(click and click again to enlarge photos)
(Published in the Seattle Times online on Oct. 15, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Oct. 18, 2020)
Who could have predicted what these car lots would become?
By Clay Eals
Will Ferrell is mortally worried. Using the phrase “little did he know,” a stranger’s voice in his head is foretelling his death. He consults a literature professor, Dustin Hoffman, who warms to the puzzle by saying that he “once gave an entire seminar on ‘little did he know’ .”
We jump from that scene in the 2006 film “Stranger than Fiction” (left) to our “Then” photo from Dec. 18, 1957. It captures a gent in a fedora driving a 1956 Buick Special and in momentary contemplation while stopped on Seventh Avenue at Lenora Street. Little did he know — or could anyone conceive — of the transformation 60 years later of this down-to-earth commercial tableau.
A stone’s throw from post-World War II downtown, this block is a typical 1950s tribute to the internal combustion engine, featuring the Lee Moran, W.R. Smith and ABC Fair-Way businesses and their symphony of signs: from “Cash for Cars” and “Cars under Cover” to “Highest Price for Used Cars” and “All Makes All Prices.” Car dealers had covered the block since the early 1940s, preceded by rental housing back to the century’s turn.
On the day this photo was taken (for use by the county to aid in assessing property tax), the weather forecast was familiar: “mostly cloudy with a few showers, occasional sun,” with a high of 45 to 50 degrees.
Gov. Albert Rosellini was inviting Seattle and King County to lead construction of a controversial second bridge across Lake Washington. Nationally, the first Atlas intercontinental missile was launched at Cape Canaveral, Alabama voters allowed the state to abolish a county in which Blacks outnumbered whites by more than 7 to 1, and actress Elizabeth Taylor underwent an appendectomy. Internationally, NATO delegates pushed Russia to resume disarmament talks.
Among newspaper ads this day was one for the classy Frederick & Nelson department store (right). The pitched product was women’s stockings, but the accompanying Bob Cram illustration was a huge, pre-Jetsons cartoon featuring a “man of tomorrow” having landed in a space vehicle and his wife dashing to greet him — in “Round-the-Clock superb sheers” — at the front door of their “ultra-chrome dome home.”
One might say that the many round-topped sedans in our “Then” photo serve as figurative domes, each one a sphere to represent the life of a driver or family.
Today we find the block dominated by the triple-orb greenhouse of Seattle-based Amazon. The online giant is doing everything it can — including, most recently, dabbling in drone delivery — to encompass all of us in its shopping sphere.
Where will that lead? Little do we know.
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 three supplemental photos and, in chronological order, 21 historical clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and other online newspaper sources that were helpful in the preparation of this column.
3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: car-sales lots, 1957, and today’s Amazon Spheres”
A great article! But one minor correction. There is no “tax assessor.” It’s just “assessor,” no “tax” in the title. The assessor sets value. The tax is calculated and collected by the county treasurer. Signed: a retired assessor’s deputy 🙂
Thank you, Andy. I appreciate the distinction, and in the “THEN” caption I just changed “tax assessor’s photo” to “property-value assessor’s photo” to more precisely define the job. You’ll notice that the job isn’t capitalized. That’s Associated Press style. The only time a job is capitalized is when it precedes the name of the jobholder. Even “president,” used by itself, is not capitalized. This also allows journalists to be more plainspoken in describing jobs instead of being unclear or using bureaucratese. In other words, if I were to use “assessor” by itself, the question begged is “Assessor of what?” Hence, “property-value assessor.”
PS: You will notice in the print version this Sunday that “tax assessor’s photo” will remain. That’s because the magazine is printed weeks in advance of its publication date, so it can’t be changed at this point. I wouldn’t worry overly, however. The phrase “tax assessor,” as you say, may be technically incorrect, but, as you also know, it is accurate in the understanding of most people, which is the direct correlation that the assessed value of a property determines its level of property tax. In other words, in general societal understanding the distinction between county “assessor” and “treasurer” is, and probably always will be, conflated. Comes with the territory, so to speak. –Clay
How much fun to read your article, especially when I got to the part about the F&N cartoon featuring the “man of tomorrow” arriving home in his space ship! My dad, Bob Cram, drew that cartoon along with a host of others during his tenure in F&N’s advertising department. The date, 1957, and the reference to the store and cartoon, well, we just had to look it up. Sure enough, Dad’s unmistakable work! I was just 3 years old when he drew that ad, and it’s always a treat to discover another piece of his work. Thank you for your articles- remembering what Seattle was and following the threads to even more about the past is wonderful. Thanks for the memories!
Robin (Cram) Hall