Seattle Now & Then: Billboards on Third Avenue

(click – often TWICE – to enlarge photos)
THEN: Foster and Kleiser, the outdoor advertising monopoly, in 920 claimed that it did more than 90 percent of billboards in the Northwest. Here two years earlier, at the northeast corner of Seneca St. and Third Avenue, it poses some of its most ornate work like posh picture frames on a fireplace mantle.
NOW: Since 1920-21 the corner has been held by substantial elegance of the Telephone Building.
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 Power and the Pride of building a near monopoly. This appeared in The Times for March 10, 1920.
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.”
Same power, same art, but a different as yet unidentified corner. Far right a glimpse of the tower of Gethsemane Lutheran Church at the corner of 9th and Stewart is a clue, although I do not have the answer.
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.
Another detail from the 1912 Baist Real Estate Map, this one showing the neighborhood. The block defined by Seneca and University Streets and Third and Fourth Avenues is right of center and towards the top. The block is crossed by two broken lines, the larger one represents/follows the 1905 railroad tunnel. The birdseye view, which is four photos down, was recorded from the Hotel Savoy, which can be found in this Baist detail to the left and so west of our subject's block.
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.
Groundbreaking for the new YWCA at the southeast corner of 5th and Seneca.
Up on the roof in 1923 for the Girl Reserve Conference. The roof and dome of 4th Church Christ Scientist at 8th and Seneca appears upper-right. (Courtesy, Y.W.C.A.)
Playtime on the roof with the towers of Central School (at 6th and Madison) on the left and Providence Hospital at 5th and Madison just breaking the horizon on the right and above the watchful playground proctors. (Courtesy, Y.W.C.A.)
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.”
The once very popular hereabouts Society Chocolates that are embraced above by corner's far left billboard.
Far right, a birdseye look at the same corner, about the same time. The new Y.W.C.A. appears upper right, and the Pantages Theatre far left. (Click twice to study enlarged)


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.
More grandeur, here at the northwest corner of Pine and Third Avenue.
Four big boards embraced by their plaster-cast votaries in an otherwise vacant lot mid-block on Second Ave. just north of the St. Regis Hotel, at the northwest corner of Second and Stewart.
Set in City Hall Park to service "food programs" during the First World War. (We included this earlier in the blog, along with its feature as part of a narrative about briefly squatting protestors during the Great Depression.)
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.
The Dexter Horton Home at the northeast corner of Third and Seneca with the Territorial University behind it and one block east at Seneca and what would be Fourth Avenue had it been carried through the original U.W. campus - which is was not.
The telephone building that eventually replaced it.
(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.
(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 at the southwest corner of Spring Street and Fourth Avenue. A glimpse of the Lodge's north facade on Spring Street can be found in the primary subject, far above. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)
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.
The Elks welcome a parade of Tillikums (many of them Elks) at the lodge during one of the earliest Potlatch Celebrations - either 1911 or 1912. The Lincoln Hotel is far left. (Courtesy, Michael Maslan)
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.
Not able at the moment to uncover my photo of Jim Fabor's POW on the south facade of the doomed Elks Lodge, I attach instead a portrait of Jim posing for me at the Indian Salmon House, during one of our lunches there in the 1980s.
And also and perhaps for titillation we included Lawton Gowey's 11th hour look at the west facade of the Elks Lodge hours before the work of knocking it down commenced. The pop art was on the here hidden south facade - on the right. Please Imagine it until we can find it and offer it as an addendum..
Again from his office in the Seattle Light Building, Lawton Gowey took this record of the Elks' half-destruction on July 5, 1966. The two towers are at work battering the Elks away.
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. ~
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.

Alaskan Way aka Railroad Ave. looking South from Yesler Way, Sept. 29, 1939.
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.

40th Street looking east from 11th Ave. N.E. March 14, 1940.
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.
Third Ave. looking south through Virginia Street, Dec. 11, 1936.
Third Avenue looking south thru Cherry Street, Nov. 1, 1936.
Second Ave. looking north thru Broad Street, March 14, 1940.
Fifth Ave. looking north into Denny, April 18, 1939.
Fifth Ave. looking north from Olive Street, 1939.
Seventh Ave, Denny Way & Battery Street, Dec. 30, 1936.
12th Ave. looking south to Alder, March 14, 1940.
15th Ave. S. looking north thru Beacon, Sept. 16, 1937.
15th Ave. NW looking north thru 64th Street, Nov. 12, 1936.
Aurora looking north to Valley, August 26, 1940.
California Ave. looking north to Alaska, Sept 23, 1941.
Westlake looking north thru Pine, (no date)
Broadway Ave. looking south thru John Street, 1933.

5 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Billboards on Third Avenue”

  1. Great Elks building!

    Are their any pictures of the Seatlle Elks Lodge Room?

    I heard it was big and nice and had a huge organ in it!

    Wish I could see that.

    1. Do you want interior pictures of the Seattle Elks Temple?
      Like pictures of their beautiful lodge room on the top floor.
      My email

      I just have lodge room post card images, their pipe organ. I don’t have any bar or lounge pictures.

  2. You can contact California Hawaii Elks State Association Historian about stuff from the Seattle Elks Lodge building!
    His name is Trill Terilion and he is a good friend of mine. You will be supprised what he has from that old Seattle Elks Temple building!

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