Seattle Now & Then: The Alley That Became I-5

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Everything here is terminal. When Werner Lenggenhager recorded this section of Melrose Place N. in the mid-1950s he understood that soon after – in five years or ten – it would be transformed into the Seattle Freeway. It was especially revealing to find the tall hillside home, here on the left, in an aerial photograph, also from the mid-1950s.


NOW: Jean Sherrard’s repeat was recorded from the Denny Way overpass above Interstate Five, or nearly two blocks south of the muddy prospect from which Werner Lenggenharger recorded his spattered Melrose Lane North. Readers wishing to look upon Lenggenhager’s spot should head north on Melrose Avenue North to the point from which they can look directly west across the freeway to the letter Q in the Recreational Equipment Coop’s sign on the west side of Eastlake Avenue. That’s just north of John Street. Werner’s muddy alley was close to the freeway’s existing green center-stripe.



Here gain is Werner Lenggenhager on Melrose Place North, but this time looking in the opposite direction to the north and in the summer with the Place now dry and looking like it has been so for a while.    We do not known which of the two Werner shot first.   We used this one a few years back in our book Washington Then and Now, and the summer comparison also appeared in Pacific, but before they added color to our pages – and many others – in the magazine.   


Again, for this Sunday “repeat” (at the top) Jean respects the historical prospect of the featured photograph and returns to it – barely.  To really repeat the prospect of the featured photographer, Werner Lenggenhager, would require a hovering drone or the guiding and guarding of a phalanx of the Washington State Patrol Troopers accompanying Jean north of Denny Way to the narrow green belt of shrubbery between the Seattle Freeway’s lower south bound lane and its higher north bound lane.

While I cannot prove it, I’m pretty confident that Werner Lenggenhager  knew Lawton Gowey, the photographer of this look north through the grading work on I-5 where Denny Way temporarily crossed over with a wooden trestle.

What Jean did instead was take to the closest prudent prospect: a position above interstate-5 on the Denny Way overpass.  From there, looking south, his “now” reveals an electric cityscape of high-rises and cumulous clouds standing above the north-bound late-morning traffic.  It is an eye-popping contrast.  Within a few seconds of an I-5 driver heading north under Denny Way they will pass by Lenggenhager’s “alley-scape” position in the mid 1950s. It is about a block and a half north of Denny Way.  (We found it with the help of aerial photographs.) The sensitive perambulator was then exploring what he knew was the doomed block-wide strip between Eastlake and Melrose Avenues, then recently condemned for cutting the Seattle Freeway.

Frank Shaw dates this snap of his May 30, 1962. He looks south on the nearly cleared construction swatch between Melrose Ave. (proper) and Eastlake Avenue.  The site is near where the comely stairway on Republican Street climbed the hill east from Eastlake.   The trees here would soon be felled.  The Pontius Court  Apartment House that was built just north of the steps (see the photo below this one)  has been razed.  It was one of the greater victims of or losses to the freeway construction.. 
The Pontius Court, looking east from Eastlake up the Republican Hill Climb.
The Republican Street Hill Climb looking east from Eastlake ca. 1910, before the Court.  We have written features earlier for both the Hill Climb and Pontius Court subjects.  The latter is included at the top of the Edge Links below.  

The Austrian Werner Lenggenhager moved to Seattle in 1939 and was soon working at Boeing.  He lived on nearby Olive Street just up the hill. As already not above, this is not the first time we have followed Lenggenhager to this alley.  On July 28, 2001 “now and then” featured him looking north at it in the summer when the mud had turned to dust.  Next Spring (2018) when Jean and I hope to publish a book featuring an idealized “best of” collection of one hundred picks from the by now nearly 1800 “now and thens” printed in Pacific since the feature started early in 1982, we will want to include one or the other  (mud or dust) of Lenggenhager’s nostalgic preludes to the Seattle Freeway.

A slide-prone section of the I-5 construction near the Lakeview overpass. Note the City Light steam plan with its stacks on the left.

Werner Lenggenhager retired from Boeing in 1966, giving him more time to explore both Seattle and Washington State with his camera.  Parts of the many thousands of prints that make up his oeuvre are kept in public collections, including those at the University of Washington Library, the Museum of History and Industry and the Seattle Public Library.


Anything to add, boys?  Yes Jean more faithfully ours and the  readers’ Edge Links that will click us about the neighborhood and beyond, followed by a few more from more ancient features.  For those you’d best click-and-enlarge to read them – sometimes twice.

THEN: In the 32 years between Frank Shaw's dedication picture and Jean Sherrard's dance scene, Freeway Park has gained in verdure what it has lost in human use.

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: The Cascade neighborhood, named for its public grade school (1894), now long gone, might have been better named for the Pontius family. Immigrants from Ohio, they purchased many of the forested acres north of Denny Way and east of Fairview Avenue.


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: 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: With great clouds overhead and a landscape 45 years shorter than now, one vehicle – a pickup heading east – gets this part of State Route 520 to itself on a weekday afternoon. (courtesy Lawton Gowey)

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: A carpenter’s jewel with Victorian ornaments recorded by a tax assessor’s photographer in 1936, nestles at 615 Eastlake beside the surviving Jensen Apartments, aka the O’Donnell Building, on the left. (Courtesy Stan Unger)

THEN: Samuel McKnight’s early 1890s panorama of Lake Union also looks north into most of Seattle’s seventeen square-mile annexation of 1891, when the city limits were pushed north from McGraw Street to 85th Street. Fremont, Edgewater, the future Wallingford, Latona, and Brooklyn (University District) were among the neighborhoods included. (Courtesy, Dan Kerlee)

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

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: 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: The city’s north end skyline in 1923 looking northwest from the roof of the then new Cambridge Apartments at 9th Avenue and Union Street. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)




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Freeway Park Cannonball. Are you allowed to do this?


With the Federal Bldg at the center-bottom, and looking north-northeast through the razing and wreckage when I-5 begins its building through the Central Business District.  What else can you identify?  The Exeter appears in both this aerial, near its center, and upper-right in the sculpture photo above it.   The week’s  featured site is just out-of-sight off the top of the aerial.  CLICK CLICK TO ENLARGE by all means.

4 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Alley That Became I-5”

  1. Sunday, June 18, 2017. I was pleasantly shocked this morning to see the muddied Melrose Place alley and old house that was my home growing up in Seattle. The address: 150 Melrose Place N. We lived in the home when the photo was taken in the 1950s. As a student, both in high school (Queen Anne) and the UW, I had to pick my way through that mud on my way home. Thank you and Warren Lenggenhager for the work. Roland Lund, Tacoma, formerly of the Tacoma News Tribune

  2. This may be splitting hairs, but the temporary “Denny” bridge over the I-5 cut is at Yale, I believe. Did it connect to Olive on the east? The angle doesn’t look right for it to connect to Yale on both ends.

    The west base of the budding Denny overpass can be seen on the left of the picture.

    1. Based on the location of the that bunker-like electrical substation as seen via Google Maps, the temporary bridge is aligned with E Olive Place, which branches off of E Olive Way.

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