Seattle Now & Then: The Schmitz Park Arch

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: The Schmitz Park arch straddled 59th Avenue Southwest facing Alki Beach from 1913 to 1953. (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archive)
NOW: Players in the annual “Old Ball Game” at Alki Field break from the diamond to pose for Jean Sherrard at the corner now nearly 60 years without its rustic arch.

In a Seattle Times Classified Ad for August 1913, C.W. Latham, a dealer of West Seattle real estate, asks “Don’t you think it is a good time to come over and select that home site by the seaside?”  Latham’s list of reasons for moving to Alki was its new “$200,000 bathing beach, $60,000 lighthouse, and $75,000 new school.”  And it was easy to reach the beach. Direct 5-cent trolley service from Seattle began in 1908.  The dealer gave no address for his office.  His instruction that it was “near the Schmitz Park Arch” was good enough.

Prolific postcard artist Frasch's 1910 glimpse into Schmitz Park. (Courtesy, Michael Maslan)

The arch may have been better named the Schmitz Boulevard Arch for it was not in the park but rather faced the beach.  In 1908, one year after West Seattle was incorporated into Seattle, the 2,700 foot long boulevard was graded to the park proper, which was then first described as a 40 acre “cathedral” of old growth forest.  In 1908 the German immigrant-philanthropists Emma and Henry Schmitz donated both the park and the boulevard to the city.

Looking down from the back of some higher structure along Alki Ave, this public works photo looks east-southeast over the arch (with urns to its sides) and the tennis courts of the Alki Playfield to the West Seattle horizon. (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archive)

A stripped log spans the arch’s columns made rustic with a facing of river rocks.  The construction is here still a work in progress, for the two additional posts to the sides have not yet been topped with their keg-sized stone flowerpots.  The new Alki School, seen here far left across Alki Field, is partially hidden behind one of these incomplete shorter columns.  The school’s primary classes opened in 1913, also the likely year for this pubic works photograph, which we first discovered in “West Side Story,” the 1987 history of West Seattle edited by author Clay Eals.

Another roadside attraction on Alki made of river rocks (or rounded rocks rolled from somewhere.) Courtesy, John Cooper.

Clay, by now an old friend, along with David Eskenazi, Seattle’s baseball historian, lured Jean Sherrard and I to their annual summer softball game at Alki Field.  Jean and I, in turn, lured their players off the baseball field and onto 59th Avenue West.  Jean explains.

“Herding the two dozen or so cool cats that comprised Clay and David’s annual baseball game/gathering was an amiable chore. We ambled from the diamond to 59th and SW Lander during the seventh-inning stretch, following rousing choruses of “Take me out to the ballgame,” the National Anthem and unanimous sighs of regret at Ichiro’s loss. On this glorious July day, the amenable players, on command and between passing cars, spread themselves across the avenue with one caveat from the photographer: ‘If you can’t see me, I can’t see you’.”  Both David and Clay can be seen.  (They can be seen again below in a manly embrace in the 11th of Jean’s snapshots of the Alki Players.)


I’m posting a few thumbnails of the annual game, Paul. These include Lil Eskenazi, the team mascot, the oldest and youngest players, mighty Clay Eals at bat, pitcher Dave Eskenazi, T-shirt prizes, and a few more highlights.

And here’s the group portrait – enough players for two teams with more than three outfielders for each:

Anything to add, Paul?

Yes Jean – a few related features from the past, and we may be repeating some of them – even from this blog.  Remember, rather than check we promote a policy of benign redundancy in which every story or feature or photo is made fresh by context.  We use the musical analogy of a leitmotif.   First, here’s another “artist’s league” group portrait from long ago – ca. 1976 – in Cascade Park or playfield, about two blocks east of The Seattle Times.  Remarkably, one of the players in this group has made it – with a borrowed glove – into Jean’s 2012 portrait straddling 59th Ave. SW at Lander Street. (Possibly this fond bit of local softball ephemera has also appeared here earlier.)

Cascade Players off Pontius Ave. N.
A Google-Earth inspection of our play field, Alki Beach, Schmitz Park, and Alki Elementary too. (The U-Shaped school is directly below the ball diamond.) Compared this to the two maps directly below. The one grabbed from the real estate plat for Alki Point and the other from our 1912 scan of the Baist Real Estate Map.
Curiously the two maps do not agree on the location for the school. You can determine which is the closer by comparing the maps with the satellite photo.


Spud began on Alki Beach in 1935 as a seasonal sidewalk service in a clapboard shack.  Here in the late fall of 1938 it is boarded up until spring.  Now Spud is a year-round two-floored emporium that seats 80-plus lovers of deep-fried fish served with both tradition and a view of Puget Sound. [Historical view courtesy Washington State Archive, Bellevue Community College branch.]


(First appeared in Pacific, Feb. 16, 2003)

Brothers Jack and Frank Alger opened The SPUD on Alki Beach in June of 1935.  It was the beginning of summer but also the dead of the depression. At 10 Cent for a cardboard boat stuffed with fries and two big pieces of breaded ling cod the English-born Alger’s fish and chips serving was affordable, delicious and filling – but only in the warmer months.   In late fall the stand was closed and looked as it does here in this Works Progress Administration tax inventory photo recorded on Oct. 14, 1938.

To either side of SPUD in 1938 was a line of small beach homes, a few small apartments, Turner’s Shell station, Sea Home Grocery, Seaside Pharmacy, Alki Bakery, two groceries, a barber, a cobbler, a plumber, a tailor and four other eateries — two serving hamburgers and hot dogs and the other two fish and chips.  Most commonly on Alki Ave. s.w. were the vacancies but most importantly for the life of the beach was the Alki Natatorium Swimming Pool built across from Spud on pilings over the tides.

Following the war the shanty seen here was replaced with a nifty modern plant featuring portholes, and SPUD written in big bas-relief block letters over the front door.  Sheltered inside was a counter with four stools.   By then there were Spuds at Green Lake and Juanita as well.   The family continued to run the Alki Spud until Frank’s son Rick decided prudently at the age of 55 that he needed “to slow down and enjoy life more.”   Recently retiring to build their “dream home” on Hood Canal Rick and Terry Alger sold Spud to Ivar’s.

SPUD in the dark, ca.1945
SPUD - 1948
SPUD - 1961

It was a both sensitive and poetic choice for also in 1938 when Ivar Haglund opened his first café – a fish and chips stand at the entrance to his aquarium on Pier 54 — the Alger brothers helped him.   Roy Buckley, Ivar’s first employee, learned his fish and chips while working at Spud.  All of them, Frank, Jack, Ivar and Roy were West Seattle lads.

Roy Buckley when still working for the Algers.

While both Spud and Ivar’s survive in 2003, we may conclude by listing a few popular restaurants of 1938 that do not.  All are still savored in memory only.  Manca’s and the swank Maison Blanc; The Green Apple (home of the Green Apple Pie); The Jolly Rogers, The Dolly Madison Dining Room, and Mannings Coffee (several of them); the Moscow Restaurant and the Russian Samovar; Ben Paris downtown and Jules Maes in Georgetown; the Mystic Tea Cup, and the Twin T-P’s, Seattle’s Aurora strip landmark most recently lost to a (w)reckless midnight wrecker.

A visit to SPUD on ALKI offers more than breaded fish. Here ca. 2003 an exhibit of Alki Beach now-and-thens is being hung on the south wall of the fish-and-chips second floor dining room. The stairway to this exhibit of Alki repeats is also replete with other historical photographs of the neighborhood.

Two Examples of the Alki Ave now-then repeats, follow.


In 1910 the city purchased much of the Alki Beach waterfront for the development of a groomed park and the seawall showing on the far right of the “now” scene.  Both views look east on Alki Beach from near 64th Avenue SW. About one century separates them. (Historical photo courtesy of Lawton Gowey – Contemporary photo by Jean, now nearly eight years past.)


(First appeared in Pacific, Nov. 10, 2004)

This beach party scene comes from that most popular and yet unknown source: somewhere.   The beach is familiar enough – at the scene’s center is Duwamish Head marking the entrance to Elliott Bay – but neither the year nor the group nor the photographer whose back is to Alki Point are identified.

Depending upon who is throwing it this scene is a stone throw or two from the site where the Denny Party landed on Nov. 13, 1851.  Judging from the costumes and the development  (or rather lack of it) on the beach it was photographed about a half century later.  Most likely then if this is not a group from the neighborhood its members came to their picnic by boat for the electric trolley did not reach the beach until 1907, the year that West Seattle incorporated into Seattle.

By the time this driftwood tableau was photographed the attraction of Alki Beach as a summer retreat was already commonplace.  After regular steamer service was launched across Elliott Bay in 1877 the Daily Intelligencer advised “Now is a good time for picnics on the beach at Alki Point, so it will pay some of our new settlers to go over and see the spot where Messrs. Denny, Maynard and others lived during the ‘times that tried men’s souls.’” (I found this reference in “The West Side Story”, the big book of West Seattle history.)  We can only imagine what pains those we see frolicking and lounging here gave to the hardships of the founders.

There is a revealing similarity between the beach visitors in the “now” and the “then” scene: how few of them there are.  Alki Beach was frequented by throngs after the arrival of the trolley and the 1911 opening of Alki Beach Park with its oversized bathing and recreation pavilion  – 73,000 of them in 1913.  By comparison Jean Sherrard took this week’s “now” photograph last July 24, one of the hottest days of the summer.  While there are surely many more offshore attractions in 2004 then in 1913 when it comes to chilling dips we may also have become less robust.


About 80 years separate the two later afternoon views on Alki Beach Park. Both look to the southwest from near the foot of 61st Avenue Southwest. (Historical photo courtesy of Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma, and, again, the contemporary one by Jean.)


(First appeared in Pacific, Nov. 17, 2004)

Last week’s “then” looked northeast on Alki Beach.  This week’s record surveys the same stretch of sand but in the opposite direction.  Why spend two weeks on one beach?  Because about a quarter century separates the two historical photographs – last week’s and this one – and the changes are revealing.

As shown seven days ago a picturesque litter of driftwood distinguished the ca. 1900 West Seattle waterfront.  Here a quarter-century later the same waterfront is littered instead with bathers in wool suits and separated from a wide planked promenade by a seawall.   Actually the change from the irregular strand landed on by the founding settlers of 1851 to a groomed shoreline occurred very rapidly after the city condemned and purchased in 1910 the nearly 2500 feet of this shoreline between 57th and 65th Avenues Southwest.

In quick order the city built a large bathing pavilion (the historical photo is photographed from its roof) and the wide walk protected by the sturdy wall.  This radical makeover was dedicated on Independence Day 1911 and the following year the covered bandstand was extended over the tides.  That first year the city’s Parks Department estimated that 103,000 persons were attracted to the 75 concerts performed from its octagonal stage.

A 1912 off-shore look at the Alki Beach facilities. This was taken from a Fickeisen family album, and used courtesy of Margaret & Frank Fickeisen.
Another early off-shore look at the big bath house.
Looking northeast from the bath house portico to Duwamish Head with Luna Park, far right, and a temporary Alki Beach pier that once serviced whaling ships. Magnolia is far left.

In 1925 the wooden seawall was replaced with a concrete one that was designed to protect the beach with a concave profile that inhibited the undertow of high tides.  In five years more the seawall was extended in the other direction (to the northeast) to within 150 feet of Duwamish Head.  At last in 1945 this gap was also acquired and improved to make a continuous recreational shore between the Head and the string of homes that lie between the public park and the closed – since 911 – Alki Point lighthouse (1913).

This chronology was gleaned from the book “West Side Story” and Don Sherwood’s unpublished (but often photocopied) manuscript history on local parks. (You can find it all on the Seattle Park Department’s web page – the history part of it.)  Much on Alki Beach history is featured in the exhibits and publications of the Log House Museum (one block from the beach at the corner of Stevens St. and 61st Avenue) and – as noted and shown above –  also in permanent display on the walls of the by now venerable SPUDS fish and chips on Alki Avenue.

Ivar "Keep Clam" Haglund's aunt and uncle, Rena and Al Smith, once owned a good part of Alki Point - as did Ivar - inherited from Ivar's grandparents who settled on the point in 1868 after purchasing it from pioneer Doc' David Maynard. (That story will soon be told in detail in "Keep Clam.") The Smiths built this bath house to service their Alki Point restaurant, the Stockade. (Courtesy, Bob Bowerman)
Another changing house of similar construction as the Smiths but only perhaps on Alki Point.


For the 19 years that the Alki Natatorium covered the beach it was closed and or in disrepair about as much as it was open to plungers and other recreations. The sprawling facility was camped on the tides side of Alki Avenue between 58th and Marine Avenues Southwest. Historical Pix courtesy of Don Myers.


(First appeared in Pacific, Feb. 6, 2005)

If we could but read the license plate on the bumper of the car (that looks very much like the one my dad drove the family west in from North Dakota in 1946) we could date this stark portrait of the Alki Natatorium.  Since much of the glass along the Alki Avenue façade is busted out we know that this scene was photographed sometime when the fitful entertainment center was not serving.

But when jumping there was more than swimming here.  For instance, the neon sign with the diving swimmer also advertises dining and dancing at the Shore Café.  And at least during the late 1930s when the Premier Amusement Company was running it, the “Nat” was also a skating rink.

This natatorium was the last of three built along the beach.  The first opened near Alki Point in 1905, but quietly closed while planning an “Oriental-styled” enlargement complete with “real Geisha Girls” serving tea and the “world’s largest swimming pool.”  The second opened in 1907 with Luna Park at Duwamish Head.  And although the amusement park was soon closed for introducing “lewd and disorderly behavior” the big indoor natatorium stayed open until 1931 when it was one of many targets torched by an arsonist that year.

Perhaps the short-lived natatorium at Alki Point before the light house - photographed - perhaps - from the Alki Point Wharf included in the map below.
The Alki Point natatorium is marked in this real estate promotion of May 20, 1905.

Three years later this “Nat” opened a short distance up the beach from the Municipal Bath House towards the Head not the Point.  The “Nat” managed to survive the Great Depression but not a lawsuit by an injured swimmer in 1939.  In 1942 the Seattle Park’s Department renovated and reopened it in time for the preoccupations and parsimony of the war, and the place again closed.  Especially when dark, its great expanse of roof glass was pelted by naughty children (read boys) with rocks borrowed from the beach.  Several moves by the Parks Department and City Council to restore it following the war turned out to be good intentions only and in 1953 the Alki Natatorium was razed to the beach.


4 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Schmitz Park Arch”

  1. How come no mention of the PC pronunciation of the original Alki (al-key) instead of what we hear today (al Kai). It’s as bad as KOMO’s whooping cough with the whoop instead of hoop, just like the dictionary says. JHF

  2. My family was in West Seattle from about 1900. I do not remember any of my Great Grandparents or Grandparents calling Alki, Alkai. In fact we used to laugh at those who made that mistake!

  3. Born there… Went to Alki School. The pronunciation you prefer was often heard in the fifties, but not at the school. It was a relic by the sixties. The “Alki, by and by” phrase probably moved the transition. I often fell asleep listening to the horn or the Alki Lighthouse. How lucky I was. My brother still lives there. By and by, indeed…

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