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(Published in Seattle Times online on Sept. 12, 2019,
and in print on Sept. 15, 2019)
Postcard news: landing in a ‘great city’ poised for change
By Clay Eals
In leading local history tours, I often say that all of us, akin to the Alki settlers in 1851, have a “landing story” to tell. More than a century ago, in the days of penny postage, clues to such stories often emerged in handwritten news on the backs of postcards.
A gent with the initials F.T.S. mailed such a story to Chas. R. Fitch of San Francisco. On the back of a round-cornered card postmarked Aug. 20, 1908, the buoyant F.T.S. voiced a voyage of destiny:
“Dear Cousin: This is a great city, my home from now on. Best opportunity for young man. Am assured of position and will go to work Monday. Very warm here. Rough and foggy coming up, was not in the least seasick, and never missed a meal at mess.”
F.T.S. also noted how to reach him: “Address me #700 Oriental Block, Seattle, Wash.” This was the 1903 Corona building, still standing today in Pioneer Square.
But the impressive M.L. Oakes postcard view that F.T.S. shared with his relative was far from downtown. Its label proclaimed “Seattle and Mt. Rainier from Fremont Hill.” While the cityscape was photographic, the faint but enormous image of the peak amounted to overblown fantasy, a skillful cut-and-paste trick common long before Photoshop.
Below the mythic mountain lies a tidy mix of touchstones from three Seattle neighborhoods. We look southeast from Fremont, across the Lake Washington Canal (not yet built through to Puget Sound) to northeast Queen Anne, Lake Union and, in the distance, a swath of Capitol Hill. So many landmarks of later years are missing as to boggle the mind.
To orient ourselves, we can survey the upper left, below faux Rainier, to find massive Seattle High School, built in 1902 and in short order renamed Broadway High, as rapid growth soon prompted construction of two new high schools, Franklin and Lincoln. Today, most of Broadway High is gone, replaced by the slick brick of Seattle Central College, but its auditorium remains at the corner of Broadway and Pine.
To the far right, we can peek at months-old St. James Cathedral, with one spire barely visible along the edge. In the middle ground are Seattle Electric Railway streetcar tracks along what today is Westlake Avenue North.
In the foreground, with no hint of the Aurora Bridge (1932), and with a low trestle precursor to the Fremont Bridge (1917) out of frame at right, we can locate, at lower left, part of the 1901 wooden version of what became the brick Fremont Baptist Church (1924).
To F.T.S., Seattle already may have seemed a “great city” in 1908, but assuming he remained a few decades, just imagine the changes he witnessed. Shades of today.
Big thanks to Judie Clarridge of the Fremont Historical Society, Rob Ketcherside of the Capitol Hill Historical Society and Michael Herschensohn of the Queen Anne Historical Society, and their colleagues, for their help with this column!
To see Jean Sherrard’s 360-degree video of the NOW prospect and compare it with the THEN photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!
Below are (1) the back of the “Then” postcard, (2) an alternate “Now” view, (3) in chronological order, nine clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that, among others, were helpful in the preparation of this column, and (4) eight links to previous columns related to the Fremont neighborhood. Enjoy!
Here are links to “Now & Then” columns focusing on Fremont (dates are publication dates in the Seattle Times):
May 13, 2017, North end of Fremont Bridge
July 23, 2016: Digging the Fremont canal
Aug. 2, 2014: The Fremont trolley barn
June 7, 2013: A Fremont trolley derailed
May 10, 2009: The musical Baptists of Fremont
July 22, 2007: Making tracks to town
Feb. 13, 2000: Fremont, spring 1940