Join us for our 13th annual Rogue’s Christmas in a live reading of Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ – this year featuring Seattle’s favorite Scrooge, Kurt Beattie, as well as Marianne Owen, Julie Briskman and Jean Sherrard.
Also, through the magic of video, Paul Dorpat sings ‘The Little Birdie Song’ not to mention a special pre-recorded appearance of our house band Pineola.
(Published in the Seattle Times online on Dec. 10, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Dec. 13, 2020)
Danger, poverty, hope fuel ‘Coals of Newcastle’ immigrant story
By Jean Sherrard
When I teach an annual Northwest history course to middle-school students, one of my favorite pre-COVID lessons included an often-muddy field trip to Cougar Mountain in the foothills between Bellevue and Issaquah and their once-flourishing but nearly forgotten mining communities.
In the wet Pacific Northwest, as every homeowner can attest, iron rusts and wood rots with alacrity. Entire towns may disappear into the tangle of eager rainforest.
Case in point: the adjoining villages of Newcastle and Coal Creek, once home to more than 1,000 residents. For nearly a century, the hamlets fed the hungry maw of industry, power generation and home heating with vast tons of coal, besides helping to build the rails and docks that transformed Seattle into a major port city.
Local journalist and historian Lucille MacDonald and son Dick MacDonald first published their classic monograph, “The Coals of Newcastle: A Hundred Years of Hidden History,” in 1987, in collaboration with the Issaquah Alps Trails Club and the Newcastle Historical Society. Thirty-three years later, the historical society deemed it time for an update.
It took a village of 15 to tackle the mammoth task of revision. Nearly 18 months in the making and approaching 200 pages, lavishly illustrated with maps, graphs and many previously unpublished photos, the updated version is a history buff’s delight.
The story begins Jan. 9, 1864, when after “months of diligent search,” an exploratory party led by King County Surveyor Edwin Richardson made an exhilarating discovery on the banks of today’s Coal Creek. “This brook,” a weary Richardson recorded in field notes, “is remarkable for its numerous croppings of superior stone coal.”
Within weeks, Richardson and several companions staked out 160-acre claims surrounding the creek. Extraction soon began, at first haphazardly but increasing exponentially, and over the next 100 years yielded nearly 11 million tons of coal.
While the area’s vivid history is told with careful attention to detail, the book also shines with moving accounts of the lives of miners, their families and communities. Immigrants arriving in a new world found a toehold at the coal face.
Newcastle’s cemetery, now a historic landmark, provides haunting evidence of these lives lived and lost. The names on its moss-covered headstones reflect a record of migration from across the world. From China, from Europe, from the Americas they came, of many races and religions, confronting physical danger and exploitation, poverty and discrimination, and yet seeded with hope for a brighter future.
As my students have come to understand, it’s a lesson worth mining.
A few items, beginning with another photo of the writing team members and a map from the book itself. For more info on “The Coals of Newcastle: A Hundred Years of Hidden History,” visit newcastlewahistory.org.
For our 360 degree video taken at the site, and to hear this column read by Jean, visit us here.
(Published in the Seattle Times online on Nov. 26, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Nov. 29, 2020)
In our Covid crisis, ACT’s ‘Carol’ strikes a compassionate chord
By Jean Sherrard
“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”
—from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”
In a column comparing historical photos with their modern counterparts, we are particularly keen not to “shut out” still timely lessons of empathy and forbearance offered by Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” particularly during today’s pandemic and civic crises.
Published on Dec. 19, 1843, his instantly popular novella had been written over several weeks in a white heat of exuberant creation. While the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign saw the reinvention of Christmas conventions from decorations to turkey dinners, Dickens’ ghost story etched them into routine.
A Seattle tradition for 45 years, ACT Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol” continues to strike a chord for generations of families.
Founded in 1965 by Gregory Falls, head of the UW School of Drama, ACT provided an alternative to the Seattle Repertory Theatre, then devoted to classical fare. The vibrant young company emphasized modern playwrights and themes, as well as adding jobs for a growing community of actors.
In 1976, Falls adapted and directed Dickens’ “Carol,” featuring acclaimed local actor John Gilbert as Scrooge. At a lean 90 minutes, the ACT version not only sold out two shows nightly, providing a sturdy income stream, but also won praise as one of the nation’s best.
To understand why, I spoke with ACT’s former artistic directors Kurt Beattie and Jeff Steitzer, as well as today’s artistic director John Langs.
Through the years, the ACT version avoids the trap of “bloated spectacle,” says Beattie who has often played Scrooge. He says it hews to Dickens’ original intent, which was to encourage “actual change in a class-bound society indifferent to the suffering of the poor.”
Dickens’ tale of redemption and transfiguration also is “the essence of great drama,” says Steitzer. “Scrooge is a man who was given a second chance and took it.”
For many Northwest theatergoers, the ACT “Carol” has become a ritual not to be missed, even during a season in which live theater is suspended.
“In a very difficult year,” says Langs, “we didn’t want to deprive people of a beloved holiday tradition, so we’ve created a kind of movie for your ears.”
This year’s audio show features music, sound effects, and a cast of 17, with Beattie and Steitzer reversing their previous roles from 1998. It will be available on-demand Nov. 27-Dec. 27 at acttheatre.org.
Check out Jean’s 360 video, captured across the street from ACT Theatre. Also featured, photos from previous ACT productions of ‘A Christmas Carol’:
(Published in the Seattle Times online on Nov. 5, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Nov. 8, 2020)
Light – and a legendary photographer – carom through the canyon
By Jean Sherrard
On a recent early fall day, I once again scrambled after a hero. From La Push to the Columbia River, from Mount Rainier to the Denny Regrade, renowned photographer Asahel (pronounced “EH-shell”) Curtis (1874-1941) has led me on a decades-long, merry chase.
With boundless energy and ambition, Asahel explored every corner of our fair state with a visual imagination that, to my mind, surpasses the artfully composed photos of his more famous brother Edward (noted for his 20-volume masterwork, “The North American Indian”).
In contrast, Asahel hauled his battered camera through every environ and season to snare serendipitous scenes that crossed his lens. Eschewing fussy studio portraits, his “slice-of-life” photos document the quotidian, from Makah whalers to wheat farmers, loggers to factory workers. A founder of the Mountaineers Club, he also captured breathtaking vistas of our highest peaks.
This week’s “then” photo, taken by Asahel in 1932 at the south end of the Yakima River Canyon, is a picturesque joy. The ribbon of highway — with its single lonely car headed north, the empty railroad alongside the river, cradled by basalt hills — offers a haunting portrait of a singular landscape.
Gazing into the fertile Yakima Valley, Asahel would have conjured a lost paradise. In 1907, he had purchased a 9-acre orchard near Grandview as a family retreat from the hurly burly of Seattle city life. After the 1929 stock-market crash, Curtis forfeited his farm and deeply regretted it.
Inarguably, the 25-mile canyon is a photographer’s dream. Light plays over tawny hills around whose roots the Yakima River winds like a verdant green fuse. Driving the canyon road 20 years ago, I assumed wrongly that the water had eroded a path through the basalt.
Counterintuitively, the river came first, says Central Washington University geologist Nick Zentner, perfectly exemplifying an “entrenched meander canyon.” Twelve million years ago, the river twisted and curved across a flat plain, he says, while the basalt hills heaved into place 7 million years later, the result of tectonic pressures originating in what is now central California.
Today, tamed by road and rails — and the diversionary Roza Dam (erected in 1939) — the canyon drive supplies a series of spectacles that shapeshift dramatically with each season.
Asahel died in 1941 at age 66. Not until 1964 were his ashes interred at a Snoqualmie summit wayside memorial. Soon after its dedication, daughter Polly recalled in a 1988 Seattle Times interview, a lightning bolt destroyed the urn, scattering Curtis’ ashes to the winds. Her roving father would have keenly appreciated this fate.
Below, a number of Yakima Canyon photos I’ve taken over the years – including, at top, recent photos of the canyon blackened by late summer fires; specifically the Evans Creek complex, which burned many square miles down to the river’s edge.
Now, a few more photos from the canyon’s caroming light and shadow, taken over the last decade or so.
On the same day I took the ‘now’ for this column, we visited Johnson Foods in Sunnyside. The cannery has been packing Mama Lil’s Peppers for many years.
(Published in the Seattle Times online on Oct. 22, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on Oct. 25, 2020)
This classic masonry building met a lot of peeps along ‘Flesh Avenue’
By Jean Sherrard
This week’s “Then” photo features an amiable bunch of C. Sidney Shepard Co. employees who might have enjoyed a bit of wordplay if given a chance. Their short-lived wholesale metal shop operated between University and Union streets on the west side of First Avenue.
Mirrored reflections in the shop windows date the image. A billboard across the street promotes Denman Thompson’s touring production of “The Old Homestead” for March 17-19, 1904. Though the hit play tempted audiences for years to come, Shepard’s shop ended its run at the Post Edwards Building in 1906.
The Post Edwards (aka the Hotel Vendome) arose in the boom one year after the 1889 Great Seattle Fire. Prolific architect William E. Boone (descendant of Daniel of the legendary raccoon-skin cap) adopted the then-popular Romanesque Revival style. For torched Seattle, the fireproof masonry stonework offered a sense of security that wood could not.
The Hotel Vendome (“Commercial and Family Patronage specially solicited”) promoted itself as a respectable alternative to sketchier lodging on First Avenue, though itinerant psychics, mediums and spiritualists prowled its lower floors for decades. Madame Melbourne and Venus the Gypsy (who promised “satisfaction or no fee”) read the palms of Yukon-bound gold seekers, while the Rev. Edward Earle (“world’s greatest psychic”) foretold the fortunes of soldiers headed into what then was called the Great War.
By the mid-1940s, Anne and Lucius Avery had bought Post Edwards, rechristening it the Seven Seas Hotel and Tavern. Upon her death in 1969, “Mom” Avery was feted for her fondness for seafarers and skills as a bouncer, but the increasingly gritty street had filled with strip shows, porn and pawn shops, cementing its reputation as “Flesh Avenue.”
So when the Lusty Lady, the peep show with a famously punny marquee, arrived at the Post Edwards in 1985, it seemed to suit the neighborhood. Uniquely, however, the venue was run by women, and it was there, in 1992, that young photographer Erika Langley found a gutsy and radical project.
To tell the real story of the place, manager June Cade urged her to sign on as a dancer. Shy and terrified, Langley nevertheless agreed and never looked back. Her 1997 book “The Lusty Lady” was the celebrated result.
After publication, Langley continued dancing until 2004. “I learned so much about humans and sexuality and judgment,” she says, “and in this unlikely place, I had found my tribe.”
Since the 2010 closure of the Lusty Lady, the Post Edwards has drooped with inactivity. As the marquee might say, the building needs more than a sheet to test its metal.
First, most definitely visit ErikaLangley.com. She’s an amazing photographer with a genius for both image and storytelling.
To see our 360 video taken along First Avenue, and hear Jean’s accompanying narration, dance on over here.
(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.
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:
And, in no particular order, shots of construction and trains!
(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.
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.
(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?”
As promised, a few photos from 2010, when the depot was still operating at 8th and Stewart:
Then a melancholy few from 2015, nearing the end of demolition:
(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).
Check back soon for our 360 degree video featuring this location.