The Lombardy Poplars that once lined much of Madison Street from Fourth Avenue to Broadway made First Hill’s favorite arterial “the most attractive place in town.” That is on the pioneer authority of Sophie Frye Bass, found in her delightful book of reminiscences, “Pig-Tail Days in Old Seattle.” Here the photographer A. Curtis looks west-southwest, through the intersection of Madison Street and Seventh Avenue to Central School, on the left, and the Knickerbocker Hotel, on the right. Central School opened in 1889
with Seattle’s first high school installed on its third floor. Sixty years later the school’s landmark towers were prudently removed after Seattle’s 1949 earthquake.
This ordinarily busy intersection is oddly vacant in the feature subject, crossed by neither motorcar nor team. However, the pavement bricks – no doubt slippery – are layered with clues. A combined mess of auto oil, horse droppings – and what else? – marks them.
Above and below, looking east on Madison Street from Sixth Avenue. Rising high at the center, the Knickerbocher is nearly new in the ca. 1909 photograph above by Arthur Churchill Warner. The poplars are long since stripped away in Lawton Gowey’s recording from June 19, 1961. Knowing Lawton, I’d say that he was capturing a last look thru the block before it was razed for the Seattle Freeway.
The Knickerbocker was built in time for Seattle’s first world’s fair, the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific-Exposition, held on the UW campus. Advertised as “strictly modern,” the hotel’s ninety rooms were for the most part taken as apartments. In 1911 weekly rents were three dollars and up. Included among its more sensationally newsworthy residents in the half-century before the hotel was razed for the Seattle Freeway, were a forger, a three-and-one-half year old boy deserted by his parents, and a Knickerbocker manager who – it seems – murdered his wife. And the hotel’s visitors featured more than one robber.
On the brighter side, in a letter to the Times editor, Knickerbocker resident Carol Cornish expressed her thanks that living at 616 Madison put her “close-in” to downtown opera and concerts. In her letter from Oct. 28 1940, Ms. Cornish also included a culture-conscious complaint about concert audience behavior. “I hate to be stuffy, but the shallow, careless frivolities of the so-called smart set often fill us unaspiring social plebeians with a definite distaste.” During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Times, awarded the Knickerbocker Hotel by including it in its “Business and Professional Ledger.” After the Second World War some hotel rooms were outfitted with dark rooms for rent to amateur photographers. And through much of the 1950s, the Knickerbocker was home to the Seattle Chess Club.
Writing her little classic “Pig-Tail Days” in 1937, Sophie Frye Bass, granddaughter of Arthur and Mary Denny, mourned the loss of both the poplars and the First Hill neighborhood of her childhood. “The fine residences and stately poplars have given way protestingly to business.”
Anything to add, Paul? Sure Jean. Between the two of us, Ron Edge and I have collected seven links to earlier features that relate to this subject with Central School and the Knickerbocher. They may also include subjects in their own “Web Extras” that are far afield of Seventh and Madison, and there may be some repetitions between them. But all are placed with good will while remembering still my own mother’s encouragement that “repetition is the mother of all learning.”
Two structures stand out in this 1907 look across Union Street into the old campus of the Territorial University. Both seem incomplete. The ornate one on top with the comely belfry is the Territorial University building itself, stripped of its columns while still awaiting its fate.
The lower structure, the palatial hut facing the sidewalk, resembles the warehouse set atop Noah’s ark in a Biblical illustration I remember. In the Bible, all the “animals two by two” were given accommodations. In this shed, however, the critters were mostly Methodists, more than three-thousand could be fit inside, and apparently were. There they would sing and preach — reinvigorating the local congregations, their own faith, and also naming and chastising selected Seattle sinners.
Apparently the tabernacle was pounded together in 1907 for the fall arrival of the evangelists Hart (the preacher) and Magann (the singer), noted on its signs. By then the landmark behind it – the University Building – was serving as temporary quarters for the Seattle Public Library. Bo Kinney, the library’s new circulation services manager, shares with us that the decision to move (by skidding) the territorial university from its original foundation, near the northeast corner of Fourth Avenue and Seneca Street, and ultimately to this site near Fifth Avenue and University Street, was first announced on March 3, 1905. The building was moved to lower the height of Denny’s Knoll and thereby allow for the extending of Fourth Avenue north from Seneca Street directly through the campus at the lower grade, and soon also on Fifth Avenue as seen in Jean’s repeat.
In early May of 1908 an appointed and, we imagine, enthused group of UW students started raising the ten-thousand dollars it was thought was needed to barge the original territorial university building to the new – since 1895 – campus north of Lake Union’s Portage Bay. There it was envisioned that Seattle’s grandest pioneer landmark would soon add its fame to the city’s first world’s fair, the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition. When this effort of preservation failed, some of the hardwood in the old school was turned into canes, which were sold as souvenirs, mostly to alums. It was figured that through the thirty-plus years of the school’s stay on Denny Knoll, about 5,000 young scholars had crossed beneath the Ionic columns of its main hall. The columns alone were saved and survive as the four white fluted landmarks that grace the University’s Sylvan Theatre.
Anything to add, Paul? With Ron Edge’s help, yes. Below are some “Edge Links” and then below that some other photographs and more that relate to this old knoll – Denny’s Knoll – that after the carvings or regrades of 1906-1910 is gone. I will also insert some “extras” into the week’s primary text, above. But not much. It is already thirty minutes past midnight, and my late start is, in part, your fault, or rather the delicious detraction of the marinated chicken with mushrooms, seasoned rice and those flowery green veggies that Nixon – or Regan – deplored. Thanks again for dinner, and the time spent with you and Don, your dad, was a delight.
Three Edge Links to pasts post for the reader’s enjoyment.
DENNY’S KNOLL, FIFTH AVENUE and UNION STREET from DENNY HILL
Built in 1887 by Sarah and Dr. Thomas Minor, it was one the earliest grand homes built on First Hill. Painted a green so dark it was “almost black,” the red trim contrasted nicely. Interrupted by tragedy, the Minors’ stay there was brief. Less than three years after the family moved into their mansion, the doctor drowned off Whidbey Island while hunting with two friends, who also perished.
In 1891 when John and Angela Collins became the new residents, it was still addressed 702 12th Avenue, but the street was soon renamed Minor Avenue. Both Thomas Minor and John Collins served as Seattle mayors: Collins first in 1873 as a dedicated Democrat, and Minor in 1887, a resolute Republican. Earlier Minor had moved his family to Seattle from Port Townsend where he was also once mayor.
If one’s attentions were devoted to this big home’s pioneer origins, then one may still wish to call it the Minor Home. If, however, one concentrates on the roll of significant events that occurred here, then it is the Collins home, and perhaps even the Angela Collins home. Angela was the second wife of the bold Irishman John Collins. They were married in 1877, after the locally famous widower of forty-two courted and won eighteen-year-old Angela Burdett Jackling.
Widowed in 1903, Angela Collins gave her remaining forty-four years to nourishing Seattle society, the “higher” parts of it here on the summit of First Hill. Her work was distinguished by programs and parties, some in the garden. To name a few, Angela was a leader in the Garden Club, the Music and Art Foundation, and the Sunset Club, of which she and, later, her younger daughter Catherine, served as presidents. Angela was an effective campaigner, raising funds for the Children’s Orthopedic Hospital and the Junior League. The League’s first meetings were held in the Collins home.
John and Angela had four children and all of them excelled. For example, Bertrand, the younger son, was a popular novelist famous here for his exploring wit. In 1946, daughter Catherine was given the title “Seattle’s First Lady of the Year,” mostly for her work with charities. Within a year, her mother Angela died after eighty-eight productive years, most of them at this corner. Her obituary, which appeared in the Seattle Times for September 21,1947, concluded, “From her childhood, Mrs. Collins was a brilliant figure in the social history of the city.”
Anything to add, Paul? JEAN, First below with Ron Edge’s attentions are two links to related features that we return to again. Following that a few local reminders of the Minor and Collins names. Other extras were included above within this feature’s primary text.
The first Unitarian Church of Seattle was built in 1889, only two years after Samuel Eliot, the 25-year-old son of Charles Eliot, president of Harvard University and perhaps then the most famous educator in the Western Hemisphere, arrived in Seattle to help its Unitarians get organized and build this sanctuary.
Local architect Hermann Steinman presented the drawings as a gift to the new congregation. Soon after the construction commenced mid-May 1889, the church’s rising belfry was easily visible around the city. The construction, here on the east side of Seventh Avenue between Union and Pike streets, was not affected when most of Seattle’s business district was consumed by the Great Fire of June 6, 1889.
The photograph by Asahel Curtis was recorded about 20 years later — most likely 1909, by which time the Unitarians had moved on and turned the building over to other users. In the Curtis photo, the church building is squeezed on the right (south) by the popular Dreamland, a large hall built as a roller rink in 1908, but then soon given to dancing and a great variety of assemblies, many of them labor-related and politically liberal. These politics also fit the activism of the AOUW (Ancient Order of United Workmen), which used the old church for its Columbia Lodge soon after the popular Unitarians had moved to Capitol Hill. The Columbia name is signed on the steeple.
The First Unitarians dedicated their new, larger church on Boylston Avenue in 1906. It had 800 seats, the better to stage the church’s productions, which included concerts of many sorts, adult Sunday schools led by University of Washington profs, classes in psychology and comparative religion, and plays by the Unitarian Dramatic Club.
Dramatic presentations continue on the original church site with ACT Theatre. Jean Sherrard used his recent benefit appearance on an ACT stage as an opportunity to pose the theater’s support staff at its Seventh Avenue side entrance for this week’s “Now.” To quote Sherrard, “I don’t know if any are Unitarians or not, but they are surely united in their vision for a transcendent theatrical experience.”
Anything to add, Paul? Certainly Jean and we will begin again with a few relevant LINKS that Ron has pulled from past features. After all that I’ll put up some more mostly from the neighborhood.
CAPITOL HILL UNITARIANS
UNION Street From FIRST HILL
EAGLES at SEVENTH & UNION
The Eagles Lodge took its name from a stuffed eagle displayed in the hallway of an early meeting hall. The founders, a handful of mostly good old theater boys, got their inspiration while sitting around Robert Moran’s Seattle shipyard in 1898.
When new in 1925, their grand lodge at Seventh Avenue and Union Street was described as “a modification of Italian Renaissance, sufficiently ornamented to add to its beauty without being ostentatious.” The architect, Henry Bittman, was a primary contributor to the inventory of terra-cotta landmarks Seattle was blessed with in the teens and ’20s.
Although not dated, this view [the top view of this subject] of the auditorium/clubhouse was probably taken when the founding “Mother Aerie” hosted the 1926 convention of the by-then-sizable national lodge.
Much of the Eagles Auditorium modern history has been given to rock-n-roll, first in the 1950s with Little Richard and Fats Domino. A five-year run of light-show concerts began with a disruption in 1967. Police “busted” a concert featuring the Emergency Exit and the Union Light Company, suspecting that the film loops and liquid projections of the Union Light Company simulated psychedelic consciousness, which the visiting police Dance Detail figure was somehow in violation of a 1929 code prohibiting something called “shadow dancing.” Perhaps the reasoning was that is the lights are turned down there will be more shadows.
Now with daylight savings upon us so is nighty bears surprisingly and we must limb that stairs to a long winter’s night, but we will we return in the afternoon to finish this off with something about the Dreamland, which held the corner before the Eagles.
The northeast corner of Seattle’s Seventh Avenue and Union Street includes a history of one landmark replacing two. In the older view the Dreamland Dance Pavilion and, partially hidden behind it to the left, the First Unitarian Church of Seattle were razed for construction of the Eagles Auditorium
The Dreamland is last listed in the 1922 city directory. The following ear the Seattle Eagles’ new aerie is recorded at its corner – a place it still fills, although not so much for Eagles.
Constructed in 1908 as a roller rink, the Dreamland was soon converted into a dance hall capable of accommodating crowds of more than 3,000, it was also a popular venue for mass meetings.
Perennial Socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs spoke to an overflow crowd there in January 1915, and two years later Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, another celebrated socialist, packed the place. Flynn appeared to raise money for the Wobblies – Industrial Workers of the World members – wrongfully accused of instigating the Everett massacres when Wobblies and members of Everett’s Commercial Club exchanged gunfire on the Everett waterfront.
The church as built in 1889 when the corner was still in the sticks. At the sanctuary’s September dedication, Dr. Thomas l. Eliot from the Portland congregation made a spiritual point of the new church’s building materials. “Long ago the stones of its foundation were a part of an ancient glacial drift, the trees sprang up perhaps before we signed the Declaration of Independence. The iron, maybe, was from Norway. Behold them brought together for shelter that man may look to something greater than the forest, rock and iron.”
A LETTER from LARRY LOWRY
Larry Lowry kindly sent me this photograph of the Dreamland with the wagons of The Seattle Bakery posing before it on Union Street. Below the photograph is its own caption and Larry’s letter introducing his grandmother Waverly Mairs who for many years operated the bakery’s ice cream machine.