Seattle Now & Then: The First (and Forgotten) Alki Natatorium

(click to enlarge photos)

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THEN: The first Alki Natatorium was built in 1905 at Alki Point eight years before the lighthouse. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)
THEN: The first Alki Natatorium was built in 1905 at Alki Point eight years before the lighthouse. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: The well-packed neighborhood of year-round beach homes has long since covered the large footprint of the Alki Natatorium.
NOW: The well-packed neighborhood of year-round beach homes has long since covered the large footprint of the Alki Natatorium.

In today’s “now” scene, West Seattle’s savvy Bob Carney poses for Jean Sherrard on Point Place Southwest, a short block that leads from Alki Avenue Southwest and dead-ends at the green campus of the Alki Point Lighthouse. Its light first penetrated the ordinarily peaceable waters of Puget Sound in 1913 after the federal lighthouse service bought much of the Point from the Hanson-Olson clan who had purchased it in 1868 from Seattle pioneer Doc Maynard.

First appeared in Pacific on May 19, 1985.
First appeared in Pacific on May 19, 1985.

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In his hands, Carney holds a copy of our “then” photo as part of bound pages of his research into the life of the first Alki Natatorium, the landmark featured in the photo. (Derived from Latin, “natatorium” denotes a building that houses a swimming pool. Aficionados abbreviate it as “nat.”)

An early lighthouse map showing the relationship of the light to the natatorium.
A dimly-lit hand-held snapshot of an  early lighthouse map kept at the lighthouse and showing the relationship of the light  (at the top) to the natatorium (on the right)..
Above: When I was first shown this postcard years ago, I wondered if it might be of he Alki Point Natatorium. Below: It was.
Above: When I was first shown this postcard years ago, I wondered if it might be of he Alki Point Natatorium. Below: It was.

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Here a Webster and Stevens photographer looks northeast from the natatorium to the dock that delivered the first swimmers to the delights of heated salt water. The trolley first reached Alki Point in 1908.
Here a Webster and Stevens photographer looks northeast from the natatorium to the dock use as a prospect for the photograph above this one and also delivered the first swimmers to the bouyant delights of paddling in heated salt water. The trolley first reached Alki Point in 1908. (Like the featured photo at the top and the five other early photos of and from the Alki Nat, this one is used courtesy of the Museum of History and Industry._
The Alki Point part of the 1929 aerial photography project to map Seattle. Note that the dock used by the Nat is just evident upper-left. The Nat., of course, is thirteen years past. (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archive)
The Alki Point part of the 1929 aerial photography project to map Seattle. Note that the Alki Point Dock used by the Nat endures.  and is just evident upper-left. The Nat., of course, is thirteen years past, replaced by the line of beach houses that begins west of the Alki Pint Dock.   . (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archive)
This Laidlaw aerial also shows the enduring dock and its neighboring beach housing in the 1930s. Most - perhaps all - of the modest houses have been replaced with tax-payers.
This Laidlaw aerial also shows the enduring dock and its neighboring beach housing in the 1930s. Most – perhaps all – of the modest houses have been replaced with tax-payers. (Courtesy: MOHAI again)

Years ago, while delivering an admittedly half-baked lecture on West Seattle history to its historical society, I was asked if I had evidence of this early human aquarium. Like many others attending, I imagined that the question was about the later Alki Natatorium, built nearly a mile up Alki Beach from the Point, just east of the Alki Bathhouse, and opened in 1934 with “Seattle’s own swimming champion, Helene Madison, as permanent instructress.”  Bob

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Abpve and above the above. The second aquarium was built near the beach house constructed by the Parks Department a few years before the first Aquarium, the one at the point, was destroyed.
Abpve and above the above. The second aquarium was opened in 1934 near the bathhouse constructed by the Parks Department a few years before the first Aquarium, the one at the point, was destroyed.   (The bathhouse was  just out-of=frame to the left.)
From The Times for July 7, 1905.
From The Times for July 7, 1905.
Alki nat's dance floor (and more) protected under the gabled roof at the east end of the natatorium.
Alki Nat’s dance floor (and more) protected under the gabled roof at the east end of the natatorium.
A Times clipping from Sept. 26, 1906.
A Times clipping from Sept. 26, 1906.

Carney’s research reveals that the earlier and largely forgotten natatorium at the Point was equipped with “gymnasium paraphernalia” and featured a “bathing tank” 130 feet long, 53 feet wide and from 22 inches to 9-1/2 feet deep, filled daily with Puget Sound waters kept at 74 to 76 degrees. The east end of pavilion, the part showing here with five gables hosted a variety events, most involving dance. The structure was appointed like a Japanese

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teahouse – note the hanging lanterns – and its demise was equally exotic. Like the dome atop Seattle’s St. James Cathedral on First Hill, the roof on West Seattle’s first oversized swimming pool collapsed Feb. 1-2, 1916, under what remains Seattle’s deepest (or second deepest – it is debated) 24-hour snowfall.

While the collapse of the St. James Cathedral dome got the front page in The Times coverage of the 1916 snow, the collapse of the Natatorium's roof was given note.
While the collapse of the St. James Cathedral dome got the front page in The Times coverage of the 1916 snow, the collapse of the Natatorium’s roof was given note.  CLICK to ENLARGE
The last of the six Alki Natatorium related Webster and Stevens photographs. Looking west on Alki Ave. it shows part of the Natatorium east roof line. the part above the dance floor. (Lke the others this is used courtesy of The Museum of History and Industry, MOHAI for short.
The last of the six Alki Natatorium related Webster and Stevens photographs. Looking west on Alki Ave. it shows part of the Natatorium east roof line. the part above the dance floor. (Lke the others this is used courtesy of The Museum of History and Industry, MOHAI for short.

Soon after Bob showed me this print, researcher Ron Edge found five others (all of them already inserted above)  while visiting the Museum of History and Industry library to help make detailed scans of many of its classics. Most likely, all were recorded together in 1905 when the nat was a brand new enterprise undertaken by the Alki Point Transportation Company. Nearly a decade before the Alki Lighthouse arose, in 1904 the company had built both the natatorium and the steamer Dix to render hourly service between this, the firm’s new West Seattle attraction, and Seattle’s central waterfront. (The Dix notoriously sank in November 1906 in a collision killing more than 40 of its estimated 77 passengers.)

The tragic Dix on the Seattle Waterfront.
The tragic Dix on the Seattle Waterfront.

We conclude with a too-short nod to the many heroes of local heritage who volunteer with the dozen or so Seattle and King County societies that nurture and share our history. Using our example, Bob Carney is described by Clay Eals, executive director of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, as “a stalwart volunteer for us over the past three decades, doing everything from serving on our collections committee (evaluating submitted artifacts for possible accession) to putting up exhibits at our Log House Museum. Behind it all is a heart of unrivaled size.” 

A 1906 Promotion printed in The Times that includes but also oversizes the Alki Natatorium.
A 1906 Promotion printed in The Times that includes but also exaggerates the size of the Alki Natatorium.
The Alki Natatorium paid the sudden and heroic celebrity John Segalos, the life-saving hero of destroyed Mosquito Fleet steamer, the Valencia.
As a prepared show and Alki Natatorium management paid the sudden celebrity of John Segalos, the life-saving hero on (and off) the destroyed Mosquito Fleet steamer, the Valencia.  The advertisement appeared in The Times for Aug. 6, 1906. 

WEB EXTRAS

Another few laps, lads?  Jean, Ron and I are pleased to exersize with you.  Below are a line-up of West Seattle features previously printed Pacific and so shown here, some of them recently.  We will also insert a few relevant others.

THEN: Included among the several detailed photos taken for the Bernards of their new and yet rustic Fir Lodge, was this one of the living room with its oversized fireplace and the piano on which Marie, their older daughter, learned to play well enough to concertize. (Courtesy Doris Nelson)

THEN: Twenty years ago the Mukai Farm and Garden on Vashon Island was designated a King County Landmark. (Courtesy, Vashon Maury Island Heritage Association)

THEN: Looking southeast from above Alki Avenue, the Schmitz Park horizon is serrated by the oldest trees in the city. The five duplexes clustered on the right were built 1919-1921 by Ernest and Alberta Conklin. Ernest died in 1924, but Alberta continued to live there until well past 1932, the year this photograph was recorded. (Seattle Municipal Archives.)

THEN: Looking into West Seattle’s Junction and north on California Ave. SW to its intersection with SW Alaska Street in 1941. The Hamm Building, is seen above the light-colored car, and the Campbell Building is at right, behind the G.O. Guy Drugs sign.

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THEN: Built in 1893, West Seattle School kept teaching until ruined by the region’s 1949 earthquake. (Courtesy Michael Maslan)

THEN: Totem Place, at 1750 Palm Ave. S.W., was home for Joseph Standley proprietor of Ye Old Curiosity Shop on Colman Dock. His death notice in The Seattle Times for Oct. 25, 1940 described the 86-year-old “Daddy” Standley as “almost as much a part of Seattle’s waterfront as the waves that dash again the seaweall.”

THEN: The Gatewood Craftsman Lodge was built on a road, in a neighborhood, and near a public school all named for the developer Carlisle Gatewood, who also lived in the neighborhood. The three women posing in the third floor’s open windows are the Clark sisters, Jean, Dorothy and Peggy, members of the family that moved into the home in the late 1930s.

THEN: In 1852 many of Seattle’s first pioneers removed from Alki Point by dugout canoe for the deeper and safer harbor along the east shore of Elliott Bay (our central waterfront). About a half-century later any hope or expectation that the few survivors among these pioneers could readily visit Alki Beach and Point by land were fulfilled with the timber quays and bridges along Spokane Street. (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archive)

THEN: The Seattle Times in its lengthy coverage of the then new Seattle Steel in the paper’s Magazine Section for Sept. 10, 1905 – the year this photograph was recorded – noted that “the plant itself is a series of strong, substantial, cavernous sheds, built for use, not for beauty.” (Courtesy, MOHAI, the Museum of History and Industry)

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Bernard's Fir Lodge - later the Homestead Restaurant (see the relevant Edge clipping above.)
Bernard’s Fir Lodge – later the Homestead Restaurant (see the relevant Edge clipping above.)

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First appeared in Pacific, January 9, 2000.
First appeared in Pacific, January 9, 2000.

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