Seattle Now & Then: The ‘Empire Builder’s’ Bust

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Situated first at the center of the Alaska Yukon Pacific’s Klondike Circle, James J. Hill’s monumental likeness was backed by the Exposition’s Sweden Building. The view looks to the West. (Courtesy, University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Frank H. Nowell, photographer, Nowell Negative No. 3212)
NOW: Author-museologist Fred F Poyner IV poses for Jean Sherrard before Finn Haakon Frolich’s bust of James Hill at its current location since 1953 in front of More Hall, the University School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

This week a monumental bust of James J. Hill, aka “The Empire Builder”, has been pulled from a new book titled Seattle Public Sculptors. The author, the Nordic Heritage Museum’s museologist and collections manager, Fred F. Poyner IV, has written with clarity and considerable detail about twelve artists who created “Seattle’s first ‘Golden Age’ of public monuments, memorials and statuary.”  Many of these works, including Finn Haakon Frolich’s baronial bust of James Hill, date from 1909, the year of the Alaska Yukon and Pacific Exposition, Seattle’s first worlds fair.

FORLICH contemplating his bust of his friend, the author Jack London. (Courtesy, Huntington Library, California)

Frolich was born in Oslo, Norway, in 1868 “to a family of means.” We may readily imagine him as a fearless – or impetuous – adolescent, for by Poyner’s well-footnoted recounting, the young Finn Haakon took to the sea at the age of nine and kept to it until 1886 when he jumped ship in Brooklyn.  After answering a classified ad in a daily pulp, Frolich began his education in sculpting, working for several years in studios, including those of the sculptor Daniel Chester French in New York and Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Paris.


The thirty-year-old artist first visited Seattle in 1898.  He failed in his first attempt to found a school of design here, but ten years later he returned to many successes. These included establishing his Beaux-Arts Workshop studio in the old Territorial University Building, which still stood on Denny’s Knoll in downtown Seattle, and taking on students, including those who attended his “live modeling in clay” demonstrations performed for audiences on stage at the Alhambra Theatre.

Territorial University, somewhat late in its life and so near to its llth hour use by Frolich. The view looks southeast from near what is now 4th Avenue and University Street. (Gourtesy Lawton Gowey)
Another example of Frolich’s work for the AYPE.

Frolich’s grandest success’, which occurred in 1908, made him the Director for Sculpture for the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition, held on the new campus of the University of Washington.  The responsibilities included many works of art, including the sculpted likeness that James Hill’s friends described as “so faithful a likeness, down to the minutest detail of resemblance and personality, as to be startling.”  Six-feet-high, Hill’s statue was caste in bronze in New York, and placed on the twelve-foot-high granite pedestal displayed in the featured photo at the center of the fair’s Klondike Circle.  Its ceremonial unveiling was handled by John A. Johnson, the governor of Minnesota, Hill’s home, and it was the Minnesota Club that had gathered the last support needed to pay for it.

Prelude to the unveiling of the James Hill bust. The still veiled bust on its pedestral stands here above the crowd right-of-center. The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the Expo’s more popular attractions.  The Pay Streak of novelties, rides and other carnival attractions extends south on the avenue beyond the status.
Looking north from the Pay Streak with the Battle of Gettysburg on the right and the James Hill pedestal just visible above the pedestrians left-of-center.

In 1953 Frolich’s James J. Hill was moved about a quarter-of-a mile from Northeast Sevens Way to East Stevens Way, where its back faces More Hall (1948), the University’s School of Civil and Environmental engineering.  In the interest of function as much as form, More Hall was given large windows by its architect, John Paul Jones.  It is from these windows that Frolich’s otherwise hidden bronze plaque of James Hill’s steamer The Minnesota (once the

The Great Northern’s Pacific steamer, the Minnesota (James home state) sequestered at the hardly accessible rear of Frolich’s bust of the “Empire Builder.”
Frolich’s base plague mounted on the front the granite base holding his James HIll bust high above the sidewalk and East Stevens Way on the U.W. Campus. 

largest vessel on the Pacific Ocean) can be seen with pleasure and for the few who discover it also some surprise.  Attached about hip-high to the rear of the granite pedestal, the plaque is obscured by hefty shrubs.  However, at the front of Frolich’s Hill, another of his bas-relief bronzes honoring the “Empire Builder”, a rendering of a “GNRR” steam engine, can be easily seen exiting a tunnel in the Cascades.


Let me add the photo we intended to run with the column – that of Fred Poyner standing at the statue’s original location.

The original location on the AYP grounds as seen today

Anything to add, lads?  Yes and the usual support from past features and perhaps more, although this bounty will need to wait for tomorrow (Sunday) or Monday, for we are tired early at 4:30 am and hanker to climb the stairs to bed and nighty bears.

For the first feature we will slip in one with another of Frolich’s AYP women.

In his book Fred Poyner gives the story for Frolich’s monumental women.
Another AYP exposure of women and fish was featured on a postcard that explains the meanings of its allegorical parts including the “dominant figures” that “stand for Alaska, Yukon and the Pacific. The caption advises that “the salmon portray the fishing industries” that, we suggest, never caught a salmon either that big or playful.

THEN: The Gothic University of Washington Campus in 1946 beginning a seven-year crowding with prefabricated dormitories beside Frosh Pond. In the immediate background [on the right] is Guggenheim Hall. (Courtesy, Ron Edge)

THEN: Above Lake Washington’s Union Bay the Hoo-Hoo Building on the left and the Bastion facsimile on the right, were both regional departures from the classical beau arts style, the 1909 AYPE’s architectural commonplace. Courtesy John Cooper


THEN: First designated Columbus Street in the 1890 platting of the Brooklyn Addition, and next as 14th Avenue to conform with the Seattle grid, ‘The Ave,’ still its most popular moniker, was renamed University Way by contest in 1919. This trim bungalow at 3711 University Way sat a few lots north of Lake Union’s Portage Bay. (Courtesy, Washington State Archives, Puget Sound Regional Archive)

THEN: Named for a lumberman, and still home for the UW’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, the upper floor’s high-ceilinged halls, including the Forest Club Room behind Anderson Hall’s grand Gothic windows, were described for us by the department’s gregarious telephone operator as “very popular and Harry Potterish.” (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN: An estimated 50 percent of the materials used in the old Husky Union Building were recycled into its recent remodel. The new HUB seems to reach for the roof like its long-ago predecessor, the AYP’s landmark Forestry building. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN: sliver of the U.W. campus building called the Applied Physics Laboratory appears on the far right of this 1940 look east towards the U.W. campus from the N.E. 40th Street off-ramp from the University Bridge. While very little other than the enlarged laboratory survives in the fore and mid-grounds, much on the horizon of campus buildings and apartments still stand. (Courtesy, Genevieve McCoy)

THEN: The Latona Bridge was constructed in 1891 along the future line of the Lake Washington Ship Canal Bridge. The photo was taken from the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railway right-of-way, now the Burke Gilman Recreation Trail. The Northlake Apartment/Hotel on the right survived and struggled into the 1960s. (Courtesy, Ron Edge)

THEN: The historical view looks directly south into the Latona addition’s business district on Sixth Ave. NE. from the Northern Pacific’s railroad bridge, now part of the Burke Gilman Recreation Trail. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)

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)

THEN: Sometime before her first move from this brewery courtyard in 1912, Lady Rainier was moved by a freeze to these sensational effects. She did not turn her fountain off. (Courtesy of Frank & Margaret Fickeisen)

THEN: The Big Snow of 1916 trims two jewelers’ clocks on the west side of Second Avenue, north of Marion Street. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)

THEN: The first house for Delta Gamma at N.E. 4730 University Way. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)





An early enough map of the AYP to be wrong in several locations, but not so bad that it cannot be learned from or embraced for its confident composition.
The UW campus and its AYP Beau Arts temporaries seen across Portage Bay looking north from the Capitol Hill side. University Way is on the far left.  CLICK TO ENLARGE

First published in Pacific on Feb. 11, 2001, taken by the blog as an opportunist as Historylinks Alan Stein flew away with camera to the San Juan Islands for some early ‘link promotional event, if memory serves. Alan?





Igorrets on their Pay Streak stage with several come-ons hanging above them.


Gas Works from Queen Anne Hill (click to enlarge)
The Pacific Magazine editor’s header for this “Stonehenge In Seattle” was chosen thru the by now ancient expectation that the paper’s reporters or free lance essayists should not be expected to know the special qualities expected of an effective  working title.


DEAR READER – We have more to share, which we will return with tomorrow late evening.   Now we are going to bed.  We may deserve it.


An AYP family captured on Stereo invites you to enlarge it and cross your eyes.  

4 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The ‘Empire Builder’s’ Bust”

  1. In Superior, Wisconsin, I believe we have a duplicate bust of JJ Hill. I have heard of a story that the Seattle bust and the Superior bust were to face each other across the mountains to symbolize the vision of the Empire Builder. Do you know anything of such a story. I can supply photos.

    1. Hi Thomas,
      Yes, indeed, we’d love to see photos of your duplicate bust – we hadn’t heard the story of the symbolic face-off!

  2. Hi Jean,
    The Seattle sculptor James A. Wehn modeled one of the bronze busts of James Hill after Frolich’s UW design in 1925. This was a commission Wehn received from the Great Northern Employee’s Club, to have it enlarged to 13 feet in size for display in Superior, MI.
    – Fred

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