Seattle Now & Then: The Federal Courthouse

(click to enlarge photos)

The future Federal Courthouse site packed with ice in 1937. (Courtesy, Ron Edge)


THEN: Show here in late 1939, across the intersection of Spring Street and 5th Avenue, the building site chosen for the Federal Courthouse, was surrounded for the most part by hotels, apartments, schools, churches, and, to the west across 5th Avenue, the lush landscape of the Carnegie-built Seattle Public Library, here lower-right. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)

NOW: Jean Sherrard set his “repeat” wider in order to better show the courthouse’s position in the neighborhood.
For its April 22, 1940 edition, the Seattle Times perambulating wit responsible for this paper’s once popular feature “Strolling Around the Town” visited the work on Seattle’s new Federal Courthouse. The writer described the workmen pouring concrete for the “elevator’s penthouse twelve stores above the street.” There they “paused, mopped their brows and surveyed the flag they had hoisted on a temporary pole.” It was the informal “topping off” of the U.S. Justice Department’s modern addition to Seattle.
Like the Smith Tower, which it otherwise does not resemble, the Fed’s modern box glows in proper light.  It too is covered for the most part with terra cotta tiles with a reflecting color that the contractor N.P. Severin – of Chicago – described as light peach-bloom. The austere structure’s few ornaments and color choices were, of course, its architect’s, Louis A. Simon, who like the $3 million that paid for this our first modern box, came to us from the other Washington.
Naturally, local architects and contractors could have used such a federal plum during the depression.  Soon after the federal funding was announced in the summer of 1936, James A. Wood, Seattle Times Associate Editor, lamented that once again, it seemed, the city would miss the opportunity to build a needed civic center around the new courthouse.  Instead, the fed’s purchased the Standard Station and its sprawling parking lot across 5th Ave. from the Carnegie Library, which a half-century earlier was the first site for Providence Hospital.
Pulled from The Seattle Times for Sept. 37, 1937.
Groundbreaking news in the Times for June 17, 1939.
From The Seattle Times, Jan. 14, 1940
The work went fast, beginning with the groundbreaking in the summer of 1939 when Federal Judge John C. Bowen, shovel in hand, decided to “start the dirt flying.”  By late October of 1940, the F.B.I. and many other federal enforcers were ready to move in.  City Light was soon shamed into clearing the block of its weathered utility poles, which were described as “a ‘disgrace’ to the sightlines of the new building.”  The imperial fuss over the earnest new courthouse was also “expressed” on the front lawn. The Times Stroller returned in the summer of 1941 and described what is still seventy years later an inviting green expanse as “stuffed with red-white-and-blue shields upon which appeared the words: ‘U.S. PROPERTY KEEP OFF THE GRASS’.”
August 7, 1941, from the Times.
Almost complete the Federal Courthouse poses still surrounded by the city's offensive poles. (The link directly below will open the Times page that uses the above photo and much more.)

Times Aug 17, 1940 p14

The courthouse front lawn looking north to the Olympic Hotel on March 13, 1963. Another photo by Lawton Gowey.
Lawton Gowey photographed this from the 8th floor of the City Light Building (on Third Ave.) on June 7, 1960. He recorded two of Seattle's then best examples of modern architecture, the relatively new Seattle Public Library on 4th Ave. with the Federal Courthouse behind it on 5th. There is as yet no SeaFirst tower to get in the way of Lawton's vision from his office at City Light.
After its 1967/8 construction, Lawton Gowey look east into the curtain of the SeaFirst Tower. Here he has visited a friend's office on the 33rd floor of the tower, and from there looks down - and east - to the courthouse and a front lawn only mildly tinted by the summer of 1981. Lawton dates his slide that year on July 15.


The top of the parking garage offered several unique perspectives of the city – here’s a few taken on the fly:
Anything to add, Paul?
Surely Jean, although only a few from the site.  By introduction a slide I took on May 19, 1997 of the plaque set at the front stairs to the courthouse.  It commemorates Providence Hospital, the former occupant of this block borders by 5th and 6th Avenues, and Madison and Spring Streets.
(First appeared in Pacific, August 24, 1986)
This wonderfully detailed historical view (above) looks southwest from the old metropolitan campus of the University of Washington. The photographer (probably Charles Morford) carried his camera to the cupola (most likely) of the Territorial University building for an elevated sighting of his primary subject, Providence Hospital.
The scene is relatively easy to date. The hospital’s central tower on Fifth Avenue and its south wing at Madison Street (here on the right) were completed in 1887. Central School, behind the hospital, left-center, burned to the ground in April, 1888. Since the leaves on some of these trees and bushes seem to be just beyond budding, and there is no wind-stacked mulch of autumn collecting in the gutter along Seneca Street below, we can say, almost confidently, that this scene was shot in the early spring of 1888. It may have been but a few days before that unnaturally hot bright April night when men armed with brooms and pails of water darted across the Providence roof dowsing and sweeping aside the embers falling from the flaming school and sky.
An earlier look at the same neighborhood recorded from the Territorial University's main building. Note that the hospital's central tower on 5th Avenue is not as yet in place.
But in the Spring of 1888, the sisters were less worried by physical fires than by Protestant ones. A century ago the religious temper was somewhat less ecumenical than it is now, and the quality of care given by the strange-to-Protestants, black-habited Sisters of Providence was chronically embattled by anti-Catholic resentment and rumors. When the Episcopalians opened Grace Hospital in 1886, the open competition for patients resulted in the area’s first health insurance plan. The Grace administrators offered, for five and ten dollars, yearly health bonds to the Catholic sisters’ “bread & butter” clients, the working class.
The Protestant's Grace Hospital was too costly to keep open.
The sisters responded with their own plan. After eight months the Sister Chronicler wrote, “Our tickets are doing well, even in the territory of our adversary . . . A good number of patients left his hospital dissatisfied, while ours leave happy. His hospital is luxuriously furnished with Turkish carpets, furniture with marble tops, and so forth. Ours is simply furnished, but our Sisters are so devoted that they aptly compensate for the lack of wealth.”
In 1893, the overextended Grace Hospital failed following the economic panic of that year. But Providence survived and kept enlarging. When the last addition along Madison Street was ready in 1901, Providence Hospital was the largest in the Northwest.
Looking northeast across Madison Street and 4th Avenue to the block-long Providence.
The sisters survived in a hospital of their own making. The restrained but satisfying symmetry of the completed plant was designed by artist-architect Mother Joseph, who was also the founder of the Sisters of Providence in the Northwest. Self-taught, she was known as “The Builder,” and was ultimately honored by the American Institute of Architects as the first architect in the Northwest.
The sisters arrived in Seattle in 1877, accepting a contract to care for the county’s poor house in Georgetown. The next year, they bought the John Moss residence at Fifth and Madison, and under Mother Joseph’s supervision, converted it into their first hospital. Seventy-five beds were added to those in the Moss home when the first wing (at Spring Street) of Mother Joseph’s structure was dedicated on Ground Hog Day, 1883.
After 28 years at Fifth Avenue and Madison Street, the sisters moved in 1911 to their present site at 17th Avenue and Jefferson Street. The central tower of that surviving hospital is a brick variation on Mother Joseph’s frame tower along Fifth Avenue and so may remind us of “the builder.”
The "new" Providence Hospital on Second Hill.
Recently, the hospital’s tower part of what is now called the 1910 Building was threatened when its original construction was found wanting by modem earthquake standards. [A reminder: this feature first appeared in 1986.] However, the tower escaped the wrecker’s ball (or imploder’s charge) when the neighborhood’s Squire Park Community Council successfully campaigned to save it. This preservationist’s success included a reciprocity. For its part Providence Hospital agreed to restore and reinforce the 1910 tower, and the council agreed to not stand in the way of the hospital’s plans to add a modem wing (construction began in 1989) to their old hospital.
Both views, above and below, look west through the intersection of Spring Street and Sixth Avenue.
(First appeared in Pacific, June 18, 2006)
When its last of several additions was attached along Madison Street in 1901, Providence Hospital became the largest hospital in the Pacific Northwest. Mother Joseph, “The Builder,” – as she was called – of this and many more structures for the Sisters of Providence, died the following year in Vancouver, Wash., where she first “answered the call” with her Bible in 1856.
This rear view of the hospital looks west across the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Spring Street, most likely in the spring of 1909 when the Dept. of Public Works was regrading Spring and Seneca streets east of Fourth Avenue. The cut here at Sixth, as revealed to the left of the steam shovel, is at least 20 feet.
Aside from its central tower facing Fifth Avenue, the part of the hospital most evident here is the first wing that was dedicated on Feb. 2, 1883. With architect Donald McKay, Mother Joseph designed a three-story frame hospital with a brick foundation, large basement, open porches and the first elevator in town. Mother Joseph also supervised the construction.
Despite the Protestant town’s general prejudice toward Catholics, the hospital was busy. Epidemics of many sorts and accidents at work were commonplace. The work day did not shrink from 12 hours to 10 until 1886.
In 1911, Providence moved to its new plant at 17th Avenue and East Jefferson Street. Two years later, Seattle’s progressive mayor George Cotterill temporarily converted this old Providence – then vacant – into the Hotel Liberty for homeless and unemployed men. However, as Richard Berner explains in his book, “Seattle 1900-1920: From Boomtown, Urban Turbulence, to Restoration,”* there were no sisters of any sort at the hotel. “Women were not allowed . . .and had to shift for themselves.”
(*Berner’s illustrated history can be studied on this blog.)
Two looks, above and below, north from the Smith Tower were photographed respectively, 1913/14 and ca. 1946.  The first show Providence about the time that Mayor Cotterill used it to shelter homeless men.  The second subject records the luminous aspect of the nearly new courthouse on the right.
The "new" brick Central School at the southeast corner of Sixth Avenue and Madison Street.
(First appeared in Pacific June 17, 1990)
Among the distinct pleasures of doing this work are the discoveries shared by readers. One uncovered this view of Central School, among a handful of glass negatives forgotten but snugly preserved in a small wooden box.
When fire destroyed the city’s first high school, the Seattle School District took the opportunity to raise this heroic Gothic building in its place. Central School was built on the ledge of First Hill, where the pitch of Madison Street’s steepest part Relaxes for its less strenuous climb east of Interstate 5. Now part of the 1-5 ditch, it was once a commanding setting filling the block bounded by Marion and Madison streets and Sixth and Seventh avenues.
Central High was razed by a sensitive wrecker named Henry Bacon. “I’m far-from a new hand in this game, but this is the strangest job I’ve ever worked on,” Bacon said. Even the building’s interior walls were 2 feet thick, and all of Seattle-baked brick. The wrecker estimated that there were 2 million bricks.
Central School circa 1945 without its towers.
The envelope protecting the glass negative for this view was dated 1902 – the year Central’s ascendancy as a high school was considerably diminished with the construction of Broadway High School on Capitol Hill. Central served as a primary school only until 1938; for a time, it was used as a vocational school, but after the 1949 earthquake the towers were dismantled and the big brick pile closed for good. Henry Bacon finished this work in 1953.
In 1883 the largest school in Washington Territory opened on the south side of Madison Street between 6th and 7th Avenue.  This wooden Central School survived only five years before it burned to the ground in 1888.  A larger Brick Central School followed and the last parts of it survived until razed in the early 1960s for the pit that would become the Seattle Freeway.
(First appeared in Pacific, Jan. 15, 2006)
Thanks to Gilbert Costello and his namesake collection at the Seattle Public Library this portrait of the Central School faculty not only survives but also is carefully annotated on its flip side.  There at the center is the official stamp of the “photographic artist” Theo E. Peiser who arrived in Seattle, by most descriptions, in 1883, which is also the year that this view was most likely recorded.  The hand-written notes explain that here are the “Old Central Teachers” at the “opening of Central.”  Actually, this is the second “Old Central” and it is brand new.
The statuesque long coat on the left is Professor Edward Sturgis Ingraham, who arrived in Seattle in 1875 and ten days later became the head of the community’s schools.  In 1883 he completed his first year as the first Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools and got married.  The 31-year old professor (taught for the most part in the “school of experience”) and Myra Carr, 24, chose the eighth of April for their wedding because it was for both of them also their birthdays.  One month later on the seventh of May Ingraham marched his students and faculty three blocks east up Madison Street from the really old Central School on 3rd Avenue to this new and then largest school in Washington Territory.  Behind that front door are twelve classrooms and every one of them measures 28 by 35 feet.
Aside from Ingraham and the Janitor on the far right the scene shows ten teachers, but only eight are named: Pearce, Nichols, Penfield, Condon, Piper, Kenyon, Vroman, and Jones.  This last, O.S. Jones is the “other man” on the right. (If he looks like a younger version of the man with the brooms it is because the janitor is his father.)  In 1884 Jones would pose on different steps when he became the principal of the then new Denny School at 5th and Battery.  Only bad health in 1913 stopped him from teaching.
Another of Ingraham at Central Schools steps, this time with some of his scholars divided by sex in an "A Class."
Follow another lift from the Seattle Public Libraries Costello scrapbook on the early history of Seattle Public Schools.  First the pictures of five Central School teachers, followed by his description.
Construction on the Seattle Freeway, Jan. 26, 1963, looking north from Jefferson Street. Photo by Frank Shaw.
Another Frank Shaw recording, looking north from near Jefferson on August 15, 1964. Included in the changes is the IBM Building, It rises in the later photo directly behind and above the Federal Courthouse.
Jean it is once more time for “nighty bears,” the silly but endearing expression for “good night” first taught by Bill Burden, my old housemate from 1978-79.  A few weeks past Bill was in town and Jean you remember that we attended the party that Michael DeCourcey gave for Bill and his friends hereabouts at Michael’s new home near Granite Falls.  Jean did you make any snapshots of it all?
Later this morning after breakfast – and a few hours sleep – I’ll go searching for some TDA protest photographs taken at the front door to the Federal Courthouse now long ago.
Among the many protests staged at or near the front door of the Federal Courthouse, the most frenzied one was on Feb. 17, 1970 for a demo named TDA for “The Day After.” Even without digital equipment it was well recorded by participants, media and surveyors for the local police and other authorities.   The few shots below come from a collection of surveillance photos shot by a stringer for a local TV station.  I purchased them in a garage sale many years ago.  The bottom photo is from a different and unidentified protest at the courthouse.  It is probably from an early assembly protesting the war in Vietnam.   Walt Crowley, the figure in profile bottom right, looks to be still in high school.   Walt was the primary founder of, and his historylink description of the TDA protest can be reached by clicking the photo that includes him.
Well! There is Walt Crowley at the bottom-right corner of this early anti-war protest at the Fed. Courthouse. At the time, Walt was most likely still in high school. Click the picture and it will bring up Walt's historylink essay on TDA, for which a few pictures follows. Some of those other figures are also familiar to me, although I no longer remember their names.
TDA troopers at the damaged door to the Fed. Courthouse.
Earlier - protestors at the door. Jeff Dowd - one of the Seattle Seven - is center-right.
A detail of Jeff appearing as an avenging angel while facing the protestors at the Fed.Courthouse doors. Jeff would later "cool it" as "The Dude" - an L.A. model for living-in-ones-pajamas cool celebrated in the by now cult film the Big Lebowski.
Doing it in the road: 5th Avenue in front of the Fed. Courhouse. "Those times." It is probably not Feb. 17. Too balmy. Seeing the phalanx of uniforms up the block we suspect that many of those sitting here would soon be running. They are young - or were.

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