Seattle Now & Then: The American Hotel on Westlake

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Back to back, the American Hotel on the left, and the first five floors of the Northern Bank and Trust building, fill the then new pie-shaped half-block east of Westlake between Pike and Pine Streets. A likely date is ca. 1908. (Courtesy: The Museum of History & Industry; aka MOHAI)
NOW: For his repeat Jean, with his back to Pine Street, extended his big pole – more than ten feet long – to look south across Westlake Mall and over its small grove of eccentric trees, which architectural historian Diana James explains. “Those purple stockings seem to be a fad right now. They add some color to an otherwise gray landscape.”

Westlake Avenue was first surveyed in January 1905 – that part of it then first cut through the existing city grid between Pike Street and Denny Way.  By November of 1906 the new thruway was paved and being developed to all sides.  And the new sides were many.  Thru the roughly seven blocks of cutting, nearly 30 odd-shaped building lots and flatiron blocks were exposed, adding imaginative opportunities for cityscape and developers.  With its willful path to Lake Union and its eccentric new sides, Westlake was popularly, although not officially, called a boulevard.

A Times clip from Nov. 5, 1907, the day before the American Hotel Cafe - and perhaps the hotel too - opened to three entrances and the musical accompaniment of The American Orchestra.
Northern Bank notes its move to 4th and Pike - A Seattle Times clip from Aug. 25, 1907.

Resembling most obviously a buoyant ship (one not sinking), here the American Hotel points its bow north between Westlake Avenue, (on your – the reader’s – right), and the alley between Fourth and Fifth Avenues.  The photograph was recorded from the Hotel Plaza, built one floor higher than the American, and set snugly between Westlake, 4th Avenue and Pine Street above its own wedge-shaped footprint.  From that foundation the Plaza looked south to the new five-star corner at Pike Street.

Hotel Plaza, the American's neighbor across what in this early postcard is identified as Westlake Boulevard. The view looks north from 4th and Pike.
Les than two years after it first opened the American Hotel was offered up for sale. This "business chance" pulled from The Times for Feb. 18, 1909.

With its 70 “reasonably priced” rooms – $3.50 and up for a week – the American expected to service many transient salesmen.  But this American had troubles, changing hands twice before it was renamed Hotel Central in 1914 – to make a clear point of its touted location in the “center of everything.”  Frank Crampton, the new proprietor in 1910, was especially thorough with his renovations.  The Times reported “twenty-three rooms were vacated by undesirable tenants within three days after he assumed charge.”  Crampton hoped to fill his hotel with “permanent roomers for the winter.”

Seattle Times adver. fm Sept 11, 1910 brings Frank Crampton to the rescue.
A classified from Nov. 11, 1912 announces a Mrs. N.L. Slocum's own announcement that she has purchased "an active interest in the American Hotel," and will apparently also be hanging out there waiting "to welcome all her numerous friends." Unfortunately, perhaps, most of them will probably be locals and so will not need to check in. Nowadays, of course, they might leave their efforts on Facebook.
By the summer of 1919 Northern Bank is kaput but . . . (see below)

At its “stern” or far southern end, the American Hotel was attached to Northern Bank and Trust Company’s also new corner at 4th and Pike.  The bank soon added another five stories to reach the height it still holds in Jean’s “repeat.”  Late in 1916, the bank confidently advertised, “Eventually many of you will open banking relations with the Northern Bank and Trust Company.  Why not now?” The prediction failed and so did the bank in 1919.  Another bank, the Seaboard, took hold and named the ornate landmark “at the center of everything” for itself.

. . . but Seaboard Bank announces that it will take its place - by Nov. 11, 1919.


Anything to add, Paul?   Yes Jean and first a fulfillment of the second “now” you recorded on Westlake that well-lighted day.  Remember?  you looked south on the sidewalk mid-block toward Pike.   Jean  have discovered that I wrote a Times feature a few years back that looks in the same direction but from the north side of Pine Street.  I’ll include the clipping from that to cover your added now-then as well.

First your repeat - with hipsters.
The construction scaffolding showing above the roof to Ford's corner photo lab is part of the late construction on the Federal Post Office at the southeast corner of Third Ave. and Union Street.

Frank Shaw's recording of the same block, taken from the Monorail terminal on Dec. 13, 1966.
Three yules later Frank Shaw returns on Dec. 20, 1969.



So far I have never come upon a photograph of the intersection of 4th and Pike taken at the intersection before Westlake Was cut through there to Denny Way in 1906.   The Westlake cut is an accomplished feature in the photo below although the street is still a work in progress, and the Plaza Hotel is not completed.   Note here the steep rise of Fourth Avenue, on the left, as it climbs the southeast corner of Denny Hill to a horizon this side of Virginia Street.

Fourth Ave. on the left and Westlake on the right, in late 1906 after Westlake was cut through the city grid as far as Denny Way. The Plaza Hotel - later the triangular block for a one-story Bartells - is center-left.
About nineteen years earlier, looking south on 4th Avenue from between Steward and Virginia Streets into a north end neighborhood that is still years from being energized by the Westlake surgery. Pike Street runs left-right behind the two darker roofs and across the middle of the photograph. The Territorial University and its campus account for the greenbelt. Both the Providence Hospital's spire facing Fifth Ave at Spring Street and the bell tower or cupola of Central School on the far side of Madison between Sixth and Seventh Avenues transcend the horizon. (Compliments of Michael Maslan.)
Another inspection of the neighborhood from Denny Hill, a year to two earlier, ca. 1885. The campus greenbelt shows and Pike Street makes it confident way across the way. The first Lutheran Church in Seattle, the Swedes, are far right at the northeast corner of 3rd and Pike. Providence Hospital and Central School also appear, although the central spire for the hospital has as yet not been raised. (Courtesy, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections)
The roof of the Plaza Hotel is bottom right in this look into the Denny Regrade from the roof of the bank building - the future Seaboard Building. The New Washington Hotel at the northeast corner of Stewart and Second Ave. is upper left. Fourth Avenue no longer climbs the hill. Magnolia is far off.
The neighborhood - and the corner of 4th and Pike, lower-left - ca. 1905 and so shortly before Westlake was cut thru much of what shows in his detail from a Sanborn real estate map.
The city takes a substantial loss in the sale of the homes on 4th between Pike and Pine that they purchased by condemnation for the laying out of Westlake. The Times clip dates from Jan 4, 1905.
A more closely cropped detail of the same corner taken from the 1950 real estate map. (Thanks to Ron Edge for pulling the two maps - and more.)



We might have simply linked much of what follows to other past features on this blog for we have surely visited this 5-Star corner often over the past few years.  And we shall again.  Now we will anchor some of these “classics” directly to this feature.  Every time we use this old photo or ephemera or that one, we treat them within their new contexts as also somewhat renewed.

From Ford's second floor studio (see above) with the big window at the southwest corner of Pike and 4th - although signed bottom-left by the Webster and Stevens studio, not Ford, who may have moved on by the time this ca. 1908 recording was made. Note how Fourth Avenue, on the left, continues its steep climb up Denny Hill - and not now for long. (Courtesy MOHAI)
Jean recorded this in the ca.2005 from the Joshua Green Building for inclusion in our book Washington Then and Now (2007).


(First appeared in Pacific, Nov. 13, 1983)

Both this “now” and “then” look north up Westlake Ave. from the southwest corner of Fourth Ave. and Pike Street. Great things have been expected of this five-star hub since its creation in 1906 when the odd but bold intrusion of Westlake Ave. was at last cut through from Denny Way. (As of this writing [1983] the city is still waiting.)

Our historical setting (above) dates from 1909. All of the larger structures are new and seem to elegantly promise that this unique hub will develop into Seattle’s 20th-century civic center. On the right is the Seaboard Building, which now, with another five stories added, still fills that comer. Just beyond it is the American Hotel, and across Westlake, the Hotel Plaza. The flatiron Plaza stood there until 1931 when it was razed to the first floor level and rebuilt more modestly for Bartell Drugs, which remained a tenant for over 50 years. During the prohibition years a cabaret in the Plaza’s basement was one of the town’s more popular speakeasys.

The American Hotel is on the right, while on the far left 4th Avenue climbs Denny Hill for about one year more. (Courtesy MOHAI)

In our 1909 scene (two up) only a few horses, hacks, and three or four automobiles are at play. The streetcars and people actually own the street, and the former are outfitted with cowcatchers to mercifully ensnare the latter. In 1909 if you stayed off the tracks (and stepped about what the horses left) you were usually free to safely jaywalk or even stand about and converse in the street – like the two men on the right of our scene. (Again, the “scene” two-up.)

If Westlake were continued on south through the central business district (behind the photographer), it would at last meet First Ave. at Marion St. And that was the route for a Lake Union-bound boulevard proposed in 1876 by Seattle doctor and Mayor Gideon Weed. Although the citizens disagreed with Weed’s proposal, they were familiar with this part of the route north of Pike Street for in 1872 a narrow-gauge railroad was cut through the forest here to carry coal from scows on Lake Union to bunkers at the foot of Pike St. The coal cars ran up this draw until 1878 when the route was abandoned for a new coal road to Newcastle that went around the south end of Lake Washington. Then this old railway line, and future Westlake Ave., grew into a shrub-sided path popularly traveled for family picnics at Lake Union. It was called “Down the Grade.”

Pike Street - and part of the coal railroad - cuts across this 1878 look from the southern slope of Denny Hill to the Territorial University on Denny Knoll, and a still forested First Hill horizon.

In 1882 a narrow boardwalk to the lake was built along the old coal railroad line and David Denny’s Western Mill first started Lake Union “working” at its southern end.  By the late 1880s the sides of the little valley between Denny and Capitol hills were cleared, and the streets which were laid out across this gentle ravine kept to the city grid.  The neighborhood of clapboard apartments and working family homes which developed here was another of Seattle’s many examples of town plats that gave little mind to topography except to surmount it. In 1890 Luther Griffith, Seattle’s young wizard of electric trolleys, purchased 53 lots along the old coal road’s grade, and proposed to cut a multi-use boulevard through the city’s grid directly to Lake Union. The city council disagreed.

However, by the early 1900s the city’s businesses had begun to move north out of Pioneer Square in such numbers that a new city center was desired, and the city engineers went back to the old Westlake proposals. The old route was surveyed in January 1905, and by November of the next year the 90-ft-wide street was paved and completed. This was 30 years since Mayor Weed’s original 1876 proposal.

The March 6, 1901 Seattle Times report on plans for cutting Westlake directly through form Pike Street to Denny Way.
Seattle's first monorail proposed was envisioned running snug to the sidewalks - and hotels - on Westlake.

If this Westlake precedent holds true, then the Westlake Mall, which was first proposed in 1958 and has since been a frustration for five mayors – Clinton, Braman, Miller, Uhlman, and Royer – should be completed in 1988 to the glory of the reelected fifth.

(As it developed Royer was reelected but the more splendid visions for this five-star corner and its “run” to the north were compromised to contingencies of the usual sort, like traffic on Pine Street and commercial urges that were difficult to distinguished from greed.  The “invisible hand” acted with neither prudence nor providence.)

Our set ca. 1950.

Frank Shaw's April 29, 1962 record of the Monorail terminus from the mall.
Another Shaw slide, this one marked for June 5, 1965.



I confess (about nine years ago) to having featured this intersection four times – that I remember – in the last 23 years.  So here’s the fifth, and I wonder what took me so long.  There are so many delightful photographs taken from this five-star corner looking north on Westlake from Forth and Pike.  But this scene with the officer probably counts as a “classic” for it has been published a number of times by other publications and he has not tired of it yet.

It is only recently that I looked closely at the policeman, and I think I have figured out what he is doing.  He is scratching his head.  Since this is a sign of deep thought – or at least puzzlement – I suggest that the officer here is wondering about the great changes have occurred in the only three or four years before he was sent this afternoon to help with the traffic.  (I’m figuring that this is 191o or very near it.)  Heading north for Fremont, trolley car number 578 – to the left of the officer – is only two or three years old and so is the Plaza Hotel to the left of it.  If the officer returns to this beat in a few years more he’ll probably know that there is a speak-easy running it the hotel basement.

Westlake Avenue was cut through the neighborhood in 1906 along what its planners described as “a low-lying valley, fairly level, with just enough pitch to give it satisfactory drainage.”  The plan was to connect it with “a magnificent driveway around the lake.”  But then some readers will remember that there have been many magnificent plans for this part of Westlake as well.  Beginning in 1960 with the opening of the Westlake Summer Mall — that quickly had its name changed to Seafair Mall — the blocks between Pike and Stewart streets were talked and dreamed over for a quarter century as the best available site for developing a civic center with a wide broad public place for a central business district that somehow wound up without one.

In 1960 one concerned person described the Seafair Mall as “This sorry little bit of pavement with a few planter boxes.” Forty-five years later there are at least more planter boxes.

[It is, again, nightybears time and I must climb the stairs.  There remain all in a line a few more permutations on this Westlake theme and perhaps I will slip them in later this afternoon.  If not they will keep for another Westlake visit.]


The Westlake 5-Star on March 12, 1919. (Courtesy University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections)
Surely not the most precise of "repeats" - perhaps avoiding the obstruction of the traffic sign with arrows. Still I should have stepped on to 4th Avenue when the traffic was clear. Regardless the late afternoon light pours down Pike on a September day in 1994. Sadly it brightens the modernized first floor corner of the Seaborne Building for Rifkin's Jewelers. Here it can easily be compared to what it covered.

WESTLAKE & FOURTH – March 12, 1919

(First appeared in Pacific, Jan. 17, 1982)

The day is Wednesday, March 12, 1919. The silent film “The Forbidden Room” is in the last day of a four-day run at the Colonial Theater on Fourth Avenue between Pike and Pine Streets. The film stars Gladys Brockwell who plays a “girl stenographer saving a big city from looters and plotters.” Brockwell’s performance, however, probably will be missed and the theater empty, for tonight the city itself will be the show as it celebrates the homecoming of “Seattle’s own regiment, the 63rd Coast Artillery.”

The photograph was taken in mid-afternoon and the parade of local heroes through downtown has just ended. Uniformed men and celebrating citizens are mingling in the streets and rehearsing, perhaps, for the night’s street dance in Times Square. At 8 p.m. fireworks will be set off from the roof of the Times Building and the newspaper’s next-day reporting of the celebration will continue these pyrotechnics: “Nothing in the successions of explosions that made the day the 63rd came home a day to be remembered with such historical red letter days as Armistice Day (and night), the Great Fire, the first Klondike gold ship, and the opening of the Exposition was more characteristic of the atmosphere of benevolent and jubilant dynamite than the merry street carnival and pavement dance last night that made Times Square a mass of swaying, noise-making, exuberant humanity . . . ”

Fireworks at the Times Building represented literally the figurative fireworks that found expression in every other event of the dizzy program which piled sensation on sensation until the city’s homecoming soldier sons admitted they scarcely knew whether they were coming or going . . .  ”From the roof of the Times Building rockets soared screamingly upward and flared out in fantastic shapes and lights and showers of fire . . .  Meanwhile bands – four of them – were making the night melodious with war tunes and the jazziest of jazz music – and throngs were dancing, looking skyward as they danced, and not bothering to apologize for bumps.” It is doubtful that even Gladys Brockwell’s melodramatic heroics could soar so high.


This subject was pulled from a Municipal Archives Collection showing a variety of corner news stands in the Central Business District during the summer of 1938.
1995 - probably Spring (the season not the street).

PIKE & FOURTH – JULY 25, 1938

(First appeared in Pacific, 1-8-1989)

Although the date for this Fourth and Pike scene is recorded on neither the original negative nor on its protective envelope, uncovering it was not difficult. The newsstand at the center of this view includes face-out copies of both The Seattle Times and The Post-Intelligencer. Although we can’t read the date, we can, with the aid of magnification, make out a few of the headlines in the original negative. With those generous clues and a little fast-forward searching through the Seattle Public Library’s microfilms, the date for this scene is soon discovered. It is Monday, July 25, 1938.

The P.I., just above the dealer’s head, announces “A New Forest Fire Rages at Sol Duc.” A week-and-a-half of record heat had not only encouraged fires but also filled the beaches. And this Monday, Seattle was even hotter with the anticipation of a Tuesday night fight. Jack Dempsy’s photograph is on the front page of the P.I. The “Mighty Manassa Mauler” was in town to referee one of the great sporting events in the history of the city: the Freddie Steele vs. Al Hostak fight for the middle-weight title.

About 30 hours after this photograph was taken, hometown-tough Hostak, in front of 35,000 sweating fans at Civic Field (now site of the Seattle Center stadium), made quick work of the champion Steele. The P.I.’s purple-penned sports reporter, Royal Brougham, reported “Four times the twenty-two-year-old Seattle boy’s steel-tempered knuckles sent the champion reeling into the rosin.” Hostak brought the belt to Seattle by a knockout in the first minute of the first round.

The day ‘s super-heated condition was also encouraged at the Colonial Theatre (one-half block up Fourth) where the Times reported that “an eternal triangle’ in the heart of the African jungle brings added thrills in “Tarzan’s Revenge.” The apeman’s affection for a Miss Holms, on safari with her father, fires the resentment of her jealous fiancee, George Meeker. However, we will not reveal the ending to this hot affair, although by Wednesday the 27, Seattle had cooled off.


Dec. 22, 1949 - Looking north on 4th Avenue across Pike Street, by Robert D. Bradley.
Jean's repeat
Mine of Jean preparing for his "repeat."

NEON IN 1949 by BRADLEY – Neither GOWEY nor SYKES

This week’s view north on Fourth Avenue from Pike Street shines with neon and those by now nostalgic flame-shape municipal light standards that once graced nearly all the streets in the business district and a few beyond it.

Written on the slide with a steady hand is its most important information – except the photographer’s name.  “4th and Pike, Night, Kodak 35mm, Ansco Film, 8 f-stop, Dec 22, 1949.”  The shutter was left open for 10 seconds, plenty of time for the passing cars to write illuminated lines along both 4th and Westlake with their headlights.  With help from the Seattle Public Library’s Seattle Room I found the photographer: Robert D. Bradley.

I was given this slide and several thousand more in 1984 – a quarter century ago! – by my friend Jean Gowey, who was then recently widowed by her husband Lawton.  With thanks Lawton’s name has often appeared here as responsible for providing many of the historical photographs I have used through the now 27 years of this feature.  Beyond his professional life of keeping books for the Seattle Water Department, Lawton was very good at playing the organ for his Queen Anne neighborhood church and both studying and sharing his love for local history.  Hoping that I would make good public use of Lawton’s own color photography tracking the changes in the business district, Jean included them in the gift.

Along with Gowey’s slides came Bradley’s, and like this night shot, most of them are examples of cityscape beginning in the late 1940s and ending with his death in 1973. The largest part of Jean’s gift, Horace Sykes’s thousands of Kodachrome landscapes of the west from the 1940s and early 1950s, have little to do with Seattle but much to do with the human heart.  Until his death in 1956 at the age of 70, Sykes was a relentless explorer and a master of picturesque landscapes.   Almost certainly, Sykes, Gowey and Bradley were also friends.

I have often used both Gowey and Bradley’s recordings to better understand the modern changes of Seattle.  And now at last at 70 I am also exploring the west with the enchanted Horace.    I include now directly below an example of a Horace Sykes Kodachrome landscape.  Most of his slide are not identified, but that will make more the adventure of studying them – a Sykes Hide and Seek.  (For instance I for now speculate that the below “burning bush” photo is of a scene on the Yakima River.)  We intend to eventually give Horace and his art is own picturesque “button” here at dorpatsherrardlomont.   (AND WE DID carry on with Sykes, although not yet with the button.   We are not yet finished with Sykes.  For about a year-and-a-half we ran “Our Daily Sykes” with Horace’s kodachromes of the American West.  We reached 498 scenes, I believe.  I left one or two off the end so that I might finish it later.  It is, it seems, a neurotic inclination of mine.  However incomplete one can keyword the 498 Daily Sykes that were shared with blog readers in a testimony to the Horace’s sensitive eye.)

Horace Sykes "Burning Bush" beside what is most likely the Yakima River ca. 1947. Horace rarely identified his subjects - the better for hide-and-seek.
To illustrate the point above about Jean’s street lights reiterating the radiant Christmas star that once the Bon and now Macy’s hangs from its corner at 4th and Pine here’s two snapshots of it by an old friend, Lawton Gowey. (As with the survival of Bon-Macy’s Christmas Star above, I was wrong in this as well, first identifying the two Kodachromes as by Robert Bradley, a friend of Lawton’s too. ) The second also shows the Colonial. The oldish car in the foreground in both belies the year. The original Gowey slides are dated, Dec. 22, 1965. Note that except for the Great Northern RR’s neon goat the transportation being promoted here is by air not rail.1965


For those who can remember it, Jean Sherrard’s “now” with its starburst lights, repeats the illuminated Christmas star that the Bon Marche Department Store once hung from its nearby corner at 4th and Pine. [Correction! Thank goodness I was wrong – or rather very limited – and thanks to Kimberly M. Reason for her gentle correction. Many readers with Christmastime familiarity with these corners will know that the Bon star still shines, now as a local Macy’s tradition. My ignorance, I confess, is the result of living increasingly in the past and rarely going downtown – especially in December. Reason writes, “I would appreciate it if you would let your readers know that this 51-year-old Seattle holiday tradition is more popular than ever.” This year I hope to be there. And Reason recommends that you can find images of the star and parade on this link:

1965 - CIRCUS WORLD with John Wayne and Rita Hayworth was released in 1964. This is its "open all night" second run.
DETAIL from Bradley's 1949 Kodachrome printed whole above.

Forever Amber: A Film Review by Bill White

Published on October 18, 2009

Film and Music critic Bill White has kindly responded to our request that he write a review of the film showing at the Colonial Theatre in 1949, as revealed in the Kodachrome night slide feature Westlake Night Lights in the Seattle Now and Then published just below this insertion.

An historical romance set during the reign of Charles II,  “Forever Amber,”  directed by Otto Preminger in 1947, is as  dark and claustrophobic a look at society in collapse as any of the underworld-themed B-movies released during the same time. Two years later, Anthony Mann would accomplish something similar with “Reign of Terror,” although his film of the French revolution was a modest black and white production running less than 90 minutes, while “Forever Amber” was shot in Technicolor and ran nearly 2 ½ hours.

It wasn’t until Francis Coppola’s “The Godfather” that the interiors on a major studio film were underlit to such infernal effect.  Cinematographer Leon Shamroy, who took the opposite approach the year before in “Leave Her to Heaven,” in which he contrasted the dark story with a brilliantly vibrant visual palette, makes the royal court of Charles II as ghoulishly oppressive as the decaying chambers of Roderick Usher.  Although Shamroy won four Oscars for his cinematography, including one for “Leave Her to Heaven,” and was nominated for another eleven, he is largely forgotten today.

The story of Amber begins in 1644, during Cromwell’s rebellion against King Charles I, when the baby girl is discovered and taken in by one of the Puritans who later stands against the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, when Amber resists her foster father’s decision to marry her off to a neighboring farmer.   He responds to her refusal by telling her that “vanity is Satan at work in the female soul.”   Paradoxically, it is the vanity of the male sex that makes Amber’s tale such a miserable one.

As Bruce Carlton, the callous privateer whose love Amber is obsessed with securing, Cornell Wilde walks atilt with surety of his superiority to every other living thing, including King Charles, who banishes him to the sea when threatened by his sexual rivalry.

George Sanders is suitably disdainful as the  king who can stop the performance of a play by his appearance in the royal box,  but relies on a revolving cast of compliant female subjects to maintain the  illusion of being  loved. In the end, when he leaves Amber’s quarters after her final rejection of him as a man, he calls “come, my children,” to a pack of faithful dogs.

It is Linda Darnell’s voluptuously cheap incarnation of Amber that gives the film its poverty row atmosphere.   She lowers the bar, just as Jennifer Jones did the previous year for David O. Selznick  in “Duel in the Sun,” on any grand aspirations producer Darryl Zanuck might have had for a prestige film.  It is because she drags the story into the gutter that gives “Forever Amber” its scent of damnation, and lifts it above the conventional drivel of those romantic melodramas commandeered by the crippling competence of a Bette Davis, Vivian Leigh, or Katherine Hepburn. The screen would not again be endowed with such a fleshy heroine until Elizabeth Taylor embodied Cleopatra in 1963, a film that was also produced at 20th Century Fox by Darryl Zanuck,

“Forever Amber” was one of the few films director Preminger didn’t produce himself, and evidence of Zanuck’s interference is all over it.  This is one of the factors that make the film such a fascinating artifact.  Although Preminger remained under contract to Fox for another five years, the name of Zanuck never again appeared on one of his films.

At least for this parade on Independence Day, 1957, the traffic is heading south on Fourth Avenue. The view looks north to Pike Street with the Joshua Green Building on the left and the Colonial Theatre's sign showing its vibrant yellow. For the moment, I don't recall who took this shot. Was it Shaw? Was it Gowey or Bradley? It is - certainly - dated.



Another use for the 1912 Baist real estate map. Fourth Ave. is on the left and Pike Street at the bottom. Note the big Westlake Market at the northeast corner of Fifth and Pine. For fresh produce it was a competitor with the Pike Place Market.

Looking east on Pine Street from the then new Standard Furniture store at the northwest corner of Pine and Second. Far right is the familiar ranks of bay windows on the west facade of the American Hotel. Also showing here, left of center, is the long sign for the Westlake Market at the northeast corner of 5th and Pine.  Ca. 1910
The Seaboard Building (Northern Bank) has reached its full height, far right. Most of the American Hotel is hidden here behind its neighbor across Westlake, the Plaza Hotel. The Westlake Market sign appears again, left-of-center. The photo was taken from the New Washington Hotel (now the Josephinum) at Second and Stewart.

Quiz: Another look southeast from the New Washington Hotel, but is it earlier or later than the one above it? Would you recommend this quiz to other teachers of Seattle History?  You say, you don’t have any.  Can you find the Wilkes Theatre in this subject, or for that matter in the one above? (Clue: It is at the southwest corner of 5th and Pine.)
THEN: Photographed in 1921 by the Webster and Stevens Studio for a Seattle Times report on the Wilkes Theatre’s imminent change from stage shows to motion pictures. (Courtesy of MOHAI)
Jean's repeat is also used in the new MOHAI's exhibit on Seattle's historical theatres, for which he did all the repeats - I believe. He gets around. It was, however, soon after this effort that the engine in his car gave out. Should we compete with Channel 9 including a request for a replacement?

WILKES THEATRE (We prefer the continental spelling.)

I first learned of the Wilkes Theatre from Seattle’s silent film expert David Jeffers.  Typical of David, his research on the Wilkes is thorough, and I was tempted to simply quote extensively from his recent letter.  I will, however, dwell instead on some implications of this Webster and Stevens studio photograph that looks south over Pine Street at the Wilkes’ full-facade at the southwest corner with 5th Avenue.  It was Jean Sherrard, my cohort in this feature, who first showed it to me.

This photograph is one of about forty of historic movie theatre locations that Jean has repeated this Spring for what will be the Museum of History and Industry’s first “temporary exhibit” when it opens later this year in the museum’s new home, the Naval Armory that is still being converted for MOHAI at the south end of Lake Union.  The exhibit’s title will be “Celluloid Seattle – A City at the Movies.”

Let us remember that another collection of Jean’s photography of contemporary Seattle is still up as part of the last “temporary exhibit” at the now soon to be old MOHAI.  In case you have forgotten – or not visited it yet – its name is “Repeat Photography” and it was first curated early last year by Jean, Beranger Lomont and myself.  It will be waiting for your visit until the fifth of June.

Returning to the Wilkes, for such a grand presentation, it was relatively short-lived.  Built of concrete as the Alhambra in 1909 with 1600 fireproof seats, it tried vaudeville, musical comedy, melodrama, and photoplays (films) sometimes mixed and other times as committed specialties.  This view of it appeared in The Seattle Times on April 10, 1921 with an explanation that it was soon “to become a motion picture house.”  That week was its last for scheduling still live acting on stage with the Wilkes Stock Company in a romantic comedy named “That Girl Patsy.”

In the summer of 1922 the Wilkes became a venue not for film or theater but for political rallies and other temporary uses like worship for the Fourth Church of Christ Scientist. Next, in 1923 the corner began its long history of selling women’s finery.

Our block recorded from the then new Medical Dental Bldg. The Wilkes Theatre, at the bottom, has fled stage and screen for retail. (Used courtesy of Ron Edge)
Another Quiz: Similar but not the same as the above subject, is this sunlighted afternoon earlier or later? Would you recommend this exercize to your principal?
An early record of both the American Hotel, with its bay windows and the Bank which also likes being identified with the nation - or perhaps western hemisphere - as signed on the roof. Compare this view with the few that follow, which show the hotel building after it was remodeled for offices with more windows but without its bays, which by the 1920s were falling from fashion.
The new bayless facade on the right, and the new Medical Dental Building down Westlake right-of-center, in the mid-1920s. The Plaza has by now changed its name to the Hotel Georgian Annex.
An interruption with another side look at the old bay windows on the American, right-of-center.
An artist's rendering of the new west facade. (I have lost the citation and so the date, but it surely originates in the early 1920s.)
The full west facade for the Seaboard with a sample of the forsaken hotel's new facade on the left. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)
The block in color, ca. 1950. A postcard.
Frank Shaw's record of work-in-progress on the "new business facade's" remodel to Century 21 "forward thrust" standards. The slide is date March 17, 1962. The Worlds Fair is a month from opening.
Frank Shaw and his Hasselblad return - probably for Christmas of that year, 1962. The reader could compare the two Shaw recordings for changes. (Only a suggestion. Not a quiz.)

FINALLY, Our Block BEFORE the WAR, In (Some Kind of) TROUBLE, and AFTER.






HELIX Vol. 4 No. 4 August 15, 1968 – Interpreted by a hodge-podge of hemispherical helix-hubbub!

Somewhat true to our new and relaxed schedule of reviewing an issue of Helix every second week – as it also continued to be printed here in the mid-summer of 1968 – we return to talking on top of each other employing (for free) the creative sputter of Skype’s marvelous recording tool.

B.White and P. Dorpat

[audio:|titles=HelixVol 4 No 4]




Seattle Now & Then: The Northern Life (aka Seattle) Tower

(click to enlarge photos)

We pulled this maxim from "Northern Light" the 16-page in-house Christmas 1934 publication for Northern Light Insurance. It is shared below in toto after this week's primary feature and a visit with Jean to the neighborhood around the Seattle Tower as revealed in his photographs taken from the roof of its neighbor to the northwest, Benaroya Hall.

THEN: In the mere nine months between the laying of its cornerstone on June 6, 1928 to the April 5, 1929 celebration of its completion, architect A.H Albertson’s Art Deco Northern Life Tower at the southeast corner of Third Ave. and University Street became what many locals consider still the finest structure in Seattle. (Courtesy, Mark Ambler)
NOW: Jean explains. “Knowing that the vantage from which the 'Then" photo was taken no longer exists, I ventured by outside ladders onto the highest level of the Benaroya Hall rooftop. While my prospect is a hundred feet or so further northwest, my ‘repeat’ is still in line with the historical scene.”

In 1968 Seattle’s “black box” – aka the SeaFirst Tower – was topped off at 50 stories above Third Ave. and Madison Street.  Locals, who were either born here or came here before that introduction of the modern American skyline, will remember that our Central Business District once wore two crowns only, and both were distinguished.  Dedicated at an imagined 42 stories in 1914, the Smith Tower still reflects glowing sunsets from its skin of cream-colored terra-cotta tiles.  The Northern Life Tower, featured here, embraces the same sunsets with its already warm skin of blended face bricks.

The Smith Tower tops the horizon on the right, and the skyline's elegant addition, the Northern Life Tower, fills the scene's center in this look south on Third Avenue from Pike Street. (Courtesy Mark Ambler)

Here – two photos up – we  join Jean Sherrard on the highest roof of Benaroya Hall for a colorful point with his repeat of what is now called The Seattle Tower. During its construction in the late 1920s, Gladding McBean and Co., the local supplier of the tower’s face bricks, ran ads describing the “enthralling shaft of beauty” as a “monumental endorsement” of its factory’s work.  And the manufacturer made a folksy point.  The oft noted “graduated color” of Gladding’s contribution used bricks at the top of the tower that like snow on the nearby mountains were lighter than those used near the street.  Jean’s repeat is wonderfully revealing of the tower’s graduated color and its other mountainous allusion: the five steps this Art Deco prize takes to its pyramidal crown.

[click the mouse twice for the fine print in the clips below]

Laying the cornerstone to the growing tower on August 11, 1928. (Seattle Times)
Gladding and McBean's advert, here at the center, makes proud note of the part played by their "seeming millions of blended bricks" in the delicate coloring of the Northern Life Tower. (From the Seattle Times for Nov. 26, 1928.)
The Times returns with a full-page feature on Sept. 2, 1929 extolling the work of Gladding/McBean and their bricks.
April 4, 1929 - invitation to several weddings and a street party on Third Avenue in celebration of new pavement and a new and splendid landmark.

At home in its resplendent tower the insurance company advised, “Why not buy the best and at the same time build the West?”  On April 5, 1929 the new landmark took center stage for the grand party and parade produced for the reopening of then freshly paved Third Avenue.  From its open 4th floor plaza, “Seven marriages were performed simultaneously by Superior Court Judge Chester Batchelor . . . in full view of thousands.”  A half year later Albert and Mae Cadle, the least lucky of the seven couples, sued each other for divorce, which was granted to Mae because of cab driver Albert’s “lack of support.”  Their day of judgment was October 24, the day the crash began, and forever after known as Black Thursday.

Five days before Black Tuesday of Oct. 29, 1929, the young marrieds (top-left) might have asked for counseling from their broker and added to their streak of bad luck. (Seattle Times Oct. 24, 1929)
From The Times, February 14, 1929.


I’ll add in a few more views from the Benaroya rooftop, Paul, before I pop the question.

(Fine Jean, but let’s hope the readers also “pop” your thumbnail photographs to enlarge them.


Also, let me add a photo of my able rooftop assistant – whose name, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve misplaced.

My nimble aide-de-toit from Benaroya

Anything to add, Paul?

Lovely impressions from Benaroya’s green roof Jean.  Such a day!    We have, you know, been at this weekly stacking since 2008 and by now have a small horde of feature’s up for our beloved readers.   With the Northern Life Tower we return to a neighborhood that we have often visited before – for instance with the Pantages Theatre and Plymouth Congregational Church – and we will continue to exploit these links in these by now familiar surrounds.   We also encourage readers who like the play of key word searches to do it here using the search box (on top) to pursue related subjects like the Hollywood Tavern, the Brooklyn Building (sw corner of 2nd and University), Hall Wills parade on 4th (between University and Union), Denny Knoll and so on.   We’ll add now only three or four features and a few clippings (most of them from The Seattle Times) about the Northern Life Tower now known as The Seattle Tower. We will begin with a contribution again from Ron Edge – a in-house Christmas congratulations about the insurance company and its proud tower.  Thanks again Ron.


(Best to CLICK TWICE when coming upon big clippings like those below.)

At the top of its pictorial page for February 14, 1928, The Seattle Times puts side-by-side a rendering of the Northern Life's new tower, then beginning construction at the southeast corner of Third Avenue and University Street, and the Mackintosh mansion that formerly held the corner.
The Mackintosh mansion during its few years as home for the Bonney-Watson funeral Home. University Street is on the left and the clear-cut old University campus on Denny Knoll is on the left horizon.


(First appeared in Pacific, Jan. 24, 1988)

[As the first line hints, what follows below was first composed while Third Ave. was being tunneled for the transit in the late 1980s.] The current commotion along and below Third Avenue is a mere inconvenience compared with the upheavals that accompanied the 1906-07 regrading on the downtown street.  Imagine having to live next door to such disarray. That was the fate Angus and Lizzie Mackintosh, who built the mansion on the right at the southeast comer of Third Avenue and University Street. Not only did the work disrupt their view and domestic quietude, it left their home perched more than twenty feet higher than the regarded street.

Third Avenue regrade 190607 looking northeast thru the southeast corner of Third and University. The Mackintosh mansion is center-right and the Plymouth Congregational Church on the left. (Courtesy, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.)

Angus, a native of Ontario, and Lizzie, one of the pioneering “Mercer Girls” who came here in 1866 when the male-female ratio was 9-to-l, met while Lizzie was working as the first woman enrolling clerk in the state’s House of Representatives in Olympia. Working to promote lumber mills, railroads and banks, the couple had built enough of a nest egg to finance construction of the mansion in 1887.

Judge and political candidate Kenneth Mackintosh helps with the tower's early construction - from the Times for June 6, 1928.

The stately home had seven rooms downstairs, five upstairs and three quarters for servants under the roof. In 1907, soon after the regrade was completed, Bonney-Watson funeral directors, moved into the mansion.  As a sign that death has no end, the mortician was the second-longest continuously operating business in Seattle.  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer was first until its own recent passing. In 1928 the Northern Life Tower (later renamed the Seattle Tower), which many still consider the most beautiful office building in Seattle, was erected at the site.  Between the Mackintosh Manse and the insurance tower the corner was home for the two-story brick commercial structure shown below ca. 1918.

Third and University is lower-left, the Cobb Building at the northwest corner of 4th and University is upper-left and the Y.W.C.A. is upper-right at the southeast corner of 5th and Seneca. The Foster and Kleiser billboards at the lower-right corner were a recent subject with this feature.


Looking south on Third Avenue from near Union Street with the U.W. Campus on the left. The parade of livestock is part of the local show for the visiting Villard entourage with the 1883 coming of the Northern Pacific Railroad to Puget Sound.


This street scene and its lineup of livestock and citizens was photographed on Sept. 14 or 15, 1883. The long afternoon shadow across Third Avenue suggests the former. The sun may have also been shining on the 15th, but Henry Villard and his entourage of distinguished guests arrived in Seattle at about 4 in the afternoon on the 14th and left later than night. These cattle are probably waiting for Villard to enter the University of Washington campus through the ceremonial arch, right of center, erected for the occasion on University Street.

Villard saw many more celebrations between here and Minneapolis after he completed the Northern Pacific Railroad to Puget Sound. Six days earlier and 847 miles away in Montana, Villard drove the golden spike that bound the transcontinental link between New York and Tacoma. Beside him in an entourage of 300 were former President Grant, many senators and the governors of every state along the rail line. Seattle was represented by its mayor, Henry Struve, and its “father,” Arthur Denny.

Another look at the territorial university and its bunting celebrating the visit of Henry Villard and his transcontinental guests to Seattle on Sept. 14, 1883.

In these two photographs we get a sense of what prominence the territorial university held for the community atop Denny Knoll. The University Building is decked with garlands made from fir boughs – like the arch. For this day many of the city’s streets were, to quote Thomas Prosch’s “Chronological History of Seattle,” “thoroughly cleaned and adorned for miles with evergreen trees, arches, bunting and appropriate emblems and sentiments.”

Villard arrived in Seattle not by train from Tacoma but aboard the vessel Queen of the Pacific. Villard’s promise to bring the Northern Pacific directly to Seattle was not completed until the following year, and by then his railroad was in other hands whose interests in Tacoma economy meant poor and often no rail service to Seattle.


North on Third Avenue with the photographer LaRoche's back to University Street. The grand horizon of the generally ill-fortuned Denny Hotel (later renamed the Washington) looms over Third Ave. from its position 100 feet up on the south summit of Denny Hill.


(First appeared in Pacific, April 28, 1985.)

Luther Griffith is one of Seattle’s rarely remembered capitalists. In the 1890s he was out to sell street railways. For promotion purposes, Griffith put together a photo album featuring the work of pioneer photographer Frank LaRoche, a name that’s easy to remember because he wrote it on his negatives.  It’s not clear whether LaRoche recorded the photos on assignment for Griffith, or if the entrepreneur focused on the photographer’s work because it served his purpose so well. Griffith’s album shows off a Seattle that’s progressive, forward thinking and up to date.

The subject here is one example from the album. Taken in 1891, it flaunts one of early Seattle’s main urban symbols. There looming above the city in the distant half-haze is the elegant bulk of the Denny Hotel atop Denny Hill. LaRoche must have set his tripod on the dirt of Third Avenue, one hundred yards of so south of Union Street, but he was safe. Compared to the modern race of internal combustion that is’ now Third, in 1891 it was a pleasantly relaxed but dusty grade where more than one horse and buggy (on the right) could casually park facing the wrong way on the two-way street.

The second tower in this scene (left of center) sits atop the brick Burke Block at the northwest corner of Third and Union. On the main floor the plumber and steam fitter A.F. Schlump did his business. Across Union is a mansion-sized home, a vestige of the old Single-family neighborhood. By 1891, this 1300 block of Third Avenue between University and Union streets was packed with diverse commerce. There was a dressmaker, a hairdresser, three rooming houses, a music teacher, a mustard manufacturer, a retail druggist, a wholesale confectioner, two tobacconists, a second-hand store, a restaurant, a sewing machine store and Mrs. Cox, who listed herself in the 1891 Polk Business Directory as simply, “artist.”

Also, at the Union Street end of this block was the Plummer Building, the two-story clapboard with the three gables on the photo’s right. This building housed more retailers plus a saloon and the Seattle Undertakers.

Ten years later, the progress on Third Avenue got so intense the Plummer Building was picked up and moved two blocks north to Pine Street to make way for the Federal Post Office. The post office is still on the Union Street side and pictured on the right of the “now” photo [when we once more bring it to light].

Beginning in 1906, Third Avenue’s forward-look started sighting through Denny Hill, which in the next four years would be nearly leveled as far east as 5th Avenue allowing the street to pass through the Denny Regrade with barely a rise. The grand hotel, LaRoche’s subject and Griffith’s symbol, was razed with the hill.

Plymouth Congregational Church on the northeast corner of Third Ave. and University Street. Behind it the federal post office is under construction.
Plymouth Church still at is corner with the new Cobb Building behind it at the northwest corner of University and 4th Avenue. The south facade of the Post Office is seen left of the church, above and behind the piano sign.
Theatre magnate Alexander Pantages purchased Plymouth Church in 1911, razed and replaced it with his own sanctuary of theatrical sensation and spectacle, the namesake Pantages Theatre.


This first appeared in the Times as recently as the summer of 2011. Fourth Avenue north of Seneca Street is being graded through the old Territorial University campus. The Mackintosh home at the future Norther Life Tower's site at the southeast corner of the Third and University is on the left. Behind it is Plymouth Church and to the right of the Congregationalist is the Federal Post Office, still under construction.


(First appeared in Pacific, August 6, 2011)

For this subject a photographer from the Webster and Stevens studio stood near the center of the intersection of Fourth and Seneca and aimed north on Fourth into an intended mess made by teams of sturdy horses.  Beginning in 1861 this was the original University of Washington Campus on Denny Knoll.

Note both the small bluff on the left side of Fourth Avenue, and other and higher vestiges of the knoll hinted on the far right.  The subject most likely dates from late 1907.   Had the photographer chosen this prospect a few months earlier, he or she would have looked across the green lawn of the campus to the tall fluted columns of the impressive portico to the university’s principal building used then as the city library.

At the scene’s center the light Chuckanut sandstone Federal Building, aka the Post Office, is getting a roof for its 1908 opening. To its left the impressive spire of Plymouth Congregation Church (1891) points to heaven above Third and University, although the congregation was then anticipating a sale and looking three blocks east to their current location.

Far left and nearing completion the eight-story Eilers Music Building became home for one of the region’s biggest retailers for pianos and organs that also promoted itself as “Seattle’s Talking Machine Headquarters” selling Victor’s Victrolas, and Columbia’s Graphonolas.  To this side of both the music makers and the Congregationalists is the subject’s oldest structure, the big home of Angus and Lizzie Mackintosh.  (Lizzie was one of the immigrant “Mercer Girls” of 1866.) The prosperous couple took residence there in 1887.  By 1907 they had retired to California for the weather and sold their mansion to Bonney and Watson Funeral Directors.

Here the same block through the Knoll, 4th Avenue north from Seneca, appears on the right forming a border with what appears to be a graded footprint for the Olympic Hotel construction. The White-Henry-Stuart building is on the right directly across University Street from the hotel construction site. At the center is the Cobb Building at the northwest corner of 4th and University. The Bell Telephone building at the northeast corner of Seneca and 3rd Ave. is on the left and at its original height. The photograph was taken from the Elks Building at the southwest corner of Spring and 4th Ave. across 4th from the Carnegie Public Library.
Another of the Fourth Ave. blocks between Seneca and Union as they a lower with the street's regrade. The mansion with a tower is the old and ornate McNaught home at the northeast corner of Spring and 4th. It was moved across Spring Street to that corner for the construction of the Carnegie Library. The towers of Providence Hospital show left-of-center, the home since 1940 of the Federal Court House.


We will conclude with a few more clips about the Norther Life Tower and thoughts at that time on towers and the ambitions of skylines and cityscapes.

From The Times, March 14, 1929.
From The Times, January 7, 1929
July 5, 1929, another clip from The Times.
Seattle's Seven Wonders as of August 5, 1929 - figured by The Seattle Times editor and compared to Gotham.
As witness to early construction on the Northern Life Tower and other local ambitions, The Times feature "Hits By Mrs." reflects on the vanities of progress and construction but also on the their gifts.
At the age of nine, the Northern Life Tower is given the front cover of the July 1937 issue of Seattlife, a depression-time publication that was shortl-lived, when compared to the tower.
Seattle in the early 1930s looking southeast to its hills over the Central Business District.
Horace Sykes record of University Street as recorded in 1953 from the top level of the then new - but as yet not open to traffic - Alaskan Way Viaduct.


Seattle Now & Then: A B50 crash near Airport Way

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Both this “then” and Jean’s “now” were photographed looking southeast from Airport Way through South Stevens Street. The great brick pile of the Rainier Brewery is just out of frame to the right (south) in both views. (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives)
NOW: Judging from the most northerly and lowest part of the brewery, which appears here, in small part, to the left of the power pole at the scene’s center, Stevens Street has been relocated a few feet to the south of its position in 1951. We conclude this merely from attempting to align the angle of the brewery’s north façade, which appears in both views.

At seconds shy of 2:17 on the Monday afternoon of Aug. 13, 1951, a struggling Boeing B-50, less than a minute after taking off from Boeing Field and heading north, with its nose pointing up but its tail falling, just missed slamming into the tall brick tower of the Sick’s Brewery on Airport Way.  The shaking 99-foot long bomber next plunged to the roadway between the brewery and the Lester Apartments plowing into the north end of the three-story tenement and instantly torching it with about 3000 gallons of splashing aviation fuel.



The Seattle Times, Monday August 13, 1951. Not an aerial, rather a steady shot taken from the tower of the Rainier Brewery.

Along with the crew of six, five residents of the Lester perished.  Many more were saved because of the adrenal-fired valor of Rainier Beer employees who rushed into the burning apartments helping pull many injured and/or panicked survivors to safety and the ambulances – and beer trucks – that rushed those that needed it to Harborview Hospital.

The next day’s Times, Tuesday Aug. 14. The subject looks south, southeast across the wreckage of the bomber and into the north end of the apartment, the part flattened by the plane.

At least two of the workers were saved by Rainier Beer itself.  Brewery teamster Ira Scribner (a former pitcher for the Seattle Rainiers) explained for himself and Harold Anderson, “We just stayed at the brewery for three minutes between trips.”  The pause was for an extra beer.  “Otherwise the plane would have hit our truck as sure as shootin.”

A typical apartment ad for what was then called the Bay View Apartments, and nicely situation for WW1 shipyard workers.  The ad dates from Jan. 28, 1918.

The destruction of the Lester revived its ignominious origins.  In 1914 the national publication, Harper’s Weekly, pictured it with the caption “the largest brothel in the world.”  The scandal connected with its permissive construction on the city’s vacated 10th Avenue South – behind the brewery – spelled the end, by recall, of the rambunctious “open town” mayor Hiram Gill’s first term.

Brand new and still, perhaps, as intended. (Courtesy, Murray Morgan)

Historian Murray Morgan, famous for his treatment of Gill and much else in his local classic “Skid Road,” recalled for me how one of Gill’s waggish contemporaries noted that the big brothel’s developer, the Rex Improvement Company, was misnamed – but barely.  Without offering the correction, the party punster had noted that “Rex” was misspelled by one mere letter.


Anything to add, Paul?  Yes Jean, a few features from the neighborhood beginning with the brewery and a feature written long before there was any inkling of Tulley’s rise or rumored fall.


The Rainier Brewery in South Seattle, sometime in the 1890s.
Jean’s recent repeat across Airport Way.


(First appeared in Pacific Jan.17, 1988.)

This historic view of Rainier Beer’s Bayview Brewery has been printed oft’ before. It is as easy to understand the scene’s popularity as it is to see that some of the brewery’s architectural features have survived into this century.

Researchers vary widely in giving the photo a date. It has been documented that at the time this photo was taken, the corporate name of the brewery was the Seattle Brewing & Malting Co., which dated to 1893. One of the brand names, of course, was Rainier.

Later than the top and with some additions and perhaps subtractions, like the Hemrich mansion behind the brewery. And it would seem that the southwest corner of the fated apartment house appears far-left.  Finally, for now, note the sign peeking thru the railing, lower-right, on the east side of this Grant Street trestle. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)

Accounts also vary as to when the founder, Andrew Hemrich, first came to Seattle. Some say 1878, others 1881, but most of the brewer’s biographers claim he arrived in 1883. Once in town, Hemrich joined with a John Kopp in building a brewery here at Bayview just above the tidewater that then still lapped against the western slope of Beacon Hill. Since there was then still no year-round waterfront road into Seattle, the first barrels were brought to town in a rowboat.  On the scene’s far left is the mansion Hemrich built for his family in 1892, and on the far right are the narrow-gauge tracks of the Grant Street Electric Railway.

Hemrick next built himself another brewery down the viaduct in Georgetown. When Prohibition dried the state in 1916, the company’s Georgetown plant was claimed to be the sixth largest brewery in the world and the largest industrial establishment in the state.

Soon after the “noble experiment” was repealed in 1933, Canadian brewer Fritz Sick and his Tacoma-born son, Emil, purchased the original Bayview plant, renovated it and started brewing Rheinlander brand beer. Two years later the Sicks bought the Georgetown plant and the Northwest rights to the historic trade name “Rainier.”

The mainline track side of the Georgetown plant looking southwest into Georgetown.

It was not until 1957 that Emil Sick managed to purchased the nationwide rights to the Rainier label. By then the Sicks’ kingdom had grown into what the company claimed was the world’s largest brewery system. Five years later the Rainier label operations were consolidated into the Bayview plant.

ADDENDUM:  A decade or so after my little essay above was published in 1988, the Rainier Brewery was sold first to Stroh’s and then by Stroh’s to Pabst – the beer “in the land of sky blue waters” – which closed and sold the brewery in 1999.  The big R on the roof was replaced by a big T, to celebrate the plant’s conversion into Tully’s Coffee headquarters, and a few other stimulated enterprises like band practice rooms, a motorcycle fabricator, and a winery.  About Tully’s recent difficulties I know too little to make any recommendations except to lower the prices on their drinks.


Above: Asahel Curtis’s 1904 portrait of Seattle Malting and Brewing Company’s big plant in Georgetown. Below: Staying in the 20th Century my black-white copy of it from the late 1990s.


(First appeared in Pacific, Aug. 15, 1999)

In 1903 photographer Asahel Curtis began photographing the Seattle Malting and Brewing Company’s new Georgetown plant. On Jan. 25, 1904, his first return of many, he struck this vertical “portrait” view of, from left, the Malt House (with-the Moorish-minaret chimney), Brew House (with its twin ornamental tops) and Stock House.

Out of frame the brewery continues far to the right, reaching a monumental length of 885 feet. By 1904, this was the largest brewery west of the Mississippi River. With additions, by 1912 it had become “world class” – the sixth-largest in the world. Before Washington introduced Prohibition in 1916, for a time the brewery was the largest industrial establishment in the state.

Here Jean and my portraits of the great brick wall may have got confused – mixed. Jean did take some striking shots of this plant about then years ago. This may be one of them. Or perhaps it is one I did in color on the same day as the prescribed black and white subject nearer the top.  Jean will know.  Since this was recorded by Jean or I, sections of this great landmark has been razed in spite of spirited local protests led by Georgetown heritage activists.  The protests did not, however, have the help of Tim O’Brian who by then had passed on or away.)

In 1904 Georgetown incorporated – a “company town” safeguarding the business interests of its brewery. Company superintendent John Mueller was soon elected both mayor and fire chief. The number of taverns and roadhouses doubled, and by 1905 it required 25 horse teams to daily fill the Seattle appetite for Rainier Beer, the primary label of the brewery. That year the brewery employed more than 300 men. There was room to build worker homes beside the Duwamish River, which then still curved through Georgetown.

Tim O’Brian on the grand stairway of his Georgetown Home, ca. 1988.

I have pulled most of these details from an essay Georgetown activist, Tim O’Brian and architect Blair Pessemier wrote in 1989 as part of their successful application to have the brewery added to the official register of city landmarks. This Curtis print accompanied their application. It illustrates beautifully their point that the oversize brewery is comparable to a medieval cathedral both in form and function. When new and intact – as we see it here – it dominated Georgetown and its citizens as if to say, to quote O’Brian-Pessemier: “We come to work” instead of “We come to pray.”  We might ad, “and we come to drink the new vigor and strength in very drop of Rainier Beer . . . to cultivate the habit that brings the glow of health and gives as well a new lease on life.”


Reaching around the Rainier Brewery, Eugene Semple’s trestle begins its distribution of Beacon Hill onto the tideflats while beginning to also excavate for his proposed South Canal to Lake Washington – through Beacon Hill. It might have made Columbia City an ocean port.
Not finding the original negative I scanned the print of the “now” of Seattle Now and Then Volume Two. The book is out of print, but can be read in-toto on this blog.


(First appeared in Pacific, Aug. 15, 1999)

Here’s one of Seattle’s historical believe-it-or-nots. When you ascend Beacon Hill from the Spokane St. interchange off 1-5, you are steaming up South Canal.

In 1895, an ex-governor of Washington, Eugene Semple, proposed taking on three herculean tasks at once: the straightening of the Duwamish River into waterways, the cutting of a canal through Beacon Hill from Elliott Bay to Lake Washington, and the reclaiming of 1,500 acres of tidelands with the dredging from the river and the droppings from the hill.

In July of that year, this ambitious work began with the dredging of the Duwamish River’s east waterway. Amid the ceremonial band music, speech making, and inaugural hoopla, the popular Semple promised the crowd that In about five years” his company would invite them all back “to witness the opening of the locks that will admit a great warship into Lake Washington.”

Yet, five years later, the only way to approach Beacon Hill by water was still in a row boat at high tide. By then Semple had reclaimed only 175 tideland acres. His detractors attacked this “specious and mischievous undertaking” to cut through the “quicksands and sliding clays” of Beacon Hill. Instead, they promoted a North Canal, the one that was eventually completed via Salmon Bay and Lake Union.

Mess in process (Courtesy, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.)

But Semple would not give up. In the fall of 190 I, he attacked Beacon Hill with 4-inch thick jets of water that reached 300 ft. into the air. On November 29 of that year, the Post-Intelligencer reported that when this hydraulic force was “turned onto the side of the hill, mud, sand, and gravel crumble away like ashes before a cyclone.”

The principal historical photograph featured here accompanied that article which also reported that this “halftone was taken for the P.I. by a staff artist who visited the scene of operations in company with Eugene Semple.” The photograph’s caption read, “End of waterway flume.”

You can see that flume running out of the bottom of the historical picture and into the high tide which twice a day covered Elliott Bay’s mudflats. The plan, of course, was to direct more mud through this flume and to cover the tidelands below with the hill above. And it worked – for awhile. Then the soft hill refused to be sculpted for ships and capriciously began to cave in.

This may be recorded during Semple’s grand undertaking or nearby a few year later during the Jackson Street Regrade.

Eugene Semple was forced to abandon his South Canal. Today, it has been reclaimed by a greenbelt and the more modest incisions of highway engineers. Their work was made easier thanks to Eugene Semple’s first cut into his South Canal.


Looking west from Beacon Hill to Pigeon Point (the darker headland) and West Seattle, on the horizon. This is an early Webster Stevens print from the studio’s collection at the Museum of History and Industry.


(First appeared in Pacific, April 19, 1987.)


Taken around the turn of the century (1900), two timber-trestle streets intersect for a “crossing the T’s.” Looking west from Beacon Hill, we see the trestle built above the tide flats south of Pioneer Square on Grant Street, now called Airport Way.  If you follow the second trestle, Spokane Street, it leads to the dark peninsula in West Seattle called Pigeon Point.

The first West Seattle bridge across the Duwamish River’s main channel is half hidden behind the screen of steam escaping the engine on the track parallel to Spokane Street.  The original negative is part of the Webster & Steven Collection at the Museum of History and Industry. Perhaps the popular W & S studios photographed ” this scene for Emmett Nist. That’s his Seattle Tacoma Box Co. sitting on pilings in the center of the photo.

The Nist company moved to 401 Spokane St. from its Lake Union plant around 1900 and stayed until 1975, when its Seattle and Tacoma .divisions joined in Kent.  The old tidelands site at Fourth Avenue South and Spokane Street is now a City Light lot.

Trolley on the Spokane Street elevated railway. Note the bridge to the right connecting with the West Seattle bridge. (Courtesy, Warren Wing)



(First appeared in Pacific, March 30, 1997)

Seattle’s Municipal Power opened its South End Service Center on Spokane Street in 1926 – the year of this photograph – on land recently reclaimed from the tides. Seattle architect J.L. McCauley’s public building was not only functional but attractive. As the historical scene reveals, the restrained ornament used in the service center’s concrete forms has been enhanced with a skillful wrapping of the building in a skin of stucco and off-white plaster.

Signs for the structure’s principal roles – warehouse and shops – adorn its major division, to the sides of a slightly off-center tower where “City Light” is tastefully embossed on the arch just beneath its flag pole. The name is promoted twice on the roof, with block letters about nine feet high illuminated at night with about 400 bulbs for each spelling of CITY LIGHT.

The building survives, although its north wall facing Spokane Street was hidden in the 1960s by textured concrete panels. A new north wall is in the works (or was in the works in 1997.  By now it must be done.)  It will show off to visitors and Spokane Street traffic a curvilinear facade ornamented with public art made from recycled glass. Inside, a two-story skylight atrium will repeat the roof forms incorporated in the building’s original design.  (We must get around there and record at least some of this for an addendum!)

This saw-tooth roof, which runs nearly the length of the center’s west (right) wall above the shops, is to these eyes the historical plant’s strongest architectural feature.  Such tops were once commonplace in this industrial neighborhood.

NOT City Light’s sawtooth roof but another I recorded while having a studio in the neighborhood in the late 1970s. This roof may still be efficiently letting in the light, and the barbed wire keeping out the darker forces.

The twenties was a decade of endless tests for City Light, as it developed the first of the Skagit River’s generators, Gorge Dam, and fought a service war with Puget Power when lines for the public and private utilities were still duplicated throughout the city’s streets.


Near the bottom of the Bradford Street steps up Beacon Hill from the old South Seattle neighborhood just south of Spokane Street. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive)
Another scanned clip from the Pacific article, which we hope to replace with a “more perfect” scan from the negative itself – when it shows itself for, it seems, we will not make a great effort to find it.   The reason for choosing this prospect is explained in the text below.


(Appeared first in Pacific on Oct. 30, 1994.)

Ascending the Beacon Hill ridge was once an aerobic exercise.  Most of these climbs from the tideflats were on timber trestles like this one.  It meanders from the neighborhood of South Seattle to Seattle’s Beacon Hill reservoirs. This Bradford Street stairway was peculiarly precarious. Just to the south (right) of this scene the land falls away into a pit carved years earlier by the Seattle Brick and Tile Company, one of the many brick manufacturers that flourished with the rebuilding of Seattle after the “Great Fire” of 1889.

Still near the bottom of the climb.

Ken Manzo, who as halfback for Cleveland High School’s 1937 city-champion football team counts as one of South Seattle’s favorite sons, remembers these stairs -vividly. On his paper route he climbed them daily, carrying the Seattle Star to his subscribers on 13th Avenue South. Manzo’s three-block ascent from 10th Avenue South gained 250 feet.

Near the top and looking south over the top of the pit created years earlier by the Seattle Brick and Tile Company.

While fine for mining clay, the unstable glacial till of Beacon Hill was inclined to capriciously slip away. This public works scene was recorded as evidence that the Bradford Street foot walk and the houses on the left had neither fallen into the hole nor seemed likely to, following the latest cave-in at the pit.

These four photographs of the Bradford Street stairs were recorded for the city’s public-works department on Dec. 15, 1916.  Since then all inherited streaks while waiting for light – or fresh air – in the public works archive. The photographer notes the precise location of each negative. With the photo at the top we are “at a point 4 feet south of the intersection of the east margin of 10th Ave. South and the north margin on Bradford Street.” Today that’s the middle of Interstate 5. In the contemporary scene (When we find it, it will taken the place of the clipping scan we use here.) the historical photographer’s roost was about midway between the overhanging highway sign above the freeway’s northbound lanes and “the concrete wall beyond it.

Near the top of the Bradford Street steps.


Maple School before Boeing Field


(First appeared in Pacific, Sept. 22, 1991)

This fanciful structure was the second of four Maple schools. The first was sited on what is now Boeing Field, and when constructed in 1866 it was the first schoolhouse in King County intended specifically for instruction. John Wesley Maple, 30, son of one of Seattle’s original settlers, was the first teacher. It was a job the future King County treasurer, which he later described as “the hardest work that I ever had undertaken.” Maple had 20 students, all of them small children except for 15-year-old Eliza Snyder, whom he later married.

Maple’s one-room schoolhouse was replaced in 1900 by this framed creation. The tower, coped ornaments and wide front ‘steps are monumental in their rural solitude. In 1907, however, the Oregon and Washington Railroad purchased the land and the schoolhouse was soon thereafter destroyed for the railroad’s right-of-way.

The third Maple School was built up the Beacon Hill ridge on the future site of Cleveland High School, and when construction began on the high school in 1926, Maple primary was jacked up and moved two blocks to 17th Avenue and Lucile Street and there remodeled.  The most recent and modern Maple Elementary School was constructed in 1972 at a fifth site, Corson Avenue South near Ferdinand Street.


The “Oxbow” Bridge (Courtesy, Municipal Archive)


(First appeared in Pacific, Sept. 23, 1900)

Serpentine was the most common description for the Duwamish River before it was channeled into a waterway. Within the 13 & 1/2 miles that were straightened and shortened to 4 & 1/2 miles was the Oxbow, the first large S-curve south of the river’s mouth.

In 1911, First Avenue South was extended over the Oxbow with a swing span bridge. Five years’ later, the river was straightened to bypass this Oxbow twist and the old channel was filled in. This scene, photographed Feb. 24, 1916, shows that work in progress. The photographer looks north from the bridge’s south approach.

By the end of year the river had abandoned its bridge, so the span was dissembled, moved about 300 yards south of its original site and rebuilt across the Duwamish’s straightened channel. In its second fitting, the Oxbow Bridge-was no longer in line with First Avenue South and the bridge’s curving approaches introduced a new oxbow onto the scene. Inevitably, this S-curve, combined with the narrow bridge’s two tight lanes, created one of the city’s worst traffic bottlenecks.

In 1955 the present bascule bridge was built midway between the ‘ old Oxbow Bridge’s two sites. The contemporary photo (when we uncover it) was recorded within a few yards of the spot on the old bridge picked by the historical photographer. The parked vehicles in the “now” sighting are grouped on a pie-shaped strip between the new bridge’s busy approach on the right and a quiet First Avenue South on the left.

The traffic relief brought by the new bridge was short-lived. Eventually it would  earn the reputation as the city’s most dangerous span.

A 1909 clipping on the Duwamish Waterway project including the river’s Oxbow as one of its primary named features.
First Ave. South moves down the center of this detail from the 1912 Baist Real Estate Map. It cuts through a diverse grid and – delivering a bridge a year earlier in 1911 – it reaches the Oxbow – still – of the Duwamish where the river turns to and through Georgetown. The red footprints, far right, are for the parts of the red brick brewery featured here near the top.

HELIX Vol. 4 No. 3 August 1, 1968, "Stall the Crowd with Visions of Johanna"

Ron Edge has suggested that we name this edition – the audio commentary part of it – “Stall the Crowd.”   Some ghost has got in the Skype Recording Machine Bill is using and flipped and twisted Bill and my conversation about Helix Vol. 4 No. 3 into what Bill names a “disaster.”  But it is also a fanciful flop.   Why would this latest instance of our routine conversations via Skype between Seattle and Lima sound like it has now been joined by whales?  These third parties are not without their appeal.  You may prefer them.  Long ago when I first called Bill on Skype I heard the whales, although Bill did not.  Well then, I thought, are these the whales that have not made it south of the Panama – our very own gratuitous but graceful sirens, our ghosts of Namus past and all the other Orcas in Puget Sound formally captured by brave but mad whaleboys.  But Vol. 4 No.3’s  recording oddities are more elaborate than its orca-acapella. Bill continues, “Our voices are out of sync, and getting worse as the recording goes on, until finally we are often talking at the same time on different subjects.” We might do that anyway – but not like this.   Then it comes to Bill – the rescue by psychedelic insight.  He concludes, “I may have saved it by heavy cutting and accenting the tone of an acid trip . . . some of the passages are quite lucid, others incomprehensible, but there is method here.  It is something like two stoners talking.”  Still Ron advices “Stall the crowd.”  But how?  For balance we need something that has clear and familiar continuity and, it turns out, we have it from Bill as well with his guitar relaxing on his and Kel’s Peruvian pallet and singing Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna” under Kel’s direction.  Here’s the link.

B.White and P. Dorpat

[audio:|titles=HelixVol 4 No 3]


Seattle Now & Then: First and Pike – Nov. 6th 1953, 2:25 PM

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Concerned more with the street clock than all else between the bundled pedestrians on the left and the taxi on the right, this satisfying composition of Pike Street east from First Avenue was photographed with an ulterior motive. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archives)
NOW: With the sidewalks on Pike Street widened in the early 1980s, Jean Sherrard could cross the old curb line for a more revealing angle on the surviving structures on the north side of Pike between First and Second Avenues.

Here an autumnal sun brightens the endearing clutter of Pike Street, on Friday Nov. 6, 1953. The date has been hand-printed on the negative, bottom-right, and the time – approaching 2:25pm – is marked on Dr. James Sender’s street clock standing tall above the old sidewalk.

By 1953 Sender, a past president of the Northwest College of Optometry, had been fitting glasses in this neighborhood for more than twenty years, although at 108 Pike he is here nearly brand new.  Sender shared the address with the Mirror Tavern, where some customers surely found their future reflected in a glass of beer.  You will find a large part of the bar’s mirror-shaped sign hanging above the sidewalk directly behind Sender’s clock.

A small advertisement from Nov. 3, 1953 for what it says. How can he do it for $6.50 – even in ’53?

Judging from the optometrist’s advertisements, with this move, Sender began turning his attention increasingly from eye care to selling jewelry and fixing time-pieces, including his big one out front.  It was once nearly obligatory for jewelers in the business district to have a clock on the sidewalk, and to also care for it.

From the late 1920s – we presume – we see that a sidewalk clock is already in front of Sender’s Pike Street address years before me moved there. But is it the same clock or the foundation for a Sender variation?

The Curtis view below is number only a few more negatives beyond the one above, but still there are some big changes in this Pike Street block between First and Second Avenues.  Readers are invited to get out their Polk directories and Seattle Times key word search tools to date them both. Remember please to let us know.  (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)

I have learned from Anne Frantilla, Seattle’s Assistant Municipal Archivist, that the “purpose” of this public works recording was not to compose an engaging tableau of Pike Street culture, mid-20th Century – which it yet is – but rather to spy on Sender’s clock and with other snaps other big clocks in the business district.  In 1953 a piqued Seattle city council was preparing to get rid of street clocks altogether. Too often, they chimed, these landmarks knocked pedestrians’ knees while keeping poor time.  They did not succeed.  In 1980 a different city council declared the then ten surviving street clocks historical landmarks.

The Seattle Times clip from Oct. 22, 1953 describing the resolve of some city council members to removed street clocks – for reasons described.

Archivist Frantilla also directed me to Rob Ketcherside, a Seattle historian with an enduring interest in Seattle’s street clocks.  (We featured Rob in Pacific on Nov. 1, 2009 for a “now & then” subject on Green Lake history.) Ketcherside’s own “clock works” can be found on his website.

An adver from Feb. 19, 1937 noting James Sender’s new alliance with the MacDougall and Southwick Department store, which was then at the southeast corner of Second and Pike, the last location of a venerable retailer that began in 1870s on Commercial Street (First Ave. S.) as the San Francisco Store.
In 1937, eight years into the Great Depression, Carl Schermer calls it quits. This, you will notice, is the elegant little terra-cotta on Pike east of the alley between First and Second on the north side of the street and so the structure that survives and shows in both our primary then and now. {Courtesy, Washington State Archive, Bellevue Community College branch.)


Anything to add, Paul?

Certainly Jean.  We will start with two color slides by Lawton Gowey that look into this same block in 1963 and 1976 followed by five other features all of which are on subjects within a few feet the one above.

Looking west on Pike from the Public Market on April 2, 1963. The slide is by Lawton Gowey. Not the once-upon-a-time notorious donut shop on the far right.  The mirror tavern is still in place, and so is the MacDougall and Southwick Department store in its aluminum skin, right-of-center, at the southeast corner of Second and Pike.  Three years more and the store would announce on Feb. 6, 1966 its closure. 
A Seattle Times clipping from Jan. 14, 1966, with Time’s real-estate editor, Alice Staples, revealing the big department store’s intentions to quit.
The Donut House seen in its own hole between shoulders, ca. 1962.
April 21, 1976 looking east from the market. Pennys has a new corner sign and the aluminum beyond it is gone, replaced by a parking lot. Both sides of Pike in this block are appointed with nearly down-and-out retailers, including the donuts.  The Mirror Tavern, once Dr. Sender’s neighbor, is still reflecting. 
Without donuts and fenced the Endicott Bldg at the southeast corner of Pike and First prepares for something.  And someone has painted the bricks white, perhaps in atonement.  (by Lawton Gowey)

FIVE FROM BEFORE (We’ve shown these Victor Lygdman shots at 2nd and Pike circa 1962 before but we include them again here – as Jean’s reminds – for “reference.”   For all Five Victor is standing at the southwest corner of  Pike and Second.















LOOKING north on 2nd across Pike with a sale sign up on the old Eitel Building, at the northwest corner of Pike and 2nd, on the left.
Across Pike and up Second as well, but with the Eitel now off frame to the left.

Looking now east on Pike with the extreme corner of MacDougall and Southwick – and part of its aluminum skin – upper-right. Lygdman’s photos just shown are of an intersection still not “inflicted” with parking lots or garages at its northeast and southeast corners.















Victor Lygdman returned to the intersection a few years later for this study of the parking lot that had been the MacDougall and Southwick Department Store, recording perhaps a leftover from the big store’s home furnishings.
Lygdman back at the southwest corner of 2nd and Pike, circa 1962, here looking south on Second.


Above and Below: More than a century separates these two looks east up Pike and across First Avenue.  In the first block before Second Avenue among the shops on the left of the “then” are a tobacconist, a beer hall, a tailor, and two restaurants, the Boston Kitchen and the Junction Restaurant.  On a sidewalk sign the latter offers “Mocha Java Coffee.”  How hip!   Historical photo courtesy Lawton Gowey.  This one Lawton collected.

A “repeat” from Nov. 24, 2003 looking east on a Pike with wider sidewalks, planters and retro light standards, and also with its consummating arch at 7th Ave. a gateway to heaven and/or Capitol Hill. 
An earlier “now” from April Fools Day, 1992.


(First appeared in Pacific, March 30, 2006)

The oldest recorded remembrance of Pike Street describes it as a blazed trail twisting between high stumps sided by violets, trilliums and wild currants, ending in a dense forest at about Eighth Avenue. Here, about 30 years later, is Pike at the tum of the century, in transition from its pioneer status as the community’s northern boundary to the retail district’s principal commercial strip. The bricks are in place – laid in 1895 – but a few of the pioneer frame business houses still shoulder the street.

Two different sets of streetcar tracks appear here. On the right the rails of the Front Street (First Avenue) Cable Railway tum up Pike from First. The slot for the cable, which is evident between the tracks, was removed in 1901 when this line was switched to electric power. The tracks on the left were laid for electric cars from their beginning in 1889. They follow the route of the old horse cars to Belltown originally laid here in 1884.

Standing at the entrance to the public market in the crosswalk on the west side of First Avenue and looking east up the centerline of Pike Street – like in this week’s “now” – you may imagine trains rolling directly through you and also under you. And while you may no longer see them they can still be felt.   The once popular Seattle historian-journalist J. Willis Sayre explains why in “This City of Ours” his entertaining book of Seattle trivia that was published for Seattle Schools in 1936.

Part of Pike Street in 1878 near Second Ave. detailed from Peterson’s panorama of Seattle taken that year from a Denny Hill prospect. Note the coal road railroads tracks on Pike. They have been abandoned for the new coal railroad around the south end of Lake Washington to the the new coal bunkers off King Street.
A remnant of the coal roads trestle – left-of-center –  that lowered the coal cars along Pike Street to the long coal wharf off shore. This too is from an 1878 Peterson panorama – this one taken from the end of Yesler’s Wharf.

Describing a tour on First Avenue Sayers writes, “Now lets go down to Pike Street.  Here you are directly above the Great Northern tunnel built under the city in 1904.” Today, if you are sensitive and wear wooden shoes (preferably) you can still feel the rumble below. However, the choo-choo-coming-at-you through most of the 1870s was Seattle’s first railroad, the narrow gauged train that carried coal cars transferred from scows on Lake Union to bunkers at the waterfront foot of Pike Street.  Again, it was not passing beneath Pike but along it – between what would become Westlake in 1906 and the coal wharf.  In “Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle,” our oft-quoted 1930’s classic of local history, pioneer Sophie Frye Bass, David and Louisa Denny’s granddaughter, recalls jumping upon the coal cars as they rumble along Pike in the ’70s.  The Bass family home was on Pike.

Pike Street was named by Arthur Denny for his friend John Pike, who in 1861 designed the old University Building on the UW’s first campus. Sophie Frye Bass remembered when Pike was graded by Chinese laborers and how wagons crossing its loose timber planks would, depending on the season, either slap great waves of muddy water on storefronts or pedestrians or stir clouds of dust derived in equal parts from horse droppings and ground splinters. Much later when Pike was planked Bass recalls how “when the street sweeper . . . came rumbling along, all would rush frantically to close the windows.”

When I find page two to this missive we will discover who originally sent it to me a quarter century ago.

The historical view east on Pike was recorded a few years before the tunnel was built beneath it – sometime between 1897 and 1900.  One block away the trolley turning west off of Second Avenue onto Pike carries a roof banner advertising the sale of Gold Rush outfits at Cooper and Levi’s in Pioneer Square.  That national fever began in ’97, and in 1901 – we repeat –  the rails for the Front Street (First Ave.) Cable Cars were removed. Here on the right they still take a right turn to Pike from First Avenue.

The northern portal to the tunnel with the waterfront hidden on the right and the Hotel York on the right horizon at the northwest corner of First Ave. and Pike Street. The hotel was doomed by the tunneling and razed soon after the tunnel passed below it. Today – for a wile more – the Alaskan Way Viaduct crosses above this portal near Virginia Street. The subject dates from 1904 during the tunnel’s construction.
Hotel York at the northwest corner of Pike and First before its foundation was compromised by construction on the railroad tunnel in 1904.

When the tunnel was being built the public works department made it’s by now oft-sited traffic count on Pike St. at Second Avenue. Of the 3,959 vehicles that used that intersection at Pike on Friday Dec. 23, 1904 more than three thirds were one or two horse express wagons. The buggy count reached 178, but only 14 were automobiles had used the intersection.  Walking and public transportation – trolleys – were the way to get around.


Then and Now Captions together:  The Pike Place Market started out in the summer of 1907 as a city-supported place where farmers could sell their produce directly to homemakers.  Since then the Market culture has developed many more attractions including crafts, performers, restaurants, and the human delights that are only delivered by milling and moving crowds.  Historic photo courtesy Old Seattle Paperworks, Pike Place Market.


(First appeared in Pacific, August 6, 2006)

A century ago Seattle, although barely over fifty, was already a metropolis with a population surging towards 200,000.   Consequently, now our community’s centennials are multiplying.  This view of boxes, sacks and rows of wagons and customers is offered as an early marker for the coming100th birthday of one of Seattle’s greatest institutions, the Pike Place Public Market.

Both the “then” and “now” look east from the inside angle of this L-shaped landmark.  The contemporary view also looks over the rump of Rachel, (bottom-left) the Market’s famous brass piggy bank, which when empty is 200 pounds lighter than her namesake 750 pound Rachel, the 1985 winner of the Island County Fair.   Since she was introduced to the Market in 1986 Rachel has contributed about $8,000 a year to its supporting Market Foundation.  Most of this largess has been dropped through the slot in her back as small coins.  It has amounted to heavy heaps of them.

In 1962 and near the future home of Rachel the charitable pig. Victor Lygdman shot this.

Next year – the Centennial Year 2007 – the Market Foundation, and the Friends of the Market, and many other vital players in the closely-packed universe that is the Market will be helping and coaxing us to celebrate what local architect Fred Bassetti famously describe in the mid-1960s as “An honest place in a phony time.”  And while it may be argued that the times have gotten even phonier the market has held onto much of its candor.

The historical view may well date from the Market’s first year, 1907.  If not, then the postcard photographer Otto Frasch recorded it soon after.   It is a scene revealing the original purpose of the Public Market:  “farmers and families” meeting directly and with no “middleman” between them.  The subject directly below also looks east on Pike from its elbow into Pike Place.  It is dated July 19, 1919 – and captioned too.



(First appeared in Pacific, Aug. 21, 1988)

First Avenue between Pine and Pike streets was a principal early-century trolley-turning stage for lines to Madison Park, Capitol Hill, Queen Anne and Ballard. Add to the crush of streetcars the crowds at the Pike Place Market and bumper-to-bumper motorcars and you have a World War I-era urban mess that was exciting and even a bit dangerous.   Reigning over this congested scene was the Liberty Theatre’s monumental electric silhouette. The Liberty Theatre was built in 1914 to surround a 1,500-pipe Wurlitzer organ. Everyone agreed the theater’s acoustics were first-rate, and Oliver Wallace, the theater’s first organist, had a variety of animal and industrial sounds he could lend to the silent films he accompanied.

The Liberty’s Organ and for the moment an on stage act that requires no accompaniment.
First Ave. north of Pike before the Liberty Theatre.

The Liberty was a wildly successful operation. One of the first local theaters dedicated to films, it could entertain ten thousand customers in a day. Sometimes the lines of patrons backed-up to Second Avenue.

A nearly new Liberty Theatre holding its pose during the city’s “Big Snow of 1916.” The view looks south on First from Pine.

In 1939, the Liberty celebrated its 25th anniversary with a complete remodeling including a new neon sign. It reopened to the world premier of “Only Angels Have Wings.”  The Liberty was sold in 1950 to the John Hamrick chain of theaters. In 1953 it got a screen and equipment for CinemaScope and stereophonic sound. But the conversion almost  certainly wasn’t worth it. One year later the Liberty closed, and on June 24, 1955, its razing began. The site now is a parking lot. The Wurlitzer organ was saved. First carted off to the Pacific Lutheran College memorial gymnasium, it now is in a church in Spokane.

A Frank Capra movie not to miss, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, with Gary Cooper and the brilliant comedic ways of Jean Arthur. Mr. Deeds was released in 1936, and the Liberty was surely a first-run house.  The hanging sign has change, but it is still not the lasts one.  That one is up below.
Four years later with the new Liberty sign for “Seattle’s Most Popular Theatre” and Jean Arthur again on the marquee this time in “Too Many Husbands.” Jean is married to Melvyn Douglas, but then husband No. 1, Fred MacMurray, thought dead, shows up. The comedy was pulled from W. Somerset Maugham’s play Home and Beauty. The release date was 1940, the year when most of Seattle’s track trolleys were also released – or let go and scrapped, kaput. This scene – from trolley fan Lawton Gowey or his dad – is probably about Car No. 2 waiting for passengers to come aboard before it returns to its run south down First Avenue. Note the bus – or perhaps trackless trolley – a block north on First. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)

MORE – and some of the same – ON THE LIBERTY

Above and Below: Between 1914 and 1955 the Liberty Theatre held the center of the First Avenue block between Pike and Pine Streets.  Replaced by a parking lot in 1955 its neighbors survive.  To the north (left) is the Gatewood, one of the 11 downtown buildings improved by the non-profit Plymouth Housing Group for low- income housing.  To the right is one of the few survivors of the old “Flesh Avenue” that was once First Avenue. Historical photo courtesy Lawton Gowey.  Jean, I think, shot the “now.”


(First appeared in Pacific July 30, 2006)

How many Times readers can still remember the ornamental Liberty Theatre on First Avenue across from the Market?  On bright afternoons the light bounced off its terra-cotta façade illuminating the street.

It is now fifty-one years since Theatres Incorporated sent a letter to Ralph Stacy, then the King County Assessor, that the company had “demolished and removed the Liberty Theatre and accordingly request that you remove the building from your assessment rolls.”  Their intention to open a parking lot to “relieve the congestion around the Pike Place Market” was a sudden one.  Only months earlier the theatre’s managers had briefly closed the Liberty for a CinemaScope and stereophonic fitting – but for naught.

The Liberty first opened on Oct. 27, 1914, and it was built for movies.  There were only two dressing rooms, and both were in the mezzanine.  The theatre — with no pillars — was built around a 1500-pipe Wurlitzer organ that was famous in its time for special effects like birds cooing, crows cawing, and the surf pounding — an effect made within the organ by a rasping together of sandpaper blocks.  The organist also kept ready in his pocket a pistol loaded with blanks for William S. Hart shoot-em-ups.  The Organ’s largest part, a 32-foot bass pipe was removed when its soundings continued to knock plaster from the ceiling.  Throughout its 41 years the Liberty was known for splendid acoustics.

Ever competitive many Theatre’s promotions often spilled into the streets of the central business district.

In “Household Magazine’s” review of “The Winning of Barbara Worth,” the 1926 silent film showing here at the Liberty, Gary Cooper is described as “the handsome young chap who stole the picture from Ronald Colman.”  And that’s something.  The movie was a hit and still being reviewed when the Liberty closed in December for new management and a new name. When it opened again on Jan 7, 1927 as the United Artists Theatre, Seattle Mayor Bertha Landes did the opening-honors standing beside a battery of U.S. Navy searchlights operated by uniformed sailors.  They were recruiters, it was explained.  Appropriately, the Wallace Beary vehicle “We’re in the Navy Now” was the film shown.

Two years and some bad debts later the theatre was again the Liberty and stayed so until replaced by the parking lot in 1955.

The Liberty Theatre’s tax assessment card revealing some of its appointments.


Popularly named “Princess Angeline” Chief Seattle’s daughter rests on the boardwalk descending on the south side of Pike Street west of First Avenue in the early 1890s and years before there was any Pike Place.


(First appeared in Pacific in 2005)

Called “Princess Angeline” by the settlers, Chief Seattle’s daughter lived in a small shed near the waterfront foot of Pike Street.    She often reached the business district by climbing the steep path she lived beside until her death at 86 in 1896.   Here the octogenarian rests beside Pike Street just west of First Avenue. Later Pike Street was regraded here and lifted to turn north onto Pike Place. The Post Avenue “alley” was also directed south from here.  In Jean Sherrard’s repeat, Rick Williams – brother to slain native carver John Williams and a carver himself – stands at the point where Post drops from Pike.  Williams holds a model for the totem pole to be erected in his brother’s memory.  On seeing the portrait of Princess Angeline, Williams said, “She looks just like my grandmother.”

Angeline’s home near the waterfront foot of Pike Street.
The two levels of Pike west of First – Pike Place on the left and the Post Alley on the right.
The north wall of the Post Alley is an ever building collage of posters and broadsides.
Before its brief nap between closing and the arrival of merchants in the morning, the Market’s donors tiles are dutifully polished.