(click to enlarge photos)
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.
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]
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.
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.
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.)
MACKINTOSH MANSE: THIRD & UNIVERSITY – Southeast Corner
(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.
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.
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.
VILLARD’S 1883 WELCOME
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.
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.
DENNY HILL & HOTEL From Near 3rd & UNIVERSITY
(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.
DENNY KNOLL’S DEATH KNELL
(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.
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.