(click to enlarge photos)
A Post-Intelligencer photographer standing at the summit of First Hill snapped this photograph at the intersection of James Street and Broadway in February 1940. That was forty-nine years and a few months after the electric trolleys, on the left, and the James Street cable cars, on the right, first started meeting here beside the Union
Trunk Line’s big red brick powerhouse and car barn stationed at the northeast corner. Either on the instruction of the photographer, or motivated by a ceremonial urge, the crews of these cars are waving to each other across the short distance between them in the featured photo at the top. They are waving goodbye. This is the end – or nearly.
Carolyn Marr, the Museum of History and Industry’s (MOHAI) librarian, tells us that the “given date” for this P-I negative is February 23, 1940. This introduces a small problem, because the James Street cable cars made their last run around midnight on February the 17th. Perhaps, the date written on the negative holder
is its filing date. For some cable car enthusiasts a sorrier possibility is that the cable car is here heading for its scrapping. (This seemed unlikely to our attentive PacificNW editor, who wondered if this is headed for scrap what will become of the woman passenger? We wondered – somewhat lamely in return – that perhaps this is the conductor’s wife, on board to support here hubby on his last ride.) This junking followed in the first year after the cars stopped carrying passengers up what the Seattle Times Associate Editor, James Woods, admiringly described as its half-century “elevator service” up the hill from Pioneer Square to this its summit.
In the April 4th printing of his feature, “Speaking for the Times,” Woods proposed, “Why not keep that James Street cable line going? . . . This would be greatly to the convenience and comfort of many people. It would also have advertising value, as one of the only two cable lines in American cities. In that respect we would rate a James Street cable car considerably higher than a totem pole.” Editor Woods was alluding to the arson-torched and dry-rotting Pioneer Square totem that was then being replaced, near James Street, with a replica. Clearly it was a restoration that the editor compared unfavorably to bringing back the James Streets cable cars.
There’s another dating ambiguity here. Although difficult, and perhaps for some impossible, to read, a poster holding to the right-front of the cable car promotes the 47th Annual Policemen’s Ball scheduled for Thursday, February 22 at the Municipal Coliseum. [We have inserted a blow-up of the poster five prints up.] The top of the poster advises, “Ride The Street Cars.” That would be difficult on this cable car from this position on this corner. The cable cars on James stopped running, we remember, on the Saturday night of February 17, 1940.
MOHAI has consigned the decidedly low number 27,175 to our featured negative from its P-I Collection. Howard Giske, the museum’s now long-time pro-photographer, advises, “We are still numbering that collection. It is a work-in-progress that is now reaching two million negatives. We suspect that it will reach far beyond that.” And we add and hope that ultimately most of this collection will be on line for all to share and use, and that the museum’s library will be generously funded to do it.
Anything to add, fellahs? Lots of links from the neighborhood and or of more ‘rails’ mounted by Ron Edge. Most of them will be familiar to regulars. Following that – Jean – you have promised to share a few of the scenes you gathered his past week on your and Karen’s visit to the Columbia Gorge. Our readers I know will love them. I do. I hope you put them up first thing Sunday morning.