Seattle Now & Then: Jefferson car barn, 1924

(Click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN1: This elevated, hand-tinted image, circa 1924, overlooks the Jefferson streetcar barn and yard, opened between late 1909 and early 1910. Among the vehicles are smaller Birney-brand streetcars whose open backs were being enclosed by Seattle Municipal Railway. The twin towers of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church at 18th & Columbia, built in 1904, peek out hazily at upper right. (Courtesy Danny Eskenazi)
NOW: To replicate the lofty “Then” vantage, streetcar historian Mike Bergman stands atop the four-floor Craft Apartments building at 1316 E. Jefferson St. In the background is Seattle University’s soccer stadium, Championship Field, site of the former Jefferson streetcar barn and yard, with the towers of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church at upper right. (Clay Eals)

Published in The Seattle Times online on Feb. 9, 2023
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Feb. 12, 2023

The legacy of Seattle’s streetcar mindset isn’t black-and-white
By Clay Eals
Calvin & Hobbes, Sunday, Oct. 29, 1989.

In the beloved “Calvin & Hobbes” comic strip, Calvin asks his dad on Oct. 29, 1989, “How come old photographs are always black and white?” His dad’s classic response: “The world was black and white then.”

The jest underscores how hand-tinted images — like this week’s “Then” photo, circa 1924 — can let the color-habituated among us better envision city life a century ago.

Looking north and slightly east, we hover above East Jefferson Street in an impressive “bird’s eye view” of the Seattle Electric Company’s centrally located, all-wood streetcar barn and yard between 13th and 14th avenues on First Hill.

The Seattle Electrics baseball team, likely photogrphed at the Jefferson site. (David Eskenazi collection)

Erected on former pro-baseball grounds and replacing a barn at Sixth & Olive downtown, the storage and maintenance complex was to have been opened for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, but its launch came shortly afterward. At its north side, a tower stored water for potential fires while the city completed its fire-hydrant network.

THEN2: Twenty-nine streetcar staff pose on April 24, 1924, at the Jefferson Street barn and yard. For a time, the “trainmen” (motormen and conductors) mounted an amateur baseball team called the Jefferson Car Barn boys. At right is a 1923 or 1924 Ford Model T touring car. (Courtesy Danny Eskenazi)

With electrified streetcars continually rolling in and out, the unfenced facility became a busy community landmark, referenced for decades as a locator in classified ads for nearby apartment and room rentals and cafes. It hosted various meetings and even served as a draft-registration site in 1940.

The last Seattle streetcar ran in 1941, but the Jefferson hub operated for 44 years past the city’s rail-to-rubber conversion to trolley coaches. In 1984, the city sold the property to Seattle University, which 10 years later converted it to a soccer stadium, dubbed Championship Field in 1998.

Cover of “Seattle’s Streetcar Era.”

Despite today’s focus on light-rail expansion and getting people out of cars, Seattle’s matrix of now-vanished streetcars produced a higher per-capita use of public transit, notes Mike Bergman, retired Sound Transit and King County Metro planner and author of “Seattle’s Streetcar Era: An Illustrated History, 1884-1941.”

“I think there was more appreciation of the system then,” he says. “The highest levels of ridership occurred during the first and second World Wars, when population densities were far less. Part of it was lower car ownership. Fewer people could afford a car. Fewer still could afford two cars.”

Gradually and relentlessly, he says, automobile and petroleum interests converted the public mindset to individualized travel. “They certainly made it easy to fill up your tank, and it was really cheap,” he says. “It also became a status symbol.”

Bergman optimistically projects another mass-transit heyday, fueled by increased urbanization: “I just don’t think all of those people will be able to get around solely in cars.”

Here we can return to the comic Calvin. In the 1989 strip’s closing panel, he tells his tiger friend Hobbes, “The world is a complicated place.”


Special thanks to collector Danny Eskenazi , Zachary Tartabull of the Craft Apartments and historians Dave Eskenazi, Bob Carney and Mike Bergman for their invaluable help with this installment!

To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.

Below are 4 additional photos and, in chronological order, 21 historical clips from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and Washington Digital Newspapers, that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

YMCA baseball field at 14th & Jefferson, 1902. (Asahel Curtis, courtesy of Museum of History & Industry)
Jefferson car barn, 1910. (Seattle Municipal Archives)
Jefferson streetcar barn, February 1916. (Courtesy Bob Carney)
Jefferson car barn, Dec. 11, 1936.
Oct. 3, 1909 Seattle Times, p40.
Dec. 25, 1908, Seattle Times, p7.
Feb. 20, 1910, Seattle Times, p48.
March 6, 1910, Seattle Times, p54.
March 20, 1910, Seattle Times, p54.
June 28, 1919, Seattle Times, p2.
June 29, 1919, Seattle Times, p24.
July 1, 1919, Seattle Times, p14.
Feb. 13, 1920, Seattle Times, p28.
Feb. 8, 1920, Seattle Times, p76.
March 6, 1922, Seattle Times, p1.
March 6, 1922, Seattle Times, p5.
Jan. 19, 1927, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p9.
Feb. 25, 1927, Seattle Times, p33.
Feb. 25, 1927, Seattle Times, p34.
Feb. 22, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p1-2.
March 9, 1940, Seattle Times p3.
March 16, 1940, Seattle Times p2.
Aug. 7, 1940, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p4.
Oct. 10, 1940, Seattle Times p9.
April 13, 1958, Seattle Times p127.
July 22, 1962, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p74.
Oct. 2, 2005, Seattle Times p245 “Now & Then.”

2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Jefferson car barn, 1924”

  1. Thanks for all the great history. It looks as though it really was the wild west back then and now.

  2. Paul always had a saying: “You can pick your nose and you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your friends nose.” We (Laura Marlow and Gerry Sperry) still say it frequently with much laughter! Ask Paul if he remembers, please.

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