Seattle Now & Then: The Dennys' Green Acres

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: For Jean and I it is a delightful irony that The Century 21 Master Plan for Seattle Center describes razing the High School Stadium part of the Center for a green “open space” like - and also on! - these grassy blocks that pioneer’s David and Louise Denny long withheld from development. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: Lifting his camera with an extension pole long enough, if needed, to wash a third floor window, Jean later discovered “on the ground” that his elevated but still cramped prospect included the surprise of a few pine boughs.

The intended subject here is almost surely the obvious one: two blocks of grass. From the intersection of 4th Avenue, on the right, and Harrison Street (its sidewalk) on the left, the view looks north-northwest to a Queen Anne Hill horizon.

One long block away, and near the scene’s center, rests the Troy Laundry, a two-story factory of suds at the northeast corner of Nob Hill Avenue and Republican Street. For Pacific readers who remember last week’s Belgian Waffles, the laundry is only one block east (here to the right) of where that Century 21 confectionary was built in 1962.  (In the now shot the laundry would be in the high seats of the High School Stadium’s north side seating)

Fred Cruger, our reliable motorcar collector-historian, has helped us date this scene.  With the aid of a blow-up, Fred studied the Fords parked near the laundry, and recommends “1925 or 26.”  With those years in hand we imagine that the historical photographer understood that her or his record might well prove to be the last unobstructed look thru David and Louisa Denny’s swale.  It was here that those first pioneers cultivated their garden, one large enough to help feed the few hundred citizens living nearby in a village – Seattle – distinguished by Puget Sound’s first steam sawmill.

Bertha Landes, Seattle’s first and so far only women mayor, was a powerful booster of what our unnamed photographer surely knew was coming: a Civic Field, Auditorium and Arena.  Elected in 1926 before the construction started, Her Honor was out of office in 1928 weeks before her civic center was dedicated.  (Without reelection, Mayoral terms then ran a mere two years.)

In altered forms Seattle’s cultural center of 1928 survives. Civic Field got the first revision, a 1947-48 remodel into the concrete stadium for mostly high school football and soccer Jean has “peeked into” with his repeat.  Recruiting his trusty ten-foot-pole Jean shot blind over a stadium wall.


Anything to add, Paul?   Yup Jean we will take a few looks into the pasture-potlatch acres and their transformations.  We may note as well that we have visited Seattle Center in past blog contributions, and hope that readers will use the keyword search available to call them back.  For  starters try “auditorium,” “Seattle Center,” “Century 21,” “Bumbershoot,” “David Denny,” “Food Circus,” “Space Needle,” “Coliseum,” and, we expect, many other keys.

We’ll next sample three looks south from the southern slope of Queen Anne Hill to the subject. The first is dated loosely “in the 1890s,” and next with certainty 1900, and the last from late in 1960.

Ron Edge found this rare look over the Denny's pasture land defined under a light snow. The Avenue right-of-center is Second, which was still named Poplar for about half of the 1890s. The larger structure with a tower at the far end of Second/Poplar is the power house for the cable railway that started on Front Street (First Avenue) and moved to Second Ave. at Pike Street. The cars can be made out on the Avenue, as can the pyramid tower of Clarence and Susannah Bagley's home much closer at the northeast corner of Second/Poplar and Aloha/High Street. Another helpful landmark is the Presbyterian Church at the southwest corner of Third and Harrison. That puts it today just West of the northwest corner of the Center House aka Food Circus. It poses very near the center of this subject. Nob Hill is the avenue one block to the east (right). With nearly nothing to its sides, Republican Street cuts through the cleared acres, left-to-right. (Courtesy Ron Edge - again)
We wrote about this 1900 mule corral a few weeks past. Please us "army" or "mule" for a keyword search. This subject also looks south from Queen Anne Hill although somewhat lower. And it barely reach Second Avenue on the far right. Harrison Street is still the northern border of housing. Nob Hill and 4th Avenues lead into and out of the left border. Mercer Street is in the foreground scrub. (Courtesy, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections)
Seattle Times long-time photographer - since deceased - Roy Scully's record of these acres on Nov. 20, 1960. Work on the Coliseum is underway on the right. The avenues here go, right-to-left: Warren, Second, Third, Nob Hill behind the southern stands of Memorial Stadium and just to the left of the Armory, aka Food Circus and Center House; a hint of 4th and more of 5th, far left.

Next, for comparison, a 1928 look from northwest from the south stands to the west end of Civic Field as a large crew was preparing its turf, followed by a Century 21 shot by Frank Shaw, which looks in the same direction, but not from the Civic Field stands but from the south stands of Memorial Stadium during Century 21.  For Shaw the scheduled event is a high wire act.

From the brand new Civic Field bleachers in 1928 - looking northwest. Courtesy Ron Edge
Century 21 tight-rope Act recorded by Frank Shaw.
Construction work on Memorial Stadium. This subject first appeared in the Seattle Times on April 6, 1947. The caption then reads, in part "Here's a ground view of one of the two huge seat sections being built in Seattle's new High School Memorial Stadium. The two sections will seat nearly 11,000 persons. If the seats were built clear around one end of the stadium, as many persons are urging, the bowl would seat more than 25,000."
For some years the Memorial Stadium was used as part of the Seafair Parade - usually the end of it. Perhaps it still is. I took a 16mm camera to this return of the floats after the 1971 - probably - Torchlight Parade. With the camera on a tripod I did a time-lapse of their parade around the oval and then their parking at the center I would prove it if I had an easy means of transferring film to video here in the basement. And now I remember that Jean, Cathy Wadley and I used some of that footage in our 2000 documentary on the history of Bumbershoot. Perhaps we can find it and mount if for YouTube and you dear readers with an addendum to this feature!
Century 21 was anticipated by the “Festival of the West.”  This sketch below appeared in The Times for Dec. 16, 1956 with a generous foot of copy beside it.  The short caption explained that the “World Fair Commission recommend (that is) be held in Seattle in 1960 and 1961.  Festival buildings would be grouped at Seattle’s Civic Center.  In addition, a monument symbolic of the festival would be erected on Duwamish Head.  Also planned is an amusement zone on tidelands west of Duwamish Head.” Rather than a Space Needle, the lights of Alki Point will do, and they are turned on at the top of this festive fantasy.  It is curious and pleasing how often the city’s enthusiasts for festivals & fun have turned their longing eyes to Duwamish Head and the tidelands beneath it. “]
Here we look east through the Gayway with our backs close to the Food Circus. The south wall of the Memorial Stadium is on the left, and that will figure again in the "Fair and Festival" repeat that we put up later this afternoon. Please return of it - if you want.

We conclude with a piece of ephemera from Ron Edge’s collection.  It is a lovely green booklet celebrating Seattle’s then new civic center – the one built on David and Louisa Denny’s pasture in 1927-28 – and so the foundation for both Century 21 in 1962 and the Seattle Center campus that followed it.

(Mouse the Green Cover to call forth the full booklet.)


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