Seattle Now & Then: The Terry House at 3rd & James

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: When it was built in 1864 Charles and Mary Terry’s home was considered the finest in Seattle.  (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)
THEN: When it was built in 1864 Charles and Mary Terry’s home was considered the finest in Seattle. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: The ornate home was razed early in the twentieth century, first for more business-friendly structures, and then in the early 1950s for the city’s Public Safety Building. This too was razed, and the “Civic Square” proposed to replace it abides now as a construction pit fenced behind fanciful walls at the sidewalk. The site waits upon financing for development as a “public-private” space.
NOW: The ornate home was razed early in the twentieth century, first for more business-friendly structures, and then in the early 1950s for the city’s Public Safety Building. This too was razed, and the “Civic Square” proposed to replace it abides now as a construction pit fenced behind fanciful walls at the sidewalk. The site waits upon financing for development as a “public-private” space.

Most likely the first “now and then” treatment this charming pioneer home received was in these pages seventy years ago on Sunday, November 10, 1944.  The author, Margaret Pitcairn Strachan, chose the Charles and Mary Terry home as the fifteenth weekly subject of her yearlong series on “Early Day Mansions.”  Strachan’s fifty-two well-packed and illustrated essays must be counted as one our richest resources for understanding Seattle’s history.  In 1944 many of the mansions built by the community’s nabobs were still standing, and sometimes the original families were still living in them and willing to talk with the reporter.   (We will attach the Strachan feature below.  Click TWICE to enlarge for reading.)

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In the Strachan feature the Terry home faced Third Avenue near its northeast corner with James Street.  We can learn something about the family’s history – especially about Charles – from the journalist’s reveries that came upon her as she stepped into the “now” after opening the door to a café near the northeast corner of Third Avenue and James Street.  She writes, “The Columbian Café is probably the place which is on the exact spot where the house stood.  Sitting at the maroon-colored counter, facing the huge mirror which runs the length of the room and reflects the booths in the background, I listened to the clatter coming from the kitchen and watched the waitresses in their spotless white dresses, as they hurried back and forth over the red tile floor, serving busy Seattle citizens who were unaware that this spot was once the home of the man who named Alki Point, owned its first store, was the instigator of the University of Washington, foresaw a great future for this ‘town of Seattle’ and drafted its first ordinances.”  (Next, we have attached an earlier photo of the Terry home before it was pivoted off of Third Avenue to face James Street.  Below the home we have added a snap of the 3rd Avenue front door to the Public Safety Building, and below that two photo that include the Columbian Cafe that Strachan visited for her research and/or edification or nutrition.  The two cafe photos are public works subjects and have their own captions with dates.)

The Terry Home on Third Avenue before its pivot for facing James Street.
The Terry Home on Third Avenue before its pivot for facing James Street.
The Public Safety Building facing Third Ave. about a dozen years ago (since destroyed) where once the Terry home revealed its lavish facade to both the village and the bay.
The Public Safety Building facing Third Ave. about a dozen years ago (since destroyed) where once the Terry home revealed its lavish facade to both the village and the bay.
The Columbian Cafe is signed just above the photo's center.  The view looks south on Third Avenue from near Cherry Street.  (Courtesy Municipal Archive)
The Columbian Cafe is signed just above the photo’s center. The view looks south on Third Avenue from near Cherry Street. (Courtesy Municipal Archive)
Looking north on Third Avenue from James Street on November 13, 1928 during some road work.   The
Looking north on a closed Third Avenue from James Street also  on November 13, 1928 during some road work. The Columbian Cafe is far-right.  (Courtesy Municipal Archive)
An early 20th Century look up Third with the Webster and Stevens Studio photographer's back toward James Street.  Note the St.Elmo Hotel at the southeast corner of Third and Cherry, on the right.  It served the fire fighters and citizens during the city's Great Fire of June 6, 1889.   You can find it as well in the 1928 photo above it.  (Courtesy, MOHAI)
An early 20th Century look up Third with the Webster and Stevens Studio photographer’s back toward James Street. Note the St.Elmo Hotel at the southeast corner of Third and Cherry, on the right. It served the fire fighters and citizens during the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889 when the hotel was nearly new.. You can find it as well in the 1928 photo above it. [Below, Ron has included a link to the feature we did on the above W&S photograph – (Courtesy, MOHAI)
JEAN'S repeat from not so long ago.
JEAN’S repeat from not so long ago.

By purchases and trades with pioneers Carson Boren and Doc David Maynard, the Terrys owned most of the business district and were the wealthiest couple in town.   On the sweet side of their pioneer life, they opened Seattle’s first bakery in 1864, the year they also built this jolly home, the “ornament of the town.”  In 1867 the couple ran a large advertisement in the Pacific Coast Directory, which read, in part, “C. C. TERRY, Seattle, W.T. wholesale and retail dealer in Groceries, Provisions, Cigars, etc., manufacturer of crackers and cakes of all kinds. Unlimited supply of Ship Bread constantly on hand at San Francisco prices.”  Tragically, Charles died of tuberculosis, a mere thirty-nine years old, in 1867. On the day of his death his third daughter was born.

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A Seattle Times announcement on Feb. 4, 1906 that the C.C. Terry house with its "peculiar Gothic design" was being demolished.
A Seattle Times announcement on Feb. 4, 1906 that the C.C. Terry house with its “peculiar Gothic design” was being demolished.

Sometime between the 1878 birdseye view drawing of Seattle and the 1883 Sanborn real estate map, the Terry home was pivoted 90-degrees counter-clockwise to face James Street.  At the same time the house was moved one lot east of its corner with Second Avenue, which is where we see it in the featured photo at the top. The home’s second footprint holds on in the 1904 Sanborn but not in 1908.  It was demolished in 1907.

This three-stack of Sanborn map details date from top-to-bottom, 1884, 1888 and 1893.
The above  three-stack of Sanborn map details date from, top-to-bottom, 1884, 1888 and 1893.  The Terry home sits at the bottom of block 22, to the left or west of what would have been the alley, had one been encouraged.  Note how the footprint changes for the home.  In 1884 the sun room attachment to the home’s south side when it still faced Third Avenue has been removed for good.  By 1888 the row houses at the northwest corner of Fourth Ave. and James have been added.  We can see the most westerly corner of those in the top featured photo.  Also in the 1888 Sanborn the Russell Hotel has been added to block 22’s northwest corner at the southeast corner of Third Avenue and Cherry Street.  In the photographs shared above, the Russell has had a name change to Elmo.
On the right side of this pair, the northeast quarter of C.D. Boren's Block 32 has been cleared of all, including the C.C. Terry home, by the time this 1908 Baist Real Estate map was assembled.  The row houses survive, however, at the northwest corner of James and 4th Avenue.   In the detail from the Baist map of 1912, the row is gone and the Terry home site filled with a rectangular shaped brick structure.
On the right side of this pair, the northeast quarter of C.D. Boren’s Block 32 has been cleared of all, including the C.C. Terry home, by the time this 1908 Baist Real Estate map was assembled. The row houses survive, however, at the northwest corner of James and 4th Avenue. In the detail, on the left,  from the Baist map of 1912, the row is gone and the Terry home site filled with a rectangular shaped brick structure.
The Public Safety Building took the block in 1951, one of downtown Seattle's earliest Modern Building. Here looking southwest thru the intersection of Fourth Ave. and Cherry Street, the City County building looks back, on the left, and the Smith Tower peeks over, upper-right.  The number "6." scrawled on the photo is not explained.  (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive.)
The Public Safety Building took the block in 1951, one of downtown Seattle’s earliest Modern Buildings. Here looking southwest thru the intersection of Fourth Ave. and Cherry Street, the City County building looks back, on the left, and the Smith Tower looks or peeks down from above, upper-right. The number “6.” scrawled on the photo is not explained. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive.)
The bottom subject of this pair is the oldest surviving photograph of any part of Seattle.  It is conventionally (and probably accurately too) dated 1859.  It looks east towards First Hill over the Yesler home at the northeast corner of Front Street (First Ave.) and James Street, on the left.  The mid-1860s subject above it includes the ornate west facade of the Terry home at 3rd and James.   Note that the timberline around Fifth Avenue if nearly the same between the two photographs.  This suggests that at some point before 1859 the clearing of the forest in this earliest neighborhood stopped - for a spell.
The bottom subject of this pair is the oldest surviving photograph of any part of Seattle. It is conventionally (and probably accurately too) dated 1859. It looks east towards First Hill over the Yesler home, on the left, at the northeast corner of Front Street (First Ave.) and James Street.  The mid-1860s subject above it includes the ornate west facade of the Terry home at 3rd and James. Note that the timberline around Fifth Avenue is nearly the same between the two photographs. This suggests that at some point before 1859 the clearing of the forest in this earliest neighborhood stopped – for a spell.

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, boys?  Ron Edge begins by putting down a few links – often to the neighborhood.  We’ll conclude with the oft-used  couples portrait  of Charles and Mary, and another full-page feature on their home by Lucille McDonald, once-upon-a-time, The Seattle Times principle reporter on regional heritage.  Finally we will drop in a hide-and-seek in which the reader is encouraged to find the Terry home.

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Lucille McDonald Sept. 15, 1963 contribution to The Seattle Times.
Lucile McDonald Sept. 15, 1963 contribution to The Seattle Times. DOUBLE CLICK to Enlarge for Reading!
The Norwegian photograph Anders Wilse too this wide shot of Seattle ca. 1899 during the few years he lived in Seattle.   Can you find (part of) the Terry home here-in?  Clue 1:  The intersection of Jefferson Street and the alley between Fifth and Sixth Avenues is near the photograph's bottom-right corner.    Clue 2: The Yesler mansion, surrounded by Third, Fourth, James and Jefferson, is far left.
The Norwegian photograph Anders Wilse too this wide shot of Seattle ca. 1899 during the few years he lived in Seattle. Can you find (part of) the Terry home here-in? Clue 1: The intersection of Jefferson Street and the alley between Fifth and Sixth Avenues is near the photograph’s bottom-right corner. Clue 2: The Yesler mansion, surrounded by Third, Fourth, James and Jefferson, is far left.

2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Terry House at 3rd & James”

  1. Great article and photos. when I moved to Seattle in 1982, I met Bruce Pitcairn Strachan who must have been Margaret’s brother. He was a practicing artist mostly in the 70’s even showing at Linda Farris Gallery but he became somewhat reclusive on Vashon. He also claimed he was Andy Warhol’s half brother. I’d love to know the full story about that family.

  2. I just saw the caption on the St. Elmo hotel on 3rd and Cherry, mentioning they played a role in the fire fighting in 1889. I think the St. Elmo hotel located closer to the waterfront at that time. In the 1890s the hotel was located on the north side of main street, close to RR avenue/ Alaskan way. The corner with RR avenue was a boarding house called Astor house. Next to it was the St Elmo hotel.
    My question is, was that 1890s St Elmo hotel not destroyed by the fire?
    The 1890s photo of the hotel look similar to the pre-fire photos of the waterfront showing the St Elmo between the new England hotel and I suppose the NP railroad station.

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