Seattle Now & Then: The Lumber Exchange Building, 1904

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: In mid-1904 or shortly thereafter, the Lumber Exchange stands at the southwest corner of Second Avenue and Seneca Street. It was demolished in 1990. (Webster & Stevens photo courtesy the Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: At the same site rises the 22-floor Second and Seneca Building, which upon its opening in September 1991 was one of four towers within a year’s time to provide a total of 4 million square feet of new, high-rise office space downtown.

When the Lumber Exchange building appeared here last September, it stood as a mere backdrop as we focused on a panoply of political signs hoisted by labor protesters parading on Second Avenue.

In today’s view (at the top) looking southwest at the intersection of Second and Seneca Street, and taken in mid-1904 or soon thereafter, one year after its completion, the appeal is different. Instead of the street, we are drawn to the collection of commercial signs above storefronts and in the windows of this stately, seven-floor sentinel.

Each name evidences the bustle of business in the midst of a population boom in the first decade of the century that solidified Seattle’s status as the Northwest’s dominant city. Enterprises inside included lumber sales, reflecting the name of the edifice, and ranged from the trades of apparel, insurance and steel to the practices of law, dentistry and government.

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Builder J.A. Moore took pride that inside the alluring entry arch could be found a vestibule and hallways finished in white onyx and marble quarried in northeastern Washington. This stonework, the Seattle Daily Times reported, “is not excelled in beauty by the marbles from the most famous quarries in the Old World.”

Two ground-floor shops competed by contrasting cut-rate with couture. From its coveted corner spot, Singerman & Sons – descended from venerable Toklas, Singerman & Sons, later morphing into MacDougall’s department store – promoted the high life. In advertising “top-notch” men’s spring and summer suits for $15 to $25, the firm proclaimed, “The fabrics are of the purest wool, in grays, browns, stylish plaids and fancy mixtures. The tailoring is of the highest class, insuring faultless fit.”

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South of the arch, under awnings, and accompanied in our “then” by a horse-drawn wagon and newfangled motorcar, The Leader dry-goods store promoted periodic “fire sales” of damaged goods as low as 10 cents on the dollar. Its slogan: “Seattle’s Great Price Fighter / The Great Cheap for Cash Store.”

Sauntering down Seneca to the building’s below-grade floor, we find the prow-shaped sign of Max Kuner, “Nautical Optician,” a beguiling name for an esteemed watch and chronometer maker who dealt in items and services related to the sea. Five years later, in 1909, Kuner joined a covey of experts accusing explorer Frederick Cook of fabricating that he had reached the North Pole. As Kuner told the Times, “I think it’s a fake.”

A further allusion to today’s headlines came on Nov. 13, 1903, when the Timesreported that federal inspectors, based in the Lumber Exchange, had intercepted a train to take into custody 30 people from Japan who had “surreptitiously” bypassed immigration law to enter the country from British Columbia. The inspectors interrogated their captives in a two-room office on the building’s second floor. The Times ended its story: “It is not yet been determined what will be done with the Japanese.”

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WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, lumberjacks?  Mostly more lumber Jean.

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