(click to enlarge photos)
This week’s feature on First Avenue, like last week’s on Third, looks north from Seneca Street, here a few yards south of Seneca. Imagine, if you will, in place of Seneca, a ravine. Following the 1852-3 pioneer settlement on the east side of Elliott Bay, a bridge was eventually needed to cross this gully that broke through the waterfront bluff. The Native Americans had favored the eroded cut as suitable for burials, and during pioneer days bodies were still exposed during heavy rains. In 1876 the bridge over the ravine was reinforced with a log retaining wall during the regrading of Front Street (First Avenue) from Mill Street (Yesler Way) to Pike Street. It was Seattle’s first oversized public work.
I speculate that this energetic featured subject – at the top – was photographed in 1906. A clue is found at the far end of this block of crowded hotels between Seneca and University Streets. There across University Street parts of the first two floors of structural steel point skyward above the Arcade Annex construction site. In The Times for Jan. 10, 1907, the building is shown incomplete but well along. (In 1991 the Arcade Annex was replaced with the Seattle Art Museum.)
Let’s imagine the cluster of five brick structures that comprise the centerpiece of the featured subject as a sampling of how Seattle might have developed without the interruption (and inspiration) of its Great Fire of 1889. Built in the 1890s just beyond the fire zone, the five are not architecturally current as were the more commonly larger structures that were built on the ashes. Here is a lingering devotion to the French curve, chimney caps, arching window lintels and rectangular bays.
The best survivor here is the most distant one, the Diller Hotel at the southeast corner of University and First. A heavy cornice, since removed as an earthquake precaution, tops its four floors. The Diller developed into a popular hangout for political and fraternal huddling. Named for its builder’s family – the family home had been on the corner – the Diller was conceived before the Great Fire and built soon after of Japanese bricks. Understandably, bricks were then hard to come by.
Jumping now to the south end of the block and the Hotel Ramona, we may hazard a suspicion that some of its 100 rooms were used for unlicensed therapies. Given the boisterous growth of Seattle that began even before its Great Fire, and kept building during the Yukon gold rush of the late 1890s, there was a general over-building of hotels, including the larger and finer ones two-to-five blocks up the hill. Consequently, the seven hotels on this block (counting both west and east sides) offered relatively cheap stays. In 1907 a room could be had at the Hotel Ramona for fifty cents a night or $2.50 a week. Such prices encouraged the steady transformation of First Avenue into the Flesh Avenue that some may still remember from the 1970s. For instance, in a Feb 12, 1904, Seattle Times classified, May Donally in room no. 9 offered massages and vapor baths, while in room 10 Miss Harrison did the same. Miss Ellsworth, “accomplished masseuse,” offered a “famous Assyrian treatment,” and in room no. 3 of the Ramona, the “experienced masseuse” Miss Las Riu offered both new treatments and “real luxury.”
Anything to add, ye wise men? Because you treat us so swell, surely we will. Before browsing through this week’s relevant Edge Clips, we will top them with Ron’s seasonal card to all our readers. Typically, it is an old card created a little while before the Great Fire of 1889 when the jeweler Nichols was still at 709 Front Street, and so a tenant in the fanciest address then town, the show-strip of pre-fire well-ornamented structures built on the west side of First Avenue between Yesler Way and Columbia Street, and all of them doomed. Following the clips we will allow the remaining neighborhood relevant subjects we have gathered to remain wrapped and left beneath this tree, in order to open or show a few more seasonal subjects at the bottom.
THREE EARLY 20TH CENTURY LIVING ROOM “STUDIES” AT THE BROWN FAMILY HOME ON DEXTER AVENUE, NEAR DENNY PARK.