Seattle Now & Then: Westlake, ‘The Big Funnel’

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: A few of the landmarks revealed in this mid-twenties look north from the roof of the Medical Dental Building include Queen Anne High School, “Wilson’s Wood Row” of unused WW1 freighters camped in Lake Union, the Seattle Gas Company’s big holder at 9th and Republican, the Ford Assembly Plant and Denny Park. Can you find them? (Courtesy: MOHAI)
NOW: The fenestration (window arrangement) of the glass curtain on the nearly new skyscraper at the northwest corner of Westlake and Virginia Street (to the left), is a fine expression of the growing revolt from the more minimal modern, like that used decades ago for the Plaza 600 Building at the center of this “repeat.” By comparison the new post modern – or post-post-modern – façade is psychedelic.

From his climb to the cornice of the eighteen-story Medical Dental Building, Jean Sherrard has thoughtfully returned with some frosting, one of the building’s crowning terra-cotta ornaments.  Peeking at the bottom-right corner of Jean’s repeat, resembling a lampshade, it is one small part of the building’s elegant skin.

A 1925 clip from The Times

First imagined by its mix of professional (physicians and dentists) developers as a “real medical center in Seattle,” the polished and ornate Medical Dental Building was dedicated in 1925.  With its ceramic tile cladding and more, the tower would be interpreted as an example of the late Gothic Revival, which, as it turned out, was a style about to lose its popularity.

In 1962, the Medical Dental Building rises behind the then new Monorail. The view looks north of 5th Ave. from mid-block between Virginia and Steward Streets.  Photo by Frank Shaw

Looking north, from its tower, Westlake Avenue can be followed to Denny Way, where it elbows slightly to the northeast to complete its arterial duty to both Westlake and eventually Eastlake at the south shore of Lake Union.  Westlake was sided by the triangular blocks and buildings fashioned in 1906-7 when it was cut through from Pike Street to Denny Way.  Its landlords briefly named this new and direct approach to the north “The Big Funnel”.

North on Fifth Avenue from near Virginia Street and the front or south summit of Denny Hill, ca. 1886. The towered structured on the horizon is Central School (the largest in Washington Territory when it was built in 1884) facing Madison Street from its south side.

Jean’s thoughtful inclusion of the decorative ornament encourages us to extend our short review of the architectural history of this retail neighborhood at the north end of Seattle’s central business district.  It began in earnest in the early 1880s with a few retailers scattered about the slopes of the by then clear-cut Denny Hill.  The businesses were mixed with modest residences – some in rows – and tenements, all made from lumber milled on the shores of Elliott Bay and Lake Union. Aside from the built-for-show blocks around Pioneer Square and on Front Street (First Avenue N.) the fancier construction of this  metropolis began only after its cinder-scrubbing by the Great Fire of 1889.  Seattle began then to earnestly boom and build, often with bricks and the encouragement of better insurance rates for those who embraced both the new ordnances and bricks.

Capitol Hill from Denny Hill ca. 1893 about fourteen years before Westlake Avenue was cut through the grid here on its way from 4th and Pike to South Lake Union.

As for grace and style, terra-cotta tiles became nearly a necessity for any proud developer in the new twentieth century, until the expense of it became forbidding in the thirties with the Great Depression and/or too fussy for the more functional modernist tastes.   One sizeable resister to modernity, “the Old Quarter,” appears here in the featured photo on left of Westlake and to this side of Denny Park’s greenbelt, also on the left.  This is the last of the Denny Hill neighborhood.  In 1911 it was left to molder when the Denny Hill Regrade reached Fifth Avenue and stopped.  It remained dormant until 1929 when everything in this triangle was razed, including the low rents, just in time for the Great Depression.

A circa 1928 aerial of “old quarter – right-of-center – and the nearly new Medical Dental Building standing bright at the bottom-center with its own terra cotta tiled skin and Frederick and Nelson’s beside it to the south. Note the Civic Center’s construction scar upper right between Harrison and Mercer Streets and west of Fifth Avenue. (Courtesy, Ron Edge}

South on Fifth through Virginia Street.  We don’t promise that the above now-and-then are perfect for repeating, but they are close.

Click to ENLARGE for Reading.
The Medical Dental building endures on December 7, 1968 with protestors marching below it and the Monorail for citizens to “Remember the Pueblo.” Do you?


Anything to add, boyos? Sure Jean and by now we know the march.  Ron Edge and I put up a sturdy parade of part features that relate to the week’s primary subject or concern or thereabouts.   (Here I had hoped to include the original latin for “Repetition if the Mother of  All Learning” but my computer has lost my “Google Translate” capacities.    For the moment.)

THEN: The Seattle Central Business District in 1962. I found this panorama mixed in with the Kodachrome slides photographed by Lawton Gowey. It was most likely taken by my helpful friend Lawton, who died in 1983, or Robert Bradley, Lawton’s friend in the then active Seattle Camera Club. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)

THEN: The home at bottom right looks across Madison Street (out of frame) to Central School. The cleared intersection of Spring Street and Seventh Avenue shows on the right.

THEN: We give this panorama from the roof of the Washington Athletic Club a circa date of 1961, the year that Horizon House, a First Hill retirement community, first opened its doors to residents at Ninth Avenue and University Street. The high-rise L-shaped Horizon stands top-center. (Lawton Gowey)

THEN: William O. McKay opened show rooms on Westlake in July of 1923. After fifty-seven years of selling Fords, the dealership turned to the cheaper and more efficient Subaru. Now reconstructed, the old Ford showroom awaits a new tenant.

THEN: A.J. McDonald’s panorama of Lake Union and its surrounds dates from the early 1890s. It was taken from First Hill, looking north from near the intersection of Terry Avenue and Union Street. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: The scene looks north through a skyline of steeples toward the Cascade neighborhood and Lake Union, ca. 1923.

THEN: This Webster and Stevens studio photo dates from either late 1917 or early 1918. The grand Frederick and Nelson Department store, rising above Fifth Avenue, has not yet reached its sumptuous Sept. 3. 1918 opening. In the foreground, the much smaller but also elegant flatiron building, bordered by Pine Street, in the foreground, and Westlake and Fifth Avenues to the sides, was razed and replaced also in 1918 by a three story retail block on the same flatiron footprint. (Courtesy, the Museum of History & Industry)

THEN: The five buildings shown here on the west side of Third Avenue south of Virginia Street have endured with few changes since the ‘then’ photo was snapped in 1936. The exception is the smallest, far-right, the Virginian Tavern now stripped for an open garage at Third’s southwest corner with Virginia Street. The six-story Hardon Hall Apartments, at the center of the five, was renovated in 2006 for low-income housing by the Plymouth Housing Group.

THEN: Before this the first shovel of the last of Denny Hill was ceremonially dropped to the conveyor belt at Battery Street, an “initial bite of 30,000 cubic yards of material” was carved from the cliff along the east side of 5th Avenue to make room for both the steam shovel and several moveable belts that extended like fingers across the hill. It was here that they met the elevated and fixed last leg of the conveyor system that ran west on Battery Street to the waterfront. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive)

THEN: Werner Lenggenhager's recording of the old St. Vinnie's on Lake Union's southwest shore in the 1950s should remind a few readers of the joys that once were theirs while searching and picking in that exceedingly irregular place.

Then: Photographed from an upper story of the Ford Factory at Fairview Avenue and Valley Street, the evidence of Seattle's explosive boom years can be seen on every shore of Lake Union, ca. 1920. Courtesy of MOHAI

THEN: Pioneer Arthur Denny's son, Orion, took this photo of popularly named Lake Union John and his second wife, Madeline, sometime before the latter's death in 1906.

THEN: Both the grading on Belmont Avenue and the homes beside it are new in this “gift” to Capitol Hill taken from the family album of Major John Millis. (Courtesy of the Major’s grandchild Walter Millis and his son, a Seattle musician, Robert Millis.)

THEN: The Dog House at 714 Denny Way was strategically placed at the southern terminus for the Aurora Speedway when it was new in the mid-1930s. (Photo courtesy of Washington State Archive, Bellevue Community College Branch.)


THEN: Looking west down Ewing Street (North 34th) in 1907 with the nearly new trolley tracks on the left and a drainage ditch on the right to protect both the tracks and the still barely graded street from flooding. (Courtesy, Michael Maslan)

THEN: Long-time Wallingford resident Victor Lygdman looks south through the work-in-progress on the Lake Washington Ship Canal Bridge during the summer of 1959. Bottom-right are the remnants of the Latona business and industrial district, including the Wayland Mill and the Northlake Apartments, replaced now with Ivar’s Salmon House and its parking. (Photo by Victor Lygdman)

THEN: From 1909 to the mid-late 1920s, the precipitous grade separation between the upper and lower parts of NE 40th Street west of 7th Ave. NE was faced with a timber wall. When the wall was removed, the higher part of NE 40th was shunted north, cutting into the lawns of the homes beside it. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)

Great railroad signs, theatre signs and ranks of neon were still the greatest contributors to night light at 4th and Westlake in 1949. (Photo by Robert Bradley compliment of Lawton and Jean Gowey)


THEN: Looking east on Pike Street from Fifth Avenue early in the twentieth century. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: While visiting Seattle for some promoting, silent film star Wallace Reid shares the sidewalk at 4th and Olive with a borrowed Stutz Bearcat. (Courtesy, Museum of History & Industry)

THEN: Built in 1888-89 at the northeast corner of Fourth Avenue and Pine Street, the then named Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church marked the southeast corner of Denny Hill. Eventually the lower land to the east of the church (here behind it) would be filled, in part, with hill dirt scraped and eroded from North Seattle lots to the north and west of this corner. (Courtesy, Denny Park Lutheran Church)

THEN: William O. McKay opened show rooms on Westlake in July of 1923. After fifty-seven years of selling Fords, the dealership turned to the cheaper and more efficient Subaru. Now reconstructed, the old Ford showroom awaits a new tenant.

THEN: A motorcycle courier for Bartell Drugs poses before the chain’s Store No. 14, located in the Seaboard Building at the northwest corner of Fourth Avenue and Pike Street, circa 1929. (Courtesy Bartell Drugs)

THEN: With her or his back to the Medical-Dental Building an unidentified photographer took this look northeast through the intersection of 6th and Olive Way about five years after the Olive Way Garage first opened in 1925. (Courtesy, Mark Ambler)

THEN: The 1906-07 Gas Works at the north end of Lake Union went idle in 1956 when natural gas first reached Seattle by pipeline. In this photo, taken about fifteen years later, the Wallingford Peninsula is still home to the plant’s abandoned and “hanging gardens of metal.” (Courtesy: Rich Haag)

THEN: Looking west (not east) on Battery Street from Seventh Avenue, approaching the end of the last of Denny Hill’s six regrade reductions. The dirt was carried to Elliott Bay on conveyor belts like the two shown here. (courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives)

THEN 1: Recorded on April 14, 1928, about sixth months before the Denny Hill Regrade No. 2 began, the last of the scarred Denny Hill rises to the right of Fifth Avenue. Denny School (1884) tops the hill at the northeast corner of Battery Street and Fifth Avenue. On the horizon, at center, Queen Anne Hill is topped by its namesake high school, and on the right of the panorama, the distant Wallingford neighborhood rises from the north shore of Lake Union. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archives)

THEN: Lawton Gowey looks north through the tail of the 1957 Independence Day Parade on Fourth Avenue as it proceeds south through the intersection with Pike Street. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)



First printed in Pacific, February Sixth, 2000


click to enlarge


First appeared in The Times Feb. 14, 1999.










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