Seattle Now & Then: Two Founders on Main Street

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Posing for a Post-Intelligencer photographer, Martin Johanson pauses from his daily chores of keeping the Millionair Club he founded fit and clean ca. 1925. (Courtesy, The Museum of History Industry, the Post-Intelligencer Collection.)
NOW: Holding a surviving copy of the original Real Change newspaper from 1995, its founder, Tim Harris poses on Main Street a few feet from the newspaper’s office.

While pursuing his “repeat” for this week’s feature, Jean Sherrard discovered what he described as a “coincidence of good works” on this pioneer corner.  Its location can be figured and so found twice in the older photo, which dates from the mid-1920s.  First, the address is scribbled on the wall, top-center, with chalk or perhaps whitewash.  It reads “98 Main St.”  The second clue is the rusticated block of granite that sits on the sidewalk, bottom-left.  It has been part of the footprint of the New England Hotel since 1890, when its frame hostelry was rebuilt with brick, concrete, and stone following the incineration of thirty-plus city blocks, including this one, during Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889.

The Pre-1889 Fire New England Hotel at the northwest corner of Commercial Street (First Ave. S.), first printed in the Pacific Mag. for May 11, 1986.   CLICK TO ENLARGE

In the featured “repeat” on top, the two men posing above the building’s sidewalk well are both smiling.  They are, first, Martin Johanson, holding the broom in the “then,” and about ninety-two years later the also friendly Tim Harris, who has unfolded the first issue of Real Change, the newspaper he founded. The paper’s web page describes itself as a “weekly progressive street newspaper written by a pro staff and sold by self-employed vendors, many of whom are homeless.  The paper provides them with an alternative to panhandling.”  When first printed as a monthly in 1994, Harris described it as published by the “Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project.” (We both strongly suspect that many PacificNW readers have patronized Real Change, and hope so.)

Martin Johanson, the man with the sweeper’s broom, was also a founder, and the Millionair Club that he first opened on this corner in 1921 continues to find work – and much else – for the unemployed who seek its services.  The Club has long since moved north into Belltown, and so up and away from the basement of the New England Hotel.  If you use the Club and/or support it with a donation

From The Seattle Times for March 4, 1923.
Clip from The Times for March 31, 1924.
From The Times for April 19, 1926.
From The Times for February 25, 1927.
The The Times fro April 24, 1928.

or, perhaps, a bid at one of its auctions, you are a member.  You can figure some of its services on the signage held above the well.  Reading from the top “Free Supper here each Sunday 6;00 p.m. This Place Open From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Daily, 8 a.m. to 7p.m. on Sunday.”  The Club’s basement also served as a performance space for speakers, readers, and performers.  Nearby at 112 Main Street the Club also ran a restaurant with a nutritious menu that was both cheap and/or free to those with tickets gained from working.  The Club’s first quarters were also fitted with beds.

By using the internet there are, as one might expect for two such well-known and respected services, many sources to learn more about the work of these zestful contributors to our local culture.  With both you would do well to begin with their own web-pages, for the Millionair Club and for the magazine or tabloid with what it describes as a “compact format.”  Real Change is admirably forthright with its statistics.  Its weekly circulation is about 16,000.  I know from experience, having edited hereabouts a weekly tabloid a half-century ago, that what is printed on the cover can make a surprising difference in how many copies are sold on the street.

Some good intentions from a Times clip published on November 12, 1967.


The post-fire New England Hotel’s turn during the Pioneer Square Historic District restoration. This Times clip from December 15, 1974.  CLICK TO ENLARGE.


Anything to add, lads?  Certainly Jean, starting first with another offering of Real Change  followed by a variety of past features pulled by Ron and I from our stock of scanned examples.  (And now Jean we will ALSO plead – please – once again – for some dear reader to help us in this.  We ask help in scanning the remaining weekly features. As you know well Jean we are disastrously non-profit and so must plead aka beg.  But we have all the clips from The Times  collected and in proper order, about 1800 of them since Seattle Now and Then started appearing in Pacific on a rainy mid-winter morning in 1982.  We have the scanner too to deliver for use with the clips.  One (or two) boxes will hold it all.  So please have a little mercy for your dutiful history hacks and help us complete this opera.   So far we have roughly 500 of the about 1800 features scanned.  Please help fulfill this blog with the growing sum of its abiding features.  The clips, scanner and grateful instructions are standing by.  


THEN: An Emergency Relief Administration wood pile took temporary quarters on the southeast corner of S. Alaska Street and 32nd Ave. S. in 1934. (Courtesy, Northwest Collection, University of Washington Libraries.)

tHEN: An unidentified brass band poses at the intersection of Commercial Street (First Ave S.) and Main Street during the 1883 celebration for the completion of the transcontinental Northern Pacific Railroad.

THEN: Part of the pond that here in 1946 filled much of the long block between Massachusetts and Holgate Streets and 8th Avenue S. and Airport Way. (Courtesy, Ron Edge)

THEN: St. Vincent de Paul’s first storefront opened in 1926 in Belltown’s grand clapboard hostelry at the corner of First and Battery. Originally the Bellevue Hotel, it’s reduced here to the “house keeping and transient rooms” of the Bay State Hotel. (MOHAI)

THEN: Frank Shaw’s pre-preservation visit to First Avenue South on February 26, 1961. He looks north from Main Street. (photo by Frank Shaw)

Then: The Pacific House, behind the line-up of white-gloved soldiers, might have survived well into the 20th Century were it not destroyed during Seattle’s Great Fire of 1889. Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry

THEN: The Lebanon aka Jesse George building at Occidental and Main opened with the Occidental Hotel in 1891. Subsequently the hotel’s name was changed first to the Touraine and then to the Tourist. The tower could be seen easily from the railroad stations. It kept the name Tourist until replaced in 1960 with a parking lot. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)


When compared to most city scenes relatively little has changed in his view west on Main Street from First Avenue South in the century-plus between them. (Historical photo courtesy of Lawton Gowey)

THEN: The Terry-Denny Building, better known in its earlier years as Hotel Northern, was part of the grand new Pioneer Place (or Square) neighborhood built up in the early 1890s after the old one was reduced to ashes by Seattle's Great Fire of 1889.

THEN: With the clue of the ornate Pergola on the right, we may readily figure that we are in Pioneer Square looking south across Yesler Way.

THEN: For the first twenty years of his more than 40 years selling tinware and other selected hardware, Zilba Mile's shop looked south across Yesler Way down First Ave. S, then known as Commercial Street.

THEN: Looking northwest from the 4th Avenue trestle towards the Great Northern Depot during its early 20th Century construction. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: 1934 was one of the worst years of the Great Depression. This look north on Third Avenue South through Main Street and the Second Avenue South Extension was recorded on Thursday, April 19th of that year. Business was generally dire, but especially here in this neighborhood south of Yesler Way where there were many storefront vacancies. (Courtesy Ron Edge)

THEN: Sitting on a small triangle at the odd northwest corner of Third Avenue and the Second Ave. S. Extension, the Fiesta Coffee Shop was photographed and captioned, along with all taxable structures in King County, by Works Progress Administration photographers during the lingering Great Depression of the late 1930s. (Courtesy, Washington State Archive’s Puget Sound Branch)

THEN: The new sub H-3 takes her inaugural baptism at the Seattle Construction and Dry Dock Company’s ways on Independence Day, 1913. (Courtesy, Ron Edge)

THEN: The Phoenix Hotel on Second Avenue, for the most part to the left of the darker power pole, and the Chin Gee Hee Building, behind it and facing Washington Street to the right, were both built quickly after Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. (Courtesy: Museum of History and Industry.)

THEN: Looking north-northeast from the corner of Main Street and Occidental Avenue two or three weeks after the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. (Courtesy the Museum of History and Industry – MOHAI)

THEN: The original for this scene of a temporary upheaval on Mill Street (Yesler Way) was one of many historical prints given to the Museum of History and Industry many years ago by the Charles Thorndike estate. Thorndike was one of Seattle’s history buffs extraordinaire. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry.)





















IVAR crowned ‘KING OF THE WATERFRONT” by his friend JIM FABER in 1984.
Jim Faber on his own in the Salmon House, 1987. Ivar passed two years earlier. Jim and I often met for lunch to plan the interior for the new Acres of Clams. Ivar started it and we “finished” it. Recently it was remodeled once more. Some of what Jim and I arranged for the 1985 remodel were used with the latest changes, which are quite splendid. In 1999 (or perhaps ’98) I returned to writing a biography of Ivar. It was inevitably titled  “Keep Clam.” But now the name has changed.  It is THE ILLUSTRATED IVAR. I’ll be ashamed if I don’t complete it by next summer – if I survive as a cogent octogenarian.. Paul D.


1967 – 1977 – 2017  The Golden Anniversary for the founding of HELIX

ODD FELLOWS Hall on Capitol Hill, site of many benefit concerts in the 1970s including a 10th anniversary celebration of the 1967 founding of HELIX, the weekly tabloid hinted about near the end of this week’s feature.

Odd Fellows Fountain

HELIX Originals above and below – 25th Anniversary at BLUE MOON TAVERN by Jeff Jaisun

The LAST ISSUE art mostly by Larry Heald one of the three Heald brothers who helped with Helix thru its three years .
The collective poster made for the 10th Anniversary dance in the Odd Fellows Ballroom on Capitol Hill. It was packed. We projected a light show of footage from past Rock-Jazz festivals, mostly from SKY RIVER ROCK FIRE – all three of them in 1968, 69 and 70.

10 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Two Founders on Main Street”

  1. Re: the two photos, supposedly taken at 98 Main Street. I wonder why, in the historic photo, circa 1925, the steps to the below-ground entry begin at the rusticated block of granite, but in the modern photo, the steps begin opposite that block of granite. And too, the men standing at the end of the building, in the historic photo, appear to be so close to the top of the steps, yet in the more modern photo, the end of the building extends far beyond the “new” top of the steps. Almost seems like two different buildings. Was this building covered in brick after 1925, as the current photo shows? Can you determine when the brick façade was installed, along with the complete change in the direction of the stairway? Many inconsistencies between these two photos that could have/should have been explained in the text. Thanks! Gene

    1. Hi Gene,
      It seems from the tone of your comment, (“supposedly”? Really?) that your credulity is strained by the changes in architecture. We can’t help that, aside to assert that both photos WERE taken at 98 Main Street, and that the building IS the same in both photos. Sadly, as much as we would like to, neither Paul nor I can spend more than our combined 10+ hours of so per week to answer your questions about those changes. Not to put too fine a point on it, but The Times pays significantly less than minimum wage for our piece work. Nothing would please us more than spending 40 hours a week pouring through decaying city records and old newspapers in hopes of answering the questions you pose. But how would we then live? IF you are a wealthy and curious rich guy, please consider funding what the Times will not. Or you might volunteer to find those answers yourself (and good luck with that as many of the sources you might investigate will prove to be dead ends). Think of it as a puzzle to be solved, or not – we’re happy to provide the comparisons and the history, but you’ll have to look elsewhere for the precise architectural answers.

      1. Alas, I am just a poor schmuck who tends to be skeptical about things and ask a lot of questions that I’m not prepared to answer. But I will certainly admit that I have enjoyed your feature in the Seattle Times for years and appreciate the effort that you two put into providing it to us laymen. I guess my questions will just have to die with me. Many thanks for taking the time to respond. Gene

  2. I fear that “poor schmuck” is a category that many of us have come to inhabit living in New Seattle. Seriously, though, your earlier questions plagued us both, and examination of the brickwork in the former stairwell mystified us as well. And they may well be solvable, but not with our time limits. In the next few weeks, however, Ron Edge, a partner in the work of Seattle Now & Then will reveal his work on solving the long-time mystery of the location of “Princess Angeline’s” shack below today’s Pike Place market. It’s really quite a striking piece of detective work and we look forward to sharing it.

    1. Many thanks, Jean, for your kind reply. I always enjoy the articles you and Paul provide us, and the photos in this article just seemed to cry out for more clarification. Gene

  3. Thank you so much for writing about my grandfather “Pop” Johanson. I have very fond memories of him and the Millionair Club. Nice to see his face! I have copies of that pic!

  4. I can see the bricks in the “then” photo. I can’t tell if there is a thin veneer of plaster (or whatever) over them, but my guess is the morter was originally flush with the brick. Later on, when cleaned by sandblasting, the brick would have become more pronounced.

    If I were to wager an armchair guess on the stairs, I’d guess that at one point two treacherously steep stairs were replaced by only one, at a more restrained grade.

    I love the IOOF images! Here is a “now” (well, 2012) of one of them:

    I wish I had time to help you scan everything, but perhaps I can take a few, in the spirit of “some progress is better than none”.

  5. While doing family tree research for my nephew, I found in the City Directories that his great-great grandfather was a bartender for James Weir in 1907 — I assume at his New England Hotel. Also in 1905 for an establishment called Weir & McInnes at 200 2nd Avenue South (same James Weir?). So thrilled to find all your articles and images including the Hotel! Thank you!! — Shaun

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