Seattle Now & Then: Alley to James Street

THEN: Looking north down the Alley between Jefferson and James Street, in the First Hill block also bordered by Sixth and Seventh Avenues.
NOW: The screen of trees on the right, border the 7th Avenue exit to James Street off of the 1-5 Freeway. The Seattle Freeway – the name used most commonly for it during I-5’s construction in the 1960s – was dedicated on Jan. 3, 1967. Dan Evans, the state governor then, helped with the big scissors.

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Most likely the photographer for this record of dilapidation was James Lee who worked with his cameras (both still and moving) for the city’s public works department.  Both the Municipal Archive and the University of Washington archive include helpful examples of Lee’s field recordings, some as old as 1910.

This subject was used in the 1930s as evidence in favor of slum clearing for the then new Seattle Housing Authority’s plans for Yesler Terrace, the city’s first low-income housing project.  Once built, Yesler Terrace came close to this site, missing it by a block.  Lee looks north down the alley to James Street in the short 500-block between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.  His back is to Jefferson Street.

Perhaps the man standing in the shadows of the alley, bottom left, is Andrew Knudsen, who is listed in the 1938 Polk City Directory as living at 511&1/2, the likely address for one of these alley houses.  A 72-year-old Knudsen is still there in 1948 when this newspaper reported that he was hit by a car driven negligently by Ken C. Johnson.  Fortunately Harborview Hospital was nearby.  Knudsen was treated and soon released, but Johnson, most likely, surrendered his license.  Four years more when John W. Pearson is found dead at the same address, the city published a notice – again in The Times – asking anyone who knew him or off him to contact the Johnson and Sons Mortuary.

These little homes date from the 1890s – perhaps one or more may have been built already in the late 1880s when the slope up First Hill began its rapid development.   And they were survivors.  It was only the building of the Seattle Freeway – not Yesler Terrace – that brought them down.


Anything to add, Paul?   We will stay near “our alley” for the most part Jean – perhaps every part.

We had hoped to generously mark many of our prints with interior captions that marked the several points of interest. In this - for want of time and skill - we have failed. Here is an example - only. The alley of interest - aka "our alley" is directly above the caption, which rests on the rooftop of the then recently enlarged with added stories King County Courthouse. (Thanks here, again, to Ron Edger for used of several of his Seattle aerials.) The aerial dates from 1950.
A helpful detail of "our alley" from the same Edge 1950 aerial.
Our Alley appears here running through Block No. 45, Note the red footprint for the Puget Power transfer station (electric not waste) at the southwest corner of Jefferson and 7th Ave. The competitor, Seattle City Light, is also marked in red at the bottom of this detail. It sits on Yesler Way near 7th and Spruce. We will return to to the Puget Power plant below, and much else that appears here as footprints and drawn paths. (This early page from the Baist Atlas was used often and so bears the damage of that. But such scars are rare in our copy.)
Looking northwest from 7th Avenue, we find near the center of this subject the Jefferson Street entrance to "our" alley. The big white structure above the alley is the Kalmar Hotel at the southeast corner of James and 6th Avenue. This "then" and the "now" that follows it, appeared with essay in this blog recently - somewhat. The "then" dates from late 1887 or early 1888. That spring Central School, far right horizon, burned to the ground. (That helps with the dating.)
Jean's repeat from 7th Avenue. (Jean has a colored version in his own computer, but is at this moment off to Hillside School making sets for the next play production there, this time with his younger students, and everyone of them!)
Frank Shaw's study of work-in-progress on the Seattle Freeway on January 26, 1963. Shaw stood somewhat close to 7th Ave. but on the freeway's path. He looks north toward the James Street crossing.
Shaw returns on August 15, 1964. By then the IBM Building has joined the skyline, from Shaw's prospect it peeks above the Federal Courthouse.
Another stalwart of this blog, Lawton Gowey - bless him - took to the Smith Tower to get this look thru the neighborhood soon to be marked by freeway construction. Like Frank Shaw, Lawton almost always dated his subjects. This one is from June 21, 1961. Our block is right of center - with the green verdure on its western half and then the alley and a few of the homes along it - the same homes that appear in the primary subject at the top of this blog. Trinity Church is above-center, and the north end of the Puget Power building is far right, at the corner of 7th and Jefferson. The Kalmar Hotel is in there too, center-right at the southeast corner of 6th Avenue and James Street.
Lawton Gowey returned to the Smith Tower for his repeat on May 15, 1976. Actually, Lawton and his camera made many visits to the tower.
Much the same territory from the Smith Tower in 1913 from the opportunist photographers of Webster and Stevens, visiting the top of the tower long before its 1914 dedication.
A helpful reminder - a detail of "our alley" from the 1950 Edge aerial. Block 45 is missing the three row houses on 7th. We'll see them below - a few times.
Another neighborhood revelation - with "our" block. The hand-drawn light blue bordered irregular compound indicates the borders of the Yesler Way Housing as originally planned. The most northerly of the borders part reaches halfway into our Bock 45. A hand has dated this original "1939" on its far-right border. It may be 1938.
The same area as that outlined above, here for an artist's birdseye of the future Yesler Terrace Low Rent Housing Project

We return, above, to the Webster and Stevens 1913 look into the neighborhood from the Smith Tower in order to point out the Kalmar Hotel, at the southeast corner of 6th Avenue and James Street.  James climbs the hill on the left.  Fifth Ave. is the first street that crosses the subject – north to south, left to the right – near the bottom of the scene.  (Our Lady of Good Help is found at Fifths intersection with Jefferson Street, the street that climbs from the subjects center.)  Sixth Ave. is the next street up the hill, crossing the subject, left to right i.e. north to south.  Jefferson Street between Sixth and Seventh (and further to half way between Seventh and Eighth) is not graded.  So it shows the darker gray of weeds and such.   Our alley, however, does cut a light swatch across it.  Following the alley north to James puts us, as it seems, on the roof of the big and boxish Kalmar Hotel.

The Kalmar Hotel with the James Street Trolley climbing to First Hill at the intersection of James and 6th. (The text below appeared with this pix long ago in Pacific.)

The Kalmar photographed late in its life by Lawton Gowey.
My recording of this same intersection of Sixth Ave. and James Street and its southeast corner from a few years back. Here the reader is encouraged to go forward into the shadows below the freeway and imagine there the "now" or "repeat" for the historical photo that follows of the Puget Power plant at the southwest corner of 7th Avenue and Jefferson Street.
Our alley on the left, Jefferson Street crossing from the right, and the Puget Power transfer station surmounting all. Heed the familiar home - lower left corner - on "our alley." (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey - as a collector. The photo dates from the early 20th Century.)

Harborview Hospital is under construction in this 1930 view and the nearly decapitated King County Court House is soon to be razed. Note the by now shabby Puget Power plant, left-of-center and above it, and the beginning of "our alley" to the left of it. The Seattle City Light electrical transfer station on Yesler is far-right. Bottom-left, work is beginning on raising the roof several stories for the King County Courthouse, to a new top floor penthouse for the prisoners brought down to it from the old and still barely standing Courthouse seen here on First Hill - here aka Profanity Hill - in front of the Harborview construction site.
The King County Courthouse on First Hill (aka in this part, Profanity Hill) under construction, ca. 1890.
Only 40 years later, the columns "deconstruction", another sign of a booming metropolis.

Then Caption:  The grades up First Hill from the Central Business district involved a variety of uneven dips that can scarcely be imagined since the construction of the Seattle Freeway Ditch.  If preserved these old clapboards would have been suspended several stories above Interstate Five.  (Pix courtesy Lawton Gowey)  Now Caption:  Jean’s contemporary view repeats the presentation of the Harborview Hospital tower, upper-right, while looking north from the Madison Street bridge over the freeway.  Two blocks south of Jean’s prospect Columbia Street climbs First Hill.

Freeway Laundry

(First appeared in Pacific, May 18, 2008)

Here is yet another unattributed, undated, and unidentified historical photograph with yet very helpful clues – this time two of them.

First is the obvious one, the tower of Harborview Hospital upper-right, which was completed in 1931.  We may compare the tower to a fingerprint, for when Jean Sherrard visited 6th Avenue, which we agreed was a likely prospect for this view of the tower, he first discovered that when he set his camera on 6th about 20 yards north of Madison Street that the basic forms in his view finder of Harborview tower and the tower in the historical photograph lined up.    But it still “seemed” that he was too far from the tower to, for instance, imagine having a conversation in normal tones with the unnamed historical photographer across – I’ll estimate – about seventy years.  Jean needed to move south.

The second helpful clue is the sign on the wall of the frame building right of center and above the hanging wash.  It reads, “Admiral Transfer Company – Day – Night – Holiday Service.”   The address for Clyde Witherspoon’s Admiral Transfer in 1938 is 622 Columbia Street, which puts it at the northwest corner with 7th Avenue and Columbia.   Now we may move south from Jean’s original position on 6th Ave. to the alley a half block south of Marion Street and between 6th and 7th Avenues.  If Jean could have managed to make it there he would have been suspended sixty feet or so above the center of the Interstate-5 ditch.    Instead, for his second look to the tower he stood on the Madison Street overpass.

The houses on the left are in the 800 block on Seventh Avenue.  Real estate maps show them set back some from the street.  And whose uniformly white wash is this?   Again in the 1938 city directory the laundryman Charles Cham is listed at 813 7th Avenue.   Perhaps this is part of Cham’s consignment from a neighborhood restaurant.



Looking northwest from an upper terrace - or lower roof - of Harborview Hospital. At the lower-left corner are the 8th Avenue fronts of two of the houses seen in the feature of this one - the extended First Hill laundry story. The subject is dated 1930 and includes the nearly new Exchange Building, far left, the Northern Life Tower, right-of-center, and the also nearly new Washington Athletic Club, on the far right. Our alley is mostly hidden behind the structures and trees on the left between 8th and 7th and south of James. Trinity Episcopal Church is on the right.
Long shadows from a late afternoon sun reach in the direction of the brilliantly new Harborview Hospital in this close-in aerial. Note the vacant lot, right-of-center. It is the former home for he top-heavy court house. Also note the homes at the southwest corner of 8th and Jefferson - in the home-stuffed block, left-of-center. The most northeastern of those are the same homes that appear in both the clipping above, and the panorama too. And here we glimpse, bottom-center, the tops for the three row houses on the west side of 7th Ave. in our block 45 between Jefferson and James. Just above and right of the row is Puget Power, while, far-right at Yesler and with its corner towers resembling a sanctuary for pubic works is its City Light competitor.


Recorded in the late 1930s as a piece for Seattle Housing propaganda depicting the saddened housing stock on the western and southern slopes of First Hill. We are expected to feel some compassion for this old man (nice hat), who only needs a new home for him to revive from a life of sitting on steps above the alley - our alley. It was while preparing this posting that I determined where it was photographed, and, yes, it is from "our alley." Note the row houses above. Next we'll print a few subjects that include them.
The row houses on 7th dazzle here - right of center - below the tower of Trinity Church. St. James Cathedral lights the horizon, and at the bottom below it - and in its archdiocese shadow - one can find Our Lady of Good Help Catholic Church at the southeast corner of 5th Ave. and Jefferson Street. Note the glowing tower atop Puget Power, upper-right. (Earlier, Jean and I posed a feature for this Romans photo, which was taken, we determined, from the Great Northern Depot tower. Try, if you will, a key word search on St. James and/or Romans.)
Block 45 shows at the center of this Feb. 26, 1930 aerial by Pierson. The row is easily identified on the east side of 7th Ave. and left of Puget Power too. Both are near the subject's center.
LaRoche's ca. 1891 look north on 7th Street from the front lawn of the King County Courthouse. The row houses appear here right of center. This "puts' our alley downhill and to the left of them. Central School appears on the right, filling the block between Marion and Madison Streets, and Sixth and Seventh Avenues. The over-sized Rainier Hotel is near the scene's center bordered by Fifth and Sixth Avenues, Columbia and Marion Streets. (Key word it - if you will.)
Returning to the 1913 look east from the nearly completed Smith Tower we see the by now many "familiars" - the alley and its row of nearly identical and attached houses (three of them), Puget Power, the King County Court House, Kalmar Hotel, and, near the bottom-center, Our Lake of Good Help Catholic Church at the southeast corner of 5th Ave. and Jefferson Street.
Our Lady of Good Help at the southeast corner of Jefferson and 5th Avenue.


(First appeared in Pacific, Dec. 14, 1986)

That Our Lady of Good Help no longer graces the southeast comer of 5th Avenue and Jefferson Street is not the result of a slide in her parishioners’ faith but of one in the earth beneath her. The church’s 1949 demise was reported by the Times. “The city’s oldest Catholic church was abandoned hurriedly yesterday afternoon when it was discovered that the old frame structure . . . was threatening to slide into Fifth Avenue.” The heavy rains in February shifted the church, threw the windows out of line, tilted the chimney and, as the Rev. Joseph P. Dougherty noted while negotiating his way through the congregation’s last Mass, twisted the altar steps.

Our Lady of Good Hope at 5th and Jefferson with part of the west facade of Puget Power up Jefferson Street at its southwest corner with 7th Avenue.

Our Lady took her first “slide” 45 years earlier when the original sanctu•ary at Third Avenue and Washington Street was tom down and the valuable property sold for commercial use. The $104,000 received was not used to build this modest replacement on 5th Avenue, but rather helped fuel the building fund for the grand twin-towered St. James Cathedral above it on First Hill. When Seattle’s cathedral was dedicated in 1907, it fulfilled the archdiocese’s 1903 decision to move here from Vancouver, W A.

In its last year, 1903, the old Our Lady at 3rd and Washington was used by the archdiocese’s Bishop Edward O’Dea as his pro-cathedral while he made plans for St. James. This meant that the city’s first priest, Father Prefontaine, not only lost the old church he’d built, but that his congregation would ultimately lose its distinction as Seattle’s center of Catholicism.

Looking north on 5th Avenue in 1939. The front stairway to the parish is on the right and Jefferson Street just beyond it. Note the Drake Hotel at the southwest coner of 5th and James.

The cross-topped octagonal spire is the one part of the old Our Lady which was incorporated in this, its 1905 replacement on the corner of 5th and Jefferson. By then Father Prefontaine had retired to a home overlooking Volunteer Park. The home was his, for the French-Canadian Prefontaine was known not only for his jovial disposition, delightful ecumenical manner and love for Protestants, but also for his taste for fine food, good cigars, and real estate.

The city powers-that-were were so fond of the pioneer priest that while he still lived, they named for him the short street that skirts the property south of Yesler Way and that Francis X. Prefontaine himself first cleared for his sanctuary in the late 1860s. After his death, Prefontaine added to his landmarks by leaving $5,000 for the Prefontaine fountain that intermittently still spouts at Third Avenue and Yesler Way. But his “Lady” has slipped away.

The original Our Lady parish with dates inclusive and the affable father inset.
A few First Hill towers in 1930. Work is nearly completed on the Harborview tower. Whilte the tip-top of the King County Courthouse is weight subtracted, the structure still seems to ponder, and will soon be razed. The Puget Power roofline - here left of center - is not so distinguished in 1930 as it was ca. 1905 (a few scenes above this one), and Our Lady of Good Help just escapes the lower-right corner.
Grading for the Seattle Freeway subtracted the part of Yesler Terrace, which was due west of Harborview.
May 16, 1964, Frank Shaw looks south-southwest over Seattle Freeway construction from a prospect near 8th and Jefferson.


One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: Alley to James Street”

  1. Would you have a source for theYesler Terrace period aerial view drawing? (For a request to publish the image.)

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