Seattle Now & Then: Lake Union from Denny Hill, early 1890s

A note to readers: just a reminder that our new book, Seattle Now & Then: The Historic Hundred, is available for pre-order now. Just click here, or tap the pre-order button on the right! Now back to our scheduled program…

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: The prolific Seattle pioneer photographer Frank LaRoche recorded this panorama of Lake Union from near the summit of Denny Hill in the early 1890s. LaRoche looks north across Fourth Avenue mid-block between Stewart and Virginia Streets. (Courtesy: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections)
NOW: The south summit of Denny Hill, which was less than a block behind LaRoche’s prospect in the “then” photograph, was lowered by nearly 100 feet during the Denny Regrade of the early twentieth century.

The first photograph of Lake Union recorded from Denny Hill was one of the many shots the famous itinerant Californian photographer Carlton Watkins made during his visit to Puget Sound in 1882. In spite of building an elevated platform on top of the hill to help him see and shoot the lake, only a glimpse of it is seen through a forest both selectively cut for the best lumber but also ravaged by a wind storm that flattened many of the trees on Denny Hill in 1879.

The better known Watkins pan from his 1882 visit was recorded from Beacon Hill.

This Sunday’s feature (at the top) , was photographed in the early 1890s, looks north from Denny Hill to a Lake Union landscape dappled by a mix of virgin timber and pioneer construction. The Western Lumber Mill, the lake’s largest development, can be seen smoking at the south end of the lake. Built in the early 1880s, the mill escaped Seattle’s Great Fire of 1889 and overnight became the city’s principal supplier of the lumber that rebuilt what was already the largest town in Washington Territory.

In his caption on top at lower-left, photographer Frank LaRoche includes the name of his intended subject where he positioned his camera, and the address of his studio. With the help of other photographs, maps, and directories, it is possible to determine within a shout where LaRoche set up.  The best clue to LaRoche’s location is the Gothic one, right-of-center: the Norwegian Danish Baptist Church

Looking east on Virginia from near 5th Avenue, before the regrade. The Gothic Norwegian Baptist sanctuary at the northeast corner of Virginia Street and Sixth Avenue is on the left.

at the northeast corner of Virginia Street and 6th Ave.  The city’s Sanborn Real Estate Map for 1893 gives footprints for the city’s structures, including the church and the homes to this side of the Baptists.  From these footprints we may deduce that LaRoche was overlooking Fourth Avenue to the east.  While behind him, gleaned from other sources, early construction proceeds on the 400-room grand Victorian hotel, The Denny named for the city’s principle pioneer founder Arthur Denny.

On the evidence of another photograph, taken about 1904 by Asahel Curtis from nearly the same spot, but higher, possibly from a ledge or window in the Denny Hotel looking east over Fourth Avenue, the considerably more developed neighborhood sits in a late afternoon shadow cast by the hotel.  In three years the hotel

On the right the Westlake Ave. regrade looking north from Pike St. and 4th Avenue, 1906. Fourth Avenue, on the left, still climbs Denny Hill.  Some of the structures up the hill can also be found in the A.Curtis photo above this one.   Taken from the Denny Hotel  it shows its shadow.

would be razed, along with much of Denny Hill.  By the result of another regrade that straightened Westlake Avenue between the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Pike Street as far as Denny Way in 1906-7, the Baptist’s tidy sanctuary, threatened by public works pruning, was sold to George J. Hodge, a developer who razed the Gothic landmark. Hodge paid the congregation more than $7,000 for their exposed corner.  Some of the largesse was used to build a new sanctuary near Denny Way and Yale Avenue, which I remember from the 1960s, in its last incarnation, as the BFD a pop music palace that sometimes featured psychedelic rock and roll.

The home of the Baptist Norwegian Danish Church with its red roof and white walls shows below and to the left of the panorama’s center. The photo was most likely taken by Robert Bradley from Capitol Hill.   Denny Way is lower-right. 



Anything to add, lads?  Because you asked.

THEN: The home at bottom right looks across Madison Street (out of frame) to Central School. The cleared intersection of Spring Street and Seventh Avenue shows on the right.

THEN: We give this panorama from the roof of the Washington Athletic Club a circa date of 1961, the year that Horizon House, a First Hill retirement community, first opened its doors to residents at Ninth Avenue and University Street. The high-rise L-shaped Horizon stands top-center. (Lawton Gowey)

THEN: William O. McKay opened show rooms on Westlake in July of 1923. After fifty-seven years of selling Fords, the dealership turned to the cheaper and more efficient Subaru. Now reconstructed, the old Ford showroom awaits a new tenant.

THEN: A.J. McDonald’s panorama of Lake Union and its surrounds dates from the early 1890s. It was taken from First Hill, looking north from near the intersection of Terry Avenue and Union Street. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: The scene looks north through a skyline of steeples toward the Cascade neighborhood and Lake Union, ca. 1923.

THEN: This Webster and Stevens studio photo dates from either late 1917 or early 1918. The grand Frederick and Nelson Department store, rising above Fifth Avenue, has not yet reached its sumptuous Sept. 3. 1918 opening. In the foreground, the much smaller but also elegant flatiron building, bordered by Pine Street, in the foreground, and Westlake and Fifth Avenues to the sides, was razed and replaced also in 1918 by a three story retail block on the same flatiron footprint. (Courtesy, the Museum of History & Industry)

THEN: The five buildings shown here on the west side of Third Avenue south of Virginia Street have endured with few changes since the ‘then’ photo was snapped in 1936. The exception is the smallest, far-right, the Virginian Tavern now stripped for an open garage at Third’s southwest corner with Virginia Street. The six-story Hardon Hall Apartments, at the center of the five, was renovated in 2006 for low-income housing by the Plymouth Housing Group.

THEN: Before this the first shovel of the last of Denny Hill was ceremonially dropped to the conveyor belt at Battery Street, an “initial bite of 30,000 cubic yards of material” was carved from the cliff along the east side of 5th Avenue to make room for both the steam shovel and several moveable belts that extended like fingers across the hill. It was here that they met the elevated and fixed last leg of the conveyor system that ran west on Battery Street to the waterfront. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive)

THEN: Werner Lenggenhager's recording of the old St. Vinnie's on Lake Union's southwest shore in the 1950s should remind a few readers of the joys that once were theirs while searching and picking in that exceedingly irregular place.

Then: Photographed from an upper story of the Ford Factory at Fairview Avenue and Valley Street, the evidence of Seattle's explosive boom years can be seen on every shore of Lake Union, ca. 1920. Courtesy of MOHAI

THEN: Pioneer Arthur Denny's son, Orion, took this photo of popularly named Lake Union John and his second wife, Madeline, sometime before the latter's death in 1906.


THEN: Looking west down Ewing Street (North 34th) in 1907 with the nearly new trolley tracks on the left and a drainage ditch on the right to protect both the tracks and the still barely graded street from flooding. (Courtesy, Michael Maslan)

THEN: Long-time Wallingford resident Victor Lygdman looks south through the work-in-progress on the Lake Washington Ship Canal Bridge during the summer of 1959. Bottom-right are the remnants of the Latona business and industrial district, including the Wayland Mill and the Northlake Apartments, replaced now with Ivar’s Salmon House and its parking. (Photo by Victor Lygdman)

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: Looking east on Pike Street from Fifth Avenue early in the twentieth century. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: Built in 1888-89 at the northeast corner of Fourth Avenue and Pine Street, the then named Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church marked the southeast corner of Denny Hill. Eventually the lower land to the east of the church (here behind it) would be filled, in part, with hill dirt scraped and eroded from North Seattle lots to the north and west of this corner. (Courtesy, Denny Park Lutheran Church)

THEN: William O. McKay opened show rooms on Westlake in July of 1923. After fifty-seven years of selling Fords, the dealership turned to the cheaper and more efficient Subaru. Now reconstructed, the old Ford showroom awaits a new tenant.

THEN: With her or his back to the Medical-Dental Building an unidentified photographer took this look northeast through the intersection of 6th and Olive Way about five years after the Olive Way Garage first opened in 1925. (Courtesy, Mark Ambler)

THEN: The 1906-07 Gas Works at the north end of Lake Union went idle in 1956 when natural gas first reached Seattle by pipeline. In this photo, taken about fifteen years later, the Wallingford Peninsula is still home to the plant’s abandoned and “hanging gardens of metal.” (Courtesy: Rich Haag)

THEN: Looking west (not east) on Battery Street from Seventh Avenue, approaching the end of the last of Denny Hill’s six regrade reductions. The dirt was carried to Elliott Bay on conveyor belts like the two shown here. (courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives)

THEN 1: Recorded on April 14, 1928, about sixth months before the Denny Hill Regrade No. 2 began, the last of the scarred Denny Hill rises to the right of Fifth Avenue. Denny School (1884) tops the hill at the northeast corner of Battery Street and Fifth Avenue. On the horizon, at center, Queen Anne Hill is topped by its namesake high school, and on the right of the panorama, the distant Wallingford neighborhood rises from the north shore of Lake Union. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archives)

2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Lake Union from Denny Hill, early 1890s”

  1. We finally have an exact address on the old BFD #1. It was at 1905 Stewart St (Denny Way between Yale and Minor Avenues.) After it was the Norwegian Danish Baptist Church it became the Stewart St Baptist Church for about 70 years and then the BFD in Dec of 1965. Short-lived, it was closed by Dec of 1966 and torn down by 1969.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.