Seattle Now & Then: The SINGULAR TRAFFIC TOWER at FOURTH and PIKE

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Looking west on Pike Street from Fourth Avenue, the variety in the first block of this retail district includes the Rhodes Bros. Ten Cent Store, Mendenhall’s Kodaks, Fountain Pens and Photo Supplies, Remick’s Song and Gift Shop, the Lotus Confectionary, Fahey-Brockman’s Clothiers, where, one may “buy upstairs and save $10.00”.  (Courtesy, MOHAI)
THEN: Looking west on Pike Street from Fourth Avenue, the variety in the first block of this retail district includes the Rhodes Bros. Ten Cent Store, Mendenhall’s Kodaks, Fountain Pens and Photo Supplies, Remick’s Song and Gift Shop, the Lotus Confectionary, Fahey-Brockman’s Clothiers, where, one may “buy upstairs and save $10.00”. (Courtesy, MOHAI)
NOW: Celebrating its centennial, the Joshua Green Building (1914), on the left at the southwest corner of Fourth and Pike, still lights up the corner with its brilliant terra-cotta tile facade.
NOW: Still celebrating its centennial, the Joshua Green Building (1914), on the left at the southwest corner of Fourth and Pike, brightens the corner with its terra-cotta tile facade.

A good date for this Webster and Stevens Studio photo is July 20, 1925, a Saturday. The Seattle Times had announced (more than reported) on the preceding day: “Traffic Ruler To Mount Tower, New System In Use Tomorrow – ‘Stop’ And ‘Go’ Signals For Blocks Downtown Will Be Regulated From Fourth And Pike – Pedestrians Must Obey, Too.”

A 1924 traffic jam at the south end of the Fremont Bridge.
A 1924 traffic jam at the south end of the Fremont Bridge.

By 1925 motorcars had been on Seattle streets for a quarter-century, but except for frightening horses, their disruption was tolerable through the first decade of the 1900s.  But then the horseless carriers got faster, heavier and multiplied at a rate that even then famously booming Seattle could not match.  Especially following World War I, having one’s own car became a matter of considerable urgency for both modern mobility and personal status.  Quoting from “Traffic and Related Problems,” a chapter in the 1978 book Public Works in Seattle, the citizen race for car ownership was revealed in the records for the 15-year period between 1922 and 1937, when “the number of motor vehicles increased by 211 per cent, as against a 22 per cent increase in population.”  Fatal accidents became almost commonplace.

Hardly a statistic, it made it to the driveway - somewhere on First Hill, perhaps.
Hardly a statistic, it made it to the driveway – somewhere on First Hill, perhaps.

Consequently, on this Saturday in the summer of 1925 the nearly desperate hopes of Seattle’s traffic engineers climbed high up the city’s one and only traffic tower with the officer (unnamed in any clippings I consulted), seen standing in the open window of his comely crow’s nest.  Reading deeper into the Friday Times, we learn that this ruler would have powers that reached well beyond this intersection.  From high above Fourth and Pike he was assigned to operate all the traffic signals on Fourth Avenue between University and Pine Streets, and on Pike Street between First and Fifth Avenues, while watching out for disobedient pedestrians.  And no left turns were allowed.  Were you heading north on Fourth here and wanting to take a left on Pike to reach the Public Market?  Forget it. You were first obliged to take three rights around the block bordered by Westlake, Pine, Fifth, and Pike.

Wreck-Blog-#1-WEB

It was primarily the “morning and evening clanging of the bells,” about which the pedestrians and merchants of this retail district most complained.  The hotels particularly objected. The manager of the then new Olympic Hotel, two blocks south of the tower, described customers checking out early and heading for Victoria and/or Vancouver B.C. rather than endure the repeated reports of the “traffic ruler’s bells.”  As Seattle’s own “grand hotel,” when measured by size, service and sumptuous lobby, the Olympic was heard. (See the Thurlby sketch, three images down.)

Olympic Hotel Lobby
Olympic Hotel Lobby
A Seattle Times clipping from December, 7, 1923
A Seattle Times clipping from December, 7, 1923  [Click to ENLARGE]

In early June, 1926 after a year of irritating clanging at Fourth and Pike, Seattle’s Mayor Bertha Landes summoned heads of the street, fire, and municipal trolley departments to dampen the cacophony escaping from both citizens and signals.  The three executives’ combined acoustic sensibilities first recommended brass bells.  These would report “a much softer tone, and more musical too, than the harsh, loud-sounding bell now in use.”   J. W. Bollong, the head engineer in the city’s streets department, advised that the new bells ringing be limited to “two short bells at six-second intervals,” instead of a long continuous ball.  The new bells would also be positioned directly underneath the signals to help muffle the sound.  Bollong noted, that with the bells and lights so placed both pedestrians and motorists would get any signal’s visual and audible sensations simultaneously.  Putting the best construction on this package of improvements, Bollong concluded, “That’s like appreciating the taste of a thing with the sense of smell.”

Time's Bell coverage from July 13, 1926, with a sketch from the paper's then popular political cartoonist, Thurby.
Time’s Bell coverage from July 13, 1926, with a sketch by the paper’s then popular political cartoonist, Thurby. [Click to ENLARGE]
Bertha Landes shaking hand of Mayor Ed.Brown whom she defeat in the 1926 mayoral election.
Bertha Landes shaking hand of Mayor (and dentist)  Ed.Brown whom she defeated in the 1926 mayoral election.
Nearby traffic light at Westlake and Pine,
Nearby traffic light at Westlake and Pine.
Taffic light at 5th and Olive, looking north from Westlake Ave., 1939.
Traffic light at 5th and Olive, looking north from Westlake Ave., 1939.

Also in 1926, the city’s public works figured that the its rapidly increasing traffic had need of “stop-and-go lights” at 50 intersections. Engineer Bollong had done some traveling, and concluded that Seattle was lagging.  “Los Angeles now has 232 lights, or one to every 3,000 citizens. Seattle has only 30 lights, one for every 16,000. “

Some years after this photograph was recorded looking north on 15th Ave. NW from 64th Street, the next intersection at 65th was determined by crash statistics to be the most dangerous in Seattle.  It cannot be seen here if the intersection has, as yet, a stoplight in 1938.
Some years after this photograph was recorded looking north on 15th Ave. NW from 64th Street, the next intersection at 65th was determined by crash statistics to be the most dangerous in Seattle. It cannot be seen here if the intersection has, as yet, a stoplight in 1938.

While Seattle’s traffic lights proliferated along with its traffic, the towers did not. By 1936 there were 103 traffic signal controlled intersections in the city – none of them with towers.  Much of the left-turn nuisance was ameliorated in 1955 when the city’s one-way grid system was introduced.

Not finding a 1955 example I substituted this snapshot I made in the late 1970s under the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Not finding a 1955 example I substituted this snapshot I made in the late 1970s under the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, boys?    Jean, yes.  We are startled about how much attention we have given to this intersection over the years.  Recently, within the last year or two, two or more features have been contributed for subjects either directly on this five-star corner or very near it.  Here Ron Edge has put up links to eight of them.  The top two are recent, indeed.

THEN: This rare early record of the Fourth and Pike intersection was first found by Robert McDonald, both a state senator and history buff with a special interest in historical photography. He then donated this photograph - with the rest of his collection - to the Museum of History and Industry, whom we thank for its use.  (Courtesy MOHAI)

THEN: A motorcycle courier for Bartell Drugs poses before the chain’s Store No. 14, located in the Seaboard Building at the northwest corner of Fourth Avenue and Pike Street, circa 1929.  (Courtesy Bartell Drugs)

THEN: We are not told but perhaps it is Dora and Otto Ranke and their four children posing with their home at 5th and Pike for the pioneer photographer Theo. E. Peiser ca. 1884.  In the haze behind them looms Denny Hill.   (Courtesy Ron Edge)

THEN:  Built in 1888-89 at the northeast corner of Fourth Avenue and Pine Street, the then named Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church marked the southeast corner of Denny Hill.  Eventually the lower land to the east of the church (here behind it) would be filled, in part, with hill dirt scraped and eroded from North Seattle lots to the north and west of this corner.  (Courtesy, Denny Park Lutheran Church)

=======

SEATTLE, 1924 aerial looking north over business district to Lake Union and Green Lake.
SEATTLE, 1924 aerial looking north over business district to Lake Union and Green Lake.  [Click to Enlarge]
Seattle, 1925 Birds-eye
Seattle, 1925 Birds-eye [CLICK – twice maybe –  to ENLARGE]
Mid-20's chorus line - or posing players - at one Seattle's busiest vaudeville stage.  [Courtesy, MOHAI]
Mid-20’s chorus line – or posing players – at one of Seattle’s busiest vaudeville stages then. [Courtesy, MOHAI]

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: The SINGULAR TRAFFIC TOWER at FOURTH and PIKE”

  1. I absolutely love the photo. Do you by chance have a way of printing a photo such as this?

    ALEC THOMAS
    PROJECT ENGINEER

    ANDERSEN CONSTRUCTION

    900 POPLAR PL S
    SEATTLE, WA 98144

    206.255.8390: C
    206.763.6710: F

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s