Seattle Now & Then: Too High and Too Steep

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: The northeast corner of Belltown’s intersection of Blanchard Street and Fourth Avenue was about 100 feet higher than it is now. The elegant late-Victorian clutters of the Burwell homes’ interiors are also featured on the noted blog. (Courtesy John Goff)
THEN: The northeast corner of Belltown’s intersection of Blanchard Street and Fourth Avenue was about 100 feet higher than it is now. The elegant late-Victorian clutters of the Burwell homes’ interiors are also featured on the noted blog. (Courtesy John Goff)
NOW: Crossing Blanchard Street on a green light, historian David B. Williams approaches Jean Sherrard, and his Nikon, for an interview on the upsetting history of Seattle’s topography as revealed in Williams’s new book, Too High & Too Steep
NOW: Crossing Blanchard Street on a green light, historian David B. Williams approaches Jean Sherrard, and his Nikon, for an interview on the upsetting history of Seattle’s topography as revealed in Williams’s new book, Too High & Too Steep

In this week’s ‘repeat’ Jean Sherrard and I wait for the very fit-at-fifty David B. Williams as he crosses south on Blanchard Street from its northeast corner with Fourth Avenue.  We are in Belltown, AKA the Denny Regrade.  After Jean’s snap (a Nikonic click), we followed David across Fourth Avenue to its southwest corner, once the highest point on Denny Hill, and now the site of the Fourth and Blanchard Building, the black glass wedge that shims the Belltown skyline.  When completed in 1979, this Darth Vader Building, its

X Darth-Vader-4th-Z&-Blanchard-late-70sWEB

popular name, lent its austere imagination to the then still mostly conventional posture of Seattle skyscrapers. While crossing Fourth, David pointed about one-hundred-plus-feet up to the tenth of the twenty-five floor Sedgwick James Building, its third name.  Williams revealed “That is where I suggested to Martin Selig (the developer) that he do the city a service by marking there the summit of the lost Denny Hill.”  He answered with something flat on good vibrations, “It does not resonate with me.” 

Two watercannons, although these are at work on the Jackson Street Regarde south of the business district and about the same time.
Two watercannons, although these are at work on the Jackson Street Regarde south of the business district and about the same time.
This is the run-away sensational classic of Denny Regrade shots. The photographer was the prolific A. Curtis, brother of Ed Curtis. The view looks south from near 4th and Bell, and so through our featured intersection, which once held the summit of Denny Hill oe block north of this prospect.
This is the run-away sensational classic of Denny Regrade shots. The photographer was the prolific A. Curtis, brother of Ed Curtis. The view looks south from near 4th and Bell, and so through our featured intersection, which once held the summit of Denny Hill oe block north of this prospect.  It also show water canons – at the center.   And St. James Cathedral, dim on the center-horizon.

Still you may take David’s word for it that at the level of the tenth floor was once the top of Seattle’s favorite lost hill.  Some PacificNW readers may remember The Seattle Times humorist John Hinterberger’s recommendation, now thirty years ago, that Denny Hill be reconstructed with its own dirt – which had been sluiced by water canons and steam shovels to the waterfront and offshore into Elliott Bay.  Hinterberger cared for neither the regrade nor the Alaskan Way Viaduct.  He noted that his reverse reclamation is a “win-win situation if we ever had one. We suck up Alaskan Way and pile it up on top of the Denny Regrade.”

The Burwell Bros houses looking east across Fourth Avenue.
The Burwell Bros houses looking east across Fourth Avenue.
A Burwell living room.
A Burwell living room.
Music Room
Music Room
Above and Below: Children's bedrooms.
Above and Below: Children’s bedrooms.

Chidren's bedroom

After reading David Williams’s newest book, a UW Press offering titled Too High and Too Steep, I am persuaded that he is the master of our historical topography.  (In this my vanity has suffered some.)  David’s book is worth all the praise it has been getting, and his energetic lecture trail of ongoing promotions keeps accruing plaudits for his book and himself As he explains in the video interview (at the top) that Jean recorded with him while lounging in upholstered chairs in the lobby of the Fourth and Blanchard Building, Too High and Too Steep dwells on three primary Seattle subjects. They are its waterfront and tidelands reclamations, the building of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, and the remarkable topographic upheaval of our many regrades, with the grandest of those being here in Belltown. 

Another fine home - a duplex - on the top of Denny Hill at 219 Lenora. The Willards lived in the apartment to the left.
Another fine home – a duplex – on the top of Denny Hill at 219 Lenora. The Willards lived in the apartment to the left.

Shown here (near the top and above) are the two elegant homes that the industrious Burwell brothers, Anson and Austin, built for their families at the northeast corner of Fourth and Blanchard, and so kitty-corner from the hill’s summit and now its black skyscraper.  The photo appears on page 165 of Williams’s 240 page – with notes and index – book.  Plenty of historical photos were taken on Denny Hill, but with rare exceptions they point south into the Central Business District.  This is one of the few that looks within the lost neighborhood.

RARE LOOKS NORTH ACROSS DENNY HILL TAKEN from the REAR of the DENNY HILL & INCLUDING THE ROOFTOPS OF BOTH of the BURWELL BROTHER’S HOMES at the NORTHEAST CORNER of FOURTH Avenue & BLANCHARD Street.   The two photos almost merge  – but not quite.   (Giveaway clue: The Burwell homes appear above the box home, left-of-center, in the bottom or right side part of the panorama. )

x-Denny-Hill-f-Hotel-rear-left-side-dark-web

xx-Denny-Hill-f-Hotel-rear-right-side-web

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, boys?  Yes

We shall begin by pulling an about twenty page excerpt from the illustrated history of the Seattle waterfront that can be found in toto under its own button or bug on the front page of this blog.   This extracted part has to do – or centers about – the Denny Regarde, and since we are pretty much keeping to that part of David’s multifarious interests, it is a good summary or second introduction to its subject.   Ron Edge has inserted a link – two happy lads mucking it up in run-off water from the big water cannons that brought down much of Denny Hill.   Click on it and get the excerpt.     Following that we will have more Edge Links and others gritty favors, until it is time to go to bed.

Two-boys-playing-in-Denny-Regrade-puddle-WEB

THE CHILD IS FATHER OF THE MAN, Henry Wadsworth

Here are two Belltown boys playing in a pool contributed from the Denny Regrade corroding water canons.   We may use them as an example of Wadsworth’s epigram that “The Child is Father of the Man,” for its seems that much of the regrade engineering was motivated by desires to play with cannons and plows and the toys of engineers.   It is widely thought that the hill would have been better left where it was.

City Engineer, R.H. Thomson, the biggest player of them all.
City Engineer, R.H. Thomson, the biggest player of them all.
More playing on Denny Pond, or one of them.
More playing on Denny Pond, or one of them.
First appeared in Pacific, July 23 1989.
First appeared in Pacific, July 23 1989.

=====

FOLLOWS FIFTEEN EDGE CLIPS – The first of these considers the apartment house on the north side of Blanchard between Second and Third Avenue.  It was noted and can be seen in the clip directly above.

2nd-and-Blanchard-THEN

belltown-moran-then

THEN: Steel beams clutter a freshly regraded Second Avenue during the 1907 construction of the Moore Theatre. The view looks north toward Virginia Street.

THEN: An early-20th-century scene during the Second Avenue Regrade looks east into its intersection with Virginia Avenue. A home is being moved from harm's way, but the hotel on the hill behind it would not survive the regrade's spoiling. Courtesy of Ron Edge.

https://sherrlock.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/bell-st-bridge-then-web1.jpg?w=474

THEN: Where last week the old Washington Hotel looked down from the top of Denny Hill to the 3rd Ave. and Pine St. intersection, on the left, here the New Washington Hotel, left of center and one block west of the razed hotel, towers over the still new Denny Regrade neighborhood in 1917. (Historical photo courtesy of Ron Edge)

THEN: While visiting Seattle for some promoting, silent film star Wallace Reid shares the sidewalk at 4th and Olive with a borrowed Stutz Bearcat. (Courtesy, Museum of History & Industry)

THEN: Louis Rowe’s row of storefronts at the southwest corner of First Ave. (then still named Front Street) and Bell Street appear in both the 1884 Sanborn real estate map and the city’s 1884 birdseye sketch. Most likely this view dates from 1888-89. (Courtesy: Ron Edge)

THEN: Sometime between early December 1906 and mid-February 1907 an unnamed photographer with her or his back about two lots north of Pike Street recorded landmarks on the east side of Third Avenue including, in part, the Washington Bar stables, on the right; the Union Stables at the center, a church converted for theatre at Pine Street, and north of Pine up a snow-dusted Denny Hill, the Washington Hotel. (Used courtesy of Ron Edge)

THEN: Before this the first shovel of the last of Denny Hill was ceremonially dropped to the conveyor belt at Battery Street, an “initial bite of 30,000 cubic yards of material” was carved from the cliff along the east side of 5th Avenue to make room for both the steam shovel and several moveable belts that extended like fingers across the hill. It was here that they met the elevated and fixed last leg of the conveyor system that ran west on Battery Street to the waterfront. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive)

THEN: Thanks again and again to Lawton Gowey for another contribution to this feature, this ca. 1917 look into a fresh Denny Regrade and nearly new “office-factory” at 1921 Fifth Avenue. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey.)

=====

LOTS LEFT TO DO but not now.  I’m off to bed, aka nighty-bears hereabouts, compliments of Bil Burden, my old friend and roommate in the Cascade neighborhood in the 1970s.    (Tomorrow we might also proof the above.)

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: Too High and Too Steep”

  1. With reference to the massive man-made changes in Seattle topography described in “Too Tall and Too Steep,” it’s interesting to consider that virtually none of these projects would even be considered under today’s zoning, ecological, and NIMBY restrictions. Would Seattle be a better place today if those restrictions had been in place than…? We were Mercer Island residents for 30 years and traversed the ship canal and locks maybe several hundred times in our boat. — Flip Wingrove, Port Townsend

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