Theodore Peiser, one of pioneer Seattle’s most gifted photographers, is recorded as arriving here in “the early 1880s.” The various accounts run from 1880 to 1883. Part of the problem of tracking his arrival is that much of his earliest work was destroyed in the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. But not this print. For this 1882 recording, Peiser has pressed his back against the front wall of Seattle’s first bank, the Dexter Horton at the northwest corner of Commercial (First Avenue South) and Washington Streets.
On the back of the photo, the names of the five suited men are listed, four within the counter and one without. Not surprisingly, the formally attired two on the left were members of Seattle’s advantaged ‘One-Percent.’ Norval Latimer, far left, ultimately became the director of the bank. Arthur Denny, often referred to as “the city’s founder,” stands at the center, his graying hair contrasting with the dark interior of the bank’s vault, seen through its steel-framed open door. Denny’s position as vice-president lent the bank some status and no doubt allowed him to stay busy managing the sale of the hundreds of parcels or lots carved from his and his wife Mary’s 1852 donation claim, which included most of what is now the city’s Central Business District.
To the right of the attentive Arthur is his dark-haired son Rolland, who was the bank’s teller. He was a mere baby when his parents and their entourage of settlers, the Denny Party, first landed at Alki Point in 1851. Behind Rolland is B. J. Biggs, the bank’s clerk. Busy with Biggs, and facing him from this side of the bank’s impressive counter is Captain Norman Penfield. Although posed here as a customer, Penfield was a partner with Arthur Denny and Dexter Horton in the Seattle Gas Light Company, and served as its builder and superintendent. In the “now” photo, King County Archives Reference Specialist Greg Lange sits at the Sovereign bar comfortably close to Penfield’s position at the bank’s counter.
Archivist Lange is a popular lecturer on how to do house history. He is also an expert on Pioneer Square history. While in the featured photo he sits at the bar facing bartender Nat Mooter, Lange explained that following the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889, Commercial Street was both lifted – about eight-feet at this corner – and widened from sixty-six feet to eighty-four. Therefore, Lange is sitting at a basement elevation that is about the same as the street’s pre-fire elevation, while because of the street’s widening, his chair should be more properly moved east, somewhere under the sidewalk.
Anything to add, kids? Have we failed you yet Jean? Or the readers – our readers Jean?