Seattle Now & Then: Golden Potlatch on the Waterfront

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: From boxcars and rooftops to the planks of Railroad Avenue, excitement builds for the ceremonial re-enactment of the S.S.Portland’s 1897 landing with its “ton of gold” on the Seattle waterfront, the city’s first Golden Potlatch Celebration.  [Courtesy, Michael Maslan]
THEN: From boxcars and rooftops to the planks of Railroad Avenue, excitement builds for the ceremonial re-enactment of the S.S.Portland’s 1897 landing with its “ton of gold” on the Seattle waterfront, the city’s first Golden Potlatch Celebration. [Courtesy, Michael Maslan]
NOW: From boxcars and rooftops to the planks of Railroad Avenue, excitement builds for the ceremonial re-enactment of the S.S.Portland’s 1897 landing with its “ton of gold” on the Seattle waterfront, the city’s first Golden Potlatch Celebration.  [Courtesy, Michael Maslan]
NOW: The Maritime Building (1910) on the left survives a century later, but the Alaskan Way Viaduct (1953) “has seen better days” and prepares now for its razing. 

This subject is, almost certainly, the formal opening of the Golden Potlatch on the afternoon of Wednesday July 19, 1911. To find the ceremony itself we would need to go out-of-frame, far-right, following the attentions of those packed atop the long line of boxcars on the left.  This rolling stock was often used as convenient bleachers through the many years that the waterfront, where “rail meets sail,” was stage (or platform) for local celebrations. With his or

Above and below: The Marion Street viaduct over Railroad Avenue (Alaskan Way) then and now - nearly now.
Above and below: The Marion Street viaduct over Railroad Avenue (Alaskan Way) then and now – nearly now.

4.-marion-st-overpass-NOW-web

Posing on the Marion Street viaduct, Mach 3, 1911.  The scene looks east.
Posing on the Marion Street viaduct, Mach 3, 1911. The scene looks east.

her back to Madison Street, the photographer looks south on Railroad Ave (Alaskan Way) to the also packed Marion Street overpass.  It was built by the railroads to permit safe passage for the hordes of locals and visitors here in 1909 for the city’s Alaska Yukon and Pacific Exhibition (AYP).  The Golden Potlatch was, in part, an attempt by local boomers to recapture some of the civic splendor and hoopla that had accompanied the summer-long AYP.  And the Potlatch had its own reverberations.  As the first citywide, multi-day, summer festival, the several Potlatches were precursors for the now retirement-age annual Sea Fair celebration.

4 POTLATCH-BUG-WEB

Part of the armada of steamers for the 1911 Potlatch - looking back from the Bay to Railroad Avenue.
Part of the armada of steamers for the 1911 Potlatch – looking back from the Bay to Railroad Avenue.

Another prospect for watching the opening day ceremonies, from both the windows and the roof of the Maritime Building, on the left, fills the block between Madison and Marion Streets and Railroad and Western Avenues and rises five stories above the boxcars.  It was filled with the offices and warehouse spaces for distributing the daily needs for foodstuffs and such brought here from distant lands (like California and Mexico).  Built of reinforced concrete with lots of windows for light, the big building’s architect, contractor and builder was Stone and Webster, one of the nation’s great commercial octopi, with its tentacles already active in Seattle’s trolleys, interurbans, and power plants.

The Maritime Building on the right photographed from the Marion Street viaduct to Colman Dock.
The Maritime Building on the right photographed from the Marion Street viaduct to Colman Dock.
An artist's rendering of the Maritime Building appearing in the Seattle Times for June 29, 1910.
An artist’s rendering of the Maritime Building appearing in the Seattle Times for June 29, 1910.
Railroad Avenue from the Marion  Street viaduct during the 1916 "Big Snow."  The Madison Street north end of the building appears on the far right.
Railroad Avenue from the Marion Street viaduct during the 1916 “Big Snow.” The Madison Street north end of the Maritimes Building appears on the far right.

A gust from a mid-summer breeze flaps the American flag, top-center on the featured photo, posted above the southwest corner of the Maritime Building.  Every corner had one.  More evidence of the wind is the woman in the dazzling white blouse heading toward the photographer and holding tight with both hands her oversized hat.  However, none of the men here seem worried for their own crowns. 

Looking northwest and down on the intersection of Western Ave. and Madison Street from the nearly new Rainier Grand hotel on First  Avenue.  Note the Madison Street Cable Car approaching the intersection.  Beyond the tall ships, a trestle for moving the mud of Denny Hill reaches into the bay.   The new Maritime Buildings northeast corner appears far left.
Looking northwest and down on the intersection of Western Ave. and Madison Street from the nearly new Rainier Grand hotel on First Avenue. Note the Madison Street Cable Car approaching the intersection. Beyond the tall ships, a trestle for moving the mud of Denny Hill reaches into the bay. The new Maritime Buildings northeast corner appears far left.
A Municipal Public Works department image looking north on Western from the Marion Street viaduct.
A Municipal Public Works department image looking north on Western from the Marion Street viaduct.  The Maritime Building is on the left.
Lawton Gowey's June 20, 1965 "repeat" of the Municipal photo above it.
Lawton Gowey’s June 20, 1965 “repeat” of the Municipal photo above it.

What are they watching?  The ceremonial mish-mash of Kings and Queens, and performers acting as Alaskans landing aboard the “ton of gold” ship, the S.S. Portland, followed by a double line of navy ships, tooting Puget Sound “mosquito-fleet” steamers, and northwest yachts. Meanwhile overhead Curtiss aviators Ely and Winter flew back and forth.  At two o’clock, the Gold Rush flotilla was scheduled to reach the Grand Trunk Pacific Dock, the largest wooden pier on the coast and in 1911 brand new.  With fireworks, fireboat displays, and band concerts from the pier, the rubbernecked folks on the boxcar roofs were entertained until midnight. 

A Pacific clipping from July 1, 1990 showing some of the Potlatch's Railroad Avenue action, but in 1912, not 1911.
A Pacific clipping from July 1, 1990 showing some of the Potlatch’s Railroad Avenue action, but in 1912, not 1911. [CLICK TWICE TO ENLARGE]

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, lads?  MOSTLY waterfront features Jean.  More to come tomorrow, perhaps.  Proofreading too.

THEN:In late 1855 the citizens of Seattle with help from the crew of the Navy sloop-of-war Decatur built a blockhouse on the knoll that was then still at the waterfront foot of Cherry Street. The sloop’s physician John Y. Taylor drew this earliest rendering of the log construction.  (Courtesy, Yale University, Beinecke Library)

THEN: The driver, lower left, leads his team towards First Avenue up a planked incline on Madison Street.  (Courtesy MOHAI)

THEN: The S. S. Suveric makes a rare visit to Seattle in 1911.  (Historical photo courtesy of Jim Westall)

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: Frank Shaw’s late winter composition of waterfront landmarks at the foot of Madison Street in 1963.  (Photo by Frank Shaw)

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