All posts by jrsherrard

Just a guy, ya know...

Seattle Now & Then: The Seattle Masonic Temple (now the Egyptian Theatre), 1916

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THEN: This photo first appeared in The Seattle Times on Aug. 6, 1916. A workman perched outside the second-floor window adds finishing touches to the newly completely building. At sidewalk level, a makeshift sign importunes passersby with an offer of “Free Wood.” (Ron Edge collection)
NOW: Snapped on a balmy Saturday evening during the 2019 Seattle International Film Festival, our “Now” photo features an eager crowd lining up at SIFF Cinema Egyptian. This year, SIFF marked its 45th anniversary in a 44- year history. Triskaidekaphobic staffers banished year 13, skipping directly from the 12th to the 14th anniversary. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in Seattle Times online on Oct. 3rd, 2019,
and in print on Oct. 6th, 2019)

A Monument to Masonry and the Movies
By Jean Sherrard

Inspiration has always bolstered the brickwork at the southeast corner of Harvard and Pine. From its construction in 1916 as a Masonic Temple, the brick-and-terra-cotta building was the collaborative effort of 18 Masonic lodges.  Designed by legendary Seattle architect Charles W. Saunders (whose many credits include the Alaska Building, the Rainier Club and the University of Washington’s Denny Hall), the 63,000- square-foot structure was built for $250,000.

“When the last touch is finished,” claimed lodge president Frederick Johnstone, in an August 1916 Seattle Times interview, “it will be one of the finest temples west of Chicago.”

Marking the occasion, a weeklong “housewarming and carnival” was planned for early October, during which the 8,000 members of Seattle Masonic lodges, their families and friends, and the general public would be invited to visit this “monument to Masonry.” Festivities would include “all sorts of ‘dignified stunts’ and dancing, accompanied by splendid music.” The addition of the celebrated “Captain, the horse with the human brain,” who could answer “with nods and hoof beats a great variety of questions,” would cap the week of celebration.

The crowds were, indeed, wowed by the Masonic masonry. The temple boasted a full stage with dressing rooms and the latest in “indirect lighting and … independent ventilation,” plus an 1,800-seat auditorium, not to mention “one of the finest dance floors on the Pacific Coast.”

Flash-forward several decades. Long after Captain’s hoof beats had faded away, the temple accommodated local Masonic lodges, besides serving as a venue for community ceremonies, celebrations and performances, ranging from cellist Pablo Casals to our own Paul Dorpat, who recalls attending a summer rock concert in 1967, “when this then-inhibited 30-year-old Lutheran first unzipped his knees with hours of free-form hippie-dancing.”

By the late 1970s, big changes loomed. “Capitol Hill was becoming a tough neighborhood,” says Jim Russell, current secretary of St. John’s Lodge in Greenwood. “It was hard just finding a safe place to park. The temple also needed extensive restoration, and our membership numbers were declining.” In 1980, nearby Seattle Central College purchased the building to expand its growing campus.

Down the hill, a young but burgeoning Seattle International Film Festival had lost its primary venue, the Moore Egyptian, and was seeking a suitable replacement. Visionary founders Dan Ireland and Darryl MacDonald leased the temple’s massive auditorium, remodeling and rechristening it the Egyptian Theatre.

Since those early days, SIFF has grown exponentially. With more than a dozen venues, this year’s festival showcased 400-plus films from nearly 90 countries for some 140,000 attendees. Known since 2014 as SIFF Cinema Egyptian, the theater also screens films year-round and is celebrated as Seattle’s premiere single-screen historic theater, even without an educated horse.


Check out Jean’s narrated 360-degree video, shot on the penultimate weekend of this year’s Seattle International Film Festival.

Seattle Now & Then: Coals from Newcastle – an 1874 Tramway

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THEN: Looking west from the top of the tramway under construction, an unknown photographer snapped our “Then” photo in the summer of 1874. In October of that year, trams loaded with coal began their round trips to the Seattle waterfront. An almost invisible ghost of Mercer Island hovers in the upper distance. (courtesy, Eastside Heritage Center)
THEN2: Shot on the same day as our primary “then,” this east-facing prospect looks up the tramway toward the mines of Newcastle. (courtesy, Eastside Heritage Center)
NOW: These historical detectives, mostly members of the Newcastle Historical Society, line up across the gully they discovered, just above the midpoint of the “then” photo. Mercer Island still hovers through the trees behind them while I-405 roars directly below. Before this “now” photo was taken, the group spent a day clearing out brush and bear scat. From left: Kent Sullivan; Matt McCauley; Russ Segner, NHS president; Cameron McCauley; Kathleen Voelbel, property owner; Gary Dutt; Harry Dursh; Ryan Kauzlarich; and Mike Intlekofer, NHS collections manager. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in Seattle Times online on Sept. 19, 2019,
and in print on Sept. 22, 2019)

A suburban Eastside gully emerges as elusive 1874 coal tramway
By Jean Sherrard

Let’s begin with dispelling some myths. X rarely marks the spot. Most “Eureka!” moments occur after long and exacting endeavor. And there is no free lunch. Actually solving a mystery demands insight; hard work; and, occasionally, dumb luck. 

Our intrepid crew of historical treasure hunters did just that, combining resources to defy odds and, with two extraordinary images pointing the way (one is this week’s “Then” photo), rediscover a slice of a forgotten world.

In our July 21 column, we featured Kurt E. Armbruster’s book, “Pacific Coast: Seattle’s Own Railroad,” which relates a blockbuster story of trains and coal. Here’s the prequel.

Four years before the first steam engine rounded the southern bend of Lake Washington, the Seattle Coal and Transportation Company built a 1,200-foot tramway descending precipitously from a collection point in the Newcastle hills to docks on the lake.

For 39 months, between October 1874 and January 1878, the counterbalanced trams — each hauling three tons of coal — made more than 85,000 trips. In 1874, 9,027 tons of coal were delivered by Seattle Coal and Transportation to Seattle docks. In 1875, the first full year after the tramway’s completion, the company delivered 70,157 tons.

Muscling the trams onto barges docked at the tramway’s foot was only the first stage of a complicated, gargantuan journey. Towed 10 miles north, the trams were offloaded onto tracks crossing the quarter-mile-wide Montlake Portage and rolled onto barges traversing Lake Union. More tracks led to bunkers at the foot of Pike Street, whence waiting freighters delivered coal to energy-hungry San Francisco.

Although this history was thoroughly documented, one nagging question persisted: Exactly where was that first inclined tramway? The missing link emerged when a unique pair of 145-year-old photos arrived out of the blue at the Eastside Heritage Center. Tantalizing clues beckoned.

Rising to the occasion was a crack team of investigators, from railroad and maritime buffs to Newcastle coal-mine authorities — even a scuba diver. For several years, armed with metal detectors, diving equipment and hiking boots, they combed possible locations. Our “Then” photo supplied talismanic authority, but could its unique view ever be rediscovered amid a clutter of suburban roads and houses?

Their final answer: a resounding yes. Months of toil culminated in their discovery of an untouched, ivy-choked gully, originally carved out by the tramway, between Lake Washington Boulevard and Interstate 405. Celebrating this “Eureka” moment, they marked the spot with an enthusiastic (but figurative) X.

Eastside historian Kent Sullivan offers the following coda: “We’re just people who are willing to pick at threads. We pull on them without a clue as to whether they lead to an end. And what’s even more exciting,” he confesses, “is if there isn’t any end.”

Please join the Newcastle Historical Society at 7 p.m. Sept. 26, at Bellevue Library’s Room 1, for a presentation on this discovery and other rare images.


You can also check out our narrated 360-degree video, shot on location below Newcastle.

Seattle Now & Then: The Union 76 Skyride, 1962

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THEN: The spiny, orange, gazebo-like terminus of the Union 76 Sky Ride now can be found at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup, where it was moved in 1980. Today’s Sky Ride trip runs $5, 10 times the 1962 fare. By comparison, a ride to the top of the Space Needle, $1 in 1962, today starts at $32.50. The Monorail offers the best deal of all, a mere $2.50 per ride, only five times the 1962 rate.
NOW: A scene from the crowded 2019 Northwest Folklife Festival features the graduated colors of the Rep’s mainstage 842-seat Bagley Wright Theatre (peeping through trees, right-center) and its 282-seat Leo Kreielsheimer Theatre (the “Leo K”, left-center, added in 1996). The unusual green and maroon facade is said to refer to Granny Smith apples and the bark of our indigenous madrona trees.

(Published in Seattle Times online on Aug. 22, 2019,
and in print on Aug. 25,, 2019)

A willing suspension – from sky-high to high drama
By Jean Sherrard

Since 1972, Seattle summers have opened and closed with multiday festivals: Northwest Folklife on Memorial Day weekend, and Bumbershoot on Labor Day weekend. Hosted at Seattle Center, both events signal a change of seasons. They also inherit the legacies of the Century 21 Exposition (aka the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair), whose revitalizing alterations “Now & Then” has oft explored.

Our “Then” photo, looking northwest during the fair, features one station of the Union 76 Skyride, located at the former corner of Second Avenue and Republican Street. Traversing 1,400 feet and reaching the height of a six-floor building, its bucket-shaped orange and blue cars provided a bird’s-eye view as their overhead wheels rolled above the grounds. When I experienced the still-operating ride two years later, the three-passenger limit meant my father stayed behind while my mom, little brother and I floated and gloated.

Built by Von Roll Iron Works of Switzerland, then the world’s largest producer of aerial tramways, the Skyride became one of the fair’s most popular and — for only 50 cents — affordable excursions. (Union 76 gas stations offered buy-two/get-one-free tickets with every fill-up, recalls historian Alan Stein.) The Skyride’s southern station also stood only steps from the Monorail.

THEN: A Kodachrome slide of the Skyride’s southern station, just steps from the Monorail. (Courtesy Tony Case)

Visible from the Skyride, the Seattle Playhouse — built for the fair in only 34 days — beckoned from Mercer Street. The venue showcased national and international acts, from the Julliard String Quartet and Japan’s Bunraku Theatre to the Pacific Ballet and Hal Holbrook’s one-man show “Mark Twain Tonight!” Reportedly, Holbrook suggested it as the perfect location for a repertory theater.

The newly formed Seattle Repertory Theatre took up Holbrook’s challenge in November 1963, fronting inaugural productions of “King Lear” and Max Frisch’s “The Firebugs.” Original troupe members included Marjorie Nelson and a young John Gilbert, later stalwarts of the local acting community. (Nelson married prominent architect and preservationist Victor Steinbrueck, neatly squaring the circle.)

In the early 1980s, the Skyride’s northern station bowed to what we might call a theatrical suspension of disbelief, when the Rep departed the aging Playhouse to create state-of-the-art digs on a nearby corner lot. As an aspiring actor, I witnessed this vision beginning to assume reality when I was fortunate to be cast in two plays in the inaugural season.

The result has, like the World’s Fair, become a gift to Seattle. Through the decades, by showcasing a steady diet of star-studded, groundbreaking and world-class theater, the Rep has, like the Skyride, become a high-wire act.

(To learn about Bumbershoot’s early years, check out our 2001 video history BumberChronicles. Also, my 1980s radio adaptation of Don Quixote for NPR features actors Nelson and Gilbert)


Check out further details in our Seattle Now & Then 360 video.

To hear a snippet of our Globe Radio Repertory adaptation of “Don Quixote”, featuring Marjorie Nelson and John Gilbert, click here. Marjorie delivers a lovely performance as Quixote’s concerned housekeeper Maria and John portrays Father Pero Perez, a long-time friend, with all the mastery you might expect. In this introductory scene, Maria approaches Father Perez to inform him that her master has returned from another delusional adventure and plead for his help. Both actors knock it out of the park.

The back story here might also be of some interest. In 1984, after being injured (a torn hamstring) at the Rep while playing Charles the Wrestler in “As You Like It”, I decided to move into radio production.

With partner John Siscoe (owner/operator of the Globe Bookstore in Pioneer Square), I wrote an adaptation of “Don Quixote” and together we pitched it to NPR Playhouse. Our subsequent productions appeared through the early 1990s, and were largely funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. We were fortunate to work with some of the finest actors in the country, most of whom were based in Seattle.

Seattle Now & Then: Women’s Suffragists, 1916

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THEN: We invite readers to search for the legendary suffragists among the delegates depicted on May 2, 1916. These include Lucy Burns, Harriot Stanton Blatch, Florence Bayard Hilles and Elizabeth Selden Rogers. The keen-eyed might discover University of Washington president Henry Suzzallo in the crowd. We will post photos of these notables below in our Web Extras.
NOW: The sidewalk directly across Stewart Street from our “Then” photo (a spot with better visibility today) teems with celebrants of suffrage. Along with a sizable contingent representing the League of Women Voters, we were joined by luminaries including U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal; Seattle may- or Jenny Durkan; Seattle City Council members Sally Bagshaw, M. Lorena González, Lisa Herbold, Debora Juarez, Teresa Mosqueda and Kshama Sawant; former Gov. Christine Gregoire; Port of Seattle Commissioner Courtney Gregoire; King County sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht; Seattle Central College president Sheila Edwards Lange; Northwest African American Museum executive director LaNesha DeBardelaben; Marie McCaffrey, founder/director of HistoryLink; and activist and civic volunteer Constance Rice. For a more complete list of participants, see below.
Suffragists provide ‘proof of life’ for the good fight
By Jean Sherrard

In real life and in the movies, “proof of life” is an oft-used trope in which kidnappers pose a hostage grimly holding up a newspaper’s front page. This week’s astonishing panorama of suffragists, unearthed by researcher Ron Edge, uses a publication to provide proof of a different sort: the life of a movement.

Nearly 70 women and a handful of men lined up a century ago, with mostly stern faces that might reflect not merely the conventions of unsmiling portraiture, but also their years of struggle to secure a fundamental right of democracy. In a note on the back of the photo, they are identified only as “Women suffragists circa 1915.” Two clues, however, provide more precision.

At far right, a partially obscured sign for Wilson’s Modern Business College places us at Second Avenue and Stewart Street (the terra-cotta-clad two-story building from 1914 is being replaced this year by a high-rise). The other pointer is that women are holding up four copies of the March 18, 1916, edition of “The Suffragist,” the weekly newspaper of the Congressional Union for Women’s Suffrage, founded in 1913 by activist Alice Paul and published in Washington, D.C.

The paper’s cover depicts the suffrage opera “Melinda and her Sisters,” staged as a benefit for Paul’s Union at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. None other than Broadway headliner and movie actress Marie Dressler — who, 17 years later, played the title role in “Tugboat Annie,” a film made in Seattle and loosely based on the life of Thea Foss, founder of Foss Maritime — played the operatic lead.

The long campaign for women’s suffrage, however, had not been merely an Eastern affair. By 1896, four Western states — Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Idaho — had voted to authorize the franchise. Efforts in Washington languished until Nov. 8, 1910, when the state’s male voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to our state constitution, giving women the right to vote here, and reinvigorating the national debate.

California followed suit in 1911, with Arizona, Kansas, the Alaskan Territory, Nevada and Montana soon to follow. But hidebound Eastern and Southern states proved resistant, so Paul rallied her members to travel the pro-suffrage West for six weeks and whip up enthusiasm.

Luminaries of the tour included Harriot Stanton Blatch (daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton), Florence Bayard Hilles and Elizabeth Selden Rogers, “speakers known throughout the country for their personality and power.”

In Seattle, the “Suffrage Special” tour took flight. “Visiting Suffragist Joyrides in Aeroplane … Scatters Tracts,” bubbled a front-page Seattle Times headline. The story explained: “The doctrine of ‘Votes for Women’ reached its apex 1,400 feet above Seattle when Miss Lucy Burns … flew over [the city] in [Terah] Maroney’s beautiful flying yacht … and scattered handbills.”

(A prescient side note: One year earlier, Mahoney had taken William Boeing on his first flight, after which Boeing told his partner George Westervelt: “There isn’t much to that machine of Maroney’s. I think we could build a better one.”)

The women’s Seattle tour stop did not disappoint. A crowd of 1,500 packed the Moore Theatre on May 1 for rousing female oratory. Proclaimed Selden Rogers, “The force of women is needed in the land for peace, strength and righteousness.”

The next morning, the envoys gathered for a boisterous pep rally at the University of Washington, where they were welcomed to Meany Hall by Henry Suzzallo, UW president. (Today, the microform collection of the UW library named for him houses the entire seven-year run of “The Suffragist.”)

In the afternoon, a downtown luncheon took place at the New Washington Hotel, now the Josephinum Apartments. Our “Now” group photo was staged just around the corner.

By 1920, requisite states had ratified the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote (though many women of color remained disenfranchised even after the passage, legally or because of discriminatory practices). In 1923, Alice Paul became the first drafter of the Equal Rights Amendment. The fate of the latter might well lie in the wisdom and spirit embodied in our “Now” photo.


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 Jean, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Thanks to Clay Eals for painstaking identification of the participants in our “now” photo (from left). We have only included the names we know. Please help us fill in the gaps!

Allison Feher; Alyssa Weed; Leah Litwak; Assunta Ng, founder, Northwest Asian Weekly; Michelle Merriweather, president and CEO, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle; Sheila Edwards Lange, president, Seattle Central College; Sadiqa Sakin; Marie McCaffrey, co-founder and executive director, HistoryLink; Jessica Forsythe; Lily Wilson-Codega, director, Seattle Office of Intergovernmental Relations; Lisa Herbold, Seattle City Council member; Teresa Mosqueda, Seattle City Council member; Lorena González, Seattle City Council member; Courtney Gregoire, Port of Seattle commissioner; Sally Bagshaw, Seattle City Council member; Debora Juarez, Seattle City Council member; Jenny Durkan, Seattle mayor; Pramila Jayapal, U.S. representative, Seventh District; Debra Smith, CEO, Seattle City Light; Christine Gregoire, former Washington governor; Michelle Gregoire; Mitzi Johanknecht, King County sheriff; Kshama Sawant, Seattle City Council member; Claudia Balducci, King County Council member; Constance Rice, former vice chancellor and senior chancellor, the Seattle Colleges; Emily Pinckney; Karishama Vahora; Maqsud Nur; McKenna Lux; Nura Abdi; Jessica Finn-Coven, director, Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment; Pat Griffith; Kathryn Tyson; LaNesha DeBardelaben, executive director, Northwest African American Museum; Mariko Lockhart, director, Seattle Office for Civil Rights; Ann Murphy; Linnea Hirst; Kiku Hayashi; Julie Sarkissian; Dianne Ramsey; Amy Peloff; Connie Hellyer; Dave Griffith; Joanna Cullen.

We continue this week’s Extras with a slight mea culpa. Two photos were taken on July 2nd – the first just prior to some delayed arrivals. We reassembled for a second portrait, but lost a few participants in the process. Here’s a version of that earlier photo:

A big thanks to all who joined us for the repeat!


Seattle Now & Then: ‘Pacific Coast, Seattle’s Own Railroad’

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THEN: A Seattle-bound train boards passengers at the Black Diamond depot in 1910. While these rails were mainly dedicated to transporting coal, in its heyday, three passenger trains a day made the trip to the big city. (Courtesy, Black Diamond Historical Society)
NOW: Kurt E. Armbruster, at center with his new book, “Pacific Coast: Seattle’s Own Railroad,” poses with rail fans following his lecture at the remarkable Black Diamond Museum, opened in 1982 after years of loving restoration. Many in the audience were the descendants of coal miners.
By Jean Sherrard

My great-grandfather, Arthur Manvel Dailey, arriving in Seattle in 1888, soon found work in the coal mines northeast of Renton. His sweetie (my future great-grandmother Agnes Johnson) was a schoolteacher in distant Ballard. Family lore tells of the arduous round trip from Newcastle to Ballard each Sunday, but for an ardent young suitor a few hours of travel were fair exchange for the weekly allotment of kisses.

And yet, were it not for a 40-mile stretch of “small, grimy, seemingly insignificant” pioneer railway, asserts historian Kurt E. Armbruster in his colorful latest book, “Pacific Coast: Seattle’s Own Railroad”, my ancestors’ romance – not to mention a growing young city’s fortunes – may have been much dampened.

Kurt E. Armbruster on the platform of the former Black Diamond depot, with a copy of his latest book.

From their arrival in 1851, early settlers knew that hopes for a profitable future rode an iron horse. Arthur Denny said he located on Puget Sound believing “that a railroad would be built across the continent to some point on the northern coast within … 15 or 20 years.”

Over the next two decades, however, those expectations were dashed by a number of obstacles, including conflict with native peoples, slumps of the economy, and the U.S. Civil War. In 1873 came more bad news. To Seattle’s dismay, the Northern Pacific Railroad sited the terminus of its cross-country line in Tacoma, leaving the Queen City isolated on her Elliott Bay throne.

But as railroads languished in King County, another economic engine built up steam. Immense seams of coal, pushed up by the Seattle Fault, had been discovered by the mid-1850s, and the foothills east of Lake Washington soon became teeming hives of activity. “In the nineteenth century,” says Armbruster, “coal was king … and Seattle had coal” – indeed, one of the largest coalfields on the west coast.

Coal miners proudly mark Labor Day, 1907, with a group portrait spread across Railroad Avenue. The old depot stands on the right. (courtesy, Black Diamond Historical Society)

Vast shipments of “black gold” were readily snapped up by energy-hungry San Francisco to support its industry and transportation. But the convoluted, Herculean transport from coalface to waiting sailing ships in Elliott Bay took long days and cut deeply into profits.

Seattle’s citizens, stung by the rebuff of big rail, conjured an ingenious solution: build a railway that incidentally provided King Coal with a profitable route to market. And on May 1, 1874, thousands of eager Seattleites assembled to do just that. On that single day, a mile-long stretch of rail bed was cleared along the base of Beacon Hill for the somewhat presumptuously named Seattle & Walla Walla Railroad, eventually renamed the Pacific Coast Railroad.

In the end? Rails that, although never extending much further east than Black Diamond, shortened the mine-to-dock transport from days to mere hours. As a result, Seattle – and Grandpa Dailey – realized benefits that endured for decades to come.


Click through for a narrated 360-degree video of our Black Diamond ‘then’ photo, shot from the ‘now’ location.

Also, check out a video of Kurt E. Armbruster’s lecture at the Black Diamond Museum.

Anything to add, rail fans?

Seattle Now & Then: The Great Seattle Fire, Part II – Out of the Ashes

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THEN: Built in 1883, the luxurious Occidental Hotel covered the flatiron block bounded by Second, Yesler and James. In our “then,” its three-story stone monolith looms over a crew of weary firemen. Locals rated the Occidental “the largest and best equipped house north of San Francisco.” Destroyed in the Great Fire, it was succeeded by the Seattle Hotel, which held court for 70 years.
NOW: Erected in 1961, the “sinking ship” garage proves a dismal replacement. Dismay at the loss of the Seattle Hotel incited a passionate preservationist movement in Seattle. It might be said that it was the “sinking ship” that launched a thousand faces.

(Published in Seattle Times online on June 6, 2019,
and in print on June 9, 2019)

From ‘the hideous remains’ of the Great Fire, a new and improved Seattle rises
By Jean Sherrard

Thirty eight years after its founding, Seattle catapulted to worldwide attention via reports of catastrophic destruction.

The June 6, 1889, fire that incinerated more than 120 acres and nearly 30 blocks of downtown occurred on what might be called a slow news day. Only one week earlier, a burst dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, had swept away more than 2,200 lives, shocking the nation (in response, generous Seattleites pledged $576 for flood relief). The fire that leveled the wooden business district of our pioneer town – although it caused no fatalities aside from a Panglossian “million rats” – was also featured in newspapers across the country.

Within days, a New York Times headline read: ‘The Great Seattle Fire … It May Be a Blessing in Disguise.” Seattle land tycoon Henry Dearborn, visiting the East Coast, predicted: “The fire has cleaned out all these [tinder boxes] which were a constant menace to the city” but soon would be replaced “by fine, fire-proof structures.” Seattle residents enthusiastically agreed.

At first, however, hometown papers adopted a gloomier tone. The morning after the fire, the Seattle Daily Press succumbed to purple prose: “Besides the smoking, tomblike ruins of a few standing walls … people are left living to endure with sheer despair … blackness, gloom, bereavement, suffering, poverty, the hideous remains of a feast of fire.”

A spectacular Ron Edge find and stitch. The brick foundations on the right are the remains of the Frye Opera House, pictured in last week’s ‘Then’ photo just before it burned to the ground.

Yet the same morning, 600 citizens gathered at the surviving Armory on Union Street between Third and Fourth avenues in a display of civic gratitude and confidence. The crowd cheered the news that arch-rival Tacoma had offered aid and succor, as had San Francisco and other cities and towns. When some suggested that aid pledged to the Johnstown homeless be diverted for Seattle use, the crowd shouted, “To Johnstown! Let it go to Johnstown!”

Echoing through the Armory was a commitment to “pull all together” and “rise like a phoenix” while constructing a new city of brick and stone. Streets would be widened and leveled, while a fervent appeal was made to “Seattle Spirit.” On Saturday, June 8, Post-Intelligencer headlines affirmed: “A New Seattle Will Arise … Sweet are the Uses of Adversity.”

Another Ron Edge special. In this panoramic view, Front Street (1st Avenue) is being rebuilt. The Pioneer Building foundation is being lain on the left. The corner of the same building appears on the left in our ‘Now’ photo above.

Operating from tents, local businesses prepared to rebuild. Impresario John Cort, having reopened his burned-out Standard Theater under a canvas big top, featured a joke that brought down the house: “How’s business?” asked the straight man. The comic replied, “Intense!”

The pun proved prophetic. In less than two years, Seattle’s population nearly doubled to almost 45,000, and 3,500 new buildings arose, mostly in the devastated core. Voters authorized a more dependable city water system, and a municipal fire department formed. Thus, just in time for the 1897 Gold Rush, a small pioneer town reintroduced itself as an ambitious young city.


For a good time, click on through to our spoken word 360 video.

Anything to add, firebugs?   A few off fires.  We will be restrained.












Seattle Now & Then: The Great Seattle Fire, 1889

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THEN: Only a handful of images exists of the actual fire — taken by professional photographer William Boyd, whose studio was lost to the flames. Shot from the corner of Spring and Front streets, our “Then” photo looks south to smoke billowing up from Madison Street, where the fire began. The grand pioneer landmark Frye’s Opera House looms large (upper left), just after catching fire. None of the visible structures survived. (courtesy, Wayne Pazina)
NOW: Every building in our current prospect manifests Seattle’s postfire (and oft-voiced) cri de coeur: “We want a city of brick and stone!”

(Published in Seattle Times online on May 30,, 2019,
and in print on June 2, 2019)

130 years ago, poor planning added fuel to Seattle’s Great Fire
By Jean Sherrard

Great cities often have burned to the ground, some over and over again until they got it right. New York, Boston, Chicago and London were reduced to cinders yet repeatedly rebuilt. The cruel lesson: Invest in incombustible masonry and stone, or pay the fiery piper.

One of the few shots of the fire in progress (courtesy, MOHAI)

Young, aspiring Seattle learned that lesson at 2:30 p.m. June 6, 1889, when Swedish immigrant John Back, 24, overheated a glue pot in a cabinet shop in the basement of the wooden Pontius building at Front Street (now First Avenue) and Madison Street.

From the Post-Intelligencer: “I was about 40 feet away,” said Mr. Kittermaster, a fellow employee, “and I saw Back seize a pail of water to throw upon it. I shouted for him not to do it, but [he] seemed excited and danced about with the pail before he dashed the water.” The hapless Back recounted, “I run and took the pot of water … and poured it over the pot of glue, which was blazing up high. When I throw the water on, the glue flew all over the shop into the shavings, and everything take fire.”

Firefighters battle on with rapidly diminishing resources! (courtesy, MOHAI)

In minutes, Seattle’s first steam fire engine arrived but had trouble finding the source of the flames through the billowing smoke. In a miscalculation of planning, downtown hydrants had been planted at two-block intervals, with hoses a block too short. Led by Mayor Robert Moran, crews fought a valiant but losing battle. Overburdened city water mains lost pressure. Streams from the abbreviated hoses eased to a trickle.

At First and Marion, in the basement of the Dietz and Mayer Liquor Store, whiskey barrels exploded, fueling the flames, which spread quickly to nearby saloons. By late afternoon on this hot, blustery day, the entire Denny block was a raging inferno.

Against a cacophony of steam whistles and pealing church and fire bells, homeowners and business owners raced frantically to save possessions, loading up wagons and retreating up to First Hill, south to the tidelands and even out onto the doomed docks.

Post-Intelligencer editor Thomas Prosch wrote, “For a couple of hours after the fire crossed Yesler, the spectacle was a magnificent one, the flames rising high in the air … while the noise of falling walls, the crackling, the occasional explosions, the shouts, added to the flare and heat in making the scene a memorable one.”

Seattleites watched that scene with horror and fascination as their firetrap of a city burned. In 12 hours, the downtown business district — 29 blocks and nearly a square mile — had gone up in smoke.
Amazingly, no one died, though it’s estimated the fire did $20 million worth of damage, in 1889 dollars.

Next week: the aftermath, and the phoenix arising from its ashes — a Seattle that rapidly learned the lessons of brick, sandstone and an abundant water supply.


Please click on through to our 360 video of the current location plus a spoken word version of the column.

Anything to add, les pompiers?

As usual dear captain – a jumble or a farrago of fire – a few more repeats from the time and/or the event.

























A Viaduct Demolition update…

Occasionally, in our travels, we have the opportunity to visit the waterfront. Like any spectacle of demolition, it provides boundless entertainment at no cost. Here’s a few photos from yesterday, featuring a prominent survivor at Marion.

Looking north from Madison
South view to Marion, where a chunk of the viaduct stands alone, shadowing the pedestrian walkway
Looking north from University
A Seattle tradition…another on-ramp to nowhere (at Seneca)
Much of this prospect has not been seen since the early 50s. The Viaduct still stands south of Columbia Street
Ivar observes with (one might assume) wry approbation
The Marion street pedestrian overpass guards a remaining portion of the Viaduct, or is the other way round?


Seattle Now & Then: Tideflats Panorama, 1916

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: What may appear to be a mast atop the foreground boat is actually a sort of crane, says Jim Wheat, president of Ballard-based Captain’s Nautical Supplies. Our thanks also go to Ron Edge for finding this panorama and pinpointing key buildings. (Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: In our rooftop repeat, the 1962 Space Needle, downtown skyline, Port of Seattle cranes and Spokane Street Viaduct add present-day context. Even CenturyLink Field and T-Mobile Park peek out beneath the Smith Tower. In the foreground, instead of bereft docks and scattered pools is the warehouse work of Compton Lumber and Rainier Cold Storage.

(Published in Seattle Times online on May 9, 2019,
and in print on May 12, 2019)

Bolstering a booming city by transforming its landscape
By Clay Eals

For those who may doubt the potential for documentary photography to enter the realm of art, we submit this stunning panorama, looking north toward downtown Seattle in 1916.

Elements of this are expressive, ephemeral, even ethereal. This is in part because two beloved and glowing touchstones of our past – the Smith Tower (far right, completed in 1914 and for decades fondly known as the tallest building west of the Mississippi) and Sears Roebuck Tower (second from right, completed in 1915, becoming the Starbucks Center in 1997) – take a backseat to Seattle’s rapidly evolving industrial backbone on the splayed flats of the lower Duwamish River. It’s a plain that we now call SoDo.

We see no people, but evidence of their existence abounds. The chief subject, barely afloat in the foreground, is a small, sturdy freight boat, which the Webster & Stevens photographer may have showcased to symbolize an even earlier time when seafaring was the primary mode of commerce and connection for a city defined by its water.

Today maritime remains a robust force, competing and collaborating with cars and trucks, trains and planes. But here the lonely vessel stands nearly marooned by the ebbing of the tides and the flow of profiteering that sought to bolster the booming city by transforming its landscape.

What was once a mass of muddy marsh from West Seattle to Beacon Hill was being relentlessly filled in, starting 20 years prior, with the remains of the downtown regrades as well as from the straightening, widening and deepening of Seattle’s only river (named for its native Duwamish tribe) and the creation of Harbor Island. Thus was the city’s typical cloud cover increasingly mixed with plumes of pollution.

Affirmation of this industrial bustle is embodied here by Northern Pacific tracks – one full of cars, the other full of weeds – entering from the southeast, with some tracks curving right (north) to the Stetson & Post lumber mill, marked by sprays of white smoke. The mill had its beginnings in 1874 and relocated from Dearborn Street in 1915 to its East Waterway site. Moving left (west), we also see two massive freight-storage terminals at Hanford and Lander streets.

Moving farther west in this spectacular vista, we see the busy Barton & Company, packer and distributor of “Circle W” mutton, lamb, ham, bacon and byproducts (slogan: “Eat Less, but Eat the Best”).

So why is this ex-swamp called SoDo? The contentious origin, hilariously detailed in Dan Raley’s fine 2010 history book “Tideflats to Tomorrow,” boiled down to geography. It means South of the Dome. What dome? The short-lived Kingdome (1976-2000), on the site of today’s CenturyLink Field. Did we say ephemeral?


For even more great history, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Anything to add, salty dogs?

Absolutely! Here, in chronological order, are seven clippings from the Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that were helpful in the preparation of this column. Click on any clipping to enlarge it. –Clay

Nov. 11, 1912, Seattle Times, page 43
May 11, 1913, Seattle Times, p5
June 30, 1914, Seattle Times, p16
Sept. 20, 1914, Seattle Times, p26
April 18, 1915, Seattle Times, p44
Aug. 15, 1916, Seattle Times, p61
Dec. 24, 1916, Seattle Times, p58










Seattle Now & Then: Fourth and Union, 1942

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Looking north on Fourth Avenue from its intersection with Union Street in 1942. Our thanks to Bob Carney, automobile historian, who indicates that the second car on the right is a 1942 Chrysler, and to Ron Edge, our resident photo maven, for confirming the year. (Paul Dorpat collection)
NOW: Remarkably, most of the generally elegant structures from 1940 survive on both sides of Fourth Avenue between Union and Pike streets in 2019.

In the year 2000, Kodak announced that consumers around the world had shot more than 80 billion photos, setting a record. Yet that record has been exponentially broken. Last year alone, nearly 1.5 trillion photos were taken (some 4 billion per day), mostly on smartphones to share on social media. Our yearly total comprises more than all of the photos taken in the 150 years before this millennium.

As a result, entire categories of photography are disappearing. Itinerant street photographers no longer offer portraits for pennies, wedding shoots are in steep decline, and postcard photographers are few and far between.

Among the photographers featured in this column over the years, J. Boyd Ellis looms large. A former high school principal in Marysville, he bought the Photo Art Studio in 1921 in Arlington, his hometown. For more than 50 years, he and his son Clifford traveled the state, capturing photos of stunning vistas and local curiosities (such as hollowed-out stumps large enough to squeeze through in a Model T) to sell as postcards to tourists and locals. Prolific collector John Cooper, with a stock of more than 5,000 Ellis cards, explains, “No one covered the state like Ellis, because he was no specialist. He went everywhere.”

This week’s “Then” photo, taken in 1942, soon after the United States entered World War II, boasts some of Seattle’s finest mid- to high-rise commercial structures from the city’s boom years of the 1920s. The four-story Great Northern Railway Building (right foreground) and its across-the-street neighbor, the 15-story 1411 Fourth Avenue Building, are Art Deco masterpieces, completed in 1929. Designed by brilliant, eclectic architect Robert Reamer (who also created Lake Quinault Lodge and Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful Inn), they gracefully anchor the Central Business District. The often-glazed terra-cotta-clad buildings include the 10-story Gothic Revival Fourth and Pike Building (1927) at the far end of the block, and the landmarked Joshua Green Building (1913), peeping out just opposite. Keen-eyed readers also will note the “US 99” sign affixed to the lamppost at lower right, evidence that before the Alaskan Way Viaduct, Highway 99 poked along Fourth Avenue.

Standing recently at this vantage, I happily rediscovered this Seattle treasure: a downtown block that had hardly changed over the past 80 years, increasingly rare in our rapidly morphing city. Emphasizing the point, just over my right shoulder (and out-of-frame), at the southeast corner of Fourth and Union, the uniquely “sloping” 58-story Rainier Square Tower is under construction. Upon completion in 2020, it will be the second-tallest building in Seattle. No doubt its visage will be shared many thousands of times in the coming months — and perhaps in a postcard!


To explore our 360 video view of the same location, click here!

Anything to add, compadres?

Jean, your’s is a splendid essay revealing this elegant block on Fourth Avenue, and Clays’ attentions to last Sunday’s Eastside landmark was sweet as well.  Add to these expository lessons  in fine journalism your arching optics  at the corners we feature and who can resist?  I confess that the Eals and Sherrard additions to these weekly explorations  are welcomed by this ancient mariner who is now more often  resting at the dock by the bay.  Thanks for this new vigor.   There is still so much to cover and uncover and our citizens are everadding to it.   Thank-goodness for the two of you.   May you continue your explorations for at least another 37 years.    Sincerely, Paul Lewis Charles Dorpat