Seattle Now & Then: The Post Alley Curve

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: The Pike Place Market’s irregular block shapes and bluff-side topography joined to create a multi-level campus of surprising places, such as this covered curve routing Post Alley up into the Market. Here, in 1966, the “gent’s” entrance to Seattle’s first Municipal Rest Room (1908) is closed with red tape and a sign reading “Toilet room, closed temporarily for repairs.” The Market was then generally very much in need of repair. (by Frank Shaw, courtesy, Mike Veitenhans)
THEN: The Pike Place Market’s irregular block shapes and bluff-side topography joined to create a multi-level campus of surprising places, such as this covered curve routing Post Alley up into the Market. Here, in 1966, the “gent’s” entrance to Seattle’s first Municipal Rest Room (1908) is closed with red tape and a sign reading “Toilet room, closed temporarily for repairs.” The Market was then generally very much in need of repair. (by Frank Shaw, courtesy, Mike Veitenhans)
NOW: In Merceda Yaeger-Carrabba’s Ghost Ally Espresso the “tables are open.” While the espresso shop dispenses caffeine in many concoctions it treats the entire Market as its confectionary. An exception is gum, which the Ghost espresso sells for citizen application to Post Alley’s populist gum wall.
NOW: In Merceda Yaeger-Carrabba’s Ghost Ally Espresso the “tables are open.” While the espresso shop dispenses caffeine in many concoctions it treats the entire Market as its confectionary. An exception is gum, which the Ghost espresso sells for citizen application to Post Alley’s populist gum wall.

The recently formed Pike Place Market Historical Society was born with what I suspect is an exclusive irony attached to it.   While it is the youngest of enthused locals focused on Seattle heritage, it may also be the most mature.  The accumulated knowledge of its membership is both stunning and accessible. The charms of the Market have also nurtured its own historians.  What follows comes in part from the PPMHS and its members.  Bless it and them. (Please visit the blog listed at the bottom to learn more about the Society and what it knows about this covered curve.)

"Market John" captured by Bill Burden at a costume party (aka my 40th Birthday party, 38 years ago). John abides and is certainly one of the greatest (ever) of Market historians.
“Market John” captured by Bill Burden* at a costume party (aka my 40th Birthday party, 38 years ago). John abides and is certainly one of the greatest (ever) of Market historians.

Had he lived long enough, I am confident that Frank Shaw, the photographer the of today’s featured photo, would have become a member of the Society.  Shaw’s attraction to the Market is professed in the scores of large-sized negatives and transparencies he recorded there.  The about-to-retire Boeing employee began visiting the Market with his Hasselblad in the early 1960s, just in time to record those politically important years when the well-funded forces campaigning for urban renewal wrestled with the citizen-volunteers fighting for the Market’s repairs and preservation. 

Frank Shaw, self-portrait
Frank Shaw, self-portrait

On its cardboard border, Shaw dated this colored portrait of the only curve on Post Alley May 1, 1966.  It was a  Sunday morning a mere half-century ago.   Market explorers will know that this is where Post Alley, heading for the Market, turns for its one short block climb to the intersection of First Avenue and Pike Place.  Of

 

An early look down upon both Pike Place and the Post Alley (bottom-right corner) where they originate or conclude with First Avenue.
An early look down upon both Pike Place and the Post Alley (bottom-right corner) where they originate or conclude with First Avenue.  Below is a somewhat current look at the same wall.  I am not sure if Jean or I shot this, but probably Jean for the Princess Angeline feature – an alternative.

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the many entrances into the Market, I expect this is the one least used, but also the most charming.  It is also the most gate-like and therefore potentially ceremonial for staging events like the Tiny Freeman presided Soap Box Derbies on Post Alley in the early 1970s.   Shaw’s shabby alley surely prefigures the internationally known “Gum Wall,” here with its profane patina of donated wads.      

Boxcar race spectators looking down on the course, Post Alley. By Frank Shaw, 1975
Boxcar race spectators looking down on the course, Post Alley. By Frank Shaw, 1975
Tiny Freeman, March 1992, not at the Market but at the Central Tavern on First South.
Tiny Freeman, March 1992, not at the Market but at the Central Tavern on First South. GLICK TO ENLARGE

Two feature films (and perhaps several smaller ones) have used the curve for art: “Mad Love” (1995), in which the film’s leads share their first date at a punk show here in the alley, and the better known “Cinderella Liberty” (1973), where the curve and its entrance to Seattle’s first municipal rest room (1908) were converted into a burlesque theatre for the James Caan vehicle.  It was also just off this curve that Seattle’s well loved Empty Space Theatre got its start in 1970. It was followed by Stage One, where, we must note, in 1972 the tall but mere 15-year-old Jean Sherrard, this feature’s “now” photographer, played the part of Laertes, the brother of Ophelia, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Jean notes, “There were rarely more people in the audience than in the cast.” 

The Stage One sign appears left-of-center in this Frank Shaw photo from 1975.
The Stage One sign appears left-of-center in this Frank Shaw photo from 1975.
BEFORE THE GUM - Bill Burden posing in Post Alley long ago and before the gum. Bill took the photo of John T. near the top.
BEFORE THE GUM – Bill Burden, my housemate from the mid-70s and friend since 1968, posing in Post Alley long ago and before the gum. Bill took the photo of John T. near the top.

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WEB EXTRAS

I’ll toss in a couple gum wall shots for those who haven’t visited:  Anything to add guys?

Surely Jean and thanks for gum blog sticking below, Jean.  Ron Edge has also added a few relevant neighborhood features below the below and at the bottom.

Gum wall crowds throng
Gum wall crowds throng
Chewy selfies abound
Chewy selfies abound

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THEN: The Hotel York at the northwest corner of Pike Street and First Avenue supplied beds on the American Plan for travelers and rooms for traveling hucksters. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

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THEN:  Seattle Architect Paul Henderson Ryan designed the Liberty Theatre around the first of many subsequent Wurlitzer organs used for accompanying silent films in theatres “across the land”.  The Spanish-clad actor-dancers posed on the stage apron are most likely involved in a promotion for a film – perhaps Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925) or Douglas Fairbanks’ The Gaucho (1929) that also played at the Liberty.  (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN: In 1910, a circa date for this look north on First Avenue across Virginia Street, the two corners on the east side of the intersection were still undeveloped – except for signs.  The Terminal Sales Building, seen far right in Jean Sherrard’s repeat, did not replace the billboards that crowd the sidewalk in the “then” until 1923.  (Seattle Municipal Archive)

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: The Post Alley Curve”

  1. Hi there!

    As usual, an excellent retrospective! Thank you for all the hard work, your blog is truly one of the highlights of my week. I am writing today because I just can’t find the link you mentioned about the Pike Place Market Historical Society. I would love to know more about them!

    Thank you in advance,
    Nick

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