Seattle Now & Then: Occidental Avenue, ca 1920

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: From mid-block between Washington Street and Yesler Way, looking north on Occidental Avenue to the south façade of the Seattle Hotel. Courtesy, The Museum of History and Industry
NOW: Jean Sherrard and I have embraced this opportunity to also feature Parisian photographer Berangere Lomont in the contemporary repeat. I have known “BB” since the 1970s when she first visited Seattle. Jean used Berangere’s contributions both inside and on the back cover or our new book, Seattle Now and Then, The Historic Hundred. Many thanks to and for BB.

There’s some arterial tension in this “then.”  Is the open and yet covered pick-up van on Occidental Avenue pausing with a full stop or advancing toward Yesler Way?  Is the driver trying to encourage the clutter of pedestrians to “move it” onto the Seattle Tacoma Interurban cars parked at their Seattle terminus?

LOOKING south thru the same block on Occidental between Yesler Way (behind the photographer) and Washington Street.

This is nearly the center of Seattle’s skid road district.  It was a manly neighborhood and here in the fetured photo at the top it seems that it is all men who are boarding the parked common carriers about to head for Tacoma or some suburban stop on the way.

A Skid Road labor protest on Octobert 6, 1930. The view looks northwest thru the intersection of Wasington Streete and Occidental Avenue.
Later – “Sixty’s” demo in Occidental Park.

Skid Road was originally named for the greased logs that were laid to shoot timber off First Hill to Seattle’s waterfront mills. There survives remarkably – or distressingly – little pioneer evidence on where Seattle’s first skid road was constructed.  A convivial scholars’ debate endures between those choosing Washington Street and the more popular Mill Street, aka Yesler Way.  Whichever, the sliding log delivery most likely came close to crossing over this part of Occidental, a popular name for European immigrants who immigrated west to America from somewhere between Moscow and

Hand-colored and in repose, here’s an early catch of Occidental – from the late 70s or so – looking north from near King Street.

Galway. Originating at Yesler Way, Occidental Street ran south into the then not yet reclaimed tidelands beyond King Street. By the time this busy street scene was shot, the neighborhood was long free of its slippery salmon oil and log deliveries.  (Again, we confess to not knowing the date for the featured snapshot from the circa 1920s,)

Members of the Communist Party demonstrate for a Six-Hour Day. The view looks northwest from Occidental.

Many Asian merchants serviced the Skid Road district.  Seattle’s first Chinatown was just around the corner, east on Washington Street.  There were loan shops, barbers, oyster bars, and plenty of bar-bars where a free lunch might come with whatever drink one ordered – usually beer – and many of them.  Here professional bar bands competed for audio space and “keep the faith” souls with parading ensembles of Salvation Army brass players and drummers.  Adding to the percussion, the corner to the left rear (southwest) of the photographer was Seattle’s “Hyde Park” platform for protest, polemics and the occasional police riot.

Besides the Interurban cars, this cityscape is limited to two pioneer landmarks. The one that obviously survived on the right side of Jean Sherrard’s repeat, is the Interurban Building, the 1892 creation of the English-born architect John Parkinson who arrived fortuitously in Seattle six months before its Great Fire of June 6, 1889.  This red brick and sandstone Romanesque landmark was built for the Seattle National Bank, but after the Interurban’s completion from Tacoma to Seattle in 1901-02 it became the ticket office and waiting room for the Puget Sound Interurban Railway.

The Seattle Hotel facing south on Occidental from the north side of Yesler Way on February 7, 1961, recorded by Lawton Gowey. (Whom we hope to ever remember and thank.) 
Gowey returns on February 20, 1967.

The wide façade facing south to Occidental Ave. from across Yesler Way is, of course, the still-mourned Seattle Hotel.  Like Parkinson’s bank it too was built soon after the city’s great fire of 1889. Seventy years later it was lost to the modern urges that preluded the Seattle Century 21 World’s Fair.  By comparison the strikingly puny “Sinking Ship Garage”, that replaced, it survives.

Lawton returns again on November 14, 1972,


Anything to add, mes amis?   Weee

















Previous features of interest:

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: 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:  In Lawton Gowey’s 1961 pairing, the Smith Tower (1914) was the tallest building in Seattle, and the Pioneer Square landmark Seattle Hotel (1890) had lost most of its top floor.  (by Lawton Gowey)


THEN: In the older scene daring steel workers pose atop construction towers during the 1910 building of the Union Depot that faces Jackson Street.

THEN: At Warshal's Workingman's Store a railroad conductor, for instance, could buy his uniform, get a loan, and/or hock his watch. Neighbors in 1946 included the Apollo Cafe, the Double Header Beer Parlor, and the Circle Theatre, all on Second Avenue.

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: 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: 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: This view looking east from First Avenue South on Jackson Street in 1904, is still four years short of the Jackson Street Regrade during which the distant horizon line near 9th Avenue was lowered by more than 70 feet. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)

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.)


2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Occidental Avenue, ca 1920”

  1. Dear Sir(s), I am researching a sequel novel in which the protagonist arrives in Seattle in 1870. As presumptuous as this is, I would very much like to chat specifically about hotels/lodging options at that time. I am also contacting the folks at Wing Luke for assistance along these lines as well. My name is Randolph Harrison, email is 425-392-9885. Thank you.

  2. I think the open sided truck in the “then” photo is either a depot hack or cargo truck, possibly ready to load on the interurban car, (or has already unloaded).

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