In the winter of 1920 Foster and Kleiser trumpeted the great success of their outdoor advertising business – aka billboards – by offering preferred stock in their company at $100 a share. Soon after, they ran a three column ad on the Times “finance and markets” page strengthening their offering with a capitalized boast: “The Power of Art Has Produced This Great Business.”
The printed slogan was framed in a pen and ink rendering of one the wonderfully pretentious billboard frames Foster and Kleiser had raised on a favorite few of the many local corners and rooftops for which they had leaseholds for their billboards. They adorned this double-lot at the northeast corner of Third Ave. and Seneca Street four times with the “power of art.”
The years that billboards cloaked the clutter of this corner at 3rd and Seneca were few. Their life of advertising began after the ca. 1907 destruction of the big home that Dexter Horton, Seattle’s first banker, built here in the 1870s. (See below for a brief feature on that home.) The art-deco mounts were removed for the construction of the brick pile the telephone company started lifting here in 1920. This sturdy survivor was engineered to hold the company’s heavy equipment. For the foundation the builders also prudently wrapped in concrete the Great Northern Railroad tunnel that runs directly beneath the northeast corner of their skyscraper.
Only one of the structures recorded in this 1918 look east across Third Avenue survives: the then four-year old Y.W.C.A. building at the southeast corner of 5th Avenue and Seneca. The Y’s ornate upper floors hold the horizon. They are topped by a wire fence raised high for games on the roof.
Back on Third, Foster and Kleiser’s peacocky billboards were also security against a recurring public resentment for outdoor advertising that was led by local improvement clubs. The boards were variously described as “blots on beauty,” “commercialism gone mad,” and “glaring and unsightly structures that lift their flaming fronts and tell their own story of aggressive insolence.”
Anything to add, Paul? Surely Jean, as is our way. First here’s Walter F. Foster, in a cartoon ca. 1909. Perhaps he was the art director at the time and almost surely had a good hand – and head – for figures. We will follow his portrait with three other examples of his firm’s upscale billboards set on Central Business District corners.
And yet m0re to share Jean.
First three related features that appeared in by-gone Pacifics, and perhaps even here in some other context. These will be followed by fifteen examples of Fowler and Kleister research/sales photos showing a few of their big boards on local arterials.
CAROLINE & DEXTER HORTON’S BIG HOME
(First appeared in Pacific, May 23, 2004.)
Sometime in the 1870s, Dexter Horton moved with his second wife, Caroline Parsons, (his first wife had died) into their new home at the northeast corner of Third Avenue and Seneca Street. From their back porch they could look up at the classical cupola of Territorial University’s main building less than a block away. Except for the low fence that enclosed the campus, the landscape was continuous because Fourth Avenue was then still undeveloped between Seneca and Union streets.
Horton arrived in Seattle in 1853 with little more than the clothes he wore. Like many others, he eventually worked in Henry Yesler’s sawmill. His first wife, Hannah, worked for Yesler as well, managing the cookhouse attached to the mill. With their combined incomes, the couple opened a general store near the mill and even ventured to San Francisco to try their hand in the brokerage business. When they returned to Seattle in 1869 or ’70 (sources disagree), they brought with them a big steel safe and the official papers to start Seattle’s first bank.
The popular story that Horton’s first safe was secured with the trust his customers had with him – that is that it had no back on it – was discounted much later by his daughter, Caroline, who told off Seattle Times reporter Margaret Pitcairn Strachan: “You don’t think my father was that stupid do you?” The daughter speculated that the backless safe was one of her father’s jokes, since he was well known “for telling stories and laughing heartily at them.”
For all its loft and ornament, the banker’s distinguished home was the scene of a constant battle to stay warm in the colder months. Three fireplaces were the entire source of heat. The home’s many high windows admitted drafts at all hours. But when Dexter Horton died in 1904, a few months short of 80, he was still living here.
The TERRITORIAL UNIVERSITY from the HORTON HOME
(First appears in Pacific, Dec. 13, 1992)
This view of the old Territorial University was photographed from the back of the Horton home at the northeast corner of Third Avenue and Seneca Street. (Horton was the founder of Seafirst Bank.) The university’s main classical building stood one block east at the northeast corner of Fourth Avenue and Seneca Street, or would have, for Fourth then stopped at Seneca and would stay so until its regrade through the campus in 1907. The university’s south wall, far right, was about 80 feet north of Seneca.
The campus is only about 35 years old here. If the view was recorded in the fall of 1895 or after, it is no longer the home of the university, which that year moved into Denny Hall on its new campus north of Lake Union. After that, the old campus and its main building were used for a variety of meetings and assemblies and for a time served as home of the Seattle Public Library.
The main building measured 50 feet by 80 feet and was constructed in a hurry during the summer of 1861. Clearing of the ten-acre campus from gigantic first-growth forest began on March 1 and the school opened Nov. 4. Only one of its students, Clarence Bagley, was of college age. Rebecca Horton was one of the other 29 scholars – all of them taught by Asa Mercer, 22, who was faculty, principal and janitor.
The details of the campus’s construction are included in a Dec. 4 report to the Territorial Legislature by Daniel Bagley, Clarence’s father. Yesler’s mill provided the rough lumber, and the finished pieces came from Port Madison or Seabeck on Hood Canal. The stone for the foundations was quarried near Port Orchard and the sand was extracted from a bank nearby the site at Third Avenue and Marion Street. The bricks were hauled in from Whatcom (Bellingham), and all the glass, hardware and other finished items were imported from Victoria. The capitols above the fluted columns were carved by AP. DeLin, who had learned his woodworking as a craftsman for Chickering Piano Works.
ELKS LODGE – Southwest Corner of 4th Ave. and Spring Street.
(First appeared in Pacific, August 27, 1995 on the eve of Elk’s then Grand Exalted Ruler, Edward J. Mahan, for the dedication of the Lodge’s then nearly new Lower Queen Anne quarters.)
Seattle Elks took three days in 1914 to dedicate their lodge at the southwest comer of Fourth and Spring. There was plenty to do – the basement and sub-basement had a Turkish bath, bowling alleys and a big swimming pool. The Lodge Room on the top floor had a pipe organ and also was used for social events. Three floors were reserved for members’ living quarters and, aside from rented shops on the street, the rest of this nine-story landmark was used for lodge activities.
The Seattle lodge was the third largest in the order and, when counted with the Ballard Elks, made Seattle the only community outside of-New York with two lodges. Within two years of taking possession of their new lodge, membership swelled to more than 2,000, four times the number that met 10 years earlier in temporary quarters on the top floors of the Alaska Building.
Seattle Lodge 92 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks was instituted in 1888 with eight members. (Its records were destroyed in the city’s “Great Fire” of June 6, 1889. The Frye Opera House, the Lodge’s home, was one of the first structures consumed.
The lodge sold its Fourth Avenue quarters in 1958. Nine years later, in preparation for the building’s razing for the construction of the Seafirst Bank tower, bank publicist Jim Faber staged one of great conceptual-arts moments in Seattle history. In monumental block-cartoon letters he wrote “POW” on the brick south wall of the old lodge, a target for the wrecker’s ball.
Since leaving Fourth and Spring the Seattle Elks have had two homes: first on the west shore of Lake Union and now in lower Queen Anne. Lodge members have been meeting at Queen Anne Avenue and Thomas Street for a year and half, but withheld the dedication until tomorrow’s visit [in 1995] of Grand Exalted Ruler Edward J. Mahan. ~
A FOSTER & KLEISER SAMPLER
The fifteen subjects that follow are pulled from two collections of hundreds of mostly Seattle street scenes that included within them one billboard or more. The great majority of these scenes photographed by – or for – the Foster and Kleister firm, are not portraits of billboards, but of the settings in which they are placed. The negatives were used to show the firm’s clients the many opportunities open to them for advertising to the sides of our arterials. In this line, many of the 5×7 negatives included in the collections have been retouched – the boards have been wiped clean of any adverts on them not by erasing the emulsion from the negative but rather by covering it most often with an opague watercolor. Fortunately it can be removed – carefully. The collections also have a minority of negatives that are straight on depictions of billboards with fresh signage on them – fresh, no doubt, as proof of work for the firm’s clients.
I confess that preparing and polishing these negatives has been a delightful routine for me. They are hard to leave along, for when handling them I am often stirred by uncanny feelings of my youth – full bore nostalgia. The subjects date from about 1928 to 1942. Remembering that the two collections came to us coincidentally, we have hopes that there are third and fourth parts left to be revealed.
The typed negatives were routinely captioned by the firm with strips of paper taped to their bottoms. The directions in these captions require careful interpretation for they are not about the photographer’s prospect, but about the position of what the firm considers the primary billboard of interest in the photograph. An example: “Aurora, wl, 220 ft s of Howe.” This means that the billboard of interest is on the west line – or side – of Aurora 220 feet south of Howe Street. That may as far a two blocks from the photographer. We have tried to extend the captions with explicit mention of the photographer’s prospect of point of view.