Seattle Now & Then: The Pontius Court Apartments

(please click to enlarge photos)

THEN: While completing the Pontius Court Apartments at 502 Eastlake Ave. John Creutzer, its architect-developer, began his designs for the city’s Medical and Dental Building (1927). The apartments were promoted as conveniently close to nearly everything, often by foot, or rapidly by the dependable trolley service on Eastlake. The Court’s construction site is adorned, far right, with promotions for a few of the firms that helped build it. (Courtesy: Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: Through by now nearly half-century of landscaping the Seattle Freeway is half-hidden.

Opened in 1925 with 42 units – a mix of two and three room apartments, all of them appointed with Murphy In-A-Dor Beds – the Pontius Court Apartments were named for the pioneer family that first platted and sold most of the land that ascends from the lowlands of the Cascade neighborhood to the highlands of Capitol Hill.

Built with six floors on the side of the hill, the Eastlake Improvement Company noted that most of the 98 rooms in its new brick apartment building came with views.  Besides the sunsets over the Olympic Mountains, the renters looked down upon a blue-collar neighborhood accompanied by the recurring chorus of children at play.  Of its many churches at least three were Lutheran, and these steeples were mixed with laundries around the neighborhood’s one big primary school after which it was somewhat puzzlingly named.  With Capitol Hill in the way, even from the top floor of the Cascade School, one could not see its eponymous mountains to the east.

A nearly full-page paid advertisement announcing the new Pontius Court Apartments, with a variety of accompanying ads placed by companies that took part in its construction. It dates from the Seattle Times for August 30, 1925.
Surely a sign of the speculating 1920s, the Pontius Court's owner T.H. Vanasse is ready to sell this apartment for the bigger apartment houses in his plans. The date for this Seattle Times ad is Feb. 20, 1927.
Promoted as one of Seattle's "rental opportunities" in the first year of the Great Depression. The Times ad ran on May 14, 1930.

The grandest and most invigorating way to move between these contrasting neighborhoods was by way of the Republican Hill Climb, showing itself here on the right.  Built in 1910, the climb went through three artfully designed half-block sections that complimented the distinguished homes to its sides.  A half-century later two-thirds of the stairway – the part between Eastlake and Melrose Avenues – was demolished for the Seattle Freeway, effectively breaking in two the greater Pontius neighborhood.

Of course the freeway took the Pontius Court too.  For its last listing in the Times classifieds, the apartment repeated some of its old sales song about a brick building with an elevator and “nicely furnished 2 room apartments” with views for – at the end – $65 a month.

A look north on Eastlake from near Thomas Street. The Pontius Court is seen right-of-center. Sept. 15, 1927 (Courtesy of the Municipal Archive)


Anything to add, Paul?

Yes JEAN, beginning with the first three photos directly below.  Each is a link to former stories printed here that include subjects related to the Cascade neighborhood.  Ron Edge did the linking and he also pulled for us the most relevant of the several ca. 1960-61 aerials he has of the future path of the Seattle I-5 Freeway.   The part included here – after the three links – centers on the future freeway route north of Denny Way, which is at the bottom of the aerial.  Ron’s aerial presents a challenge to the reader to find – save for one – ALL of the “extra” features we will put up below it.  (Actually, some of these features also show up in the links above the aerial.)  We have limited our extra subjects to the eight number next.  See if you can find seven of them in the aerial. Again, they are all there except for one which just barely misses being included! Remember to double-click the aerial to search it in detail.

1. The charmed alley named Melrose Place North

2. The Republic Hill Climb

3. The Victorian vestige at the northwest corner of Republican and Eastlake.

4. The Moscow Restaurant

5. St. Demetrios Parish

6. St. Spiridon Parish

7. Immanuel Lutheran Church

8. Cascade School

(We might have put up a score more, except that we anticipate those “nightybears.”  But these eight we may get up by 3 A.M.)

Remember to double or triple click RON’S AERIAL for your search.

DIVE INTO the Aerial below by CLICKING it TWICE


Fine the Subjects Featured Above and Below.


When Werner Lenggenhager recorded the above view of Melrose Place North in 1955 he, no doubt, knew of its then likely fate – witnessed below.   (Historical pix courtesy of Seattle Public Library and the “now” recorded by our Jean.)


The naturalists among you may be able to figure whether these are the leaves of summer or fall.  The photographer, Werner Lenggenhager, made his print in October 1955.  It is so stamped.  However, he may have recorded the photograph weeks or even months earlier.

On the back Lenggenhager has also titled his print “County Road.”  It was this photographer’s calling to record the doomed present, that is the old parts of the cityscape that were equally dilapidated and cherished.  It was that poignant combination that got his attention.   Almost certainly Lenggenhager understood the irony of his title.

By 1955 this “County Road” was already marked for the preferred path of the Seattle Freeway.  That year the state passed a toll road act intending to have drivers pay directly for the expressways for which they were increasingly clamoring.  One year later Dwight D. Eisenhower made every driver nation-wide pay for it.  For the new highway system Ike committed the federal government to paying a whopping 90 percent with an increase in gas taxes — not piecemeal penny-a-mile tolls.

This is Melrose Place North, the charming alley that ran north from Denny Way two blocks to Thomas Street between Melrose and Eastlake Avenues.   After an admittedly quick inquiry at the municipal records “morgue” I was able to find for this street only a 1910 plan for a proposed sewer that was evidently installed, for it is recorded in the 1912 Baist’s Real Estate Atlas for Seattle.  The 1910 plan indicates that grade changes to the alley as deep as 12 feet would be required for the laying of the sewer.  So this “Country Road” has been “improved.”

By my thinking Werner Lenggenhager gave our community one of its greatest gifts.  He gave his photographs to the libraries.  Examples of his work are collected at the University of Washington Northwest Collection, the Museum of History and Industry Library, and the central branch of the Seattle Public Library.  This last – the SPL – has thousands of examples of his sensitive exploration of this city from the early 1950s into the 1980s. They are all prints – so far as I have been able to determine no one seems to know what happened to the negatives.

Let Werner Lenggenhager be an example to other intrepid recorders.  Before your relatives sell your work – whether it is ten examples or ten thousand – in a yard sale get it into an archive or library.  It is time we started collecting images like this one for public use.

Looking north thru the Seattle Freeway construction from near the Melrose Way overpass. That, I believe (or have always believed) is the temporary Denny Way span with the white guardrails. This is yet another slide by Lawton Gowey.


Remembering that the Republican Street Hill Climb left Eastlake directly south of the Pontius Court Apartments, Jean's "now" for the apartment's story at the top will do for this subject as well. (Historical photo courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.)


(First appeared in Pacific on Oct. 14, 1984.)

Included on our imagined list of lost places is the Republican Hill Climb. This elegant stairway was designed to reach higher than the hill. Its grand qualities were meant to be enjoyed for their own sake. And for half-a-century they were. The climb’s design involved three half-block sections. Each was comprised of two single stairways and one double, or branching staircase that circumvented a curving wall.

This view looks east from Eastlake Ave. N. The two men in the scene have apparently chosen to take the northern side of the hill climb’s first set of branching stairs. They might then have continued on another half block to Melrose Ave., which is just beyond the second curving wall. The very top of the steps is a half block beyond that, and, on the horizon, a third wall that marks it can be seen, barely, just above the second wall. (This top one-third of the Republican Hill Climb is still intact and in use.)

The Republican Hill Climb was approved “as built” by the Board of Public Works on February 25, 1910. This photograph was probably taken soon after that. The landscaping here is still nascent. Fifty years later, the Times published a different photo (not included here). It reveals that in its last days this Republican Hill Climb was pleasantly crowded by tall trees and bushes. The Times caption stated simply, “This stairway will be torn out when the freeway grading begins.”

Frank Shaw's look southwest to the business district over the early construction on the Seattle Freeway. He dated his slide May 30, 1962. Part of the stone work of the Republican Hill Climb can be found lower-left.

Of course, that “dream road” not only ended the steps from Eastlake but also sacrificed a very invigorating connection between two neighborhoods, Cascade below and Capitol Hill above. But, as City Engineer R. W. Finke explained in 1952, soon after this freeway route was proposed, “Freeway traffic moves at relatively high speed without interference from cross-movements…Pedestrians, who are a constant hazard to city driving, are entirely removed.”  Pedestrians and much else.


At the northwest corner of Eastlake Ave. and Republican Street this delightful but mildly anachronistic residence survived until 1961 when big changes across Eastlake – the construction of the Seattle Freeway – razed it for a three story commercial structure that was for years home to the Fishing and Hunting News.


When it was built in 1890 this steep-roofed Victorian was but one of the 2160 structures raised in Seattle during that first full boom year following the city’s “Great Fire” of 1889.  Far to the north of the burned business district the Cascade Neighborhood home was “already somewhat retardataire for its time.”   That description is from Dennis Andersen, one of Seattle’s more productive architectural historians.

Andersen first discovered this photograph in the 1970s when the then still young scholar took care of the University of Washington Library’s collections of historical photography and architectural ephemera.  It is one of several photographs held there that were recorded (ca.1911) along Eastlake Avenue by James P. Lee — for many years the Seattle Department of Public Works photographer of choice.

The historian’s “retardataire” remark refers principally to the ornamental parts of the structure, it fanciful roof crest and the beautified bargeboards of its steep corner gable.  (We see from the photo below taken of its rear façade as late as the 1950s that those wheels with spokes were attached there as well.)

Andersen both reflects and laments. “It looks like a pattern book house to me and really more at home in the 1870s or early 1880s.  Also the protruding corner bay is an unusual feature that may have been added to enliven the design a bit.  It’s a great photograph of a house that we are sorry to see is gone.”


Werner Leggenhager took his photograph of the Moscow Restaurant at 7365 Lakeview Blvd. E. in the mid-1950s. He looks to the west. With the construction of the Seattle Freeway (I-5) here in the early 1960s, Lakeview Blvd was routed on a high bridge that crosses above I-5 and offers one of the few accesses to Capitol Hill.


For more than 35 years the Moscow Restaurant was a fixture for the Russian-American community that settled in the Cascade and Eastlake corridor on the western slope of Capitol Hill. In 1923 it opened to the aromas of borsht, beef stroganoff, jellied pigs’ feet, Turkish coffee and Russian pancakes.

In 1923 and 1924 a tide of White Russians who had fought the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Russian revolution landed on the West Coast of the United States. Among them was Prince Riza Kuli Mirza, who painted a fresco of a Russian winter on a wall in the restaurant. Jacob Elshin, another soldier artist connected with the Imperial Russian Guard, designed the fanciful exterior as a candy house from a popular Russian fairy tale. Elshin soon opened a studio by producing hand-painted greeting cards, stage scenery, religious icons and an occasional oil painting. In the late 1930s while Elshin was painting murals commissioned by the Works Progress Administration for libraries in Renton and the University District, the original owners of the restaurant sold it to Nicholas and Marie Gorn.

In 1958 Seattle Times columnist John Reddin visited the restaurant to share in the Gorns’ plight: the coming Seattle freeway. Nicholas Gorn asked, “How can we ever replace this atmosphere which is so vital to our business?” Of course, they could not. By the time Gorn and Elshin lost their candy house to the freeway, the artist was one of the better known painters in Seattle.


now Looking north on Yale Ave. from John Street. REI, the Recreation Equipment Coop, now fills the block on this its east side.


(First appeared in Pacific, Oct. 12, 1986)

The Cascade neighborhood, squeezed in between Fairview Avenue North and -Interstate 5, is not the quiet, working-class district it once was. Neither is one of its most distinctive landmarks – the St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church at the southeast corner of Yale Avenue and Thomas Street – the stately structure it used to be.

Dedicated on Nov. 21, 1921, around the time the historic photo was taken, St. Demetrios was built partly with donations by communicants who worked in nearby Greek restaurants. The sanctuary cost around $50,000 – about the same amount the Overall Laundry Service paid for the building in 1963 when the congregation moved to its dazzlingly modern Byzantine house of worship on Boyer Street. The Cascade neighborhood’s fortunes have fared little better. Light industry and businesses have encroached on the community, filling it with warehouses, parking lots and truck traffic.

Although the church survives today, it has long since been stripped of its twin octagonal cupolas, and its stained glass has been boarded up. The building is now used as a warehouse.  There is growing interest within the Greek community to retrieve St. Demetrios for renovation and use as a Greek museum.

[Written in 1988, the above text’s hopes for preservation was trumped by R.E.I. Recreation Equipment Coop purchased most of the block and the southeast corner of Thomas and Yale is now fit with its parking lot. The structure should not be confused with the Russian Orthodox St. Spiridon Cathedral, still used for worship just one block north on Yale Avenue, and next in line for its own feature.]

A vacated St. Demetrios seen in the reflection of a bottling plant window across Yale Ave. from the sanctuary. I photographed this sometime in the late 1970s when I lived nearby.


Saint Spiridon dedication


(First appeared in Pacific, May 286, 1991)

The nine crosses of St. Spiridon were ritually raised to the church’s now-familiar nine domes in the summer of 1938. A few weeks later the new Orthodox sanctuary was dedicated. Each member – nearly all were Russians – rang the new church’s bell.

The first St. Spiridon sanctuary, nearby on Lakeview.

Today, as in 1895 when the St. Spiridon parishioners moved into their first church on Lakeview Boulevard, the congregation is more ethnically diverse. Then the congregation included Greeks, Russians, Serbians, Syrians, Bulgarians and Gypsies. Now, by way of marriage and conversion, more than a handful of Anglo-Saxons worship at the church on 400Yale Avenue North.

Original construction ca. 1938.
Dome restoration sometime in the 1980s - at least that is my imperfect memory of when I snapped this. I remember that it was a hot week day and very quiet in the neighborhood.
Bill Burden, my Cascade housemate in 1978, posed on the front lawn of St. Spiridon. This fair-haired Northern European gets a temporary tan with the setting sun.

In 1916 the Greek community. Departed to found Saint Demetrios, also on Yale Avenue, one block south of St. Spiridon.  [See the feature directly above this one.] In the years following this friendly separation, St. Spiridon became a magnet for immigrants fleeing the Russian Revolution. In 1923 as many as 6,000 immigrants passed through this parish, most intending to settle in America.

A montage of Spiridon church history.

Ivan M. Palmov, architect for the new St. Spiridon, was a Russian immigrant who graduated from the University of Washington’s School of Ardiitecture. This view of the work-in-progress on Palmov’s design is one snapshot among many included in a montage constructed by Isabel and John Kovtunovich, the latter a St. Spiridon member since his migration from Manchuria as a teenager in 1923. The montage is on display in artist Elizabeth Conner’s window installation at 911 Media Arts Center, three blocks south of St. Spiridon on 117 Yale Ave. North.   Conner’s work, titled “Cascade: Elusive Neighborhood,” will be on display until June 3. [A reminder that this was true only in 1991 when this feature first appeared.]

Frank Shaw's earlier Kodachrome record of a very blue St. Spiridon.


Immanuel Lutheran Church on the southwest corner of Thomas Street and Pontius Avenue and so kitty-korner from Cascade School. (Courtesy, Old Seattle Paperworks, Pike Place Market, Lower Level)


(First appeared in Pacific, Sept. 11, 1988)

Unlike most of Seattle’s first churches, Immanuel Lutheran did not follow its parishioners out to the neighborhoods as the inner city turned to business. This sanctuary survives and still serves the Cascade neighborhood, which transformed from a community of modest homes to a neighborhood of warehouses, light industry, and small businesses.

Immanuel was founded in the early 1890s by Norwegian immigrants who remained faithful to their .Lutheran traditions. When the present sanctuary was· dedicated in 1912, prominent clergy from Norway participated in the ceremony. Since then this church has been the site for thousands of baptisms, weddings and funerals. And most of them were officiated by the Pastor Hans Andreas Stub. Stub arrived in 1903 and stayed until 1957. The pastor and his wife, the church organist, were so bound to their church that ultimately they moved into it. When the gymnasium was added to the rear of the sanctuary in the early 1930s, the Stubs took an apartment above it.

Contemporary architectural historian, Dennis Andersen (himself a Lutheran minister) speculates that Stub probably had the church’s architect, Watson Vernon, prescribe wood rather than stone for the sanctuary to make it easier to attach future additions. As Stub joined his evangelistic urge to “preach the Gospel as wide as all outdoors” with a community activism, (during World War I, Immanuel Lutheran was a factory for both souls and bandages) his congregation grew to 2,000 by the late 1920s.

By then many of Stub’s parishioners, who were strung out between Richmond Beach and Federal Way, began turning to churches nearer home. That, combined with the steady conversion of the Cascade community into a business district, initiated Immanuel’s decline as the regional center of ministerial acts for orthodox Norwegian Lutherans.

Now [in 1988] the Immanuel congregation numbers about 200.  Their work focuses on helping the inner-city hungry and homeless.

Looking southeast from the Cascade P-Patch to the north facade of Immanuel Lutheran, across Thomas Street. I photographed this composite ca. 2003. Bill Burden - pictured above on the front lawn of St. Spiridon - and I (and before me Beranger Lomont of this blog too) lived in this garden in the late 1970s when it was still taken by four war-brick clad rentals. There is more about this "occupancy" in the THIRD link near the top.


Cascade School, looking northeast from near the intersection of Pontius and Thomas.


(First printed in Pacific January 28, 1990)

Cascade School rarely looked like this. The absence of children would have seemed strange to anyone living in the hubbub of the early-century Cascade neighborhood.

The school’s first classes began on Jan. 6, 1894, with 200 students, and Cascade School soon spread like the neighborhood. In 1898 the center section of 10 rooms was opened and in 1904 the north wing, here on the left, was added, bringing the number of the landmark’s spacious high-ceiling rooms to 24.  It still was not enough, so portables were added. By 1908, 26 teachers were busy instructing the neighborhood’s scholars.

Apparently the school’s most beloved instructor was its third principal, Charles Fagan. As described in the school district’s 1950 history, Fagan approached the ideal type of teacher. “A man of sterling character, a keen sense of humor and an understanding of children, beloved by pupils and associates . . . led the school for 33 years . . . ever searching for and adopting that which was good in the new, yet cherishing and holding to that which was good in the old.”

Fagan died in 1932. By then the school’s – and neighborhood’s – decline already had begun, as occupant-owned working-family homes gave way to warehouses, factories and apartment houses serving the nearby central business district.

Looking east to the school across the Cascade Playfield.

Cascade School was closed in the spring of 1949, before the end of the school year. The earthquake that year struck on April 13, thankfully during spring vacation. The school was so weakened by the quake that its students were not allowed to re-enter the building. By then only seven rooms were in use, anyway. Eventually, the old school was tom down and replaced by a school-district warehouse.

And early look west to Cascade School from the climb to Capitol Hill. Queen Anne Hill is on the right.


CONCLUDING with the puzzling pioneer PONTIUS RESIDENCE – before the mansion.

For me the mysterious Pontius home, and so the pioneer headquarters for the family's management of their sprawling claim. Consulting only other photographs I have not, as yet, located it. That's a Capitol Hill horizon. Someday - or someone - I or we will peg it through tax or real estate records. - I suspect.

3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Pontius Court Apartments”

  1. My grandparents were close friends of the Stubs. I have photos of the two families and a ring that belonged to the daughter.

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