Seattle Now & Then: Snow Days on the Ave, 1937

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: A pair of Seattle’s municipal trollies brave the drifts of the city’s 1937 snow.
NOW: For his repeat the patient Jean Sherrard waited for his contemporary flurries and was rewarded with big flakes on the ‘Upper Ave.’ of University Way.

Our February snow, like the October 1937 deposit photographed here on University Way, was something greater than one of our more-typical winter teases that rush to mush. In these two years — 1937 and 2019 — a white blanket packed a few inches above our chilled cityscape and stuck around.

Portland, 170 scenic miles to the south, received its heaviest snowstorm in 31 years in 1937. Hundreds of autos were stalled, truck farmers were unable to reach Portland’s markets, and all the city’s schools were closed. It was called a “child memory event.” Here in Seattle that year, at the northwest corner of University Way and 55th Street, University Heights School (built in 1903) also was closed, but only for one day.

The photographer’s preferred subject here is surely the two husky trolleys busting north through the half-foot-deep drifts on “The Ave.” These municipal carriers had a mere three years left for rolling on rails before being scrapped when the city’s street railways were replaced with buses and trackless trolleys, most of them in 1940.

Portland’s greater 1937 storm taught its transit team an unrequested lesson: It was neither streetcars nor gas-powered buses that worked best in the 1.-foot drifts that fell there. It was the trackless trolleys and rolling rubber.

Many of our readers, I suspect and hope, can identify the high-rise immediately to the right of the charging trolleys at the Seattle scene’s center. The modern 15 stories (some sources claim 16) of Art Deco design were dedicated in 1931. The hotel was built and financed with a community bond drive during the early years of the Great Depression.

There was then plenty of time for Edmond Meany, the hotel’s namesake professor, to prepare one of his speeches for the dedication. Meany’s sententious offerings were typically well-stocked with school and neighborhood history.

Meany lived with his wife near the north end of the University Bridge and so also near the hotel. He died in 1935 in his campus office while getting ready for a class. Eventually, and perhaps inevitably, his name was removed from the front door of the hotel. It is now called the Hotel Deca — not for Meany and his stories, but for the landmark’s modern design. Meany also had a campus hall named for him.


Anything to add, lads?

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: Snow Days on the Ave, 1937”

  1. Hi Paul: I lived at 5225 15th NE in the U. District at that time (1937). I attended University Heights school. The next street up the hill to your right was 52nd. The next one down was 50th. The building just south and across the street from the school had Jamesin’s (sp?) drug store on the southwest corner of 50th and University Way I think those tall buildings down on the left were the Wilsonian Apartments. When the trolley car tracks were torn up, all us kids went down and stood watching them. It was very exciting! (When the buses took the place of the trolleys, the buses picked up us at the CURB instead of us having to walk out to the street to get on! At Christmas time, they put a Santa at the front of the trolley who waved at all of us while driving. Ah, those were the days!

    Ginnie Lee

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