Seattle Now & Then: The Central Seattle Service Station

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Both this service station on 6th Avenue and the nearly ancient tenement apartments beside it and facing Columbia Street, survived into the late 1950s, the years of planning for the Seattle Freeway that replace both.
NOW: Jean Sherrard stepped back from 6th Avenue to repeat the site once home for the Central Seattle Service Station in order to catch the speeding motorcycle rather than be run over by it.

My hunch is that this smartly named Central Seattle Service Station opened in 1925.  It does not appear in the 1924 Polk City Directory – not as a garage or service station, both of which it was a year later.

One lot south of Marion Street on the east side of 6th Avenue – and now part of the I-5 pit – the station appears in a promotional photograph taken in the spring of 1925. The unidentified photographer aimed east from 5th Avenue through a block empty except for at a covey – or perhaps bevy – of white-uniformed nurses pointing at a big billboard that makes the hopeful, but as it turned out mistaken, claim that “On this Site will be Built Seattle General Hospital.”

The above looks east from 5th Ave. a full empty block to the new service station on the far side of 6th. How it sparkles? Note the row houses - aka tenements - on Columbia, far right. The nurses promotions of the empty block (this side of Sixth Avenue - with a billboard) as the planned acres for a new Seattle General Hospital is elaborated in the S.Times feature from May 15, 1925 printed directly below. The hospital would, however, not be built here. Instead this block like many others near downtown was used in large part for parking.

Directly above the billboard the gleaming white service station appears at 812 Sixth Avenue, one lot south of Marion Street.  Its own covey of signs offer Associated Oil Products, Motormates Official Brake Service, Cycol products, parking, storage, repairs, cars washed and polished and free crank case service.  Located on the side of First Hill the incline was handy for coasting and starting cars with bad starters – a common problem then – on compression.)

My second hunch is that the close-up of the by then Standard Oil station printed here – and beside it the Crescent Apartments, a tenement row facing Columbia Street – was recorded sometime during the 1930s.  Cars were in need of more service then because so few new ones were being bought during the Great Depression.

Three adverts for "expert mechanic" J.H. Budsey run in S.Times 1935 classifieds.

Still there were lots of cars.  While the population of the previously booming Seattle slowed to a mere 22 percent in the 15 years between 1922 and 1937, the number of motor vehicle increased then by 211 percent.  Then in 1941 more than 50,000 new residents migrated to Seattle’s busy home front for the USA’s first official year in the Second World War.  Boeing built a parking lot near its new Flying Fortress Plant 2 for 5,000 cars.  By then and back here in Central Seattle – and as just noted –  the block once hoping for a hospital had been parking cars for years.

Dated "1950" on the back in pencil, this print shows near bottom-left the mid-block service station in the block bounded by Marion Street, on the left; Columbia Street, left of center; Sixth Ave., running above the bottom border, and, of course, Seventh Avenue too. Note the tenement row houses on the north (left) side of Columbia, running the full block from 6th to 7th. Directly up First Hill on the east side of 9th Avenue are the twin towers of St. James Cathedral. Bottom left, is the Central School Annex at the northwest corner of Marion and 7th. It was the last remnant of the nearly pioneer school, and survived to be razed in the late 1950s for the Seattle Freeway that in this run took out everything between 6th and 7th Avenues, replacing them with either its concrete trestle or its concrete ditch. There is much else to discover in this aerial - including the gas bump seen above half-hiding in the shadow of a power pole - if you click it twice.
Central School remainders - the annex - photographed by Lawton Gowey on March 30, 1962, looking northwest across Marion Street from 7th Avenue.
The west facade of the Central School annex photographed by Lawton Gowey on June 4, 1961.
Central School, nearly new - circa 1893 - and with its full tower, looking southeast across Madison Street from Sixth Avenue. Note, far right the tower of the King County Courthouse at 8th & Terrace.
Later - Central School sans tower and Madison Street without its cable car tracks.


Anything to add, Paul?

We shall try Jean, again with a few past  features from the neighborhood.  And we will lead with a detail from our helpful Baist Real Estate Map of 1912.

Not named in this detail, 6th Avenue runs along the left side of what is included here, and a snip of 9th Avenue is at the upper-right corner in front of St James Cathedral. The Central School foot-printed here, upper-left, is the one shown above several times. The annex gets its footprint as well. This campus took the place of an earlier frame Central School that was lost on this block to fire in 1888. We follow this map with a picture or two of the earlier Central. Block 48 includes at its upper-left northwest corner the footprint for the McNaught's big home and next to it the even bigger apartment. To the south of McNaught is another larger structure, which was razed in the mid-1920s for the gas station. Running along the north side of Columbia Street are the row houses seen in several of the photographs featured here. Also note the brick apartments on the north side of Madison Street, upper-left. They appear again below in several photos that look east on Madison from 6th Avenue.
The horizon shows both the first Central School at 6th and Madison, at the center of the horizon, and to its right the upstanding McNaught home at the southeast corner of 6th and Marion. Columbia Street climbs First Hill on the right. Frye's Opera House, far-left, filled the northeast corner of Front Street (First Ave.) and Madison Street. The subject was photographed by Moore, circa 1886.
The still forthright if lonely McNaught mansion, at the southeast corner of 6th and Marion appears here upper right. Central School is somewhat hidden behind the raising of First Methodist's new sanctuary at the southeast corner of 3rd and Marion. The Gold Rule Bazaar at the southeast corner of Front (First Ave. ) and Marion St. is on the far left. A passenger car of the Seattle's own Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railway sits on Railroad Avenue. Opening some of King County's hinterlands to Seattle, the trains started running north along the waterfront to Interbay and from there to the north shore of Lake Union and onward to Bothell in 1887.
With his back to Mill Street (Yesler Way) the photographer - Moore most likely - looks north to Central School, circa 1887. Seventh Avenue, on the right, is being graded with the help of narrow-gauged rails. Cherry Street, bottom-left, is carried in part on a trestle. This is where First Hill took a dip interrupting its ascension. The McNaught home at the southeast corner of Marion and 6th seems to nestle near the southwest corner of Central School. There are as yet no row houses on the north side of Columbia Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. The full tower of Providence Hospital on 5th Ave., centered between Spring and Madison Streets, is on the left horizon. The hospital's tower breaks the clear-cut but scarcely developed horizon of Denny Hill.
An illustration from West Shore magazine - from the early 1880s - includes the McNaught home, bottom-left, as one of Seattle's landmarks. Although the rendering of the "new city hall" at the center nicely cleaves the quarters for two of Seattle's best hotels then, the Arlington and the New England (they rested kitty-corner from each other at Commercial Street - First Ave. S. - and Main Street), when completed in 1882 City Hall never got its tower.

Then above: The city’s regarding forces reached 6th and Marion in 1914.  A municipal photographer recorded this view on June 24.  Soon after, the two structures left high here were lowered to the street. (courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive)  Now below: The corner’s final “humiliation” came as a ditch dug and concrete-lined in the early 1960s for the Seattle Freeway section of Interstate-5. (Photo by Jean Sherrard)


(First appeared recently in Pacific and here too, May 2, 2010)

In 1880 or 81 Joseph and Virginia McNaught began building their home at the southeast corner of Marion Street and Sixth Avenue. It sat on a high point – a knoll – that made it stand alone against the sky when viewed from the waterfront. The couple took some kidding about having moved so far east of town.

Soon after following his brother James to Seattle in 1875, Joseph drove a herd of cattle from the Willamette Valley to a beef-poor Seattle. With the profits he then returned east for a law degree and marriage to the good-humored Virginia.  She was known for her wit.  Returning to Seattle the McNaughts became one the city’s most entrepreneurial couples with investments in transportation, mining, shipbuilding, Palouse homesteads, and stockyards.

For much of the two square blocks between 6th and 7th, and Marion and Cherry – all of it part of the I-5 ditch now – First Hill was mostly no hill.  Parts of it even lost altitude before joining again the often steep climb east of 7th Avenue.  With the grading of 6th Avenue, first in 1890, the home was lowered a few feet.  That year it was also pivoted 90 degrees clockwise.  So what is seen here facing north at 603 Marion previously was facing west at 818 Sixth Ave.  The regrade of 1914, seen here, lowered the sites old prominence about two stories to the grade of this freshly bricked intersection.

By then the McNaughts were off in Oregon raising alfalfa hay and living in Hermiston, one of the two town sites they developed.  The other was Anacortes.  Virginia named Hermiston, and it includes a Joseph Avenue.

Following this 1914 regrade the old McNaught mansion was modified and expanded into the porches for eight apartments.  All the Victorian trim was either removed or lost behind new siding.  Through its last years it was joined with its big box neighbor on Marion as part of a sprawling Marion Hotel until sacrificed for the freeway.

Snow - from sometime in the 1890s - captures the rooftops of all structures on the block bounded by Marion, Columbia, Sixth and Seventh - and much else. On the left, the first half of the row houses line up on the north side of Columbia, in its half block west of 7th to the alley - if there was one. The others that complete the block to 6th (their backsides appear in the primary photo at the very top) are yet to be built. The Rainier Hotel is far left on the west side of Sixth Avenue. It was built of wood and with speed following the city's Great Fire of 1889, which consumed most of Seattle's hotels. The here noble bulk of Central School stands on the right. Between the hotel and the school stand the McNaught home, somewhat behind the "bare ruined choirs" of a tree standing near the center of the block. The shot was taken from 9th Avenue and looks over Columbia Street. The block in the foreground is now home for the recently constructed senior living facility named Skyline, and one of its residents - on the 16th floor with a splendid view of Mt. Rainier, the circumference of which he has hiked more than once - is our contributor and the now long-retired University of Washington archivist, Richard Berner.
Here too, and very near the scene's center, can be found Central School, its annex on Marion, the McNaught home, and the row houses on Columbia, although the service station is hidden behind them. The view was taken from the new Harborview Hospital in 1930-31. Jefferson Street is at the bottom and below it, but parallel with it, is James Street with its corner at 8th Ave. and there also the Trinity Episcopal Church, which Rich Berner can see from his high Skyline flat as well.


Madison Street, ca. 1910, looking east from 6th Avenue. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)


(First appeared in Pacific, Feb. 17, 1985)

In 1910, Madison Street, where it climbs First Hill, was a fashionable strip bordered by better brick apartments and hotels. This stretch of Madison was also lined by what Sophie Frye Bass described as “the pride of Madison Street . . . the stately poplar trees made it the most attractive place in town.” She wrote this in her still engaging book “Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle.”

The strip was not only popular but populated. Madison was evolving into a vital city link. The two cable cars pictured in this early-century view up Madison from Sixth Avenue started running there in 1890 when the Madison Street Cable Railway first opened service up First Hill and Second Hill and through the forest to Madison Park on Lake Washington. The white sign hanging from the front of the closest car reads, “White City, Madison Park, Cool Place, Refreshments, Amusements.” White City was a short-lived promotion designed by the cable railway’s owners to attract riders onto the cars and out to the lake. White City failed in 1912, but by then the top attraction at the lake end of the line was not the park but the ferry slip and the ferry named after the 16th president of the United States: Lincoln.

While the hotels are still in place along the north side of Madison St. east of 6th Avenue, the Poplars are long gone in this Lawton Gowey recording from June 19, 1961. Lawton understood that the buildings would also soon be bricks of the past.

Madison’s popular poplars did not survive into the 1930s, according to author Bass. The granddaughter of pioneer Arthur Denny lamented in her book that by then, the endearing trees “had given way protestingly to business.”

The same block and the same Lawton. He shot this on March 21, 1966, with the Freeway nearly complete here with its downtown ditch, but not quite dedicated as yet. Classical First Presbyterian is on the left. The main entrance faced Spring Street - and still does but through modern doors.

In 1940, Madison lamented another loss when its cable cars gave way to gasoline-powered buses. Then, 20 years later, the entire block pictured in the foreground of the historical scene gave way to the interstate freeway built in the early 1960s.

The Presbyterian's new sanctuary was up-to-date and most likely not predestined, but chosen by committee. Lawton Gowey took this one too. He was also a Presbyterian, and played the organ on Sunday's for his Queen Anne congregation for many decades.

Madison Street was named for the county’s fifth president. Arthur Denny, while platting Seattle’s streets in alliterative pairs, named the street one block south of Madison “Marion” after a young brother, James Marion Denny. Arthur needed another “M.”

More poplars - well the same ones - here looking east on Madison from Seventh. The Knickerbocker Hotel is on the right and Central School on the left. (Courtesy, Washington State Museum, Tacoma)
Still move poplars, these seen looking west from Minor Avenue. If the trees were felled and the view wider, the Carkeek home would be on the left and the University Club on the right.


Then Caption above:  Looking northwest across a bench in the rise of First Hill, ca. 1887. The photographer was probably one of three. George Moore, David Judkins or Theodore Peiser, were the local professionals then most likely to leave their studios and portrait work to point a camera northwest from near the corner of Seventh Avenue and Jefferson Street.  (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)   Jean’s repeat, below, looks from the western border of the Harborview Hospital campus near what was once the steep intersection of Seventh Avenue and Jefferson Street.


(First appeared in Pacific, Independence Day, July 4th 2010)

Long ago when first I studied this look northwest across First Hill I was startled by its revelations of the hill’s topography.   The hill does not – or did not – as we imagine steadily climb from the waterfront to the east.  For instance, here Cherry Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues – the white picket fence that runs across the scene’s center marks the north side of that block – keeps a fairly flat grade and then where it intersects with Sixth Ave. defies all our modern expectations and dips to the east.

James Street, on the left, climbs First Hill between 5th and 6th Streets on an exposed timber trestle.  To the lower other (north) side of that bridge there was an about four-block pause between James and Columbia, Fifth and Seventh, in (or from) the steady climbing we expect of First Hill.  Now in these blocks the flat Seattle Freeway repeats this feature ironically.

There are enough clews here to pull an approximate date for this unsigned cityscape, which looks northwest from near Seventh Avenue and Jefferson Street.  It is most likely sometime during the winter of 1887-88.  The best clew is the Gothic spire atop the Methodist Episcopal Church far left of center. There is still construction scaffolding on the south side of the sanctuary, which was completed at the southeast corner of Marion and Third Ave. early in 1888.  On the far right horizon is the big box of Central School – it burned down in the Spring of 1888 – and to this side of it the McNaught big home sits at its original grade on the southeast corner of Marion and Sixth.

In its details this panorama is strewn with other pioneer landmarks including the Western House (the name is on the roof – see the market detail below) at the southeast corner of 6th and James.  It is the large L-shaped box below the scene’s center.  Built in 1881, it was finally named the Kalmar House after a new owner’s hometown in Sweden.  It survived until 1962 when, in what architect-preservationist Victor Steinbrueck called “an act of esthetic idiocy on the part of the city,” it was razed for the Freeway.

The above detail shows the roof crest sign reading “Western House” marked in red.  The view below, while similar to the one above is later – ca. 1890.   It is also photographed from a distance further south on Seventh Avenue.  The Western House, however, has stayed place, holding to its same footprint at the southeast corner of 6th and James, and it has added a new top story.  It appears right-of-center.  Above the Kalmar is the grand bulk of the Rainier Hotel, which is directly across 6th Avenue from the McNaught home.  It appears far right.  The photographer here was F.J. Haynes, the Northern Pacific Railroad’s official photographer (he had his own RR-car) during his first visit to Seattle following its “Great Fire of 1889.”


KALMAR INN – Southeast Corner of JAMES & 6th Avenue.

(First appeared in Pacific, April 13, 1986)

In 1962, when Seattle showed the world Century 21, the fair with a “forward thrust,” the late Victor Steinbrueck first published “Seattle Cityscape,” the sketchbook that was to become a local classic. One of Its most lovingly rendered pen-and-ink drawings was of the Hotel Kalmar. In the caption, Steinbrueck wrote: “The only remaining example of an early pioneer hotel is the old Kalmar Hotel at Sixth Avenue and James Street. With Its pumpkin· colored wooden siding end hand-sawn details, It has been e picturesque pert of Seattle’s personality.  Built In 1881, much of Seattle’s history has been viewed from Its wide veranda, but now It is being destroyed to make room for the freeway.”

And destroyed It was, in April of 1962, despite efforts of local preservationists. It was razed “In a rumble of wreckers, derricks end c1amshell loaders,” The Seattle Times reported. For more then 70 years the Kalmar had lived intimately next to a different rumble, one that was regular – the c1anglng struggle of the James Street cable cars as they gripped their way up and down the steep side of First Hill.

Leonard Brand, who with his sister Viola were the last managers and residents of the Kalmar, grew up with the constant noise. In fact, the cable cars had rocked young Leonard to sleep. He was only three months old when his parents moved into the old Michigan Hotel after purchasing and renaming it after his mother s hometown In Sweden.

This week’s scene was probably photographed for the Brands, who are seen posing on the veranda. Leonard is in his mother’s arms and Viola stands by. The Kalmar was the only home these children knew until they were forced by the Freeway to retire to West Seattle.

All attempts failed to save the landmark. Steinbrueck lamented in an article at the time: “When I go back now to many of these places, nothing is left . . . I have only my pictures.” And for now, all attempts to find Victor’s sketch of the Kalmar, have failed. We will either insert it or add an addendum later.  We have promised a few of those in the past – promises we may still keep when the objects of our desire fall into our laps.  Meanwhile, here follows Lawton Gowey’s 11th hour record of the Kalmar, photographed on Jan. 17, 1961.


NOW and THEN Captions together. The obvious continuities between this week’s photographs are the monumental twin towers of St. James Cathedral, upper right, at 9th and Marion and far left the unadorned rear west wall and south sidewall of the Lee Hotel that faces 8th Avenue.  Judging from the cars, the older scene dates from near the end of World War Two. The weathered two-story frame building at the scene’s center also marks time.  It was torn down in 1950 and replaced with the parking lot seen in the “now.”   Historical photo by Werner Lenggenhager, courtesy of Seattle Public Library.


(First featured in Pacific, Dec. 5, 2004)

In 1949 architects Naramore, Bain and Brady began construction on new offices for themselves at the northeast corner of 7th Avenue and Marion Street. Their new two-story building filled the vacant lot that shows here, in part, in the foreground of the older scene.  Consequently if I had returned to the precise prospect from which Werner Lenggenhager (the historical photographer) recorded his view ca. 1947 I would have faced the interior wall of an office that was likely large enough to have once held several draughting tables.  Instead I went to the alley between 7th and 8th and took the “now” scene about eight feet to the left of where the little boy stands near the bottom of the older view.

That little boy is still younger than many of us – myself included – and he helps me make a point about nostalgia.  The less ancient is the historical photograph used here the more likely am I to receive responses (and corrections) from readers.  Clearly for identifying photographs like the thousands that Lenggenhager recorded around Seattle there are many surviving “experts.” And more often than not they are familiar not only with his “middle-aged” subjects but also with the feelings that may hold tight to them like hosiery – Rayon hosiery.

Swiss by birth Lenggenhager arrived in Seattle in 1939, went to work for Boeing and soon started taking his pictures.  He never stopped.  Several books – including two in collaboration with long-time Seattle Times reporter Lucile McDonald – resulted and honors as well like the Seattle Historical Society’s Certificate of Merit in 1959 for building a photographic record of Seattle’s past.  The greater part of his collection is held at the Seattle Public Library. For a few years more at least Lenggenhager will be Seattle’s principle recorder of nostalgia.



This from Ron, and most fitting.  Another aerial that looks directly onto the block and showing most of the landmarks of concern this week, including a still spiffy service station on 6th, the McNaught home, Central School and its annex and part of the row homes on Columbia too – those that anchor at its northeast corner with Sixth Ave.

We may use it again when we soon respond with “extras” to our Town Hall feature – on the 16th of this month – where, among other uses, we give a last minute reminder that that Sunday Jean’s Town Hall Christmas Stories are being produced – by Jean as “A Rogue’s Christmas” – its his seven year.  Now you know two weeks in advance – thanks to Ron and his aerial.   The show begins at 4pm Dec. the 16th – yes that Sunday!

We might also use Ron’s aerial again for our feature on the Rainier Club’s expansion, for there it is – the club – near the lower left corner.   And so on and thanks to Ron.   (Really click this one to enlarge.)



One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: The Central Seattle Service Station”

  1. Thanks for your wonderful collection of photographs. I have lived in the Zindorf in First Hill for about two years now and have recently started searching for the history of this building (built in 1910). I have hit a lot of dead ends. Your website is the first real glimpse I have got on my neighbor hood and apartment in it’s early days. It’s truly very exciting for me.

    I look forward to checking out more of your Seattle now and then posts.


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