Seattle Now & Then: From School To Museum

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Six youths stand in the doorway of Colman School, at 1515 24th Ave. S., about 60 years ago. (Photo courtesy Seattle Public Schools Archives)
NOW: A cadre from Northwest African American Museum, now at 2300 S. Massachusetts. St., poses on the grand lawn seeded where streets once crossed: (from left) Peggy Allen Jackson, director of development; Olivia Littles, grant writer; Nekya Young, development assistant intern; Anis Robinson, program assistant; Freda Burns, volunteer; Janet Baker, finance manager; Matt Rivera, development assistant intern, and LaNesha DeBardelaben, executive director since January.

I have lost the adolescent expertise in the names and models of Detroit-born post-war cars. Our “then” displays a Jacobean-style brick, terra-cotta tile and concrete beauty rising above five somewhat gaudy motorcars, most of them “bodies by Fisher,” the latest of which I am told is a 1958 Plymouth, parked near the now-vanished intersection of Atlantic Street and 24th Avenue South.

Not ;the parked Plymouth in the “then” but a 1960 Plymouth for sale in 1959 at the Savidge Dodge-Plymouth dealership. (Courtesy Dan Eskenazi)

This is – or rather was – the Charles Colman School. (Last year we featured a Marion Street scene showing another family namesake, the Colman Building (below), soon after its completion in 1905.)

This is one of the surviving schools designed and built by James Stephen, the official and prolific architect for Seattle Public Schools in the early 20th century. The Canadian arrived in Seattle at its most opportunistic time for an architect-builder, after the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889, had destroyed more than 30 city blocks.

The Colman family home on the southeast corner of Fourth Avenue and Columbia Street after the yards have been given to commerce.
Looking north on Fourth with the Colman home on the right at the southeast corner with Columbia Street.

Authorized in 1909, the 17-room, three-story Colman Primary School opened in 1910. There were, on average, 500 pupils and 15 teachers. The second principal, Miss Anna B. Kane, served from 1912 to 1940. Enrollment swelled during World War II when the feds built a large housing project nearby. With peace, enrollment dropped. Still, in the late 1940s the city bought the entire block for the school. Eventually, Atlantic and 24th were vacated to extend the school’s lawn.

Architect James Stephen’s Queen Anne High School as seen looking east from the hill’s standpipe.

Like Queen Anne High School, another Stephen creation, Colman is a fine example of how Seattle can recycle its landmarks largely intact. Though its primary program ended in 1979 and an alternative school there closed in 1985, the building survived a long-planned but scuttled north-south freeway, the ravages of a fire and next-door construction of the Mount Baker lid and tunnel for Interstate 90. This year, inside Colman, the Northwest African American Museum – with its upper floors’ 36 lower-income apartments – is experiencing a 10th anniversary.

Clearly the boys of at least part of the Class of 1938 are more dapper than the girls and so take the front row on the school’s steps to arrange their sartorial splendor on a display case ordinarily taken by the coeds.
Twenty-one years later the class of 1959 fill the school’s front steps.

This means, and many of us remember it, that the powers that be took a long time to support conversion of the abandoned school to a cultural center for groups that best represent the diverse community reaching from Beacon Hill to Lake Washington. This is where Seattle best shows its “unity in diversity.”

The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (till 7 p.m. Thursdays). While visiting and celebrating its birthday, you also may wish to give attention to the Jacobean brick.

The Afro-Americans float parading at Second Avenue and Marion Street for the 1911 Golden Potlatch Celebration. (Courtesy Michael Maslan)
First printed in The Seattle Times fro October, 21, 1984.


I’ve added in a lovely shot taken on the schoolhouse steps:

This photo was taken within a couple years of the “Then” photo above. It shows 56 students facing the future in June 1956.

Anything to add, fellahs?  Surely Jean.  First a hide-and-seek quiz.  Can you find the Colman School on the first photo below?  (More than a clue: it is on the far right horizon about a quarter of the way in from the right border. )

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.)

Holy Names THEN

THEN: The Volunteer Park water tower was completed in 1907 on Capitol Hill’s highest point in aid the water pressure of its service to the often grand homes of its many nearly new neighbors. The jogging corner of E. Prospect Street and 15th Avenue E. is near the bottom of the Oakes postcard. (Historical Photo courtesy Mike Fairley)

THEN: A circa 1923 view looks south on Eighth Avenue over Pike Street, at bottom left.


THEN: Looking across Capitol Hill’s Broadway Avenue during its 1931adjustments. (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archive)


THEN: Looking east on University Street towards Ninth Avenue, ca. 1925, with the Normandie Apartments on the left.

Walter Ross Baumes Willcox, the architect who planned this 1911 Arboretum aqueduct, went on to design another city landmark mades of reinforced concrete and ornamental bricks: the 1913 Queen Anne Boulevard retaining wall. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)

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: 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: A speeding coupe convertible heads north on Beacon Hill’s 15th Ave. S. in 1937.


THEN: Faced, in part, with brick veneer and stucco, and opened in 191l, the Comet Apartments at 170 11th Avenue have made it nicely through their first century. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)

THEN: We have by three years or four missed the centenary for this distinguished brick pile, the Littlefield Apartments on Capitol Hill. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN: Unemployed men search for anything useful in land being reclaimed with city garbage used for fill on the tideflats. The date is March 6, 1937. The scene looks northwest from what was once near 7th Ave. S. and Forest Street, but is now inside the operations facilities for the Light Rail Division of Sound Transit. The Sears Department Store, now home of Starbucks Coffee Co., appears in the upper-left corner. Courtesy: The Post-Intelligencer Collection at the Museum of History and Industry.

THEN: Hugh Paradise neither named nor dated his photograph looking down from a basalt cliff onto the Yakima River. (Courtesy, Byron Coney)


While walking the streets and sidewalks of Central Wallingford a few year back I found and recorded many natural maps of Africa including the one here, which I have surrounded with other gifts of the neighborhood.


Finally for now I recalled that Jean had shared sometime ago a few snapshots of his adventurous late teens. Here’s our partner in this Seattle repeating posing with a Dinka police officer in South Sudan in 1976.  Jean is 19, he claims, and wearing his Bumbershoot Festival T-Shirt. About a quarter-century later he would join Cathy Wadley and me in producing the BumberChronicles, an hour-long history of the arts festival. (I think you can find it on Youtube.) Jean stands somewhere between 6-5 and 6-6 and so perhaps his  statuesque Dinka poser might reach 6’7″.













5 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: From School To Museum”

  1. Cool photo of the Atlantic Street car dealership! Thanks to the photographer who shared it. Grandchildren of its owner, Sam Savidge, still live in Seattle.

  2. I always enjoy all your quality photos, research, and entertaining commentary from other NW history buffs! Thank you for also making your historical columns available. That’s lots of good history to share. I often see modern guidebooks with sloppy “research” and misreporting of the facts. It’s good to have the information recorded correctly by conscientious researchers and old-timers who lived in the era of posted photos. I’ve been a devoted fan for decades!

  3. Love the background on the namesake of Colman School. As for the Web Extra hide-and-seek quiz, I don’t think that’s Colman, but rather Hawthorne Elementary just north of Genesee Street. Colman would be quite a bit farther north in the valley than this photo of the WPA woodpile. JMHO.

  4. The alternative school was in that building from 1980 to 1985 did not close, but was forced to move in 1985 because Seattle wanted to demolish it. I’m so glad the community managed to save it.

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