Seattle Now & Then: James Street Cable Cars

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: A half-century after they reached the top of First Hill, electric streets cars and cable cars prepare to leave it. (Courtesy, The Museum of History and Industry)
THEN: A half-century after they reached the top of First Hill, electric streets cars and cable cars prepare to leave it. (Courtesy, The Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: We have a right and opportunity to enjoy the irony of Jean Sherrard’s “now” repeat. With this “Seattle Street Car,” the trolleys, at least, have returned to the summit of First Hill. For no particular reason beyond ascension, I hope soon to take a ride on this “elevator service.”
NOW: We have a right and opportunity to enjoy the irony of Jean Sherrard’s “now” repeat. With this “Seattle Street Car,” the trolleys, at least, have returned to the summit of First Hill. For no particular reason beyond ascension, I hope soon to take a ride on this “elevator service.”

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

Circa 1939 looking north on Broadway through James Street with the power house on the right. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)
Circa 1939 looking north on Broadway through James Street with the power house on the right. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)

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.

Lawton Gowey has described this as "last ride on the last night, James Street Cable."
Lawton Gowey has described this as “last ride on the last night, James Street Cable.” That would be Feb. 17, 1940. 

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

A detail from the featured photograph.
A detail from the featured photograph.  We reflect on this detail a few inches lower in the main body of the feature.  We have imagined that the woman sitting near the front door and above the number “73”  [the record  number, if you have missed it, of victories in an NBA season,  for the Golden State Warriors, this year] is the conductor’s wife. 

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. 

A clip of goodbye in the Times for February 18, 1940.
A clip of goodbye in the Times for February 18, 1940.
An excerpt from Times
An excerpt from Times Associated Editor James Wood’s column “Speaking for the Times”  on  April 4, 1940.

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.  

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A clip on the travails of Ward's Lunch on February 9, 1938. [If was, acting forward, a deception that followed by conception a week before.
A clip on the travails of Ward and his Lunch from The Times for February 9, 1938. [If was, acting forward, a deception that followed my conception by about one week and 1500 miles into the midwest of Grand Forks, North Dakota.]

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. 

With the power house on the right and the Haller mansion "Castlemount" on the left, a James Street Cable car approaches the end of its short run up First Hill from Pioneer Square.
With the power house on the right and the Haller mansion “Castlemount” on the left, a James Street Cable car approaches the end of its short run up First Hill from Pioneer Square.

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A detail of the intersection lifted from the 1912 Baist real estate map.
A detail of the intersection lifted from the 1912 Baist real estate map.
The western end of James Street and its cable run at Pioneer Square in 1932.
The western end of James Street and its cable run at Pioneer Square.
Two pioneer looks east on James Street from Pioneer Square and decades still before the trolley climbed it. The top view dates from ca. 1868 and that below it (and above this) from 1859. This last is the oldest surviving photo of any part of Seattle. Note that the tree-line has not moved much in the decade between the two recordings. The 1860s were a depressed Civil War decade hereabouts.
Two pioneer looks east on James Street from Pioneer Square and decades still before the trolley climbed it. The top view dates from ca. 1868 and that below it from 1859. This last is the oldest surviving photo of any part of Seattle. Note that the tree-line has not moved much in the decade between the two recordings. The 1860s were a depressed Civil War decade hereabouts.

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.

Extreme circumstances on the James Street Cable during the Fourth Avenue Regrade in 1907. The First Baptist church seen above the car did not survive the grade change, but moved to it's present corner on First Hill.
Extreme circumstances on the James Street Cable during the Fourth Avenue Regrade in 1907. The First Baptist church, seen here above the car, did not survive the grade change, but moved to it’s present corner on First Hill.

WEB EXTRAS

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.

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THEN: Looking across Capitol Hill’s Broadway Avenue during its 1931adjustments. (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archive)

THEN: The brand new N&K Packard dealership at Belmont and Pike in 1909. Thanks to both antique car expert Fred Cruger for identifying as Packards the cars on show here, and to collector Ron Edge for finding them listed at this corner in a 1909 Post-Intelligencer. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry.)

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THEN:

THEN: First Hill’s distinguished Old Colony Apartments at 615 Boren Avenue, 1910.

THEN: Built in the early twentieth century at the northeast corner of Jefferson Street and Boren Avenue, Bertha and Frank Gardner’s residence was large but not a mansion, as were many big homes on First Hill. (Courtesy Washington State Museum, Tacoma)

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: The Sprague Hotel at 706 Yesler Way was one of many large structures –hotels, apartments and duplexes, built on First Hill to accommodate the housing needs of the city’s manic years of grown between its Great Fire in 1889 and the First World War. Photo courtesy Lawton Gowey

THEN: This Seattle Housing Authority photograph was recorded from the top of the Marine Hospital (now Pacific Tower) on the north head of Beacon Hill. It looks north to First Hill during the Authority’s clearing of its southern slope for the building of the Yesler Terrace Public Housing. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)

THEN: Yesler Way’s corner with 17th Avenue is about three blocks west and 30 feet short of Yesler Way’s summit on Second Hill. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey.)

THEN: Built in 1887, the Minor-Collins Home at the northeast corner of Minor Avenue and Cherry Street was one of the grandest and longest surviving pioneer mansions on First Hill. (Courtesy Historic Seattle)

THEN: Most likely in 1902 Marcus M. Lyter either built or bought his box-style home at the northwest corner of 15th Avenue and Aloha Street. Like many other Capitol Hill addition residences, Lyter's home was somewhat large for its lot.

THEN: At the northwest corner of Columbia Street and Boren Avenue, two of the more ordinary housing stock on First Hill in the 1890s. (Courtesy MOHAI)

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First appeared in Pacific on December 26, 1999.
First appeared in Pacific on December 26, 1999.

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Mary Christmas from rail fan, author, and collector extraordinair, Warren Wing. Printed in the Times for December 20, 1998.
Merry Christmas from rail fan, author, and collector extraordinaire, Warren Wing. Printed in the Times for December 20, 1998.

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Trinity Episcopal at 8th Avenue and James Street. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)
Trinity Episcopal at 8th Avenue and James Street. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: James Street Cable Cars”

  1. I never miss your “Now & Then,” and wish you would quickly cover the Pathé building on Third Avenue (2000 block) before it is demolished. The chain-link fence is already up. The Denny Regrade (Belltown) had several buildings where movies could be pre-screened, and this is one of them. The Rendezvous Bar contains another…

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