Seattle Now & Then: Steps to the Harbor

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Following the city’s Great Fire of 1889, a trestle was built on University Street, between Front Street (First Avenue) and Railroad Avenue (Alaskan Way).  By the time Lawton Gowey photographed what remained of the timber trestle in 1982, it had been shortened and would soon be razed for the Harbor Steps seen in Jean Sherrard’s repeat.  (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)
THEN: Following the city’s Great Fire of 1889, a trestle was built on University Street, between Front Street (First Avenue) and Railroad Avenue (Alaskan Way). By the time Lawton Gowey photographed what remained of the timber trestle in 1982, it had been shortened and would soon be razed for the Harbor Steps seen in Jean Sherrard’s repeat. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)
NOW: The Harbor Steps, which now join the city to its waterfront via University Street, is perhaps our best example of what might be once the Alaskan Way Viaduct is removed.
NOW: The Harbor Steps, which now join the city to its waterfront via University Street, is perhaps our best example of what might be once the Alaskan Way Viaduct is removed.

I imagine that many Pacific readers will recognize Lawton Gowey’s not so old “then.”  Without comparing Jean Sherrard’s repeat, they may remember the location of this stubby trestle from the times they chose Western Avenue to escape the congestion of other downtown avenues.  That was a handy avoidance strategy, which had begun already in the 1890s when Western was planked, supported then on its own offshore trestle. 

A detail from the 1908 Baist Real Estate Map, showing the two blocks on University Street where the viaduct for wagons built after the Great Fire of 1889 reaches Railroad Avenue from First Avenue.
A detail from the 1908 Baist Real Estate Map, showing the two blocks on University Street where the viaduct for wagons built after the Great Fire of 1889 reaches Railroad Avenue from First Avenue.

Here at University Street a timbered ramp that crossed above Western between Front Street (First Avenue) and Railroad Avenue (Alaskan Way) was built soon after the Great Fire of 1889.  Plans to rebuild it in steel were never fulfilled, and so all its many repairs kept to wood.  Gowey had studied the history of this bridge and many others Seattle subjects. He kept track of the changes in our cityscape.  He was not a typical urban photographer; his interests were not so picturesque.  These interests, I believe, explain this photo of the somewhat dilapidated trestle on University Street, and the scar where it had been cut short years earlier.  Late in the 1930s the city’s engineers recommended removing the ramp’s center pier over Western Ave.  That claim stopped all traffic on the ramp; only pedestrians could still reach Western Avenue by the stairway shown. 

A clip from The Seattle  Times on May 11, 1938.
A clip from The Seattle Times on May 11, 1938.
A mid-20's aerial that is "bordered" by two viaducts, the one between the Pike Place Market and the Pike Street Pier, on the left, and, on the right, the still standing timber trestle between First Ave. and the Waterfront, on the right.
A mid-20’s aerial that is “bordered” by two viaducts, the one between the Pike Place Market and the Pike Street Pier, on the left, and, on the right, two blocks south on the right, the here still standing timber trestle between First Ave. and the Waterfront on University Street..  CLICK TO ENLARGE

I met Lawton Gowey early in 1982, the year he took this photo.  By then Lawton was recognized as a local authority on the history of public transportation, and I went to him for help.  He honed his interest in the 1930s, when he explored Seattle with his father and the family camera.  Later, working downtown as accountant for the Seattle Water Department, he had ready access to many of the city’s archives.  With his camera he continued to explore.  Some of his

Lawton-Gowey-Water-Dept-Card-WEB

Tempus Puget for Nov. 1, 1960, makes note of Lawton Gowey's contribution to a book on the Seattle-Tacoma Interurban.  November 4, 1960.
In his Tempus Puget for Nov. 4, 1960, Time’s columnist Lenny Anderson makes note of Lawton Gowey’s contribution to a book on the Seattle-Tacoma Interurban.
The Seattle Times report on Lawton Gowey and Ted Carlson's lecture on Seattle's streetcar history.   November, 27, 1982
The Seattle Times report on Lawton Gowey and Ted Carlson’s lecture on Seattle’s streetcar history. November, 27, 1982
The SeaFirst tower seen over the wrecked of the Stevens Hotel, in the forground, and the Burke Building, still half-standing on the right, for the construction of the Federal Office Bldg (Named for Henry Jackson) in the 1970s. The Empire Building
The SeaFirst tower seen over the wrecked of the Stevens Hotel, in the forground, and the Burke Building, still half-standing on the right, for the construction of the Federal Office Bldg (Named for Henry Jackson) in the 1970s. The Empire Building, with the Olympic National Life sign on the roof, later gave Seattle its first implosion spectacle.

subjects, such as the construction of the SeaFirst Building in the late 1960s, he tracked from his office in the City Light Building and other prospects as well.  He used his lunch hours to explore and record changes in the Central Business District and on the waterfront.  His collection includes the many shots he took over time and in all directions from the Smith Tower observatory.   We’ll insert here two looks up a freezing Third Avenue photographed by Lawton from the Seattle City Light (and water) Building on the west side of 3rd between Madison and Spring Streets.

The fine snow of December 31, 1968.  I remember it - a walk with about four others from the Helix Office north across the snowbound University Bridge to one or another coffee shop in the district.  I had an uncanny talent that day for hitting my targets with the snowballs I threw.  Honest.
The fine snow of December 31, 1968. I remember it – a walk with about four others from the Helix Office north across the snowbound University Bridge to one or another coffee shop in the University District. I had an uncanny talent that day for hitting sekeced targets with my snowballs. Honest.
A lighter snow (that I do not remember) about a month later on January 27, 1969, again from the City Light Building.
A lighter snow (that I do not remember) about a month later on January 27, 1969, again from the City Light Building.

Lawton Gowey died of a heart attack in the spring of 1983 at the mere age of sixty-one.  In the little time Lawton and I had to nurture our friendship, we shared many interests, including repeat photography, London history, and the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. This last fondness was also fortunate for both Bach and the members of Bethany Presbyterian Church.  Beginning in 1954 Lawton, was both organist and choir director for that Queen Anne Hill singing congregation. 

Lawton Gowey's 1968 pan of the city from Beacon Hill.  The SeaFirst building is approaching its topping-off.   It is barely a year since the full-freeway's dedication.  Correction.  Not quite full.  Note the ramp to nowhere at the bottom.  It would remain so for comedic years to come.
Lawton Gowey’s 1968 pan of the city from Beacon Hill. The SeaFirst building is approaching its topping-off. It is barely a year since the full-freeway’s dedication. Correction. Not quite full. Note the ramp to nowhere at the bottom. It would remain so for comedic years to come.
Lawton Gowey captures the Virginia V and the Goodtime II, nearby, on Nov. 17, 1982.
Lawton Gowey captures the Virginia V and the Goodtime II, nearby, on Nov. 17, 1982.
Lawton with camera and beside a friend below the Pike Street Hill Climb, and the then newly opened Waterfront Trolley, which was later mysteriously sent on vacation for, in part (or I believe) the needs of SAM's sculpture garden at the foot of Broad Street, home for the trolley's parking and maintenance.
Lawton, on the right, with camera and joined by  a friend below the Pike Street Hill Climb, and the then newly opened Waterfront Trolley, which was later mysteriously sent on vacation for, in part (or I believe) the needs of SAM’s sculpture garden at the foot of Broad Street, home then for the trolley’s parking and maintenance garage.

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, Paul?   Yessir.  Ron has put up four former features.  Startlingly, or predictable for those who remember the week past, the first if last week’s feature, which was also on University Street and near the waterfront.   The other three edge-links stay near the neighborhood, and predictably, as is our way, some of the images will appear again and again but in different sets or contexts.  This week’s fairly recent (from 1982) photograph is another by Lawton Gowey, and I’ll introduce a portrait or two of Lawton and a clip or two too.   Contrarily, I may take some of them and insert it in the above – the main or featured text.  Next week we return to  another touchstone – Pioneer Square.

THEN: The ruins left by Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889, included a large neighborhood of warehouses and factories built on timber quays over the tides.  Following the fire the quays were soon restored with new capping and planking.  A close look on the far-right will reveal some of this construction on the quays underway.  (Courtesy, Seattle Public Library)

THEN: Looking west from First Avenue down the University Street viaduct to the waterfront, ca. 1905.  Post Office teams and their drivers pose beside the Arlington Hotel, which was then also headquarters for mail delivery in Seattle.  (Courtesy, Gary Gaffner)

=======

Harbor Steps construction, April 1994.
Harbor Steps construction, April 1994.   Here I used my architectural “correction” lens, which I later sent off to Berangere in Paris, where by now buildings require little correction.   The photo below was photographed on the same spring day at the one above.

Harbor-Steps-construct-April-94-WEB-------------------------

Sometime later (I've lost the date) with young Italian Cypresses (I believe) potted beside the Step's fountain.
Sometime later (I’ve lost the date) with young Italian Cypresses (I believe) potted beside the Step’s fountain.
. . . and later still.  The Cypresses have grown and the sculpted symbol for Pi, has arrived.   For trees and art this undated record may be compared to Jean's near the top.
. . . and later still. The Cypresses have grown and the sculpted symbol for Pi, has arrived. For trees and art this undated record may be compared to Jean’s near the top.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Steps to the Harbor”

  1. Paul, What a treasure of an article. I’m in Dallas now, but a member of Bethany from 1986 till I moved here in 2010. I just reposted the Seattle Times Facebook post of the shorter article.

    Besides Mr Gowey’s obvious connection to Bethany, Linda Gowey Cutshall is a beloved long-time member of Bethany’s staff. I included this link in the post as well as tagging Linda.Thank you for sharing!!! Beyond its obvious interest to your usual audience, I’m sure it will mean so much to many surviving family and friends!

    (You may remember me from an inquiry a few years back about the house that used to sit across from the Bayview Manor…you were very kind and supplied all kinds of helpful information! You have a generous heart!)

  2. I showed the photo of the view of downtown from Beacon Hill in 1968 to my boyfriend, a life-long resident of Seattle (born 1953). Neither of us could name the tall white building that shows up on the right of the photo. Do you know? We both dismissed Harborview as the answer but ??

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