(click to enlarge photos)
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
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