Seattle Now & Then: The Seattle Fire, Three Weeks Later

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Looking north-northeast from the corner of Main Street and Occidental Avenue two or three weeks after the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889.  (Courtesy the Museum of History and Industry – MOHAI)
THEN: Looking north-northeast from the corner of Main Street and Occidental Avenue two or three weeks after the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. (Courtesy the Museum of History and Industry – MOHAI)
NOW: The two-story brick structure that was built on the corner a few years following the Great Fire housed the Carrolton Hotel upstairs and a variety of small businesses at the street level.  The building was razed first for parking in the 1960s.  In 1971 the parking lot was transformed with cobble stones as a part of Occidental Park.
NOW: The two-story brick structure that was built on the corner a few years following the Great Fire housed the Carrolton Hotel upstairs and a variety of small businesses at the street level. The building was razed first for parking in the 1960s. In 1971 the parking lot was transformed with cobble stones as a part of Occidental Park.

I am writing this on June 6, 2015, the 126th anniversary of Seattle’s Great Fire.  Most likely you are reading it about one month later.  That places you closer to the 126th anniversary of this subject, which in 1889 was still Seattle’s primary business district, reduced to charred rubble.   The scene was photographed, I surmise, late in the month of June or perhaps even in early July.

Some of the same tents and brick piles show in this view that looks northeast across Main Street to Second Ave. (Occidental Ave.).  The County Courthouse at Third and Yesler appears on the right and the Yesler Mansion on the east side of Third, high-center.  Part of Central School at Madison and 6th Ave. , fills the upper-left corner.  (Courtesy, MOHAI)
Some of the same tents and brick piles show in this view that looks northeast across Main Street to Second Ave. (Occidental Ave.). The County Courthouse at Third and Yesler appears on the right and the Yesler Mansion on the east side of Third, high-center. Part of Central School at Madison and 6th Ave. , fills the upper-left corner. (Courtesy, MOHAI)
The corner of Second (Occidental) and Main appears, in part, upper-left in this look to the southwest from the front porch of the King County Courthouse, later to known as the Katzenjammer Kastle during its long run as  Seattle's city hall. (Courtesy, MOHAI)
The corner of Second (Occidental) and Main appears with tents, far-left, in this look to the southwest from the front porch of the King County Courthouse, later to known as the Katzenjammer Kastle during its long run as Seattle’s city hall. (Courtesy, MOHAI)
The Post-Fire ruins and tents, this time from the Katzenjammer tower.  Mill Street (Yesler Way) crosses to the right from the lower-left corner.  Jefferson Street meets it from the lower-right corner. West Seattle is on the horizon. "Our corner" of Main and Second (Occidental) is upper left, below the tall ships.
The Post-Fire ruins and tents, this time from the Katzenjammer tower. Mill Street (Yesler Way) crosses to the right from the lower-left corner. Jefferson Street meets it from the lower-right corner. West Seattle is on the horizon. “Our corner” of Main and Second (Occidental) is upper left, below the tall ships.  The temporary tent that crowds bottom-left in the photo above this one, appears here also at the bottom, right-of-center.  A contemporary repeat for this would be taken high in the trees along the west border of City  Hall Park.

With the help of the many surviving photographs of the ruins, it is easy to determine from what prospect this scene was recorded.  The unnamed photographer stood on Main Street looking north by northeast over Main Street’s northwest corner with Second Avenue (later renamed Occidental.) It is a typical post-fire cityscape that reveals a layering of ruins, temporary tents, and some of the surviving city blocks that were not among the 35 or so destroyed by the conflagration in its seven hours of wind-driven destruction.

First Methodist at the southeast corner of Marion and Third.
First Methodist at the southeast corner of Marion and Third. [CLICK to ENLARGE]

Of the ten or so landmarks with towers that break the First Hill horizon we’ll note but three.  First, far left, stands the Gothic spire of First Methodist Church at the southeast corner of Third Avenue and Marion Street.  Next, at the scene’s center and farther up the hill, are the two towers of Central School on the south side of Madison Street, where now passes the Seattle Freeway (I-5) ditch.  Much closer to the photographer, to the left of the scorched power pole, the Yesler mansion faces Third Avenue, on the north side of Jefferson Street.  It was saved with a combination of soaked blankets spread on the roof and volunteers who extinguished the flying embers. Nearby, just right of the same power pole, another battle on the shingles saved the King County Courthouse. After the murder trail then underway was adjourned by Judge Hanford, buckets of water were lifted with a rope borrowed from the flagpole to drench the roof. 

Appeared first in Pacific, March 21, 2002.
Appeared first in Pacific, March 21, 2002. [CLICK to ENLARGE]

By the 10th of June, four days following the fire, over one hundred permits had been issued to erect temporary tents.  Like those shown here, most of the tents were stretched on sturdy frames and anchored to heavy planks.  Months later some of these canvas quarters were still standing and being used as store fronts. 

Looking south to a tideflats lined with rows of pilings placed speculatively as property lines in the hopes that the first state legislature would look upon them such squatters and jumpers markings as keys to owning the land below the tides.   Second Avenue - now Occidental - is right-of-center.  Much of the neighborhood is well along with the construction of brick business blocks, but a neighborhood cluster of temporary tents endures too.  [Courtesy MOHAI]
Looking south to a tideflats lined with rows of pilings placed speculatively as property lines in the hopes that the first state legislature would look upon such squatters and jumpers markings as keys to owning the land below the tides. Second Avenue – now Occidental – is right-of-center. Much of the neighborhood is well along with the construction of brick business blocks, but a cluster of temporary tents endures too. [Courtesy MOHAI]

Most of the pre-fire neighborhood south of Yesler Way was built of wood.  Brick structures were rare.  So the orderly piles of bricks here [in the featured photo at the top] encroaching on the street, right-of-center, is – or was – an inviting mystery.  Except that almost certainly these bricks were salvaged from the wreckage of the large but short-lived Squire Building, here at the northwest corner of

A circa 1888 panorama of the neighborhood  south of Mill (Yesler Way) taken from near 6th and Washington before the 1889 fire.  Some day we will determine if the brand new and short-lived
A circa 1888 panorama of the neighborhood south of Mill (Yesler Way) taken from near 6th and Washington before the 1889 fire. Some day we will determine if the brand new and short-lived Squire Building is among the larger business blocks showing right of center.
A detail from the 1888 Sanborn Real Estate Map showing the northwest corner of Main and 2nd (Occidental), bottom-right, prepared for the construction of the three-story tall Squire Block, the source also of our brick piles after the Great Fire.
A detail from the 1888 Sanborn Real Estate Map showing the northwest corner of Main and 2nd (Occidental), bottom-right, prepared for the construction of the three-story tall Squire Block, the source also of our piles of salvaged bricks at the corner of Main and Second (Occidental) after the Great Fire.
A Pioneer Square neighborhood detail from a 1925 real estate map.  We have centered the detail on the Ca
A Pioneer Square neighborhood detail from a 1925 real estate map. We have centered the detail on the Carrolton Hotel at the northwest corner of Occidental and Main.

Main Street and Second Ave. (Occidental).  In the 1888 Sanborn real estate map this corner lot is captioned “Excavation for Brick Block to be three stories.”  For his research on Pioneer Square neighborhood structures, Greg Lange found in the 1889 Polk Directory more than thirty tenants renting quarters in Watson Squire’s namesake block. Once the fire, heading south, reached Yesler Way around six pm, Watson’s renters must have already started gathering what they could before scrambling up First Hill.

A hand-color look north on Second Ave. (Occidental) in the mid-1870s from near Washington Street.  The Occidental Hotel, between Mill (Yesler Way) and James Street, interrupted the grid.
A hand-color look north on Second Ave. (Occidental) in the mid-1870s from near Washington Street. The Occidental Hotel, between Mill (Yesler Way) and James Street, interrupted the grid.  Jeweler-photographer Bob Bradley did the coloring directly on the 35mm slide, most likely in the 1950s.

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MORE POST-FIRE RUINS, TENTS & RECONSTRUCTION

The serviceable ruins of the Dexter Horton Bank (Seattle First National) show at the bottom-center at the northwest corner of Commercial Street (First Ave. S.) and Washington Street.  Some of the skyline here can be found in the top featured view too.
The serviceable ruins of the Dexter Horton Bank (Seattle First National) show  bottom-center at the northwest corner of Commercial Street (First Ave. S.) and Washington Street. Some of the skyline in this West Shore magazine rendering can be found in the top featured view on top.
The Dexter Horton bank before the '89 fire, at the northwest corner of Commercial Street (First Ave. S.) and Washington Street.
The Dexter Horton bank before the ’89 fire, at the northwest corner of Commercial Street (First Ave. S.) and Washington Street.
And after.
And after.  For more on this bank, see the last of Ron’s links at the bottom.

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1889-Fire-Ruins-lk-north-on-Post-from-Mill-w-horses-&--Wagon-WEB

Looking north on Post Alley (or Street or Avenue) from Mill Street (Yesler Way) following the Great Fire.
Looking north on Post Alley (or Street or Avenue) from Mill Street (Yesler Way) following the Great Fire.    [First appeared in Pacific on April 22, 2007.]
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Occidental Hotel ruins looking south from Front Street, (First Ave.) north of James Street.
Occidental Hotel ruins looking south from Front Street, (First Ave.) north of James Street.
First appeared in Pacific, June 6, 2004.
First appeared in Pacific, June 6, 2004.

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Yesler Wharf ruins looking east from the end of the dock.  Compare the line-up of ruined buildings
Yesler Wharf ruins looking east from the end of the dock. Compare the line-up of ruined buildings with those showing in two clippings up.

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, fellas?   Yes Jean, but first Ron and I – and now the readers too – wish you and yours a happy farewell as you fly away to Europe with twenty-five (about) Hillside students and your protective cadre of instructors to visit first London and then Paris, and surely some of the same sites that you and I explored together in 2005.  I will send you – as you have instructed – some shots I took when first visiting the same cities as a teenager in 1955, for your intentions to repeat them now sixty years later – gadz.  Perhaps we can sneak them into Pacific – one or two of them.  It will depend, I think, on how sentimental the editors are feeling at the time of submission, and the pun is intended.   Bon  Voyage Jean and carry our love to Berangere, who, I know, will be helping you in Paris.  Often I’d just like to move there and follow BB around those ancient blocks with a bag of bon bons and one light weight digital camera.

https://sherrlock.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/max-loudons-girls-on-3rd-s-w-motorcycle-then-mr1.jpg?w=962&h=646

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: Sitting on a small triangle at the odd northwest corner of Third Avenue and the Second Ave. S. Extension, the Fiesta Coffee Shop was photographed and captioned, along with all taxable structures in King County, by Works Progress Administration photographers during the lingering Great Depression of the late 1930s.  (Courtesy, Washington State Archive’s Puget Sound Branch)

THEN: Seen here in 1887 through the intersection of Second Avenue and Yesler Way, the Occidental Hotel was then easily the most distinguished in Seattle.  (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)

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