

Except for the location and the date – 1902 – the photo was apparently not “explained” by Roy Chambers, the reader who loaned it to the Times.  So the newspaper’s caption writer gave it some text, which we pass along.  “. . . no motor cars, please note that fine span o’ grays hitched to a load of lumber in front of the drug store.  Across the street was the W.D. Graves grocery store.”

I knew Nellie and William Graves daughter Katherine Graves Carlson, and wrote about her family’s grocery in Pacific in 1988, now nearly a quarter of century ago.  Her parents opened the store in 1902 and lived conveniently in the apartment above their groceries.  The frame storefront was then nearly new, built late in 1901 by F. Haydlauff who lived on Thomas in a home behind the grocery.

In the 1902 photograph there is so much of Westlake’s planked pavement showing that we may wonder if it was not the street itself that motivated the unnamed photographer.  On Jan. 17, 1902 the street department’s crew of seventeen men and eight teams began scraping an “average of 150 loads” of mud a day off of Westlake’s planks.  This, I think, is newer mud.  Later that fall City Council committed to replanking Westlake as far north as Lake Union.  We learn from a Times report of Sept. 3, 1902 that “new planking would only last about two years.”


Anything to add, Paul?   Yes – a selection of past features and photos  from the neighborhood as time allows, beginning with the earlier feature showing the Graves grocery at the southwest corner of Thomas and Westlake.



(First appeared in Pacific March 23, 1988)

Often the subject for this column is the result of readers sharing a picture from their past. This week Katherine Graves Carlson, daughter of the late grocer William Dwight Graves, loaned us a view of her parents’ store at Westlake Avenue North and Thomas Street. The year is 1903 and shows Carlson’s parents, William and Nellie Graves, standing just to the left of the grocery’s front door. The family lived in an apartment above the store but in 1905 moved to a new home on Minor Avenue.

Owning a grocery store in this working-class Cascade neighborhood was a struggle. Credited home deliveries were a common feature of the competitive retail-grocery business then, and Carlson remembers the family giving up the store because her father “was too generous” to those unable to pay for groceries.  (It seems that “Cascade” is a name now rarely used for this strip along Westlake, although one still hears and uses it two blocks east on the plateau or bench of higher land that once was home to the Cascade Primary School – at Pontius and Thomas – that gave its name to the neighborhood.)

Cascade School looking northeast from Pontius and Thomas.

The Graves family lived in the neighborhood until young Katherine reached the sixth grade in Cascade School. They moved to the Green Lake area, where her father went to work for another grocer, Charles Gerrish.

One's shopping list

In the “now” photo (when we find it), Carlson stands to the left of the telephone pole in what she believes is her first visit to the site since the family left the neighborhood in 1914. The clapboard store with its wood-frame windows, sun awning and second-floor front bays, has been replaced by a nondescript commercial property, typical of today’s Cascade neighborhood. A comparison of the two views also shows the radical effects of the Ninth Avenue Regrade project. In 1903, the grade on Thomas Street between Westlake and Ninth Avenue North (to the right of the store) was quite steep. Now the climb is barely an incline.

Not as satisfying a finding the original photograph of Katherina and Lois posing at the corner.


Before laying out a few more past Pacific features, we will put up a potpourri of maps, photos, and such with captions. (For these maps and clippings it is best to CLICK them TWICE.)

This may be the earliest map of pioneer claims stacking from about Yesler Way (Mill Street) at the bottom nearly to the north end of Lake Union. The stack goes so: Boren, Arthur Denny, William Bell, David Denny and Mercer. In the early 1980s I had a studio in the ABC Coop at the southwest corner of Bell Street and First Ave. Consulting a claims map then I remember that the line dividing A.Denny's claim on the south from William Bell's on the north ran through that corner. I'll be safe if I date this hand-drawn artifact from the 1850s. It was "found" and copied in the Map Department (or division) of the U.W library.
In the mid-1850's - before the mostly anxious war between some of the settlers and some of the Indians ignited late in 1854 and inhibited bushwhacking surveys in the forests hereabouts - it was our earliest turn for federal surveys to start measuring the natural features hereabouts. This map dating from about 1855 is typical. It is accompanied by journals or field books which include detailed descriptions of what the surveys came upon while dragging their chains along their chosen meridian lines. (Including Meridian Ave. north of Lake Union.) The known claims are marked - this aspect can be compared to the map above it - and features like platted blocks, Indian trails, including those between Portage Bay and Union Bay, upper-right, and the revealing road that leads from the village to the south end of Lake Union by keeping to the waterfront - or just above it - and circling around the north end of Denny Hill rather than heading directly to the lake through the forest and to the east side of Denny Hill. We suspect that the road kept to the beach and turned from it at what we call the Belltown Ravine*, a break in the bluff that allowed one to reach Bell's claim above the waterfront. This was also just north of Denny Hill. These maps can be found at the Federal Archives out on Sandpoint Way. (Call first.) *Beginning in 1883 and continuing slowly into the teens, this ravine was filled in so thoroughly that there is no longer any sense of it. I discovered it while doing research for the Port of Seattle. The problem then was some bones that were discovered during the construction of the Port's new facilities at the foot of Bell Street. Searching old maps first - including topo maps - and photographs too I found the ravine that reached all the way from the beach to First Avenue. By some variation of the right of discovery, I named it.


An early 20th Century adver promoting investment in Graves Grocery neighborhood.
The "Big Funnel" to Lake Union seen from the eastern slop of Denny Hill and recorded by Arthur Churchill Warner in 1888, the year he also climbed another "hill" - Mt. Rainier - and was the first one to carry a camera to the top and expose it. I think that is Seventh Ave. in the foreground, although it might be Sixth. Beginning in 1882 with the Californian Watkins, there are a dozen or so photographs taken from the hill to the lake through what remained of the 19th Century. It would be a swell adventure for someone to compare them all for precise calls on the several photographer's prospects or positions. The big factory shed marks Western Mill. Westlake passes through the greater collection of structures on the right. The intersection with Thomas is right-of-center - somewhere.

We look next into the Big Funnel from the side and about forty years later – in the late 1920s.  A photographer – probably James Lee – from the Seattle Department of Public Works took this panorama of the Westlake Valley with his back to Boren Avenue near John Street.   The pan was taken in preparation for the last of the Denny Regrades, the excavation between 1929 and 1931 that continued razing the hill to the east of 5th Avenue and also at lower grades to the north of Denny Way.  In that last effort, for instance, it lowered Denny Park, which appears on the far side of Westlake and 9th Avenues at its original grade. (click this pan twice.)

Terry Avenue reaches Denny Way far right. A cliff on the far (west) side of 9th Avenue separates it from Denny Park. The southern slope of Queen Anne Hill is far right. The street, right-of-center, reaching 9th Avenue from Westlake is John Street. The west side of the 200 block on Westlake extends to the right (north) but does not quite reach Thomas Street and so misses including the structure at its southwest corner, the old Graves Grocery, once-upon-a-time. Here we will introduced a now-then feature about the earlier 9th Avenue regrade but without the "now" photo until, again, it is found. By now the truth of these missing "nows" makes a nearly obvious point that after 40-plus years of shooting local streets, structures and some of the people that have used them I have taken little time to organize my own recordings, and concentrated instead on understanding and finding older ones.
The 9th Avenue Regrade looking north from near Denny Way. Denny Park is on the left. Note the structure with the fanciful tower on the right. It is near Thomas Street.


(First appeared in Pacific, July 20, 2003)

This is a rare look into the regrade upheaval at the northeast corner of the by now long lost Denny Hill.  To either side of the digging on 9th Avenue the slope of the doomed hill can be followed as it descends to Westlake Avenue off the photograph on the right.  Denny Park is at the top of the bluff on the left.

Part of the technique for this street work is revealed in the picture itself.  While the workers, bottom-right, extend the rails for the narrow gauged train on a new bed, the dark steam shovel is removing dirt from the elevated old rail bed.  The old line of railroad ties runs up from near the center of the bottom border of the photograph where seven or eight of the timbers have not yet been moved to the new bed.

This circa 1911 public work was done for territory and from momentum.  First the momentum.  One of a few odd jobs done in the general neighborhood of the hill, this 9th Avenue Regrade was separated by several blocks from the Denny Regrade’s grander reductions.  In 1911 a dozen years of cutting away Denny Hill came to a stop on the east side of 5th Avenue, and left a cliff there that was considerably higher than the one seen forming here on the left or west side of 9th Avenue.  The territorial motive here was to widen the Westlake Business Strip to a width of at least two relatively flat blocks between 9th and Terry Avenues.

Like the cliff along 5th Avenue this one survived until the rest of hill was scraped away between 1929 and 1931 when the Denny Hill neighborhood from Pine Street north past Thomas Street was at last set at the present elevations of the extended Denny Regrade.   But for twenty years between 1911 and 1931 the cliff on the left separated 9th Avenue from the grass of Denny Park above it and closed off Denny Way at 9th Avenue as well.

Looking north over the 9th Ave. Regrade from Denny Park at its original grade. Note, again, the fanciful tower.

Short of hiring a cherry picker or climbing a light pole there was no way to faithfully repeat this historical scene with the contemporary photograph (as will be evident after we find and attached it.)  Although both views looks south on 9th Avenue from Denny Way – or near it — the “now” shot looks north across Denny Way while the historical photographer is either standing on Denny Way or has his or her back to it. (Historical Photo courtesy Municipal Archives.)

Looking north on Westlake and thru John Street and rather early. The tower is on the left and still near - very - Thomas Street. Its position is "refined" in the panorama three images up. It sits oddly somewhat near the center of the block bounded by Westlake, 9th, John and Thomas. The commercial structures on the west side of the 200 block on Westlake begin with the billboards and end, again, with what was not so long before this image was recorded still the home of the Graves Grocery at the southwest corner of Thomas and Westlake. Not counting now the Graves corner, the two two-story structures showing here on the two hundred block's west side can be found as well in the panorama - three pixs up - from the late 1920s. This street study may have been captured as evidence for good public works. We will next put up two Seattle Times early 20th Century clippings that concern public works on Westlake, including the big project that in 1906 would link this part of it north of Denny Way with a new cut south of Denny leading directly to 4th Ave. and Pike Street.
A Seattle Times clip from Jan. 12, 1900.
Another Westlake-relevant Times clip, this one from March 6, 1901.

Next, for the most part in the interests of street work, we will take a few looks into the three Westlake Blocks south from Denny Way thru John and Thomas to Harrison Street.

This looks north to and thru the intersection of Westlake and Thomas. The Graves Grocery structure - but no longer the grocery - would be just out of frame on the left. The top of the gas company's tanks on Republican Street peek above the center of the scene. The gaudily-framed billboard right-of-center is one of a few such that were put up in the late teens, a safe and speculative date for this scene as well. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)
Looking north from Thomas Street, circa 1936 with the pavement looking rough. The old Graves structure would be just out of frame to the left. The style of the car approaching Thomas reminds me, at least, of Bat Man. Does any reader know its name? (click to enlarge)
Looking north thru Westlake's intersection with Denny Way a few years following the last of the Denny Hill regrades and so also the lowering of Denny Park to its surviving grade. The park is just out of frame to the left.
Westlake looking south from Harrison St. in 1932. The date is figured by the adver on the rear bumper of the car on the right. It recommends voting for Vic Meyers, the Jazz Orchestra leader, for Mayor. Meyer's highjink-soaked political career is nicely summarized by The former Graves Grocery can be found left-of-center. Ernst Hardware is far right, and next to the Washington State Patrol. The pavement looks good here and so the street may have been, again, recorded as a show-off. Not the arrangement of traffic bumps near the bottom-center marking the space "reserved" for passengers boarding trolleys. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)
Westlake looking south, again, from Harrison, this time showing off the east side of the avenue. Here Vic Meyers is still standing for mayor on the bummer of the car parked on the right in front of Ernst Hardware.
A WPA tax photo from the late 1930s shows 225 Westlake - mid-block between Thomas and Harrison - playing a part in the avenue's service as one of Seattle's auto rows.
Another tax photo, this one from 1958 with 225 now the home for Scientology and covered with a new siding - perhaps asbestos.
Another late-30s tax photo this down (south) the block a few lots to 215 Westlake and more services for motorists.


A nearby Graves competitor on Dexter.


(First appeared in Pacific, 3-16, 1986)

In the early part of the 20th-century, city government hired free-lance photographers to document local streets.  From 1909 to 1911, a professional named Lee shot an impressive series on small businesses including pharmacies, car dealers, grocers and bakers. All of Lee’s storefronts had one thing in common: He shot them from across the street, revealing the sorry state of repairs of early roadways as well as detail of the storefronts. In the above early photo, for example, he turned his camera on its side so that he could include the full height of this clapboard grocery at the northwest corner of Dexter Avenue and Harrison Street. This was dated April 12, 1911.

The store went through a series of owners. At the time the photo was taken, Charles and Martha Snyder owned the store and lived upstairs. Martha continued to live there even after her husband died, and the store was operated by a brother-in-law.

The store might have stayed in business had the highly publicized Plan of Seattle been approved by voters. It called for Dexter to become a widened, tree-lined boulevard anchored on the south by a new Civic Center and on the north by a monumental train depot at the southwest shore of Lake Union. The plan failed at the polls, but one legacy was left. Dexter is still one of the wider streets in Seattle.


The two Seattle Gas tanks behind the Pioneer Denny home were constructed in 1907 when some of the Denny’s fruit trees were still producing.  Built in 1871, the here, in 1911, abandoned and soon to be razed home faced Republican Street, on its north side between Dexter and Eighth Avenues.   Courtesy, Lawton Gowey. Now Caption:  Looking northeast across to a Republican Street between Dexter and 8th Avenues that was lowered considerably during the 1911 regrade.


(First appeared in Pacific, early 2007)

I first stumbled upon the accompanying photograph of David and Louisa Denny’s home in a Seattle Times clipping dated Sept 7, 1911.  The typical stack of headlines to the story is instructive but also melodramatic, and their bark is mildly silly.  They read . . . “Pioneer Home Makes Way to Onward Rush of Busy Metropolis.  Ruthless Steam Shovel Encroaches on Site of Old House Built by Late David T. Denny in 1871. Dwelling was pride of Little Village.  Landmark, Which Falls Latest Victim to Progress, Was Scene of Many Social Gatherings in Days Long Past.”

Louise and David Denny’s home faced Republican Street at the north end of Denny Hill.  The pioneer couple, of course, named it “Republican” for obvious reasons.  Here the street is being lowered about twenty feet below its old grade.  This was their first big home and with its extensive garden both were typically described as “overlooking Lake Union.”  The front door, however, looks south in the direction of the city, although in 1871 it was still far from town and nearly surrounded by a forest that this original pioneer family continued to harvest for many years more.  After 1882 the family could see the largest lumber mill in King County at the south end of Lake Union, and they owned it.

The Denny’s lived here until 1890 when they moved a few blocks west to an ornate pattern-book mansion at Mercer Street and Temperance Street, another Denny street name.  The Republican Denny was also a tea-totaler and by the time of his death in 1903 his political preoccupations were better served, he explained, by the Prohibition Party.  Certainly, the “many social gatherings” in all their homes – beginning with the log cabin near the waterfront foot of the Denny Way – were consistently dry.  (click the below – twice)



(First appeared in Pacific, Feb. 17, 2002)

In 1909, when Alfred W. Clark moved his Club Stables from 2109 Western Ave. to this brick building at 415 Boren Ave. N., he brought his best client with him: Frederick & Nelson. The now failed department store’s own history, “More Than A Store,” describes “a fleet of 28 shiny delivery wagons and 61 prize-wining horses” needed in the early 1900s. Here are most of them.

When it was built, the Club Stables was one of the very few brick buildings north of Denny Way. The Seattle Times reported in a large headline over a picture, “Club Stables Now In Finest Quarters in West.” The Sept. 26,1909, article describes it as standing “in the very heart of the city . . .These up-to-date stables contain ample accommodations for 250 horses, with every safeguard and comfort in the way of ventilation, cleanliness etc. that modern sanitary science can provide . . . An elaborate sprinkler system of the most approved and efficient type . . . is practically an absolute guarantee against serious-damage by fire. The management solicits an inspection at any time.”

I answered the solicitation 93 years later and found the sturdy brick shell tightly closed except for the many broken windows at the rear. A faded sign on the front of the building reads “C.B. Van Vorst Co.” The name has been associated with the structure since at least the late 1930s. Actually, the building’s role as a livery stable cannot have lasted very long after it was built. By 1909 trucks were beginning to take the place of wagons, especially on the increasingly paved city streets. For a time, teams were left to the tougher deliveries over rutted dirt streets and outlying roads.

The Club Stables earlier home on Western Ave. north of Lenora Street.

= = = = =

Western Mill, early 1890s, at the south end of Lake Union and the principal employer for the greater Cascade neighborhood. (Courtesy University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections. Photo by LaRoche.)
Another LaRoche of Western Mill and another courtesy to the U.W. Library. The picture dates from the early 1890s -probably the same occasion as the LaRoche above it - but the map below it is from 1912. It is the same map you can consult for the entire city (in 1912) thru its button on the front page of this blog. We pulled this part to show the point-of-view of the photographer some 20 years earlier.

Finally – for it closing fast again on “Nightybears Time,” – a 1944 full-page printing by The Seattle Times of Seattle’s annexation history, and some good intentions to proof this tomorrow.  (Click TWICE to enlarge)

From the Sunday Times, Oct. 15, 1944.


Follows four Kodachrome slides that search the “Big Funnel” aka Great Cascade neighborhood over Aurora  from the Tropics Motel balcony, May 1967.  The likely photographer was Robert Bradley.

The neighborhood (of our concern) from the Space Needle on May 17, 1968. Photo by Lawton Gowey.




3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Westlake and Thomas”

  1. Paul:

    This is a pretty late response to a post from last June, but I could’t resist. The “Batman” vehicle shown in the 1936 view that looks north on Westlake from Thomas is actually not a car — it is a truck! From 1934 to 1940 the Dodge division of the Chrysler Corporation made a limited number (around 200) of a streamlined truck based on the art-deco styling of the Chrysler and Desoto “Airflow” automobile that was made from 1934 to 1937. While the design on the cars was an aquired taste (didn’t sell well), the trucks look very good — there is an example in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn in Texaco livery, and it looks very impressive.

    As always, I very much enjoy “Seattle Now & Then” — it’s the first thing I look at in the Sunday paper!

    Bob Carney

Leave a Reply

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