Fair and Festival – No. 23: Return to the Eaton Apartments

For this “Fair and Festival” installment we repeat a Pacific feature we printed earlier in  , but now additions to help you, dear reader, find the spot more easily with aerial photographs and other points of view.   The Eaton Apartments were set at the northeast corner of Second Avenue and Thomas Street and so kitty-korner from Sacred Heart Catholic Church, once it lost its parish on 6th and Bell in 1928 to the last of the Denny Regrades.  The long sky-lighted pavilion built there for Century -21 was named, for the fair, the Domestic Commerce and Industry Building (aka Hall of Industry.)   It faced the Plaza of States (aka Flag Plaza).  After the fair the building got a new and sensible name: The Flag Plaza Pavilion.  It was home in 1978 for King Tut’s first lucrative visit to Seattle.  The Eaton Apartments covered about one-third of the Flag Plaza footprint – the most westerly third.  We will point it out again below in a 1928 aerial photograph and also in Frank Shaw’s colored slide of the apartment’s back or north facade during its last months before being razed for the fair.

Above: Looking kitty-corner across Thomas Street and Second Ave. North to the Eaton Apartments, ca. 1940.  It is a rare recordings of Seattle Center acres before their make-over for the 1962 Century 21.  Below: Jean Sherrard visited the intersection during the recent playing of the Folklife festival 2012, and “captured” folk-jazz artist Erik Apoe, with his guitar, leaving the festival after his performance.  Bottom: During the 2012 Bumbershoot Jean returned to the corner which included then – for the duration of Bumbershoot – one of the escape gates from the ticketed festival.  With his press credentials hanging from this next (although this year they were merely stuck to his shirt) Jean could easily come and go.


(First appeared in Pacific, Aug. 8, 2010)

I know nothing about the provenance of this photograph, except that it showed up as a thoughtful anonymous gift on my front porch among a small bundle of negatives.  Still with the help of a tax card, a few city directories, and a scattering of other sources we can make some notes.

With his or her back to Sacred Heart Catholic Church, an unknown photographer looked northeast through the intersection of Second Avenue North and Thomas Street.  The Eaton Apartment House across the way was built in 1909 – in time perhaps for the city’s first world’s fair.  It held 19 of everything: tubs, sinks, basins, through its 52 plastered rooms.  In the 1938 tax assessment it is described as in “fair condition” with a “future life” of about 13 years.  In fact, it held the corner for a full half century until it was leveled to build Seattle’s second worlds fair.

The Eaton and its nearby neighbor, the Warren Avenue School, were two of the larger structures razed for Century 21.  However, the neighborhood’s biggest – the Civic Auditorium, Ice Arena, and the 146th Field Artillery Armory – were given makeovers and saved for the fair.  Built in 1939, the old Armory shows on the far right.  Although not so easy to find it is also in the “now” having served in its 71 years first as the Armory, then the ’62 fair’s Food Circus, and long since the Center House.

This is part of David and Louisa Denny’s pioneer land claim, which Salish history explains served for centuries as a favorite place to snag low-flying ducks and hold potlatches.  The oldest user of the Eaton Apt site was even more ancient.  The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) brought King Tut, or at least parts of his tomb, to the Flag Pavilion in 1978.  It was about then that Andy Warhol also showed up to party with SAM in the old pavilion, which in 2002 was replaced and greatly improved with the Fisher Pavilion.

Readers who have old photographs of this neighborhood from before the 1962 fair (they are rare) or of the fair itself might like to share them with historylink.  That non-profit encyclopedia of regional history is preparing a book on the fair, one that will resemble, we expect, its impressive publication on the recent Alaska Yukon Pacific Centennial.  As with the AYP book, the now hard-at-work authors are Paula Becker and Alan Stein.  You can reach them by phone at 206-447-8140 or on line at Admin@historylink.org.

This Pierson Photo looks northeast over the future fair grounds late in July, 1928. It was printed with caption in the Seattle Times on the 29th of July, with the header for the caption reading "Look, Seattle, at Your Own Civic Center From Air!" The aerial is, obviously, filled with attractions. Our Eaton Apartments site at the northeast corner of Second Ave. and Thomas Street, is easily found centered at the bottom of the aerial. One block north of Thomas is Harrison street, and where it meets Second Ave is the spot where the Coliseum's (aka Keyarena) western anchor or primary strut or beam (or what?) is anchored. Below we will visit the corner, again before the '62 fair.
Here thirty-two years later is another aerial that was printed in The Seattle Times on July 13, 1960 - or near it - and photographed by Times photographer Paul Thomas. This one also looks northwest towards Lake Union, and shows the clearing the center well underway for C-21. The Times has helpfully attached identifying numbers, which we will now list. (1) Cleared of the Warren Avenue School and being prepared for the "state-financed Century 21 Coliseum." (2) Civic Auditorium from 1928; (3) Ice Arena (1928); (4) High School Memorial Stadium (ca. 1948); (5) National Guard Armory (soon to be renamed the Food Circus); (6) Nile Temple (kept for the fair and used then as the exclusive Club 21 where VIP's could relax and refresh while escaping the populace horde.) (7) Part of the future site of what the paper names "the five-unit federal Hall of Science" and we know as the Pacific Science Center. Just below and right of the circles "No.5" is the corner of the here razed Eaton Apartments.
Frank Shaw's pre-fair coverage of the neighborhood shows here the back side of the Eaton - its north facade. The view looks south and a little east from the north line of Harrison Street, a few feet west of Second Ave. Shaw's photo was, of course, photographed sometime before Thomas 1960 aerial above it. Since 1961 standing here and taking the same aim as Shaw would show that west support for the Keyarena. (Which is more likely the Key Arena.) The next view - one from the Space Needle - in 1962 - marks the spot with a red arrow.
The red arrow marks the spot - or near it - where Frank Shaw shot the photo that is placed above this one.
That western beam, strut, support, noted here. Photographers have climbed it for the prospect of astronaut John Glenn during his morning visit to the fair. The view looks west somewhat in line with Harrison Avenue, which would put out-of-frame the International Fountain on the right and the Plaza of States (with the state flags) on the left. This is another Times shot - one by their long-time photographer Vic Condiotty. I met Vic in 1982, my first year contributing the weekly "now-and-then" to the paper.

We will wrap No. 23 with another Frank Shaw photo.  This one, we figure, looks north and a little east from what would become the Pacific Science Center.  The Catholics, at the southeast corner of Second and Thomas, are here right-of-center, which is also often the position of its clerics if not always the parishioners.  Far-right, is the yellow strut, beam, girder, stanchion, transverse on the east quadrant of the Coliseum and here  under construction. It appears above where the Eaton Apartments would be standing – if they still were.   Queen Anne Hill is on the horizon.


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