Seattle Now & Then: The Plymouth Congregational Church at 3rd and University

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Plymouth Congregational Church barely reached maturity – twenty-one years – when it was torn down in 1913 for construction of the equally grand but less prayerful Pantages Theatre, also at the northeast corner of Third Avenue and University Street. (Museum of History & Industry)
THEN: Plymouth Congregational Church barely reached maturity – twenty-one years – when it was torn down in 1913 for construction of the equally grand but less prayerful Pantages Theatre, also at the northeast corner of Third Avenue and University Street. (Museum of History & Industry)
NOW: The locally popular Jackie Sounders band played for the Pantages Theatre’s “Last Curtain Party” in 1965. It then took a year to replace the imposing terra cotta tile clad theatre with the seven-story car cache that survives at the corner.
NOW: The locally popular Jackie Sounders band played for the Pantages Theatre’s “Last Curtain Party” in 1965. It then took a year to replace the imposing terra cotta tile clad theatre with the seven-story car cache that survives at the corner.

In 1889 the parishioners of Plymouth Congregational chose to sell their first church, a frame-construction on Second Ave. near Spring Street, for $32,000, a sum that allowed them to build nearby the bigger brick sanctuary seen here at the northeast corner of Third Avenue and University Street.  The rear façade of their new

Plymouth's first sanctuary appears her eon the far-right. Its is given here to some commercial use with a sidewalk level storefront. The congregation has move two and one-half blocks north to University Street.
Plymouth’s first sanctuary appears far-right.  it has been given here to some commercial use with a sidewalk level storefront. The congregation has long since moved the  two and one-half blocks north to University Street.

landmark faced the University of Washington’s first campus, whose ten acres made a verdant back yard for the monumental sanctuary.  On the right, the northwest corner of the campus climbs what was called Denny’s Knoll, until that unique hillock on the western slope of First Hill was regraded away for the creation of the Metropolitan Building Company’s “city within a city.”  The Cobb Building, the most distinguished survivor of the Metro Company’s lavish commercial makeover of the campus, can be easily found right-center in Jean Sherrard’s “repeat.” 

The Cobb Bldg at the northwest corner of University Street and Fourth Avenue stands taller than Plymouth's landmark tower with the help of a steep grade on University Street.
The Cobb Bldg at the northwest corner of University Street and Fourth Avenue stands taller than Plymouth’s landmark tower with the help of a steep grade on University Street. The Post Office is just north (left) of the Congregationalists. 

For my taste the featured photograph is the grandest of the many photo-portraits of this hybrid Romanesque/Gothic landmark recorded during its tenure at this site. By some mystifying morning reflection, the light out of the east brightens the tracery of the church’s grandest window, which faced west over Third Avenue. After about twenty years, the rapidly growing Plymouth congregation received an offer it could not refuse. Alexander Pantages, the vaudevillian impresario, wanted the corner for a

A Seattle Times clip from April 2, 1912.
A Seattle Times clip from April 2, 1912.

namesake terra cotta-clad theatre. On the fifth of May, 1913, The Seattle Times reported that a day earlier the “steeple was shorn from old Plymouth Church . . . to make way for the new Pantages Theatre.” Once its timber supports were sawn through, the lassoed spire was successfully guided by ropes and fell on the roof, rather than the street.  The congregation then moved to their present corner of Sixth Avenue and University Street, three blocks east of this one.

A Times clipping from May 23, 1913. (Courtesy of The Seattle Times and the Seattle Public Library.)
A Times clipping from May 23, 1913. (Courtesy of The Seattle Times and the Seattle Public Library.)

In the featured photo, both Third and University Streets still sit at their original nearly natural grade.  The later regrade that began in 1906, noted above, lowered the streets here by about ten steps.  That is what it took, after the second regrade, for Plymouth parishioners to climb from the new sidewalk up to their sanctuary’s pews.  Here there are no stairs, because the Webster and Stevens photograph was taken sometime before that 1906 regrade.  The photographers, Ira Webster and Nelson Stevens, were migrant Midwesterners who met while working in the Seattle Photo Studio, which they soon quit to found their own photography business in 1903.  They advertised their reach as “Anything, Anytime, Anywhere.”  

Top - roof construction on the P.O. at about the same ca. 1907 stage shown in Bottom - the P.O. stairs fresh following the regrade.
Top – roof construction on the P.O. at about the same ca. 1907 stage shown in photo placed below this one.   Bottom – the P.O. stairs fresh following the regrade.
With construction of the Federal Post Office behind it, the Plymouth sanctuary, with the P.O., sits at its new grade.
With construction of the Federal Post Office behind it, the Plymouth sanctuary, with the P.O., sits at its new grade.  The steps up from the sidewalk are largely hidden behind a pedestrian and some landscaping that in this photo resembles two piles of rocks – but almost certainly is not.  The Third Ave. Regrades changes on the P.O. are also revealed.
South of University Street during the Third Avenue regarde ca. 1906.
South of University Street during the Third Avenue regarde ca. 1906.

We confidently speculate that the W&S partners took the featured photograph sometime in 1904.  The number, 658, that they inscribed on the negative, is a relatively low one, especially for an enterprise that ultimately produced over sixty-thousand images, many of them glass, and now shared and protected in the library of the Museum of History and Industry. To the left of the number, and also on the street, the partners have written the name of their subject, “Plymouth Church.” This treatment suggests that they considered the image worthy of their general commercial stock – perhaps for distribution as a “real photo postcard,” which were then becoming popular.

An August 30, 1903 promotion for the Antlers Hotel at the northwest corner of Union Street and Fourth Avenue.
An August 30, 1903 promotion for the Antlers Hotel at the northwest corner of Union Street and Fourth Avenue.

Our proposed date of around 1904 is somewhat supported by the presence, far left, of the Antlers Hotel, which opened in the summer of 1903 on the northwest corner of Union Street and Fourth Ave.  More evidentiary, directly north of Plymouth Church, the big corner lot, here on the left, was purchased in 1901 by the Federal Government for Seattle’s Beaux Arts Federal Building.  Construction began at that corner in 1904. Surely, many PacificNW readers will remember its pigeon-marked classical columns. 

Looking southeast thru the Union Street and Third Avenue intersection at the about six-year-old Federal Post Office.
Looking southeast thru the Union Street and Third Avenue intersection at the about six-year-old Federal Post Office.
Named for a pioneer, the Plummer Block held the southeast corner of Third Ave. and Union Street until the Fed's purchased it for construction of the P.O. The ornate frame business block was moved two block north on Third Ave. to Pine Street, and so temporarily saved.
Named for a pioneer, the Plummer Block held the southeast corner of Third Ave. and Union Street until the Feds purchased it for construction of the P.O. The ornate frame business block was moved two block north on Third Ave. to Pine Street, and there  temporarily saved.
LaRoche's look north on Third Avenue from University Street includes the just noted above Plummer Block on the right.
LaRoche’s look north on Third Avenue from University Street includes, on the right, the just noted above Plummer Block in profile.  .

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The other side. Denny Hotel looking south from the top of Denny Hill - from near Blanchard Street and over or through Virginia. Photo by the N.P. Photographer, F. J. Haynes, ca. 1892.
The other side. Denny Hotel looking south from the top of Denny Hill – from near Blanchard Street and over or through Virginia. Photo by the N.P. Photographer, F. J. Haynes, ca. 1892.

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3rd-&-Union-PO-empty-lot-w-campus-WEB

3rd & Union circa 1904 copy

First appeared in Pacific on Sept. 15, 2002.
First appeared in Pacific on Sept. 15, 2002.

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, fellahs?  Certainly Jean, and beginning with Ron’s gathering of a comfortable smoking jacket’s pocket of scans from other features from nearby the congregationalists – most of them on Third Avenue.  (We should note that Ron Edge does not smoke.   I do not know if he ever has.  He seems to have a good diet, based largely on cabbage.   Me too.)

THEN: With the stone federal post office at its shoulder – to the left – and the mostly brick Cobb Building behind, the tiled Pantages Theatre at Third Ave. and University Street gave a glow to the block. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN: Looking north from Seneca Street on Third Avenue during its regrade in 1906. (Photo by Lewis Whittelsey, Courtesy of Lawton Gowey)

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: 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: Looking north from Columbia Street over the construction pit for the Central Building. On the left is a rough section of the Third Avenue Regrade in the spring of 1907. (Courtesy, MOHAI)

THEN: Looking west from First Avenue down the University Street viaduct to the waterfront, ca. 1905. Post Office teams and their drivers pose beside the Arlington Hotel, which was then also headquarters for mail delivery in Seattle. (Courtesy, Gary Gaffner)

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ONCE MORE ON THE CORNER

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CLIP--2NDGothic-Pile,-Aug-13,-2000-WEB

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The Plymouth Chancel appointed for Christmas.
The Plymouth Chancel appointed for Christmas.  Or are these hanging for the Fourth?

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We will add a few more neighborhood scene’s and some proof reading tomorrow following a night, we hope, of remembered dreams.

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