Seattle Now & Then: Thor at Victory Plaza, 1959

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: When University Street was first cut through the original University of Washington Campus in 1907-8 it was graded wider between Fourth and Fifth Avenues with the intention of giving that block greater potential as a public place. This it received especially well during World War Two when the street’s plaza temporarily became Victory Square. (Courtesy, the Museum of History and Industry.)
NOW: The elegant brick and tile faces of the several Metropolitan landmarks that once covered the four corners of Fourth Avenue and University Street have been modernized by half in the half-century plus since the Webster and Stevens Studio “then” was recorded in 1959. Jean Sherrard, this feature’s “repeater,” is especially pleased with how the construction crane on the right in his “then” may remind one of the surviving skyscraper that resembles a golf-T but is here out-of-frame.

PERHAPS the same exhibit Thor but not the same place. Does anyone recognize the location of this Alamy Stock photo – from the Fifties?
Another mysterious Thor visit. Surely some encyclopedia reader will know this ?capitol? building.

On September 24, 1959, City Hall’s busy Board of Public Works easily approved a temporary display of Thor, the Air Force’s Intermediate Range Ballistic missile named for a Nordic deity with a not always righteous reputation and a rather ignitable temper.   The faithful to scale public relations copy of the Air Force’s Intermediate Range Ballistic missile was lifted above University Plaza, still one of the central business district’s rare public places.

About two stories of stairs led a line of curious visitors up one side of the shiny Thor to an open door and on to a platform that eight feet later reached another open door leading to the stairway designated “down.”  It was a command that some of the visitors were no doubt pleased to obey,   And yet while walking that plank the explorers were, of course, safe, and kept free of the BM’s liquid fuel (aka gas), stabilizing gyros, and “pay package” of merely one nuclear bomb.

A Seattle Times clip from August 31, 1957.

By the fall of 1959 Thor had been running through nearly three years of flight tests that included several crashes.  Meanwhile both the Navy and Army were working with their own Cold War responses to Russia’s surprising success two years earlier with the three weeks of world circling by Sputnik, a shining metal sphere with antennas.  I recall the “Sputnik Surprise” of October 1957 very well and I suspect that many readers will also remember that the satellite that began the space age was about the diameter of the two basketballs that were famously dribbled side-by-side by one member of the Globe Trotters.

Boeing’s briefd embrace of an Atomic Plane. Seattle Times clip from March 13, 1952

More than for its citizens, the Seattle appearance of Thor was engineered for the about one thousand delegates to the 14th Annual Convention of the National Defense Transportation Association, a happy group of munitions dealers and military brass that represented well what former President – and general – Dwight D. Eisenhower named “the military industrial complex.”  Unfortunately the primary show-time for Thor before the three-day convention was foiled by a forgetful air force sergeant who had the keys to the missile’s two doors, but was off-duty.  Besides the disappointed military brass, among those invited to walk the eight foot plank thru the full width of the Missile that special day was Donald Douglas, of Douglas Aircraft, the builder of the Thor.

A Times clip on Victory Square “reopening”, April 16,1944.
A late mention of Victory Square pulled from a post-war Times published on April 16, 1944.


Anything to add, compatriots!  Welcome home to Green Lake Jean following your applauded performance on the morning KING TV show.











Victory Square during WW2, looking east from Fourth Avenue.


THEN: The Metropolitan Tract's Hippodrome was nearly new when it hosted the A.F. of L. annual convention in 1913.

THEN: Plymouth Congregational Church barely reached maturity – twenty-one years – when it was torn down in 1913 for construction of the equally grand but less prayerful Pantages Theatre, also at the northeast corner of Third Avenue and University Street. (Museum of History & Industry)

THEN: Looking north from Seneca Street on Third Avenue during its regrade in 1906.  (Photo by Lewis Whittelsey, Courtesy of Lawton Gowey)

THEN: Built in 1909-10 on one of First Hill’s steepest slopes, the dark brick Normandie Apartments' three wings, when seen from the sky, resemble a bird in flight. (Lawton Gowey)


THEN: The “then” photo looks southeast across Union Street to the old territorial university campus.  It was recorded in the Fall of 1907, briefly before the old park-like campus was transformed into a grand commercial property, whose rents still support the running of the University of Washington.  (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: This rare early record of the Fourth and Pike intersection was first found by Robert McDonald, both a state senator and history buff with a special interest in historical photography. He then donated this photograph - with the rest of his collection - to the Museum of History and Industry, whom we thank for its use.  (Courtesy MOHAI)

THEN: Looking west on Pike Street from Fourth Avenue, the variety in the first block of this retail district includes the Rhodes Bros. Ten Cent Store, Mendenhall’s Kodaks, Fountain Pens and Photo Supplies, Remick’s Song and Gift Shop, the Lotus Confectionary, Fahey-Brockman’s Clothiers, where, one may “buy upstairs and save $10.00”.  (Courtesy, MOHAI)


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