Seattle Now & Then: Frank Shaw's Big Neighbor

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Work on the Washington State Coliseum began early in 1960. For Frank Shaw it wasn’t until the early summer of ’61 that the Space Needle suddenly emerged from the Coliseum’s roof line and kept on ascending. From his apartment windows Shaw photographed the view of the superimposed and still growing landmarks on September 16, 1961
NOW: On our early Sept. visit to Shaw’s corner we could not get into what was Frank’s Apartment 203, so Jean extended his oft-used ten-foot-pole and took this look kitty-corner at First Ave. N. and Republican. The Coliseum is hidden here behind the late summer landscape and the Queen Anne Post Office (1964).

From the roof, but more often from his second-floor window of Wedgewood Court, a comely lower Queen Anne apartment house, Frank Owen Shaw watched Seattle’s Century 21 take shape, especially the largest part of it: the Washington State Coliseum.  It was directly kitty-corner from his flat.

In 1957 the life-long bachelor moved into one of what the Wedgwood Court appropriately advertised then as its “nicely furnished bachelor apartments.”   From his privileged prospect, the Boeing quality control inspector, could also watch the Space Needle rise like a barometer of the fair’s heated construction, and he kept photographing this great pubic work both on site and from his window above the northwest corner of First Ave. N. and Republican Street.

Before Shaw moved out one month before the fair opened on April 21, 1962, he carefully framed his last 2×2” color slide from his second floor flat with his curtained window, and meticulously captioned it “Last shot from former Apt., March 20, 1962, 5:30 p.m.”   It showed the shining Coliseum topped by what I remember a friend’s daughter – a 6-year-old promoter-poet – describing for me then as “our splendid Space Needle.”

Frank Shaw's snap of Bob Geigle, on the right, and Dave Clark atop the Space Needle on April 14, 1985.

On the evidence of his carefully ordered negatives, one of Frank Shaw’s last photographs is of Bob Geigle posing at the top of the Needle in April, 1985.  For Geigle, a young employee then also at Boeing, Frank O. Shaw was “Frankoshaw” with the accent on the first syllable.  Bob remembers Frank’s dry wit as “sort of English old school.  And he was quite prim and proper too.  He loved to travel and climb mountains.  He took lots of pictures while climbing and some were published.  As he explained it, when he got too old to climb he started walking the city with his camera taking picture of what he called ‘what is.’”  Leaving lots of exquisitely real pictures, Frank died on Nov. 1, 1985, age 76.

Frank Shaw's self-portrait many times over from 1978. It would seem these multiplying mirrors are part of some "fun forest," perhaps that one at Seattle Center, which Shaw visited often.


Anything to add, Paul?   Jean, we will begin with a short stack of other 2×2 colored reversals that Frank Shaw took from his apartment at the northwest corner of First N. and Republican Street of work-in-progress on the Coliseum.  If there is time left we’ll pull a past feature or two from the neighborhood, as well – if time allows – some other fair photography by Shaw.

Most likely this is the first surviving recording Shaw took of early work on the Century 21 site. The scrubbing of the campus has begun. First Ave. N. is on the right. Shaw dates it Oct. 6, 1959.
About a half year later than the view above, this snap from Shaw's window is dated May 12, 1960, a few weeks short of two years before the Century 21 opened in the Spring of 1962. Although work on the Coliseum is hardly evident, lots of razing and clearing has happened since the photo (above) from the fall of 1959. As yet nothing of the Needle can be found from this prospect - or any.
For ready comparison to the next two views that follows this one, we return here to Oct. 6, 1959 for a look from Shaw's apartment across Republican to its southwest corner with First Ave. N., the future site of the neighborhood post office.
July 19, 1960 and early structural work on the Coliseum takes shape. The cream colored car holding the corner space in the parking lot keeps it in the shot that follows, which dates from six days later.
July 25, 1960.
October 6, 1960 and a time for political campaigning. We cannot account - as yet - for the success of either Olsen or Mast in the upcoming election. A half-block south and across First North, the grand west footing for the Coliseum lends some confidence to the idea that it will be ready little more than a year hence. Later, below, Shaw approached the footing with an unsteady camera. Perhaps he was excited. The focus is soft.
Nov. 1, 1960
Feb. 9, 1961 and the Space Needle is still nearly a half year away from being apparent from Shaw's apartment. Work on the Coliseum's primary roof supports - that will meet center-top - are underway.
One month later - March 8, 1961.
Three weeks more and topped-off - March 29, 1961
With but one year and one day to go before the opening of Century 21, there was a good deal of swingshift work on the fair, including this welding on the crown of the Coliseum, April 20, 1961. Frank Shaw took this one too.
About this time, not Shaw's but young Victor Lygdman's visit with part of the "Lunchbox Crew" working on the Coliseum.
Shaw visits the Coliseum construction site on May 6, 1961, and includes a glimpse - barely - of his Wedgewood Court Apartments hiding behind the far northwest corner of the Coliseum. Search directly below the summit of Queen Anne Hill that peeks above the same corner.
Frank Shaw captures the fireworks on April 21, 1961, marking the beginning of a one-year count-down to the Century-21 opening.
July 9, 1961. Work in progress for the structural "netting" of a roof that would later leak on the Sonics and begin a long routine of complaints by the dribblers to improve the Coliseum for an enlarged - and dry -place to be paid and play. Staging work for the structure on the fair's periphery has begun here at the southeast corner of First Ave. N. and Republican Street. The Space Needle will soon reveal.
Victor Lygdman's - not Shaw's - same construction stage photograph of the Coliseum's roof.
July 23, 1961 and the Space Needle shows itself to Frank Shaw.
Sept. 16, 1961. Less than two months later and the Needle has grown to its waistline.
October 1, 1961
November 4, 1961 - What goes up will go 'round - or seem to.
A splendid vase of mixed flowers has inspired Frank Shaw to step back and use his window - one of them - as a frame for the Space Needle, which is preparing to top-off. The date is Nov. 5, 1961. The glass is wobbly enough that we suspect that more often than not Shaw opened a window to make his recordings.
Horace leaves his lower Queen Anne apartment and ventures up the hill for this Nov. 5, 1961 subject.
December 10, 1961: Frank Shaw steps inside and catches work on the ramp being built for the Coliseum's planned futuristic attraction: World of Tomorrow.
More of the ramp and supporting structure of what will be the "World of Tomorrow." From a Seattle Times press shot by Paul V. Thomas for Jan. 3, 1962.
Thomas, most likely, returns on Jan 28 for a work-in-progress recording of the modular future world's "cubes."
During his excursion to the grounds on Dec. 10, 1961 Shaw also visited the base of the Space Needle for this subject.
On December 31, 1961 Shaw records what he captions as "The Space Needle with its torch on the first day it was tried!"
A bright winter afternoon with both the Space Needle and the Coliseum looking whole - on the outside. Feb. 11, 1962 - two months and ten days before the fair opens.
In part to point out Shaw's apartment house, we interrupt the flow of Shaw's recordings with this press shot taken for the Seattle Times from the Space Needle on Feb. 14, 1962. Clearly, from this perspective there remains lots of grooming for the fair's campus in the slightly more than two months remaining before Century 21 opened on April 21. For locating the Wedgewood Court Apartments use the brilliantly illuminated roof of the L-shaped (inverted) fair structure that borders the northwest part of Century 21 and turns at the apartment's corner: Republican Street and First Ave. North. The roof, we may imagine, points at the apartment at the center-top of this subject.
Having practiced finding Frank's apartment, the Wedgewood Arms, above the above, now find it again here in color and during the worlds fair. And notice the changes since, like the conversion of a graded field of mud into the Flag Plaza.
Surely one of the few times in the year when the sun lines up with the top of the Needle when viewed from Shaw's apartment - and he is soon to leave it. Feb. 25, 1962.
On the well-lighted evening of March 16, 1962 Frank Shaw captures the spotlighted International Fountain.
Shaw has captioned this, "Last shot from my former Apartment window." And so we wonder does the date he gives - March 20, 1962 - mark the day he took the photograph from his old haunts or the day he wrote on the cardboard frame of the developed slide in his new apartment less than three blocks to the south.

Leaving the ambiguity of the above slide’s caption, ordinarily Frank Shaw kept his slides and negatives in good order and well marked with captions that included place names and dates and sometimes even the hour of the day.   These tidy habits are also evident in the two recordings that follow of the living room in his new apartment after nearly 15 years of use.  They were photographed on June 10, 1977

DECATUR TERRACE:  On May 31, 1961 Frank Shaw – still from his apartment window above Republican Street – turned his camera to the west and recorded the old David and Louisa Denny home, known as Decatur Terrace in its grander days, holding to its second footprint, the one at the southeast corner of Queen Anne Ave. and Republican.  It was originally built on a terrace that was near the center of the Shaw’s block – the block between First Ave. N. and Queen Anne Ave., Mercer Street and Republican.

MAY 31, 1961 looking west on Republican from Frank Shaw's apartment.
The view directly below was photographed in the late 1890s by Anders Wilse from a prospect near the corner of Mercer and Queen Anne, or Temperance Ave. as it was then still called.  (There were no spirits even sipped in this home.)



Follows now a two-column copy of the text for this Pacific feature as it was printed in the second of the three “Seattle Now and Then” books.  (All three can be called forth and read in Ron Edge’s scan of their every page.  You will find them under the “history books” button on the front page of this blog.

The Denny's big home soon after it was moved A long half-block to its new footprint at the southeast corner of Republican and Queen Anne Ave, where, as the banner indicates, it started advertising for lodgers.
On may 24, 1971 Frank Shaw returned to the corner for this recording of the humbled Decatur Terrace. Shaw's caption reveals that he was aware of the big home's landmark status and most likely lamented its loss. He writes, "The Denny Mansion - a day before it was razed."


Smiling Paul Thiry, left, Century 21's "Official Architect" and the primary hand behind the Coliseum's design, is awarded "Flame," the sculpture on the right, in recognition of the fair's architecture. An equally smiling Norman Cahner, representing Building Construction magazine, presents the award equally to Century 21, Seattle, and by witness of those who work with him the often commanding Thiry. Appropriately - for this feature - part of the Coliseum is included in the photo.


The Warren Ave. School looking southeast from Warren and Republican.


In the mid-1880s, the patriarchs of North Seattle – David Denny and George Kinnear included – urged settlers aboard a horse-drawn railway to their relatively inexpensive lots north of Denny Way.  Their efforts were rewarded as the flood of immigration, which increased steadily after the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883, pushed settlement into the land between Denny and Queen Anne hills.

By the turn of the century, this crowd of newcomers had established a neighborhood full of large families.  And beginning in 1902 more than 400 of the neighborhood children attended primary school on Block 35 of David and Louisa Denny’s Home Addition.

Warren Avenue School (on Warren Ave.) was built in 1902 and abandoned in 1959.  This view of the school is an early one.  The school’s demise came when the site was chosen first for an expanded civic center and soon after for a world’s fair: Century 21.  By closing time, the neighborhood around the school had long since stopped swelling with families.

The siting of the contemporary photograph was adjusted to make a comparison of the Key Arena’s and the school’s west walls.  The school’s fine-tuned position would put the children posing near its front door on the Key Arena’s floor beneath the rim of its north end backboard (if there is still a backboard around since the flight of the Sonics.)

The first Sonics, from 1967-68. (Al Bianci is the head coach, kneeling in black at the center. Can you name any of the others - players and coaches?)
Frank Shaw's record of the Steven Pass sponsored summer snow jump using the Coliseum's roof and sturdy eastern foundation for support. The photo dates from Aug. 27, 1966 and so beats the Sonics' first play by a year.
We return again to the 1912 Baist Map for some grounding. The Warren Ave. School appears in yellow on green above and to the left of the map detail's center. The Mercer Playfield, to the right (east) of the school, is the site of the International Fountain. The future site of Frank Shaw's home in the Wedgewood Apts. is part of the featureless block in light-blue, upper left. The future site of the Space Needle appears below and right of the map's center as the red brick fire station on 4th Ave.
Recalling Ron Edge's superimposition of a (more-or-less) contemporary map of the Seattle Center with a indexed (for landmark and services locations) map of Century 21. (Click to Enlarge)
Thoughts and some planning for Century 21 began with the state legislature's World Fair Commission in 1955. This 1956 birdseye imagined what the "Festival of the West," as it was then called, might involve in a remaking of Seattle's Civic Center. It retains much of the old center, however, all that it adds had no apparent effect on the eventual designs of a few years later. The 1957 birdseye also depicts a link between the fairgrounds and a monument on Duwamish Head, which would tower above and "amusement zone" built on the tidelands to the west. It was or would have been, no doubt, for some an intimation and possible revival of Luna Park, the amusement park built over the shallow tidelands at the Head in 1907.
We return to Frank Shaw's kitty-corner glimpse from February 9, 1961 as his closest gateway to a Seattle Times clipping from 30 years earlier: Feb. 22, 1931. It is a lesson - although a simple one - in the changes wrought by a Great Depression, another World War, and a post-war courting of progress and development.
The Times from Feb. 9, 1931 is abundantly dedicated to the powers of positive thinking and imagining relief from what was then growing into the Great Depression, which would require the grim relief (or false economics) of a world war for escape.












One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: Frank Shaw's Big Neighbor”

  1. Mr. Dorpat:

    Thanks for the Frank Shaw snaps and history lesson. I have been looking for more examples of Frank O. Shaw’s photography, without luck, for several years. As a avid hiker in the Olympic Mountains, I have been inspired by Mr. Shaw’s work featured in an older edition of Robert L. Wood’s “Olympic Mountains Trail Guide”.


    Keith Worman

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