(click to enlarge photos)
In 1891, a dozen years or so before the recording of our featured photo of Pike Street at Fifth Avenue, journalist-historian Frederick James Grant published his “History of Seattle,” the city’s first book-length history. Grant described Pike as “having been from the first a business street” and predicted that it “will always be crowded with retail houses and minor business establishments.” We know that it
was not to be. Pike, the main street of early Seattle’s north end, continued its development into the city’s retail center not with “minor houses” but major multi-story retail blocks, most notably the Frederick and Nelson Department Store in 1918, although not on Pike but on Pine, one block to the north.
Before the Denny Hill Regrade, Pike was the most northerly street to cross with ease the southern flank of the hill. Essentially, for Pike between First and Fifth Avenues, there was almost no Denny Hill. It was because of this natural kindness that both a narrow-gauged coal railroad in the 1870s and a horse-drawn trolley in the 1880s used Pike, and not Pine, to move east from the bluff above the waterfront. Heading for Lake Union from the Pike Street wharf, the coal-hauling railroad turned north toward the lake a few feet from where a Webster and Stevens photographer later set his tripod to record this week’s featured photo printed here at the top. Judging from the low studio number 679 (seen near the base of the pole far right), the subject was recorded very early in the twentieth century. In this record we also discover two electric trollies, but no motorcars, which were still rare. Of the 3,959 vehicles counted crossing through the nearby intersection of Pike and Second Avenue on December 23, 1904, only fourteen were automobiles. [We have used that statistic so often that we are blushing.]
From this prospect we can also see Pike Street’s second topographic advantage: it easily climbed First Hill. One block to the east at Sixth Avenue, Pike begins its bearable rise to the hill. Union Street, paralleling Pike one block to the south, could not manage the climb, because it ran into one of the steeper parts of the ridge that aside from a pedestrian path, still blocks Union Street at Ninth Avenue. The paved street resumes one block east at Terry Avenue and about eighty feet higher.
The Idaho Block, here on the left at the northeast corner of Pike and Fifth Avenue, appears in the 1890 city directory. It was considered the first business block raised in this then north end neighborhood of mostly modest homes, one-story tenements and tall stumps. The Idaho was built by and/or for Aaron and Esther Levy. The latter is still remembered as the founder of the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society, the first Jewish charitable organization in Seattle. The Idaho’s units were stocked with both homemakers and small businesses. For instance, a Times classified for May 28, 1897, reads
“Hats and bonnets, reshaped, dyed, cleaned or pressed; latest styles. 1504 Fifth, Idaho Block.” With the rest of the businesses facing Pike, the Idaho survived a 1906 widening of the street by being moved back. It just missed a quarter-century of service when it was razed in 1914 for construction of the Coliseum Theatre, which has been revamped as the Banana Republic clothing store in our “now”.
NAMESAKE JOHN PIKE ( a 1988 letter from his granddaughter)
Pike Street was named for John Pike by his friend Arthur Denny, the ‘city father’ who made the claim, surveyed it, and sold off its lucrative parts. A carpenter, Pike helped build the Territorial University and was paid with land and the tribute of his own street.
Hey, lads and lasses, it’s that time of year again. This year’s Rogue’s Christmas once again features me and Mistah Dorpat, along with special guest Kurt Beattie (artistic director-emeritus of ACT, actor, writer, and our longtime friend) and the amazing Khanh Doan, an actress who has dazzled on NW stages for the past decade. Music, as always, provided by the inimitable Pineola.
Join us tomorrow afternoon at 2PM at Seattle’s Town Hall!
Anything to add, fellahs? Ya, and relevant too. The last of the Edge links below – put up by Ron – features some news of a past Rogue’s Christmas. So there Jean. See you tomorrow with my rocking chair, and in it.
GRANT’S HISTORY of SEATTLE is introduced with this panegyric by W.P. Heneage.