Seattle Now & Then: The St. James Dome Collapse

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Of the three largest Seattle roofs – the Alki Point Natatorium, a grandstand section of the U.W.’s Denny Field, and the St. James Cathedral dome - that crashed under the weight of the “Northwest Blizzard” in February 1916, the last was the grandest and probably loudest. It fell “with a crashing roar that was heard many blocks distant.” (Courtesy Catholic Archdiocese.)
THEN: Of the three largest Seattle roofs – the Alki Point Natatorium, a grandstand section of the U.W.’s Denny Field, and the St. James Cathedral dome – that crashed under the weight of the “Northwest Blizzard” in February 1916, the last was the grandest and probably loudest. It fell “with a crashing roar that was heard many blocks distant.” (Courtesy Catholic Archdiocese.)
NOW:
NOW: Jean Sherrard looks down through St. James Cathedral’s oculus, or ‘God’s Eye,’ during the special centennial service commemorating the dome’s collapse, which fortunately occurred on a Wednesday when no one was at church.
I confess to having first used this rousing photo of the snow-doomed-dome of St. James Cathedral for a Pacific feature on March 17, 1983.  (We will include it at the very bottom of what follows.)  It was, however, not that Sunday’s “THEN” photo, which was a portrait of the intact cathedral, but played instead a supporting although still dominating role in the feature.  Had Jean Sherrard been taking our ‘nows’ in 1983, it might have been different, for he embraces exposed heights that I shunned then and now.  

StJames-ContractoCannonWEB

John McCoy, past archdiocesan spokesman and author of A Still and Quiet Conscience, a biography of Seattle Archbishop Emeritus Raymond G. Hunthausen, first alerted us to the decision of the archdiocese to create a centennial commemoration of the dome’s fall.  I next called Maria Laughlin, Director of Stewardship at St. James, to ask about the possibility of repeating the hole-in-the-dome shot from the Big Snow of 1916 during the commemorative service. She asked, “How does Jean feel about heights?”  After I listed some of his ascents, she agreed to introduce Jean to Brenda Bellamy who would serve as his guide.   Here’s Jean’s recap of the climb.

VB john mccoy

“After reaching the rooftop, we clambered through a small exterior door leading into the ‘attic.’ To avoid interrupting the centennial service below, we crept along catwalks and ramps in near darkness. Squeezing between struts and support beams, we climbed several ladders to reach our final destination: the oculus, a twelve-foot- (I’m guessing here) wide circular opening directly above the altar of the cathedral.  My guide had already hoisted a snowmaking machine up onto the opposite side of the oculus, waiting for a dramatic, if necessarily truncated, recreation of the Big Snow of 1916 during the service.

St. James Cathedral
St. James Cathedral – ABOVE & BELOW the original altar, before the crash. [Mea Culpa: I made the same mistake three times – here and the two photos following – of describing them all as records of St. James before the 1916 flop.  They are rather the repaired St. James that followed the dome’s collapse.  We learned this from Joseph Adam, a helpful agent of St. James itself.  Thanks Joseph.  We [well I, Paul Dorpat] will not do it again .  Jean is clean and stays so.)  
The main altar and Sanctuary. The main altar was dovated by Mrs. Elizabeth Foss. The ***** and Foss altar railing ***** the gift of Mr. Patrick J. Henry in memory of his mother Michael J. Henry.
The main altar and Sanctuary.
The main altar was dovated by Mrs. Elizabeth Foss. The ***** and Foss altar railing ***** the gift of Mr. Patrick J. Henry in memory of his mother Michael J. Henry.

“I scooted around the upper outside edge of the oculus. While below us readers, quoting from newspaper accounts of the day, told the thrilling story of the dome’s collapse, I tried out different angles for our repeat. Particular culpability was ultimately reserved for the New York City engineers or fabricators who had assembled the dome’s flawed superstructure.  It was allowed that Seattle and the Good Lord were blameless.  At an appropriate moment, the lights dimmed and Brenda Bellamy switched on the snow-maker, sending a small blizzard of flakes down through the oculus and over the altar below. We then returned to the cathedral floor, where young Irish dancers were entertaining the congregants to the sound of pipes.”

Raised a Protestant, the centennial show has made me consider conversion.

St. James Cathedral - The original organ loft, before the crash.
St. James Cathedral – The original organ loft, before the crash.
The organ after the crash - looking west from the chancel.
The organ after the crash – looking west from the chancel.
The same (or nearly) point-of-view as the photograph above this one. This was taken in 2005 by Paul, weeks before Jean started to increasingly record the "nows" for this feature.
The same (or nearly) point-of-view as the photograph above this one. This was taken in 2005 by Paul mere weeks before Jean started to increasingly record the “nows” for this feature.  “What an improvement – and relief.”  [Paul quoted]

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, Fra Paul? Brother Ron?  Yes, and we can promise you and the readers more twin towers.  We start, again, with Ron’s pull of relevant features – including on Protestant (3rd up from the bottom of the “Ron Links”) mixed in with a few more Catholics –  posted here since we began doing these weekly duties.   Then we will attach a few features from the distant past – again relevant ones.  (And we will surely miss a few of the many First Hill features we have managed to assemble over the past thirty-four years.*)

THEN: A circa 1923 view looks south on Eighth Avenue over Pike Street, at bottom left.

Holy Names THEN

https://sherrlock.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/1-future-courthouse-site-1937-web1.jpg?w=1144&h=738

THEN: Looking east on University Street towards Ninth Avenue, ca. 1925, with the Normandie Apartments on the left.

THEN: Constructed in 1890 as the Seattle Fire Department’s first headquarters, these substantial four floors (counting the daylight basement) survived until replaced by Interstate Five in the 1960s. (photo by Frank Shaw)

https://sherrlock.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/zindorf-apts-714-7th-ave-mf1.jpg?w=735&h=923

THEN:

THEN: The city's regrading forces reached Sixth Avenue and Marion Street in 1914. A municipal photographer recorded this view on June 24. Soon after, the two structures left high here were lowered to the street. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archives)

THEN: Harborview Hospital takes the horizon in this 1940 recording. That year, a hospital report noted that "the backwash of the depression" had overwhelmed the hospital's outpatient service for "the country's indigents who must return periodically for treatment." Built in 1931 to treat 100 cases a day, in 1939 the hospital "tries bravely to accommodate 700 to 800 visits a day."

THEN: Looking west on Madison Street from Seventh Avenue circa 1909. (Courtesy, Washington State Museum, Tacoma)

sorrento-late-construction-WEB

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Saint-Edwards-then-web

St.-Edwards-Now-WEB

First appeared in Pacific,
First appeared in Pacific, November 7, 2004

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A-St.-Anne-on-Lee-St.-web

First appeared in Pacific, November 26, 1995.
First appeared in Pacific, November 26, 1995.

x St. Anne's now WEB

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_Benedict-wallingford-web

St. Benedict's Wurst for 2011. CLICK TO ENLARGE
St. Benedict’s Wurst for 2011. CLICK TO ENLARGE

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First appeared in Pacific, September 2, 2001.
First appeared in Pacific, September 2, 2001.

Outcropping-of-Bad-Blood-ST-1904-web

Blood-and-Hearing-test,-WEB

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St. Josephs when nearly new. 18th and Aloha.
St. Josephs when nearly new. 18th and Aloha.

St.-Josephs-on-Aloha-now

First appeared in Pacific, April 13, 1999.
First appeared in Pacific, April 18, 1999.
St. Joseph's interior
St. Joseph’s interior

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1907 – 2007

Saint James 1907 dedication, looking southeast thru the intersection of 9th Avenue and Marion Street.
Saint James 1907 dedication, looking southeast thru the intersection of 9th
Avenue and Marion Street.
Temporary illuminated date for the 2007 Saint James Centennial.
Temporary illuminated date for the 2007 Saint James Centennial.

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THE DAY THE DOME FELL

From the Seattle Times for March 27, 1983

CLICK TWICE TO ENLARGE
CLICK TWICE TO ENLARGE

3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The St. James Dome Collapse”

  1. All three of your “before” photos were taken after the dome collapsed and the cathedral was repaired and reconstructed. The ceiling in the east nave and sanctuary was lowered to the original, lower height of the west nave, the decorative plaster work was added, and the stained glass windows installed. The photograph of the “original altar” — was taken sometime after 1926 when the Casavant organ was installed behind the reredos and high altar.

    1. Thanks Joseph Adam. We have made your correction in the text itself using a parenthetic remark that features it. Thereby we keep our guilt and atone for it too. (That is, I do it. Jean stays clean.) Paul

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