Seattle Now & Then: Upheaval on Spring Street

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Looking east up Spring Street from 5th Ave. during its ca. 1909 regrade. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)
NOW: In 1922 the north side of this block on Spring was filled with the warm and complimenting bricks of the Women’s University Club, up at 6th Avenue, and the 11-story Spring Apartment Hotel at 5th. Through its now 90 years the hotel has also been named The Kennedy and most recently the Hotel Vintage.

In this disrupted street scene we get a fine lesson in how homes were propped while the ground below them was removed during street regrades – here on Spring Street east from Fifth Avenue.  Near the end of the grading these two supported residences will either be lowered with a jack – one spacer at a time – or given a new first floor with a new foundation.  (As it happened, they were lowered.)

St. Francis Hall, the institution up Spring St. at its northwest corner with Sixth Avenue, far right, was built in 1890-91 by Rev. F.X. Prefontaine.  Seattle’s first Catholic priest was known as much for his street savvy as for his pulpit homilies.  Prefontaine rented his new hall first to Jesuits for their original incarnation of Seattle Prep, but then also to many others, including the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Foresters, dance instructor Professor Ourat (from Florence) and the Andante Non Troppo Club also for dancing.  The hall was managed in the end by the Woodmen of the World and briefly named for them.  The name change was testimony to the admired priest’s flexible disposition.

I’ve chosen “about 1909” as the year for this subject largely from past assumptions joined with some of these half-lighted evidences.  For instance, by 1909 St. Francis Hall has passed from sight and citation – or nearly so.

With a little Ron Edge computer-aided sleuthing we were pleased to discover that in 1884 Matilda and Nelson Chilberg built the home standing here above the corner. Stocked by eight broad-shouldered brothers from Sweden – including Nelson – the industriously extended Chilberg family was famously diverse in its interests. For instance, Matilda and Nelson opened a grocery at the foot of Cherry Street, raised oats on the Swinomish Flats, ran a dairy in Chimacum (near Port Townsend) – selling the milk and cheese in the lumber camps – opened another grocery in Skagway while prospecting in Alaska.  In Seattle the couple opened three new additions to the city.

In 1908 with their daughter Mabel, a teacher at Seattle High School, these Chilbergs left their pioneer corner and moved further up the hill.  The prospect of this upheaval on Spring Street most likely spurred them.


Anything to add, Paul?

Yes and No.  Jean asked this question – again – on the eve of one of this blog’s greater crashes.  I had gathered the parts for a lengthy answer, but then the blog went down and stayed so for a days.  Later – like now – when it would have been possible to return and assemble the “anything” I was busy with the next thing or “otherthing.”   Surely sometimes down the way the anythings I would have put up will appear in other contexts.



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