Seattle Now & Then: A Pioneer Place Welcome, 1908

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: The prospect looks east on Yesler Way through its intersection with First Avenue. James Street enters the five-star corner left-of-center.
NOW: The post-1889 Great Fire Pioneer Building, far left, still holds to its landmark northeast corner of First Avenue and James Street. At least five of the brick landmarks showing in the 1908 photo are still in their place in 2018.

Jean and I first used this Pioneer Square classic years ago on the back cover of our now long out-of-print book, Washington State Then and Now (2007).  We described the crowded scene as a celebration connected with Seattle’s summer-long 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYP).  It seemed like a reasonable claim at the time, but it was wrong.  We missed both the subject’s evidence and lack of it.  There are no AYP signs or flags anywhere to be found.  But there is lots of patriotic bunting, especially American flags.

Fleet Week 1908 looking south on First Avenue from Madison Street.

The best clue for identifying the occasion is spelled out in the line of pennants hanging near the top, showing the last five letters for “WELCOME.” The location is Pioneer Square, when it was still more popularly called Pioneer Place, during the four-day visit of Pres. Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet.  Leaving the east coast in December 1907, it required fourteen months to circumnavigate the world with its military parade. Most likely the scene was photographed on May 26, 1908, following the completion of the Grand Parade for the welcomed visitors,  It started that morning, but in the photo the pedestrian celebrants cast afternoon shadows.

Fleet Week bunting adorning the Frederick Nelson Department Store, which was then at the northwest corner of Madison Street and Second Avenue. (Courtesy, Michael Maslan)

The popularity of what Seattle called its “Fleet Week” was both overflowing and depleting. Crowd counters estimated that 400,000 watched the parade.  Downtown businesses were more than willing to decorate their facades with flags and patriotic festoons; many of the decorations were stunning. Five days before the parade The Seattle Times announced “Seattle Has A Bunting Famine.  Merchants were unable to supply another yard of acceptable decorating material to patriotic customers (and) Tacoma and Portland were unable to help.”

Another business block on the parade route, the Haller Building at the norhwest corner of Columbia and Second Avenue. (Courtesy, Michael Maslan)

Most of the fleet’s admirers came from Puget Sound, and extra Mosquito Fleet steamers and passenger trains were enlisted to bring the eager hordes to witness “the largest sea-fighting machines in the world.”  The trains were often stuffed beyond standing room, and many seekers from distant communities were left standing on depot platforms.  Visitors who managed to reach Seattle often had to camp in the parks.  The temporary tent, showing left-of-center in the photograph, tries to help.  Its sign reads: “Free Information Bureau, Strangers Directed to Furnished Rooms.”

On Monday, May 25, The Times headlined “Thousands Visit Ships … With every detail outlined by the bright sunshine which followed the dreary rain of yesterday, the eleven huge, white fighting machines now at anchor in the harbor lay in stately majesty in a wide crescent that stretched from Smith’s Cove to the south end of the harbor.” Earlier, when the fleet headed north from their California visits, they inspired thousands of Oregon citizens to sortie to their coast expecting to see the dozen dreadnaughts steam by.  However as brilliant as the big ships could be reflecting the fleet’s “peacetime color, white,” the Oregonians saw nothing of the distant White Fleet, except its smoke darkening the horizon.

Another lavish bunting hirty-five years earlie. The Arlington Hotel at the southeast corner of Main Street and Commercial Street (First Ave. S.) celebrates the 1883 visit to Seattle of the Northern Pacific (NPRR) entourage following rr-magnate  Henry Villard cross-country with the completion of the NP to Tacoma, which while a point of profound disappointment for Seattle was transcended by the end of the 1890s when the NP began giving full service to Seattle.

We’ve attached a direct closing here for the Fleet Week feature above with another below, a scene on Second Avenue , or beside it showing some of the crowd that paid for their bleachers seats here at the southwest corner of Second Avenue and Virginia Street.  (The prospect looks to the northwest.)  This added feature includes an array of Fleet Week images including photos of the fleet itself both on the way and in the bay.

THEN: About a year after he recorded this fashionable throng on Second Avenue celebrating the visit of President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet in the spring of 1908, Frank Nowell became the official photographer for Seattle’s six-month-long Alaska Yukon and Pacific Exhibition in 1909.


Just for fun, on this lovely near-Spring day, let’s jump across town for a few cherry blossoms, seen from on high with my 21-foot pole. ‘Tis the season for Asian wedding photos – there were five or six sessions going on with tuxedoed grooms and blushing brides through the cherry trees! Enjoy! (A version of one of these shots will appear in a future column):

Anything to add, lads?  Fall to the Bottom for Seasonal Salubrious advice Jean.

THEN: Seen here in 1887 through the intersection of Second Avenue and Yesler Way, the Occidental Hotel was then easily the most distinguished in Seattle. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)

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: 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)

THEN: Local candy-maker A.W. Piper was celebrated here for his crème cakes and wedding cakes and also his cartoons. This sketch is of the 1882 lynching from the Maple trees beside Henry and Sara Yesler’s home on James Street. Piper’s bakery was nearby (Courtesy, Ron Edge)

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.)

THEN: A half-century after they reached the top of First Hill, electric streets cars and cable cars prepare to leave it. (Courtesy, The Museum of History and Industry)

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




First appeared in Pacific, March 16, 2003













PULLED forward for the coming season from the Times of June 20, 1904.  THIS WILL COST YOU NOTHING. 

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