(click to enlarge photos)
This winter week we share another snap from The Big Snow of February 1916. Except for Puget Sound’s prolonged pioneer blizzard in 1880, the 1916 snow bounding was the deepest in our city’s history. For any media, including the thousands of box Kodak’s in the hands of Seattle citizens, the four-day blizzard of 1916 was a sensational although slippery subject. Like motorcars at the curb, cameras were by then nearly commonplace on Seattle mantles. The absence of cars here on First Hill’s Ninth Avenue is best understood as related to the drifts and the absence of any snowplowing in these blocks by the understandably unprepared municipal streets department. A team of horses pulling a covered wagon can be found at the scene’s center heading west on Columbia Street from its intersection with Ninth Avenue. For snow like this teams were favored.
For this snap an unaccredited photographer looks north on 9th Avenue with her or his back to James Street. This First Hill prospect may have been reached from Pioneer Square aboard a James Street Cable car – assuming that the Puget Sound Traction, Light & Power Co. cable cars were then still plowing through the drifts. Or the photographer might have lived nearby. First Hill was Seattle’s first neighborhood of accumulated wealth, which by 1907 would have often included cameras in the libraries.
Since 1907 the grandest interruption of Seattle’s skyline has been the Roman Catholic St. James Cathedral at Marion Street and 9th Avenue. Before February 3, 1916, St. James had three landmark elevations including the two Renaissance Towers and the cathedral’s centered dome. On February 2nd, it lost the dome. The architects who examined the crashed dome lying on the chancel floor concluded that the sanctuary’s roof was five times stronger than needed to hold even the heavy wet snow left by the blizzard. The engineering culprit was a weakness in one of the dome’ steel supports.
For comparison we have also included a print of the Cathedral dome before its collapse and crash. The damaged roof showing with the featured photo can be compared with the intact one, which although splendid in its soaring outline was, we learn from Maria Laughlin, the current director of stewardship and development for the cathedral, a handicap to the cathedral’s acoustics. What the crash took from the church’s eye it gave back – miraculously? – to its ear. After the crash of its sound-swallowing dome, St. James has become a revealing space for concerts and much kinder to its organ and choir.
Anything to add, brethren?
3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Fallen Dome”
I just happened to be researching the 1916 blizzard today (for a graphic novel I’m working on) & was so happy to see this post!
Does anyone know whether Seattle’s newspapers were able to get out an edition on 2/02, the first day of high snow level?
In the Seattle Daily Times archive available online through the Seattle Public Library, there is an issue for Feb. 2, 1916, and the front page is full of snow storm coverage, including the large masthead, “More Snow Predicted!”. If you have a SPL library card, here is the direct link: https://tinyurl.com/ybg6f4ol
Side note: Does anyone know if the Prosch home (next to the German Hall) is a protected building? It’s lovely (except for the siding) and historic, but it’s had fencing around its entrance & I’m never sure if it’s something developers will one day get their hands one & turn into a boxy condo building. (I sure hope not!)