Seattle Now & Then: Anders Wilse’s waterfront

THEN 1: Perched atop the roof of the Seattle Fish Company warehouse on then-Pier 8, Anders Wilse captures a southwest view of Seattle’s late 1890s waterfront. Schwabacher’s Wharf was eventually renamed Pier 58 in 1944, reconstructed as Waterfront Park in 1974, and collapsed into Elliott Bay in September 2020. A reimagined Waterfront Park is to open on new pilings in 2024. (courtesy MOHAI)
NOW: The same view from Pier 59, now home to the Seattle Aquarium. Diamond Ice’s wooden buildings were replaced in 1912 by a concrete structure, now a Public Storage facility. Keen eyes might spot a top slice of the remaining Hotel Vendome, directly above the facility’s fire escape. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in The Seattle Times online on March 10, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on March 13, 2022)

Home was where photographer Anders Wilse’s heart ended up – after beating a successful path to Seattle
By Jean Sherrard

“You can’t go home again” was a sentiment my great-grandfather would have echoed. Ole Andreas Ringseth (“Daddy Andrew” to his extended family) was part of the Norwegian diaspora between 1860 and 1910, emigrating in 1902 from tiny Liabygda on Norway’s west coast to Tacoma, never to return.

One of his enterprising countrymen, 19-year-old Anders Beer Wilse had arrived in Minneapolis 18 years earlier. As a civil engineer with the ever-expanding railroads, he soon rolled  to the Pacific Northwest.

THEN 2: A studio portrait of Anders Beer Wilse, taken soon after his 1890 arrival in Seattle.

Uniquely, Wilse began documenting his surveying and cartography with photography, at which he became increasingly skilled. In 1897, he quit his day job and opened a photo studio in Seattle, fortuitously just as Gold Rush fever infected the city. Over the next three years, he captured the booming city and its environs.

Wilse’s portrait of Seattle’s Colman Dock during the Yukon Gold Rush.

In our evocative “Then” photo, snapped from a wharf at the foot of Pike Street on a sunny afternoon, a half-dozen pedestrians belie an increasingly active waterfront. At least five train tracks run along Railroad Avenue in front of Schwabacher’s Wharf, where the USS Portland, bearing a ton of Yukon gold, docked in July 1897.

Diamond Ice and Storage, founded in 1893, advertised its product as “The Best Ice — No Core in It,” available for home delivery.

The Hotel Diller, still standing today at the southeast corner of First and University, can be seen behind the crisply whitewashed ice-plant smokestack, across the street from its northern neighbor, the Hotel Vendome. On the skyline, past an oddly tall waterfront light standard, the King County Courthouse tower peeps out.

Wilse’s Seattle Photographic Company soon became profitable, hiring three assistants, including Ira Webster and Nelson Stevens, founders of the renowned Webster and Stevens photographic studio.

In spring 1900, Wilse sent his young family back to Norway for what was intended to be a short visit. By summer’s end, however, his wife, Helen, sent word that she had no interest in returning to Seattle. With no small regret, Wilse left his adopted country — and camera equipment — behind, opening a second photography studio in Oslo in 1901. But Helen’s instincts proved sound.

On the verge of regaining independence from Sweden in 1905, Norway provided an ideal subject for a talented photographer. Wilse dedicated himself to documenting its emerging cultural identity, recording more than 200,000 photographs until his death in 1949.

THEN 3: Norway’s 500 kroner banknote, featuring Wilse’s photograph of a 1901 rescue lifeboat, the RS 14 Stavanger.

Today, his iconic images adorn Norwegian postage stamps and currency. Late in life, he expressed what might be a photographer’s credo: “I sought to capture for eternity the beauty of Norway’s landscape … something I believe can be of meaning to our descendants.”


For our 360 video portrait of the waterfront, featuring Wilse’s original photo and Jean’s narration, go here.

For more on the remarkable life of Anders Wilse, click through to Carolyn Marr’s 1994 essay for Columbia Magazine. Scroll down for illuminating and fascinating details of this gifted photographer’s life.

And thanks to Michael Mjelde for pointing out the identity of the vessel in our late 1890s “then” photo – the steamship Rosalee:


3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Anders Wilse’s waterfront”

  1. Hi Jean, love your Now and Then been following and loved when Paul began way back when. I don’t know if you are aware but the City Church building on First & Cedar is being demolished. The building was built in 1947 by the IBEW Local 46 (my union though I am retired now). The building has great history plus the union has many photos of the area before the union was built, plus the original artists rendition. The Local Union itself is 121 years old been around a long time. It broke my heart to see the sign saying it was being demolished. Anyway if you have interest in exploring further please contact me. (Didn’t know how else to conch you)Sincerely Bob Gorman

  2. When I read this article my brain perked up. For years my mom, Aunt Elaine and Cousins talked about the Ringseth family from Liabygda that they were good friends with back in the 30s-50s. They used to meet up with them at the 4th of July party known as the
    Ole Uncle Ole Picnic in Suisun area at the Nelson farm. i last went to that picnic back in 1992 but it was then near Kings Mountain and hosted by Arnold Berwick also from Liabygda area. My mom and aunt passed away several years ago and passed on all their photos and records to me. Arnold Berwick who was part of the Norwegian immigrant group wrote a little book I have, titled “Who was Uncle Ole.”. In the book are pictures of the Rinset (Ringseth ) family including a picture of Andrew Ringset, Martin and Sophie and others along with my grandmother Inga Leid Sather and my mom Lillian North, nee Sather. I also have a oicture of the Ringseths on their family ranch between Fairfield and Suisun. in the early 1930s. The annual picnics continue today I believe in the Bay Area. I wondered if this is your family? If you are interested in the pictures or the history I have, email me and I will send you what I have. I enjoyed your article btw.
    Kathy North Thurston, Gig Harbor, Wa

  3. Tremendous photo brought back to life, Mr Sherrard! Read and reread it again. A beautiful profile of the waterfront, as it was known back then. Now I am so curious, I would like to pay a visit to the Hotel Diller or the Hotel Vendome, both prominent citizens of the cityscape in the ‘Then’ photo.

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