Seattle Now & Then: A Fifth Avenue Regrade, 1911

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Beginning in 1876, Seattle’s downtown streets were all regraded, starting on First Avenue (aka Front Street). Here, thirty-five years later in 1911, the cutting has reached Fifth Avenue at Cherry Street. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: For his “repeat” Jean Sherrard had two choices: to use his twenty-five foot extender pole to lift his camera closer to the elevation of the historical photographer, or to record Fifth Avenue looking north through its intersection with Cherry Street from the new grade made in 1911. He chose the latter.

This public works photograph looks into a regrade trench marked on its sides by the claws of the two steam shovels shaping the pit. The teams with their wagons wait patiently to be rattled while being filled with Ice Age droppings.  From another photo, also recorded on February 20, 1911, we know that at least two more wagons are here out-of-frame to the right. All are pointed north down the center of

The highest assigned number, “20128” – of the three surviving shots (either taken on February 20, 1911 or less likely developed then) of work on the 5th Avenue Regrade as it enters the intersection with Cherry Street.   A sign for the Crawford House is posted above the sidewalk, upper-right.  We will attach below The Times Classified section on “Spirit Mediuims” below.  Marked with yellow, we find Professor Ali Baba (hmm sounds familiar) from Bombay India, available for readings at the Crawford House, aka Bombay West.  (Courtesy MOHAI)
A Classified for an impressive handful of “spirit mediums” including Ali Baba and his readings in the Crawford House at the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Cherry Street in 1911.

Fifth Avenue at its new grade.  Ultimately, of course, Fifth Avenue will be hard-paved – it is in the contract – but not for the comfort of horses.  They prefer the mud.  After a wagon’s turn comes up and it is filled, its team will turn left (west) down the freshly dug cut on Cherry Street to the paved avenues below, proceeding to make its assigned delivery, perhaps on the tideflats.  The teams will try not to slip.

The same corner a little later and still looking north thru Cherry on 5th. Note that the residence on top has been lifted to blocks for moving to a new but not indicated location. Copies from The Times for March 30, 1911.

We can estimate the speed of this digging with a photograph published in The Seattle Times on March 30, 1911, “printed” above.  It aims in the same angle as the featured photo from the west side of Fifth Avenue, but The Times photographer has moved on and followed the shovels’ work to the north side of Cherry Street.  The stately home, near Columbia Street, seen in the featured photo at the top  in the clear light just to the left of the shovel’s exhaust also appears in The Times published photo, where it is, however, set on blocks preparing for removal to some friendlier lot.  The helpful Times caption also offers some context and statistics for this regradeThe Fifth Avenue Regrade reached from Washington Street to Madison Street and moved 190,00 cubic yards of earth at 49 cents a yard. (We may, again, sympathize with the horses.) The contracts for grading, sewerage, water mains, walks, lights and (to the horses potential distress) paving, came to $270,000.

The third surviving shot of the regrading at Fifth Avenue and Cherry Street. This looks south on Fifth and over Cherry.

Later in November, 1911, the work was stalled when the contractors Marks, Russell and Gallagher (their name is signed on each steam-shovel below the operator’s window) stopped digging until the city agreed to indemnify them from any further slides that might damage buildings along what was left of the Fifth Avenue Regrade.  By then seven structures had been wrecked, most of them near Yesler Way. (The THIRD of the Edge Links that follow this little essay will open another feature that concentrates on the Fifth Avenue slides at Yesler that accompanied the regrading of Fifth Avenue nearer its start.)

Public works watching was a popular pastime during the early 20th-century regrading years.  A line of regrade watchers seen in the featured photo on the right stand on or near Cherry Street. Soon, however, these spectators will have their platform upset when the shovels continue their clawing to the east (right) as far as Sixth Avenue where Cherry Street reaches a natural steppe, or plateau, that paused First Hill’s climbing for one block, as far as Seventh Avenue.

Above: A Times clip reporting on two renters fall into the regrade ditch while trying to move furniture from the Leland Hotel at 511 Cherry Street.  
The Leland Hotel’s footprint appears in red far left on the south side of Cherry Street, east of Fifth Avenue and next to the alley.  This detail is from the 1912 Baist Real Estate Map.   CLICK TO ENLARGE.

In this block between Fifth and Sixth Avenues the regraders exposed but did not upset the Kneeland House (aka the Leland Hotel), a red brick hostelry at 511 Cherry Street.  It was three-stories high with thirty-six rooms and set on the south side of the street just west of the alley.  The cutting on Cherry left the hotel about thirty feet higher, and with this difference came a tragedy.  On the fifteenth of November, renter Ella Johnson, with her helper Nettie Herserma, when lowering furniture from the hotel into the new cut, the hotel’s railing gave way. The women were delivered to the Wayside Hospital in the Bonney Watson hearse, which doubled as an ambulance when not busy with “loved ones.”  Struggling with a broken back, Johnson died, while Herserma recovered.

[from The Times for Sept. 21, 1912.  ASK HEAVY DAMAGES – Judgment for $100,000 for the death of Mrs. Ella J. Johnston was asked in the superior court yesterday afternoon against George Nicholls, owner of a building at 511 Cherry Street, which Mrs. Johnston rented.  On November 15 last a porch rail gave way beneath her weight and she was precipitated thirty feet to the ground, sustaining a broken back, from which injury she died later.  James T. Lawler, administrator of the estate, brought one suit for $50,000, and the three minor children of Mrs. Johnston joined in another for a similar amount.]


Anything to add, mates?  Many relevant links Jean – most either from the neighborhood or of other street regrades.   Note, again, there is more on the Fifth Avenue regrade in the third of the twenty-seven  “Edge Links” stacked immediately below.

THEN: The clerk in the city's old Engineering Vault attends to its records. Now one of many thousands of images in the Seattle Municipal Archives, this negative is dated Jan. 30, 1936. (Check out to see more.)

THEN: Seattle’s new – in 1910-11 – cluster-ball street lighting standards stand tall in this ca. 191l look north on Third Avenue from Seneca Street. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry.)

THEN: Looking north from Yesler Way over the Fifth Avenue regrade in 1911. Note the Yesler Way Cable rails and slot at the bottom. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive)

THEN: A winter of 1918 inspection of some captured scales on Terrace Street. The view looks east from near 4th Avenue. (Courtesy City Municipal Archives)

THEN: This “real photo postcard” was sold on stands throughout the city. It was what it claimed to be; that is, its gray tones were real. If you studied them with magnification the grays did not turn into little black dots of varying sizes. (Courtesy, David Chapman and

THEN: The city's regrading forces reached Sixth Avenue and Marion Street in 1914. A municipal photographer recorded this view on June 24. Soon after, the two structures left high here were lowered to the street. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archives)

THEN: The Sprague Hotel at 706 Yesler Way was one of many large structures –hotels, apartments and duplexes, built on First Hill to accommodate the housing needs of the city’s manic years of grown between its Great Fire in 1889 and the First World War. Photo courtesy Lawton Gowey

THEN: The address written on the photograph is incorrect. This is 717 E. Washington Street and not 723 Yesler Way. We, too, were surprised. (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archive)

THEN: Harborview Hospital takes the horizon in this 1940 recording. That year, a hospital report noted that "the backwash of the depression" had overwhelmed the hospital's outpatient service for "the country's indigents who must return periodically for treatment." Built in 1931 to treat 100 cases a day, in 1939 the hospital "tries bravely to accommodate 700 to 800 visits a day."

THEN: Friends of the Market president, architect Victor Steinbrueck, leads a cadre of Friends marching for Market preservation in front of the Seattle City Hall most likely on March 18, 1971. (Photo by Tom Brownell from the Post-Intelligencer collection at MOHAI)

THEN: Looking north from Columbia Street over the construction pit for the Central Building. On the left is a rough section of the Third Avenue Regrade in the spring of 1907. (Courtesy, MOHAI)

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: Pioneer mailman Dutch Ned poses on his horse on Cherry Street. The ca. 1880 view looks east over First Avenue when it was still named Front Street. (Courtesy: The Museum of History and Industry, aka MOHAI)
















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