Seattle Now & Then: A look across Skid Road, 1884

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Pioneer Photographer Theodore Peiser’s look south-south-east from the Occidental Hotel probably in 1884 to the tidelands south of King Street and the still forested Beacon Hill horizon. (Courtesy, Seattle Public Library)
NOW: For his repeat, Jean Sherrard used his dependable extension pole to lift his Nikon about 21 feet above the Sinking Ship Garage’s (a popular name) top and exposed parking lot. The ever-stuck ship was built in 1961-2 after the destruction of the landmark Seattle Hotel.

When Ron Edge, one of Seattle’s busy and insatiable heritage explorers, first shared this panorama with me I was both excited and thankful.  I have remained so. Ron found it among about a dozen other pioneer Theodore Peiser photos from the 1880s that were recently added to the Seattle Public Library’s growing collection of free on-line photographs. This is a nearly panoramic glimpse into the Seattle neighborhood that was then a mix of our Chinatown and Skid Road.

Ron corrected my first hunch that this was photographed from the southwest corner of Occidental Avenue (when it was still named Second Avenue) and Mill Street in the mid-1880s – probably late 1884.  However, while my date was at least close to being correct, my place was too low.  Rather, this Peiser contribution was recorded from the top floor, or perhaps roof, of the showpiece Occidental Hotel, which by the time it was enlarged to fill the flatiron block between Second Avenue, James Street and Yesler Way in 1887-8, was only months short of being reduced to rubble during the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889.  All else showing here (this side of the bay) was also destroyed.  For more temporal confidence another clue rides on Seattle’s street railway, which started running its horse-drawn cars on Occidental Avenue north from Washington Street in 1888.  We can see neither the rails here nor their horse power.

As might be expected, there is an abundance of surviving stories that were “written” to the sides of these streets, including the 1885 expulsion of the Chinese living here.  They were pushed out of town by that day’s anti-immigrant populists (we might call them).  The intersection of Second Avenue (Occidental) and Washington Street, seen here on the right, was the well-sauced center of Seattle’s Skid Road.  In the 1884-85 city directory I counted nine saloons busy above the tidelands between Yesler Way (Mill Street) and Commercial Street (First Ave. S.).  A few names include the Arion Beer hall, the Elite, the Flynn, the Idaho, the Sazare, and the United States – all of them wetting their appetites beside Washington Street.  (Please note, Murray Morgan’s engaging classic, Skid Road, An Informal Portrait of Seattle, is again in print, and now with an introduction by The Seattle Times’ own and also historic book critic, Mary Ann Guinn.)

We will begin another short story with a question. Does the two-story structure, right-of-center, at the southeast corner of Occidental and Washington (and also the next structure standing beyond it to the south), seem to be leaning to the right (west)?  We think so.  This was the soggiest part of the pioneer peninsula named Piner’s Point after Thomas Piner, a quartermaster on the U.S. Navy’s exploring and surveying Wilke’s expedition of 1841.  Mrs. Frances Guye’s a-kilter (if we are straight) boarding house was photographed in 1872 when it sat about two feet higher than it does here ca. 1884.


Anything to add, paisans?

Potpourri of past N&T features

Links to previews features:

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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: Sitting on a small triangle at the odd northwest corner of Third Avenue and the Second Ave. S. Extension, the Fiesta Coffee Shop was photographed and captioned, along with all taxable structures in King County, by Works Progress Administration photographers during the lingering Great Depression of the late 1930s. (Courtesy, Washington State Archive’s Puget Sound Branch)

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

When compared to most city scenes relatively little has changed in his view west on Main Street from First Avenue South in the century-plus between them. (Historical photo courtesy of Lawton Gowey)

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: 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:In late 1855 the citizens of Seattle with help from the crew of the Navy sloop-of-war Decatur built a blockhouse on the knoll that was then still at the waterfront foot of Cherry Street. The sloop’s physician John Y. Taylor drew this earliest rendering of the log construction. (Courtesy, Yale University, Beinecke Library)

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.)

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 Terry-Denny Building, better known in its earlier years as Hotel Northern, was part of the grand new Pioneer Place (or Square) neighborhood built up in the early 1890s after the old one was reduced to ashes by Seattle's Great Fire of 1889.

THEN: The Freedman Building on Maynard Avenue was construction soon after the Jackson Street Regrade lowered the neighborhood and dropped Maynard Avenue about two stories to its present grade in Chinatown. (Photo courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN: The new sub H-3 takes her inaugural baptism at the Seattle Construction and Dry Dock Company’s ways on Independence Day, 1913. (Courtesy, Ron Edge)

THEN: Part of the pond that here in 1946 filled much of the long block between Massachusetts and Holgate Streets and 8th Avenue S. and Airport Way. (Courtesy, Ron Edge)

THEN: Frank Shaw’s pre-preservation visit to First Avenue South on February 26, 1961. He looks north from Main Street. (photo by Frank Shaw)

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)





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