All posts by jrsherrard

Just a guy, ya know...

Seattle Now & Then: Great Northern Tunnel construction, 1904

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Three years before the creation of the Pike Place Market in 1907, an unknown photographer captured savory treats. Just right of the tunnel entrance, a temporary assembly line supplied rivers of concrete to line the tunnel walls. Meanwhile, at upper left, an intrepid gent peers over the precipitous edge of the retaining wall at the laborers below.
NOW: A northbound Burlington Northern train emerges from the still-vital north portal onto a waterfront under construction. Concrete pillars and beams are being poured to support a new road connecting the waterfront to Belltown, the four-lane Elliott Way.

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Oct. 8, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Oct. 11, 2020)

The tunnel that reshaped the waterfront (no, not THAT one)
by Jean Sherrard

Just over a year and half has passed since the ribbon-cutting ceremony opening the 1.7-mile Highway 99 tunnel that replaced the geriatric Alaskan Way Viaduct. Four years of burrowing with Bertha, one of the world’s largest tunnel borers, followed by two years of construction and months of viaduct demolition, left behind a wide-open waterfront, ripe for re-imagining.

That most ambitious of Seattle tunnels invites comparison with another one completed 115 years ago. It, too, was an attempt to solve a waterfront problem. Alaskan Way, originally Railroad Avenue, was ribbed with a wide swath of eight sets of parallel train tracks. The dangerous clatter and din of passing trains separated the upland city from its vigorous bay.

Seattle’s transformational city engineer, Reginald H. Thomson, devised the re-routing of some of that traffic, convincing James J. Hill, the Great Northern railroad magnate, to send his trains through a 5,141.5-foot tunnel from the waterfront to the proposed King Street train station (built in 1906 as a marble temple of transport suitable for the aspiring young city).

On April Fools Day 1903, construction commenced at the tunnel’s northern portal, employing pressure hoses to wash away vast tons of dirt and expose the face of the hillside. Within two months, work began a mile away on the south portal.

Hundreds of men at both ends dug day and night for two years in a fiercely competitive race to the middle. In a marvel of precision engineering, the two boreholes were only a fraction of an inch off when in October 1904 they met. Wags among the workers joked that they had built the longest tunnel in the world: from Virginia to Washington — streets, that is. And for its time, the tunnel did break records. When completed, it was the highest (25.8 feet) and widest (30 feet) tunnel in the world.

The tube was lined with 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 feet of concrete, reaching its deepest point 111 feet below Fourth and Spring. Curiously, it also delved through remains of an anaerobically preserved primeval forest at Fourth and Marion. (Soon after exposure to air, the trees reportedly turned to mulch.)

Though overhead property owners worried about their buildings’ foundations, the only actual casualty of construction was the Hotel York at the northwest corner of First and Pike (in our “Then” photo sporting an enormous mural puffing up Owl cigars). Its underpinning undermined, it was razed in November 1904. In 1912, it was replaced by the Corner Market Building, which to this day anchors the Pike Place Market.

WEB EXTRAS

To watch our 360 degree video, which includes two passing trains and Jean’s narration, click here.

Plus a bit of a backstory here. I found a lovely ‘then’ and tried to repeat it, only to discover that the quality was subpar. The original is not lost, but included in the many thousands that Paul donated to the SPL; so for the time being, unavailable. Here, then, is my first attempt at repeating the shot from below:

Alternate THEN: North portal under construction from below
My alternate NOW
More from below. Girders lined up for the new Elliott Way. Victor Steinbrueck Park above…

And, in no particular order, shots of construction and trains!

Construction, double decker train cars and a receding ferry. Who could ask for anything more?

 

Seattle Now & Then: The Ship Canal Bridge, 1960

(click and click again to enlarge photographs)

THEN: Looking northeast, Harvey Bernard’s cloud-strewn portrait of the incomplete Ship Canal Bridge in October 1960 captures Seattle mid-transformation. The Interstate 5 freeway through Seattle opened in December 1962, and the entire Washington state portion was completed in 1969. (Courtesy, Harvey & Leo Bernard)
NOW: Having helped triangulate Harvey Bernard’s original prospect on a hot, late summer day, Keenan Ingram (left) and Elijah Lev of Seattle anticipate diving into Lake Union to cool off. Seconds later, they did just that. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Sept. 24, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Sept. 27, 2020)

A soaring salute to post-World War II car culture
By Jean Sherrard

World War II didn’t just beget a population boom. It also produced the throaty roar of automobile engines. Along with the proverbial chicken in every pot, a growing middle class aspired to afford a car in every garage.

To accommodate the soaring increase in traffic, the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 provided 90 percent funding for a nationwide network of controlled-access interstate highways. The proposed Interstate 5, crossing 1,381 miles between the Canadian and Mexican borders, became one of the jewels in its crown.

This week’s “Then” photo comes from Leo Bernard, whose father, Harvey, moved his young family to Seattle from Minnesota in 1954 to take a job with Boeing. “Photography and mountain climbing became his twin passions,” Leo says, “and we rarely saw him without a camera.”

From a boat deck near the north end of Lake Union, Harvey Bernard captured his Ektachrome transparency of the Lake Washington Ship Canal Bridge under construction in October 1960.

From his vantage, three of seven concrete piers tower above Lake Union, along with a diagonal hash of equilateral steel trusses, providing support for the imposing double-deck bridge. Within a year, its eight-lane wide upper deck and reversible four-lane lower deck would span the 4,429-foot gap between the University District and Capitol Hill. At the time, it was the longest bridge of its kind erected in the Pacific Northwest.

Just west of the piers, the Wayland Mill silo burner squats like an abandoned potbelly stove. The mill produced Bungalow brand cedar shingles for decades before closing after the war. Restaurateur Ivar Haglund purchased the property in 1966 and installed his Salmon House, which still stands today.

To the mill’s right, the nondescript, grey warehouse, built in 1954, was purchased in 1963 by George and Stan Pocock to construct their legendary racing shells. Pocock supplied shells for “The Boys in the Boat,” who rowed them to gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, a story featured last March in this column.

In 1989, Seattle-based glass artist Dale Chihuly bought the 11,352 square-foot building, converting it to a combined living space and glass-blowing studio.

For months, the span, when completed, was a bridge to nowhere. The southern reach of the Seattle freeway had become temporarily mired in controversies over labor and design. Thus, according to the encyclopedic tome “Building Washington” by Paul Dorpat and Genevieve McCoy, planners of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair proposed using the bridge’s empty decks for overflow parking.

The scheme never materialized. But modern motorists are all too familiar with I-5 as a parking lot.

WEB EXTRAS

Check out Jean’s 360 degree video including a late summer boat ride – and featuring young Keenan and Elijah. To be posted soon.

Also, here are a few more lovely photos from Harvey Bernard, contributed by his son Leo.

Harvey Bernard with an early but beloved camera in the 1930s.
Harvey Bernard in 1965.

Taken in 1970, says Leo – looks like the Salmon House is still under construction.
From a West Seattle viewpoint, the Seafirst Tower (aka the box the Space Needle came in) under construction, 1968.
Seafirst Tower under construction, 1968.
Seattle skyline from North Beacon Hill.

Union Station after the 1965 earthquake.

More earthquake damage on Alki.
Richard Nixon visited Seattle during his 1968 campaign.
Washington state’s Gov. Dan Evans shaking Nixon’s hand.
Harvey Bernard loved Mount Rainier.
He visited the the mountain many times, says son Leo, who shared a favorite family photo on Rainier. Leo is second from the left, next to mom, with his two sisters and younger brother.

Seattle Now & Then: The Central Terminal, 1928

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN 1: The spire of Gethsemane Lutheran Church peeks out above the new Central Terminal’s tiled roof. On the far right of Asahel Curtis’s 1928 photo, a sliver of a Seattle-Everett Interurban train car can be seen. (Paul Dorpat collection)
THEN 2: Jean’s 2010 repeat featured a still-thriving transit hub, surrounded by new construction.
NOW: The 45-story Hyatt Regency looms over a nearly deserted Eighth Avenue. Around the corner but unseen, the Lutherans remain faithful. For more of Jean’s photos of the Greyhound station, including its 2015 demolition, see below. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Sept. 10, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Sept. 13, 2020)

Greetings, goodbyes, and the growl of Greyhounds no more

By Jean Sherrard

I left home for the first time in the mid-1970s, bound for college on a cross-state bus. My parents stood together at the gates of the bustling Greyhound depot at Eighth and Stewart, but only my mom waved goodbye as if wiping a fogged window.

Just another emotional departure – to be followed a few months later by a joyful reunion – enacted in the charmless station, witness to decades of greetings, farewells and brimming buckets of tears.

Known for the slender, mid-stride canine in its visual brand, Greyhound began with a single 7-seat bus in 1915. The ubiquitous fleet rolled across America’s heartland and into its hearts, mythologized in popular culture as the buzzing locus of accessible romance and adventure.

From the Oscar-bedecked Frank Capra comedy “It Happened One Night” to Paul Simon’s aural anthem “America,” boarding a bus suggested the promise of open roads, unknown vistas and cute meets. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Twenty years before Greyhound acquired it, Seattle’s Central Terminal was erected in 1927 by the Stone and Webster Management Company, a nationwide utilities cartel with fingers in many pies. (Its complex genealogy can be traced directly to today’s Puget Sound Energy.)

While anti-monopoly laws eventually divided the pies into smaller slices, its three-story, brick-clad Seattle structure was an innovation, accommodating motorized cross-country buses and intercity electric trains within a single station.

Its lively inauguration on Sept. 12, 1927, included a parade of progress along Stewart Street, led by a primitive, hand-drawn sled and concluding with “the most modern motor coach.” Bertha Landes, Seattle’s first female mayor and the honorary conductor, rang a trolley bell to herald the Seattle-Everett Interurban car’s virgin trip from the sparkling station.

This confident investment in the future of mixed-use travel had a shelf life of only 11 years. By 1939, buses shouldered out trains and tracks were torn up and smelted down, replaced by gasoline engines and rubber tires.

In 2015, the terminal was demolished, giving way to high-rise development. I have visited the site several times to capture a photographic whiff of those heartfelt arrivals and departures where Greyhounds once growled. That aroma, however, has been dispelled by the winds of change.

The newly completed Hyatt Regency monolith – at 45 stories and 1,260 rooms, Seattle’s largest hotel – surely boasts luxurious interiors and spectacular views of the city. But its glossy, street-level exterior seems uninviting.

A passing mail carrier offers a trenchant critique: “Five years ago, Eighth Avenue was filled with little shops and businesses. Now it’s all glass walls. Did you know that over there was once a bus depot?”

WEB EXTRAS

As promised, a few photos from 2010, when the depot was still operating at 8th and Stewart:

Signage along Stewart, looking west.
The shit-colored floors were a distinctive feature
Departures and arrivals…
A bus departs from beneath the steel canopy

Then a melancholy few from 2015, nearing the end of demolition:

Seattle Now & Then: City of Seattle Ambulance, ca 1920

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN: Heading southwest along City Hall Park is a city ambulance that our auto informant Bob Carney identifies as a White Motor Company 1-ton truck from the early 1920s. In the background on Fourth Avenue is the Beaux Arts-style King County Courthouse, which topped out in 1916 at a modest five stories. A slice of Smith Tower peeks out upper left. (Courtesy Bert and Elizabeth Prescott)
NOW: Another groundbreaking innovation in Seattle began with the creation of Medic One in 1970. Firefighter/EMT Casey Stockwell stations his truck in precisely the same spot as the city ambulance. Oak trees conceal the 10 additional floors added to the courthouse by 1931. A ball-capped concrete gatepost stands behind the front bumpers in both images. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Aug. 27, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Aug. 30, 2020)

A hearse is a hearse, except when it was an ambulance

By Jean Sherrard

As our pandemic-proscribed summer wanes, we may mourn canceled vacations and neighborhood barbecues, but another singularly American institution, beloved by scavengers, collectors and photo-historians, also has bit the dust – the garage sale.

This week’s “Then” is from an album discovered in West Seattle by Bert Prescott at just such a sale in the 1970s. The collection, dating between 1921 and 1923 and shot by an anonymous photographer, features more than 60 images of commercial and official vehicles, ranging from milk and grocery delivery vans to buses and construction and fire trucks.

This ambulance of “The City of Seattle,” captured on Fourth Avenue near City Hall Park, is both lovely and rare. Serving the City Emergency Hospital, literally a stone’s throw away, the vehicle provides insight into a transitional moment in Seattle medical history.

Along with police headquarters, the city jail and the health and sanitation department, the hospital was crammed into the flatiron Public Safety building (now 400 Yesler), and space was at a premium. A city-owned ambulance was an extravagance soon to be replaced with a more economical solution.

Typically, hospitals of the time contracted with funeral homes for emergency transport, providing a profitable second use for hearses. And it passed muster. Whether injured or deceased, prone human bodies require similar dimensions for delivery.

Jason Engler, an Austin, Texas, funeral director and historian for the National Museum of Funeral History, provides a related piece of undertaker lore. “A hearse would get to the cemetery,” he says, “and no sooner had pallbearers removed the casket than they’d head back out on an ambulance call.”

In trade lingo, they were exchanging their black coats for white ones. What’s more, went a morbid joke, if a patient’s survival seemed dubious, an undertaker might dawdle round the block before reaching the hospital, perhaps instead ending up at the funeral home.

In forward-thinking Seattle, Engler suggests, some citizens seemed to treat the joke seriously. To change the status quo, a mayoral delegation traveled in 1922 to Portland, where an enterprising Frank Shepard ran a successful ambulance service unaffiliated with funeral homes. Might he be persuaded to move north?

Shepard agreed, with conditions. Relocating to Seattle in 1923, he purchased ambulances from Butterworth Funeral Home and negotiated a non-compete agreement: Area funeral homes would stop providing emergency transport if Shepard agreed to stay out of the funeral business.

By 1924, the city of Seattle contracted with Shepard Ambulance to serve its hospitals. Over the decades, the company steadily expanded until 1995, when it merged with American Medical Response (AMR).

WEB EXTRAS

Check back soon for our 360 degree video featuring this location.

 

Seattle Now & Then: Paul Dorpat, historian without portfolio

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THEN1: A family photo of rootin’-tootin’ 4-year old Paul in his parents’ backyard in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Snapped by his dad in 1942, this portrait is what Paul calls in retrospect, “Saving the World for Democracy.”
THEN2: Promoting and producing the Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter Than Air Fair near Sultan in 1968, the world’s first multi-day, outdoor rock festivals held on a farm, Paul (right) pauses in his duties for a photo with long-time pal novelist Tom Robbins.
THEN3: Around the time Paul’s “Now & Then” column began in The Seattle Times in 1982, Paul pays a visit to his friend and mentor Murray Morgan, writer of “Skid Road,” at Morgan’s cabin on Harstine Island in the South Sound. (Courtesy, Genevieve McCoy)
NOW: Pre-pandemic on the waterfront, Paul Dorpat lobs French fries over his shoulder to an admiring trio of seagulls, while also, perhaps, blessing his beloved city. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Aug. 13, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Aug. 16, 2020)

A colossal contribution, and a blast from Paul Dorpat’s present
By Jean Sherrard

This week we drop in on our “Now & Then” column founder, Paul Dorpat.

For 37 years, his witty wisdom (and wise wit), drawn from deep wells of history – and a vast collection of old photos – provided a weekly fount of delight for thousands of fans. Clay Eals and I take ongoing inspiration from Paul’s legacy, but Dorpat ain’t done yet.

Having recently moved from Wallingford into senior housing near the Pike Place Market, he has overseen the contribution of his extensive archive of historical books and manuscripts, as well as more than 300,000 images, to Seattle Public Library.

“I hope my donation will inspire others to do the same,” Paul says. “When we protect and share our history, we can give our community a depth that’s truly resounding.”

Andrew Harbison, the library’s assistant director of Collections and Access Services, concurs: “We’re thrilled to receive this incredible gift and look forward to making the collection available for the public to see and enjoy.”

But that’s not all.

Along with the rest of us, chafing at the isolation imposed by COVID-19, Dorpat continues to collate his many thousands of hours of documentary film and video, dedicated to making this treasure trove available for future generations of historians and documentarians.

“For me, revisiting the past,” Paul says, “has always been a blast.”

WEB EXTRAS

A few more bonbons for friends and fans alike.

Here’s one of my favorites. When Paul and I took a 2005 trip to London and Paris together, we met up with our dear friend and colleague Berangere Lomont (a professional photographer who has through the years served this column as our Paris correspondent). While strolling in the 5th Arr., we did a double take. Paul’s doppelgänger was sitting at a street-side cafe table! The photo op was too good to be missed. Paul sauntered over to the adjoining table and sat down, pretending to examine a menu.

Paul sitting next to his twin in Paris, 2005 (Berangere Lomont)

Berangere took the still and, trying unsuccessfully not to laugh, I pointed the video camera.

More recently, Clay Eals managed to capture a video of Paul feeding gulls on the waterfront (the perfect accompaniment to my still photo used in the column).

Click on photo to see Clay’s video on YouTube.

And in no particular order, a clutch of Paul pix throughout the years.

Paul, baby of the family, accompanied by brothers Dave, Norm and Ted (clockwise from Paul).
Paul with his dad, Rev. Theodore Dorpat, and mom Cherry Dorpat (inset)
Paul in London, 2005
Paul with former roommate Bill Burden and Berangere, Paris 2005.
Paul and Berangere on the Champs Elysees, 2005
Paul with long-time friends Mike and Donna James, 2007. Paul, a registered potentate of the Universal Life church, officiated at Mike and Donna’s wedding.
Paul at Bumbershoot with One Reel’s Norm Langill (plus mime)
Paul and Jean in the Good Shepherd Center’s grotto, posing for ‘Rogue’s Christmas’ PR
Paul with pal Marc Cutler in Bellingham, 2005
Paul signs our book ‘Washington Then and Now’ at Costco, 2007
Paul with historian Alan Stein at the Lakeview Cemetery
Paul at his 70th birthday poses with the late Jef Jaisun, who took photos of Paul at his 40th birthday, on which occasion Dorpat’s beard was removed.
Paul at his 70th stands between Jean’s mom and dad. Howard Lev looms over Paul’s right shoulder
Paul at his 70th, with Ann Folke and Sally Anderson. Eric Lacitis towers upper right.
Paul in Pioneer Square with UW archivist and historian Rich Berner in 2011
Paul at his 75th birthday with this column’s Clay Eals
Paul with Ivar’s President Bob Donegan
Paul performs a pre-prandial prayer at the Lake Union Ivar’s

Stay tuned. More to come…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seattle Now & Then: Civil Rights Protests at 11th and Pike, 1963 & 2020

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THEN: An estimated 1,000 silent protesters head west on East Pine Street near 11th Avenue on June 15, 1963, bound for what is now Westlake Park. Photographer John Vallentyne captured the mid-march moment. The Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the NAACP sponsored the protest. (Courtesy MOHAI)
NOW: Framed by bouquets of lilies at the same intersection, a lone Black Lives Matter protester, hands up, walks toward police lines on Thursday, June 4. The soon-to-be-abandoned East Precinct Station peeks out at top right. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on July 30, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on August 2, 2020)

In civil rights, what has – and hasn’t – changed in 57 years?
By Jean Sherrard

1963, the year of our “Then,” and today, arguably much has changed:

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • The Fair Housing Act of 1968.
  • School desegregation.

So why do we often feel stuck in quicksand? Protest signs spaced 57 years apart could have been written by the same hand.

Nationally, amid a vision of hope, the summer of 1963 produced profound turmoil:

  • On June 11, Gov. George Wallace stood on the University of Alabama steps, blocking entry to two Black students until the National Guard cleared their path.
  • On June 12, NAACP leader Medgar Evers was assassinated outside his Jackson, Miss., home.
  • On Aug 28, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place at the Lincoln Memorial, culminating with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s indelible “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • On Sept. 15, four young Black girls were killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, Ala.

In Seattle, 1,000 marchers gathered on the hot morning of Saturday, June 15, at Mount Zion Baptist Church at 19th Avenue and East Madison Street and were inspired by the words of Rev. Mance Jackson, pastor of Bethel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (today’s Curry Temple CME Church at 172 23rd Ave.).

Jackson called for “a plan of action,” demanding fair housing and employment practices for Black citizens, whose 10% jobless rate tripled that of the city overall.

“The time is now or never,” he said. “We declare war on … America’s greatest enemies: discrimination, segregation and racial bigotry. … We will have to sacrifice and suffer. Somebody may even have to go to jail.”

Our “Now” is from Thursday, June 4, 2020, 10 days after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody convulsed the nation. After days of angry protest, police erected a temporary barricade at 11th Avenue and East Pine Street, separating them from Black Lives Matter demonstrators.

Late in the afternoon, a small group carrying bouquets of lilies and helium balloons pushed to the front of the crowd. A Black protester shouted an obscenity, stripped to his shorts and hopped the barricade, hands aloft. Alone, he advanced toward a line of squad cars.

Behind him, the crowd seemed to catch its breath. Some pleaded for him to turn back and avoid arrest. Others took up a chant: “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Shortly, the protester was arrested and taken into police custody.

In 1963, King challenged us to envision a world in which we can “hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” Then and now, accomplishing that arduous task is our civic duty.

WEB EXTRAS

THEN 2: The original caption of this P-I photo, also shot by John Vallentyne, read, “Police Sgt. C.R. Connery chats with Rev. Mance Jackson, urging marchers to tighten ranks to avoid traffic problems.” (courtesy MOHAI)

Also, check out our 360 degree video, narrated by Jean, shot on location at 11th and East Pine.

Plywood Art

(Published in the PacificNW Magazine of the Seattle Times on July 19, 2020)

THE BACKSTORY: Chronicling the bright art of a dark, coronaviral time

By Jean Sherrard

(click to enlarge photos)

In the last week of March, witnessing the suddenly quiescent streets of Seattle, I assigned myself the task of documenting the changes that were sure to follow. All but “essential” businesses and services had been closed, and my near-deserted hometown carried more than a whiff of post-apocalyptic sulfur.

A boarded-up, unpainted First Avenue block between Main and Washington Streets days after Gov. Jay Inslee’s March 23 stay-at-home proclamation.

In the Pike Place Market, owners of restaurants and many dozens of shops had closed until further notice, leaving behind lonely, “essential” islands of grocers, produce and fish shops. Usually chockablock with artisanal crafts and flowers, the market’s long tables were abandoned. A place that for me represents the beating heart of Seattle had suffered near-cardiac arrest.

On March 17, a deserted Pike Place Market.
The empty crafts market

Yet this was not my first pandemic rodeo. In August 1976, I took a gap year from college and volunteered halfway around the world as an aid worker in South Sudan during the world’s first recorded encounter with the Ebola virus. After months of quarantine, the outbreak abated, and I could travel home to immensely relieved parents.

Jean in South Sudan just outside Wau in 1976

By comparison, while it bears a lower mortality rate, COVID-19 nevertheless has proven significantly more infectious, casting a planet-wide shadow for the foreseeable future.

The same block of First Avenue was festooned with murals by the end of April.

In these uniquely dark times, however, my daily contact with works of art-in-progress provided me a palpable sense of hope, and I wasn’t alone. Many artists noted the warm reception from passersby as they worked. “So much gratitude,” marveled Katlyn Hubner, whose “Pup Pack” can be found just below. What’s more, the murals, interactive by nature, encouraged the recording of thousands of selfies.

“The Pup Pack” Katlyn Hubner
Doghouse Leathers, 715 E. Pike St.
Choosing “caution-cone orange” as her primary color, Hubner also meant to express welcome “for people who have been so depressed in their houses and are just trying to make the lonely walk to the grocery store. Going from blank plywood to full color,” she says, “gives a sense of hope to a neighborhood.”

No sooner had pandemic restrictions begun to ease than Black Lives Matter protests began, resulting in a vibrant new crop of political art, wielding its own set of fiery messages that demanded change. While this magazine’s deadlines limited me to chronicling art of the pandemic, the bare plywood installed more recently on the streets of downtown and Capitol Hill has opened up new vistas.

For those who seek an encyclopedic overview of the murals, local press Chatwin Books plans to publish a full-color book featuring more than 140 artworks from all over town, for which artists supplied their own photos. For more info, visit www.chatwinbooks.com.

THE MAIN STORY: Artists fill the bleak streets of our locked-down city with color and life

In many ways, it looked to be a spartan spring.

Throughout Seattle’s now-deserted commercial districts – including Capitol Hill, Pioneer Square, Belltown and Ballard – shop and restaurant owners shuttered their plate-glass windows and doors with protective plywood panels following Gov. Jay Inslee’s March 23 “Stay Home Stay Healthy” order to slow the coronavirus.

There was no telling how long the panels would remain during the pandemic, but once colorful and vibrant streets were left hollowed out and drained of purpose. Raw wood surfaces offered tempting targets for graffiti and taggers. Yet where some saw bleakness, others saw opportunity.

Muralist and sign painter VK recalls the shock of seeing First Avenue south of Yesler after the governor’s order. Within hours, graffiti had materialized haphazardly on the raw wood surfaces. “My first thought,” he says, “was we’ve got to get down there and paint some murals.”

“Wish You Were Here” VK and Leo Shallat
Central Saloon, 207 First Ave S.
Sign painter and muralist VK watched the first plywood panels going up in Pioneer Square and immediately felt the urge to paint. “Guy Curtis, who owns the Central Saloon, is my godfather, and I’ve done art and signage for him for years. He asked us to put up a hopeful sign, and we did it out of love.” VK’s mural was among the earliest to appear in Pioneer Square.

All across Seattle, great minds were thinking alike. Kathleen Warren, artist and director of Overall Creative, working alongside the Alliance for Pioneer Square, the Ballard Alliance, the Broadway Business Improvement Area and the Downtown Seattle Association, put out a call for artists to submit proposals for mural art. The response was huge.

Belltown Pizza owner Doug Lee made a similar plea on Facebook and almost overnight was inundated with offers from more than 200 artists.

Adding to the mix, several business owners independently contracted with muralists to cover plywood with color.

In the weeks to come, murals reimagined and reinvigorated the empty streets. Some works were by established artists, others by street artists who cut their teeth on graffiti.

The response proved as myriad as might be expected from random humans facing times of turmoil. “Art is not about providing answers,” says Wakuda, another muralist, “but asking the right questions.”

“Regeneration” Wakuda
200 First Ave. S.
The mural wrapping the southeast corner of First Avenue and Washington Street oddly complements its historic, somewhat decrepit surroundings. These are not flowers or coral but fungi writ large. “I have this weird thing about mushrooms,” Wakuda says. “They re-colonize the dead and the disused, bringing beauty and meaning to a lifeless place, which is exactly what art does.” While painting on the street, Wakuda wears a jumpsuit and aerosol can holster of his own design. “It signals that I’m someone at work with reason to be there.”

Anne Siems, a prominent Northwest artist whose gallery show had just ended in February, had never painted a mural. The large format both intrigued and unnerved her. “Covering an entire wall with art is kind of like a cave painting,” she says. “It has an inherent power that can draw us in with beauty.”

“Beauty & Terror” Anne Siems
Harvard Avenue East, north of Pike Street
Soon after her gallery show closed, Siems negotiated an emotional tightrope. For her first mural and largest painting ever, she explored her rising tensions. “In my art, I try to find incredible beauty, and yet there’s a sort of splinter under the skin. It tells us everything is ephemeral. … Yet this sense of beauty is something our souls really need.”

From comfort and comedy to biting commentary and remonstration, the new murals recalled the past, reflected the present and affirmed the future.

As Inslee’s restrictions lift, the murals’ fate is up for grabs. Entering the next phase of pandemic response, many businesses have removed the painted plywood and put the art into storage. Some have postponed removal or incorporated the panels into their businesses. Other murals already have been sold to private collectors.

But the muralists continue to paint the town.

A new wave of political art is on the rise, embracing and illustrating this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. As our city confronts the canvas of an uncertain future, both art and artists will be on hand to help us ask the right questions.

“Charleena Lyles” Mari Shibuya & VK
Sephora, 415 Pine St.
While pandemic art is taken down, political art is rising. Near Westlake Park, site of many protests, Shibuya’s mural features Charleena Lyles, a Seattle woman shot and killed by police in 2017.

THE ART

“Waiting with Paco” Jay Mason
240 Second Ave. S.
For his first mural in 20 years, Mason portrayed one of his favorite views of Seattle. “As a dog owner, I spend a lot of time at the Jose P. Rizal dog park. I wanted to illustrate my own experience with quarantine, so I included my wife, Brandy, and our dog, Paco, looking out the window, waiting to return to a deserted city.”
Jay Mason joins his wife Brandy King-Mason and dog Paco at the painted window.
“Take Your Time” Casey Weldon, assisted by Alexander Halliday and Ego Shoreclay
Bon Voyage Vintage, 110 S. Washington St.
His typical canvases are 18-by-24 inches, but Weldon eagerly scaled up to murals without a hitch. “Why sloths?” he asked. “We were all sitting around feeling down on ourselves – isolated and feeling guilty for not being more productive. But during a pandemic, slothfulness is kind of all right.” And sloths are pretty in pink.
Casey Weldon painting ‘Take Your Time’ in mid-April.
“Hello” Casey Weldon, assisted by Crystal Barbre and Zach Takasawa
Life on Mars, 722 E. Pike St.
“When everyone’s confused and unsure of what’s going to happen,” Weldon says, “an artist’s role is to provide visual comfort or at least something that eases the general depression. It’s about envisioning the future we want to see.”
“Untitled” by Zaeos
across from Neumos outside CES Studio, 1428 10th Ave.
A 6-foot-tall crow keenly watches over a vibrant neighborhood. Now a graphic designer, Zaeos began doing street art and graffiti in Portland. “The purpose of these murals,” he says, “is to cover a dystopian or desolate façade with a thing of beauty.”
“Be Sure to Wash Your Flippers!” Sydney M. Pertl, assisted by SeaPertl Productions, Miles Pertl, Leah Terada
Agate Design, 120 First Ave. S.
“This is art that speaks to a very specific time and place,” Pertl says, “and shows a community uniting in the face of so many uncertainties.”
“Writers at Play” Sam Day
The Globe Bookstore, 218 First Ave. S.
Globe owner John Siscoe stands before plywood panels populated with writers. On the front door’s interior surface, Tin Tin cavorts with his dog Snowy, while the right panel is shared by (clockwise from upper left) Sherman Alexie, Maya Angelou, Samuel Beckett and Jamie Ford. Yorick’s skull, from “Hamlet,” peeks out at left.
“Untitled” Dozfy
Amber Lounge, 2214 First Ave.
A giant squid wrestles a whale, etched in this artist’s unmistakable style. Having carved out a niche in the restaurant and hospitality industry, Dozfy has “put everything on pause due to the coronavirus” and during the hiatus is dedicated to “creating a positive effect in which everyone is involved in the story.”
“Untitled” Dozfy
Ballard Annex Oyster House, 5410 Ballard Ave. N.W.
A sea serpent swims along five windows on a side wall.
“Until Next Time” Glynn Rosenberg
5136 Ballard Ave. N.W.
“Street art pops up during times of economic and social unrest,” Rosenberg says. After completing her mural, the building’s bemused owner informed her that her painted doorway and steps recreated lost elements of the original interior. “Somehow,” she says, “I was visited by the ghosts of architecture.”
“Traffic Cone” Dom Nieri
103 Yesler Way
A creative producer in the visual arts, Nieri works to facilitate mural projects around the world but usually doesn’t participate in what he calls “solo acts of creation.” Returning to Seattle in the midst of the pandemic, however, he was inspired to paint a subject he finds compelling. The crumpled traffic cone represents a failure of avoidance. “It has a human quality,” Nieri says, “but whether of defeat or resilience I’ll leave open to interpretation.” The former Subway shop was closed months before COVID-19 after it was damaged by a runaway dump truck.
“Come on Home” Zachary Rockstad
Harvard Avenue East, just north of Pike Street
Commissioned to commemorate musician John Prine, a casualty of COVID-19, Rockstad found himself deeply moved by Prine’s songs. “When everything is just chaos and going to hell, it’s an artist’s job to express how we’re feeling,” he says. Whether out of grief or joy, “art can provide a visual garden.”
“Puppies” Ariel Parrow
The Hart & The Hunter restaurant, 111 Pine St.
“I love painting dogs,” Parrow says, “and puppies are a universal love language.” To relieve tension during finals week at the University of Montana, she says, “The faculty would bring in therapy dogs, and stressed-out students would wait in line for a chance to pet a golden retriever. … I can’t give everybody an actual puppy, but I can share a painting of a puppy, and that’s pretty close.”
“Puppies” Ariel Parrow
The Hart & The Hunter restaurant, 111 Pine St.
Ariel Parrow spent a day painting each golden retriever puppy in this mural.
“Safety is Sexy” Kreau
1631 E. Olive Way
Several years of a booming economy convinced Kreau that gentrification and displacement had diminished the local arts scene. Recently, however, he has seen “art appearing everywhere, helping people cope with turmoil. It was waiting in the wings all along.”
“House Party of One” Sean David Williams
Comet Tavern, 922 E Pike St.
For years, Williams has been a regular customer of the Comet, one of Seattle’s great dive bars. When offered the plywood panel on front, he jumped at the chance. “I showed my love for this place with a kind of dreamy surrealism – a sort of celebration of the selfless act of staying inside during a pandemic.”
“Down the Rabbit Hole” Debora Spencer
2222 Second Ave.
Having recently returned to Seattle from New York, Spencer felt beset by anxiety and sadness as the pandemic loomed. Painting plywood panels in her Belltown neighborhood provided purpose. “Alice’s predicament really spoke to how I felt,” she says. “I’m a social person, but I’m also high-risk, so I worry how to talk to people again without fear of physically getting too close to them. Everything was changing and it was so scary.” Spencer, dressed as Alice, peeks warily out of the doorway of ‘The Rabbit Hole’, a Belltown bar.
Detail from ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’
“Assemblage” Joey Nix
Good Bar, 240 Second Ave S.
This mural illustrates “different elements of the inner workings of certain machines and devices collaged together as a whole,” Nix says. “This suggests that even if you are trained your whole life to be a certain way, you do not necessarily have to fit that mold to be beautiful.”
“Stay Home” Carlos Giovanni and KSRA
southeast corner of Broadway and Pike Street
Creating one of Seattle’s earliest post-shutdown murals, completed April 4, Giovanni and his wife KSRA (pronounced Que Sera) labored on near-deserted streets. “It seems insane to me that it took a pandemic to bring all that beauty to Seattle,” Giovanni says, “but you walk around now, and it’s like a street art gallery.”
“Creativity Regenerates” Mari Shibuya
220 First Ave. S.
Creativity, Shibuya contends, is what makes us human, and especially during turmoil, artists anchor human culture. “Our role is to encourage lateral thinking,” she says, “to uplift the spirits, and to envision a future that we can actually live in.”
“Confined Momentum/Established Parameters” Japhy Witte
Good Bar, 240 Second Ave. S.
Within these vibrant double murals, Witte illustrates a darker vision. With undulations of shape and color, “titans are crammed into a tight space,” he says, “so that you really feel the confinement of it. The momentum of everything is being stripped down, liberties taken away. … Who knows what storm is coming?”
Muralist Japhy Witte at work.
“Quarantine Cutie” Cady Bogart
corner of 10th Avenue and Pike Street
This is the first of two murals painted by Bogart. Her gentle admonition here has been widely shared and admired since it appeared in early April. These days, for Bogart, these words of novelist Toni Morrison ring especially true: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear.”
“Enjoy the Flowers” Josephine Rice
Venue, 5408 22nd Ave. NW
After losing her day job designing wedding floral arrangements due to the coronavirus, Rice quickly found work painting murals. Venue owner Diane Macrae offered her a commission in early April and since then Rice has never looked back. She now works full time as a muralist.
WEB EXTRAS

So much remarkable art, so little space. First, heartfelt apologies to those artists whose stunning murals did not appear in the print version of the column. I include a portion of the remarkable artwork spread across town below, divided roughly by location.

First, Ballard:

Belltown:

Capitol Hill:

DOWNTOWN (including Chinatown/ID):

PIONEER SQUARE:

Seattle Now & Then: Seattle’s Post Office, ca 1886

(click to enlarge photos — Clay and Paul advise, ‘Click again’)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on June 24, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on June 28, 2020)

In challenging times, the Post Office delivers human connection
By Jean Sherrard
THEN: On the northeast corner of Yesler Way and Post Avenue, Seattle’s main post office was erected in 1880. Historian Greg Lange suggests that it may have been Seattle’s first federal government building. The stately Post Building (right) housed the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, after which Post Avenue was named. The boxy post office seems drab by comparison. The Seattle fire consumed both in 1889. (courtesy Tim Boardman)
NOW1: Mail carrier Azuma Ohta looks west as she stands at Yesler and Post in front of post-fire buildings constructed of less-flammable brick and mortar. (Jean Sherrard)

When it opened in October 1852, Seattle’s first postal station was little more than a mahogany desk in Arthur Denny’s log cabin at what is now First and Marion.

It had been 11 months since the Denny Party landed at Alki Beach. The urge to connect with the outside world was strong. Even a pocket-sized post office offered settlers a sense of stability.

For The Seattle Times, Arthur’s daughter, Louisa, wryly recalled perching on her dad’s desk as he sorted mail when a boat came in: “It was not a monumental task, as there was very little mail coming and going.”

Decades later, however, our “Then” displays a hive of activity at Seattle’s downtown post office at the northeast corner of what is now Yesler Way and Post Avenue. The scrawled inscription, “Waiting for mail at Seattle’s Post Office,” explains the long lines, adding cryptically, “Mostly strangers.”

The note may offer a calendar clue. By late 1886, with an economy recovering from three years of recession, hundreds of “strangers” arrived seeking jobs. The newly employed no doubt eagerly queued for mail from families they had left behind. By fall 1887, crowds abated when the post office hired four mail carriers and began the tradition of free delivery.

To document today’s version of this practice, with permission from Seattle’s postmaster I recently joined 12-year postal veteran Azuma Ohta on her appointed rounds, starting at the Seattle Carrier Annex at Fourth and Lander, where days begin with sorting letters and packages.

Beyond snow, rain, heat and gloom of night, every carrier bears scars from being chomped by dogs, clawed by cats and stung by bees and wasps. Azuma is no exception. Twice-bitten, with one attack by a canine whose owner left a door ajar, she still identifies as a “dog person.”

During the pandemic, postal workers older than 60 and otherwise at high risk have been allowed to take several months off. Younger carriers have filled in, so Azuma has been working 75 hours a week, more than during the hectic holiday season.

Another unexpected effect of the coronavirus has been to boost the contents of carriers’ mailbags. “People are hungry for physical connection beyond Zoom and email,” she says. “They’re sending more cards and letters than I’ve ever seen before.”

Tagging along on her Capitol Hill route, I can see that Azuma is a beloved fixture. Passersby sing out cheerful greetings. She has watched babies become adolescents and witnessed love and loss, marriage and divorce.

Tim King often meets her at his door for a chat. “We adore Azuma,” he says. “She brightens our days, and these days can use some brightening.” By any measure, that’s a monumental task.

WEB EXTRAS

Be sure to visit our Seattle Now & Then 360 channel, where you can listen to and view this column in glorious 360 degree color! Jean narrates.

Every day starting at 7 AM, Ohta sorts mail for delivery at the Seattle Carrier Annex at Fourth and Lander.
Postal vehicles all in a row at Fourth and Lander
Azuma in the driver’s seat. She covers five routes per day.
Delivering mail upstairs and down
Azuma greets Capitol Hill resident Tim King.
Azuma, next to her mail truck on Capitol Hill, pauses for a chat with King.
In an average day, Ohta estimates she walks 5 to 10 miles
A Seattle postal van from 100 years ago, parked in front of King Street Station

 

Seattle Now & Then: Plymouth Church marks its 150th anniversary

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN: With its distinctive pillars, Plymouth’s third church building, completed in 1912, stood facing east on Sixth Avenue between Seneca and University Streets (ca. 1939). After structural damage from the 1965 Puget Sound earthquake, it was demolished and replaced by the current building. (Museum of History and Industry)
NOW1: The Rev. Dr. Kelle Brown, lead pastor since 2017, stands in Plymouth Pillars Park overlooking downtown to the west. The columns, original to Plymouth’s third church building, were purchased by John and Anne Gould Hauberg and donated to the city. They were installed in October 1967 on the tiny, triangular parcel at the corner of Boren Avenue and Pike Street. (Jean Sherrard)
NOW2: Today’s Plymouth is one of the last of what Brown calls “big steeple churches” in downtown Seattle. On a recent Sunday morning, the building was empty as she delivered her sermon online. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on June 4, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on June 7, 2020)

Historic downtown church confronts Seattle’s ‘original sin’
By Jean Sherrard

This past Jan. 25, during an evening lecture at Plymouth Congregational Church, historian David Buerge spoke of the city’s “original sin”: 54,000 acres taken from the Duwamish Tribe without recompense, leaving Chief Seattle’s people, who had so warmly welcomed early settlers, landless and homeless.

In response, the Rev. Dr. Kelle Brown, Plymouth’s lead pastor, had a forward-looking suggestion. “We have been squatting on First People’s land for nearly 170 years,” she said. “We’ve been blessed with the beautiful asset of this property. It’s time for the church to begin paying down our debt.”

Only a week past the 150th anniversary of the church’s first Sunday service, her audience voiced strong support for initiating discussions with the tribe. Those familiar with Plymouth and its long history of civic engagement were not surprised. From women’s suffrage and civil rights to immigration and homelessness, the church has wrestled with thorny issues of every era.

Before the church’s founding in 1870, Mayflower descendants John and Carolyn Sanderson determined that Seattle, with a population of nearly 1,000 mostly single men, lacked ecclesiastical choice. Methodists and Episcopalians had established solid toeholds here, but Congregationalism (with direct links to the Pilgrims) might add the tempting solidity of Plymouth Rock.

Their choice of pastor, charismatic John F. Damon – also a prominent Mason – was propitious. Church historian Mildred Andrews notes that Damon was “skilled at playing upon the emotions of his hearers” and in high demand for both weddings and funerals (at which there was “never a dry eye”).

Becoming known throughout the region as the “marrying parson,” Damon soon drew crowds of 100 for both morning and evening Sunday services, a staggering 20% of the town’s population. Pioneer Arthur Denny, lured from the Methodists, was inspired to donate a lot at Second Avenue and Spring Street for Plymouth’s first church.

Church membership soared. Besides the Denny family, notable congregants included James Colman (builder of the original Colman Dock), engineer Hiram M. Chittenden, developer James Moore (whose Moore Theater still stands at Fourth and Stewart) and Seattle’s first female mayor, Bertha Landes.

This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the church’s most ambitious offshoot. In 1980, after witnessing men sleeping rough on the church’s doorstep, the Rev. David Colwell braced his congregation: “One homeless person is one too many.” Today, Plymouth Housing provides supportive dwellings for more than 1,200 people in 14 buildings across the city.

For her part, Brown envisions a vital role for the church in years to come: “We must never lose sight of the most vulnerable, the most disenfranchised, and make sure that as a church, the lens we use is one of justice.” Plymouth’s proposal to enfranchise the Duwamish people will take a pioneering step toward atonement.

WEB EXTRAS

And here’s our accompanying narrated 360-degree video of this column, as promised.

Corona-diaries…

Jean here. As many of you know, I’ve spent the last few weeks wandering the city, attempting to portray Seattle’s response to this pandemic. And it’s been nothing short of inspiring, particularly on the artistic front. Artists and muralists from across the region have gathered in Ballard, on Capitol Hill, in Pioneer Square, and Belltown, to bring color and form to otherwise dormant, plywood-covered streets. Here’s a selection of my faves (double-click to enlarge):