I think it likely that this candid photo of a lone pedestrian on a bright sidewalk was snapped to show off the new streetlights. Recorded by a municipal photographer, the view looks north on First Avenue from its southeast corner with Virginia Street. The city’s first ornamental light standards, of City Light’s own design, were introduced in 1909-10, and on Seattle’s busiest streets featured five-ball clusters like these. Here the elegance of the new lights is interrupted by the somewhat comedic counterpoint of older and much taller power poles – all in the name of progress.
This neighborhood was sometimes named North Seattle on early maps, but more popularly it was also called Belltown, for the family that first claimed and developed it. Like many of the first settlers, William and Sarah Ann Bell kept two homes, one in the platted village that was growing to the sides of Pioneer Square and Henry Yesler’s sawmill, and the other on their claim, in order to “prove” it. (Virginia Street was named for their long-lived third daughter, Mary Virginia,1847-1931).
Seattle’s first major public work was the 1876 regrading of Front Street (First Avenue) between Pioneer Square and Pike Street. Soon after it continued with an improved path over the western side of Denny Hill, meant to help the Bells develop their claim. In 1884, First Avenue was lowered and improved north of Pike Street with a cut that allowed the community’s then new horse-drawn street railway to continue north to Belltown and beyond, as far as the lower Queen Anne Neighborhood. Then in 1898-99, this cut was deepened to the grade we see here, leaving a cliff along the east side of First Avenue.
In 1903 the earnest (and long) razing of Denny Hill began by moving that cliff to the east side of Second Avenue. By 1911 the regrading reached the east side of Fifth Avenue with another cliff, and there it rested for seventeen years.
While construction of the brick Hotel Ridpath, center-right in the featured subject at the top, waited for the cliff to be pushed east to Second Avenue, the ornate clapboard Troy Hotel across the street, far left, was built soon after the 1898-99 regrade. The Troy survived into at least the late 1940s. The Ridpath, long since renamed the Preston, I remember almost like yesterday.
In the featured photograph from about 1910, First Avenue’s Belltown blocks were mostly given to hotels and shops and a few vacant lots. Some of the latter were fitted with elaborate billboards, like the one on the right, which is stacked with exotic murals promoting popular habits, like vaudeville, cigarettes and chewing gum.
WEB EXTRAS (featuring story and song!)
Paul, I know you and Ron have much to add. Please do so, but let me interject a touch of Public Relations for our annual Town Hall program ‘A Rogue’s Christmas‘.
As you well know, this Sunday at 2 PM, you and I, Marianne Owen and Randy Hoffmeyer, will be reading stories and poems from E.B. White, Nabokov, Ken Kesey, and much more, including original music by Pineola, for this event – the eighth we’ve presented in collaboration with ACT Theatre. Join us for an antidotal and deliciously subversive holiday treat!
I’ll be there Jean. Remember you are picking me up. Here, repeating our by now weekly path, are a few relevant past features pulled and placed by Ron Edge. Ron might also come to the Rogue’s show. He took his then 96-year old mother last year.