Seattle Now & Then: Seattle Center Corral

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Pioneer photographer Theodore Peiser’s record of the U.S. Army corral in the future Seattle Center dates from the summer of 1900. The tower of the old Mercer School at Valley Street and 4th Avenue can be found above the hat of the cowboy nearest the scene’s center. (Photo courtesy University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.)
NOW: On the Memorial Day afternoon of this year’s Folklife Festival, Jean Sherrard looks north and a little east with his back to Seattle Center’s International Fountain. It is a prospect close to the one Peiser took 112 years earlier.

The lawn just north of Seattle Center’s International Fountain has a sundry history that is unlike your own neighborhood.  David and Louisa Denny, the youngest of Seattle’s first pioneers who were not children, picked their claim here in the early 1850s, and “proved” it, in part, with a “North Seattle” garden that became an important source of produce for Seattle.

The Denny farmhouse was at 3rd and Republican which is about one long horseshoe’s throw to the north from where respectively in this “then” and “now” government horses are corralled and youth mingle.  The land east from here to the south end of Lake Union was mostly open, and so helpful for farming.  It was also dotted by willows, had some swampy edges and thereby provided both water for cabbages and beets and attracted ducks for hunting.

After the growing family built a larger home, also on Republican but nearer Lake Union, their farm was tended by Chinese immigrants and was then popularly known as China Gardens.  The army took possession in 1898 with a short-lived corral meant to supply horses and mules to the then glorified wars with Spain first and then the Philippine Insurrection.

In 1903 the Denny claim was outfitted with Recreation Park, the first stadium for the Pacific Coast Baseball League’s Seattle Siwashes, a name meaning Indians that was lifted from the Chinook trade jargon.  Most likely the Siwashes did not know that they were playing ball on grounds that long before bats swung at balls were used by the local Duwamish Indians for potlatches, their gregarious ritual for gaining prestige by giving gifts.

Somewhat similarly, Civic Auditorium, the first modern addition to the Potlatch Meadows and the Denny garden, was born of Pioneer Square saloon-keeper James Osborne’s $20,000 gift to the city in 1881.  Osborne stipulated a “civic hall” and with 50 years interest, his bequest both gave him posthumous prestige and Seattle its Civic Auditorium.  It was Seattle’s 1930 start on both Century 21 and a City Center on a unique neighborhood now long given to planting, performing and play.


Anything to add, Paul?

(To read Paul’s detailed response, please click HERE!)


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