Seattle Now & Then: Railroad Avenue, 1920

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Looking north on Railroad Avenue in 1920 from a new municipal trolley trestle at Washington Street. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: Photographed one week after the January 11th closing of the Alaska Way Viaduct.

Here we agree, again, with the caption composers for the Museum of History & Industry’s archive.  Using a variety of sources, including city directories, tax records, and company signs, the MOHAI investigative staff dates this waterfront “Then” print to 1920 and so nearly a century ago.

As I remember it, the Museum’s need for skilled interpreters of the mostly donated holdings in their photographic archives was multiplied a few thousand times in the early 1980s (1983) when Pemco Insurance purchased the Webster and Stevens Studio (WS) negatives – most of them glass – for a philanthropic gift to the museum. Its nearly 44,000 images are a fine record of Seattle’s growth, primarily thru the first half of the 20th Century. This week’s “Then” feature is included among those thousands.

From Washington Street the studio photographer looks north on Railroad Avenue — even above it. To his or her advantage the sensitive recorder reached this elevated position by climbing the city’s then nearly-new trestle for carrying municipal trollies south along the waterfront.  The riders were mostly headed to the many wartime manufacturers built above the tideflats and beside the man-made Harbor Island and its waterways. Or like many of those who were using the Alaska Way Viaduct until it closed for good on January 11, they were heading for their West Seattle homes.  A reminder: here we cannot see the  1919 trestle because the camera is looking north thru the widest part of Railroad Avenue, which was north of Yesler Way. The viaduct was already closed for a week when Jean Sherrard snapped this “Now” photo with his 21-foot monopod on January 18.  Clay Eals, the West Seattle resident-activist who served as the driver for Jean’s repeating was in mourning.  Clay remains a faithful promoter of the viaduct’s elevated views, but now only in nostalgia and shared pictures and stories. (You can follow Jean and Clay’s last day trip along the trestle on YouTube and on our blog listed below.  They used a 360-degree video camera.) I am especially fond of the triangular three story red brick building that stands out upper-right in Jean’s repeat as a Pioneer Square survivor.  In 1920, it was the home for the Truck Tire Company.   The sign shows far-right in the shadows of the building’s east façade.  This odd and curving cut was first drawn in the 1880s for a right-of-way along what was then still a mostly imagined waterfront litigated by competing railroads.   It was then cutely called the “Ram’s Horn.”


Anything to add, lads?  Yes Jean an explanation or even perhaps an apology for not being able to fully ‘assemble’ the extra helpful photos for this exploration of an earlier viaduct than the one we are tearing down now.  Like the latter-day viaduct, THIS dear old MAC is exhausted and so we are about to replace it not with a tunnel or tube but with a new MAC that was paid for in part by donations of friends celebrating and ‘in service” at my 80th birthday party held on October 28 last (truly my birthday, indeed) at Pioneer Hall on the shore of Lake Washington.  We hope to return to this feature and stock it with what we planned for it, unless we have moved on to another preoccupation.  That is typical, perhaps, for you dear reader as well.

Ron Edge, on his super-machine (not a mac) will here put up a few relevant past features as it his helpful custom.


Below: looking east on Washington Street from the curve on the Railroad Ave. elevated (for trollies) from which the featured photo at the top was recorded looking north.


Here we say good bye to MAXINE my mac who did well for the last decade, but now, it seems no more, or too little to carry on. We hope to be back back NEXT weekend with MAXINE’S youngest brother MAX.


The YESLER HOTEL from the west. I seen in both the featured photos from the south.

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 S. S. Suveric makes a rare visit to Seattle in 1911.  (Historical photo courtesy of Jim Westall)

THEN: Pier 70 when it was still Pier 14, ca. 1901, brand new but not yet "polished."  Courtesy, Lawton Gowey

THEN: Tied momentarily to the end of the Union Oil Co dock off Bay Street, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s ship Maud prepares to cast-off for the Arctic Ocean on June 3, 1922.  (Courtesy, Ron Edge)


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