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(First appeared in Pacific, March 18, 1990)
At different times, two towers have looked down on the neighborhood around Fourth Avenue and Thomas Street. As landmarks go, they can be compared, although hardly. One tower is the city’s present baton, the Space Needle. The other tower belonged to Fire Station No. 4 with in its original form its elegant English-style architecture.
Station No. 4 was built in 1908 and first was occupied on Oct. 15 of that year. Its three grand double doors opened to a steamer, a pump and a hose wagon, all of them horse-drawn. Engine Company No. 4 had moved over from an old clapboard station nearby at Fourth Avenue and Battery Street, which had been razed that year during the Denny Regrade. According to fire service records preserved faithfully by Seattle Fire Department historian Galen Thomaier, only 13 years later the company moved back to Fourth and Battery into yet another new station. It is still there.
For four years following this final move in 1921, the still relatively new but deserted structure was idle until the Seattle Fire Department transferred over it alarm center from the SFD’s old headquarters at Third Ave. and Main Street.
For some reason, when this station was picked for the alarm center, its third-floor gables were cut away. The tower looked awkwardly stranded beside its flattened station before it too was lowered.
Fire Station No. 4 in its original stone-and-brick beauty – as pictured on top – was designed by one of Seattle’s more celebrated historical architect, one best known for his school designs. After James Stephen won a 1902 contest for school design, he was employed as the city’s school architect and designed more than 20 Seattle schools.