Category Archives: Seattle Now and Then

Seattle Now & Then: The influenza pandemic, 1918

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THEN: Seattle bon vivant and amateur photographer Max Loudon took this photo featuring his beloved Indian Motorcycle during the 1918 pandemic. His sister Grace Loudon McAdams, second from the right, perches side saddle amidst masked friends on a Third Avenue sidewalk half a block south of Washington Street. (Paul Dorpat collection)
NOW: A lone Seattleite walks her dog along a nearly-deserted Third Avenue. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on April 2, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on April 5, 2020)

A deadly flu kept Seattle indoors and in masks in 1918
By Jean Sherrard

“I had a little bird and its name was Enza.
I opened the window and in-flew-Enza.”

In the fall of 1918, this was not just a nursery rhyme. The worldwide influenza pandemic was quite real – and lethal.

It blew into Washington state on a perfect storm. Percolating in the wet, filthy trenches of World War 1, this mutated H1N1 strain infected weary soldiers, and in the war’s waning months, it circled the globe. At U.S. military bases, deaths from pneumonia multiplied, alarmingly within days, even hours, of the onset of symptoms. Unlike past flus, the most vulnerable were young and healthy.

In mid-September, Camp (now Fort) Lewis and Bremerton’s naval facilities reported their first cases of flu. So on Oct. 5, Seattle’s mayor, Ole Hanson, and commissioner of health, Dr. J. S. McBride, ordered the immediate closure of schools, churches, theaters, dance halls and “every place of indoor public assemblage … to check the spread of disease.”

Frank Cooper, school superintendent, pronounced the closures “hysterical” and “senseless,” while children applauded the unexpected vacation. Outside City Hall, a young boy demanded of Hanson, “Are you the guy that closed the schools?” Hanson admitted that he was. “Well,” said the lad, “I’m for you!”

To many, the closures seemed draconian. Deprived of entertainment, recreation and indoor religion (although St. James Cathedral and First Presbyterian Church held open-air services throughout rainy October), Seattleites derided the closures. “An awful day for husbands and wives,” the Post-Intelligencer huffed. “Both had to either remain at home or walk the streets.”

Druggists peddled a plethora of snake-oil cures, from Coronoleum and Septol Spray to Bark-la’s Gargle and Gude’s Pepto-Mangan (“the Red Blood Builder”).

The Red Cross distributed 250,000 six-ply linen masks, and public transit became off-limits to the open-faced. (“Wear the mask or walk,” proclaimed Hanson.) Taking advantage of the anonymity, a few masked crooks staged stickups and burglaries.

As contagion swelled, public complaints evaporated as newspapers listed sobering daily death tolls of men and women in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

On Nov. 11, Armistice Day, “perfectly sunny weather” was forecast. After five weeks of gloom and isolation, Seattle was primed for a celebration. “In [an] ecstasy of joy at ending the world’s worst war,” reported The Seattle Times, “it grew from nothing into cheering thousands.” Masks were shucked and “instead of handkerchiefs … waved from windows and doorways by cheering spectators.”

The next day, the closures were revoked. “All places of public assembly” reopened, though masks were still de rigueur.

Before the virus ran its course in 1919, a third of the world’s population had been infected, resulting in 50-100 million deaths, including nearly 5,000 Washingtonians.

By springtime, it could be said, out flew Enza.


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!

And there’s more!

THEN: Max Loudon’s 2nd photo of his motorcycle posers unmasked!

Also below is an alternate “Now & Then” pair on the same topic. Enjoy!

THEN: On Oct 29, 1918, the noon shift of Police Chief J.F. Warren’s “Influenza Squad” emerges from police headquarters in the Public Safety Building (now the Yesler Building), in this easterly view up Terrace Street. The force was charged with cracking down on public spitting (a $5 fine), enforcing the wearing of masks and dispersing crowds. Warren himself was infected early on but recovered. (Paul Dorpat collection)
NOW: Two mask-free Seattleites bravely cross the intersection of Terrace Street and Yesler Way. (Jean Sherrard)





Seattle Now & Then: ASUW Shell House 1936

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THEN: Posing in front of the Shell House doors are “The Boys in the Boat” (from left): Don Hume, Joe Rantz, George “Shorty” Hunt, Jim “Stub” McMillin, John White, Gordy Adam, Chuck Day and Roger Morris, with (front) coxswain Bobby Moch. This image may become more iconic if, as forecast by MGM, a Hollywood film directed by George Clooney commemorates the “Boys” story. (University of Washington Libraries Special Collections, UW2234)
NOW: (Also see identifier photo below.) Family of “The Boys in the Boat” and of famed shell-maker George Pocock and coach Al Ulbrickson pose Feb. 25, 2020, outside the ASUW Shell House. The ramp from the Shell House to Lake Washington extends only a handful of yards, so with the hardiness of an oarsman, Jean Sherrard shed his socks and shoes, rolled his pants to his knees and waded into near-freezing water to secure this wide shot depicting the full girth of the building. Descendants posing between the oars, approximating the positions of their ancestors in the “Then” photo, are (from left) Jennifer Huffman, Judy Willman and Fred Rantz, granddaughter, daughter and son, respectively, of rower Joe Rantz; Nicci Burrell, granddaughter of rower George Hunt; Colby White, John White, Loren White and Colby White Jr., son, great-grandson, great-grandson and grandson, respectively, of rower John White; Jeff Day, Kris Day, John Day, children of rower Chuck Day; Joseph and Susan Hanshaw, son-in-law and daughter of rower Roger Morris; (front, from left) Marilynn Moch, Maya Sackett and BJ Cummings, daughter, great-grandchild and granddaughter, respectively, of coxswain Bobby Moch. Other descendants are (far left) Lindsay and A.K. Ulbrickson, great-grandchildren of coach Al Ulbrickson; (right rear, from left) Alvin Ulbrickson III and Rinda Ulbrickson, grandchildren of coach Al Ulbrickson; Ray Willman, son-in-law of rower Joe Rantz; (right front, from left) Nathan Pocock, Jim and Beth Pocock, Sue Pocock-Saul, Dave and Katie Kusske, great-grand nephew, grand nephew and grand niece-in-law, granddaughter, grandson-in-law and granddaughter, respectively, of famed shell-builder George Pocock; and Chris Eckmann, grandson of athletic director Ray Eckmann. (Jean Sherrard)


(Published in the Seattle Times online on March 26, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on March 29, 2020)

The rowing ‘home’ that launched a repudiation of pre-war Hitler

By Clay Eals

Imposing outside, cavernous inside, yet somehow out of sight – that’s the ASUW Shell House.

Tucked behind tall trees near Husky Stadium at the end of a secluded hairpin lane, it anchors a bucolic scene that faces Lake Washington’s shore. Bordering State Route 520, pell-mell traffic and frequent construction near the intersection of Montlake and Pacific, the Shell House is mainly hidden. The most likely way to notice it has been from the water.

That’s changing, given the publishing phenomenon of “The Boys in the Boat.” Since Daniel James Brown’s bestselling book burst on the national scene in 2013, the now-102-year-old barn-shaped structure, named for the University of Washington student government, has garnered acclaim for having launched a breathtakingly implausible feat.

From this ex-World War I naval seaplane hangar, an unassuming nine-member UW men’s crew from then-backwoods Seattle trained in 1936 on Montlake Cut, won a berth in the Summer Olympics in Berlin, overcame illness and intimidation and snared a gold medal, embarrassing an overconfident Adolf Hitler and uplifting a Depression-saddled, pre-war America.

In an era when speedy, synchronized rowers roused wide fascination, this true-life David and Goliath story became a race against the concept of a master race, providing potent symbolism for the ages.

Today, the Shell House is redolent with a legacy as intense as the swelter of its famous “Boys.” They’re all gone, but the senses of their descendants swell as they enter this local and national landmark.

Jeff Day, son of oarsman Chuck Day (in position #2 on the 1936 team), gets wide-eyed as he surveys the rafters, “I imagine these guys yelling and shouting and carrying the boats out with all the energy that they had. This building was hearing all of that energy. This is the building.”

Likewise, the Shell House makes the hair on Judy Willman’s neck stand on end. For her father, Joe Rantz (#7 in 1936), “this was a home, a place to come to, a place he could be, a place to be safe and a place where he could trust again.” Abandoned as a child in Sequim, her father found crew at the UW “and got the trust back.”

UW rowers now toil from newer headquarters to the north, so the Shell House is largely empty. But the university, represented by buoyant Nicole Klein, is mounting a drive to preserve and restore it as an inspiring waterfront venue to last, as the slogan goes, “the next 100 years.” The campaign is $2 million toward its $13 million goal.

Because of the descendants’ passion, not to mention Seattle’s affection for all things connected to the water, the Shell House soon may, so to speak, come out of its shell.


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

Below are several clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that, among others, were helpful in the preparation of this column.

Also below is an identifier photo for our “Now” image plus other “Then” images, some with “Now” counterparts. There also is a trio of bonuses at the bottom — a photo of barefoot Jean Sherrard taking the “Now” photo, a 2002 Paul Dorpat column featuring the Shell House, and a link to a recent story indicating that George Clooney will direct a film version of “The Boys in the Boat” for MGM.

(10:30 p.m. Thursday, March 26, 2020: I’ve added one more “extra,” a photo collage courtesy of a good friend from my Mercer Island High School class of 1969, Bob Ewing, plus a related clipping mentioning Bob’s dad’s name. They’re at the very bottom. Enjoy! –Clay)

April 5, 1936, Seattle Times, page 20
July 26, 1936, Seattle Times, page 12
Aug. 13, 1936, Seattle Times, page 8
Aug. 14, 1936, Seattle Times, page 1
Aug. 14, 1936, Seattle Times, page 14
Identifier photo for the “Now” image at the top of the column. (Jean Sherrard)
Early planes are parked in late 1918 or early 1919 in the Shell House during the short time it served as a hangar. (Courtesy University of Washington)
Female rowers at the University of Washington pose with oars in the 1920s. (Courtesy of University of Washington)
Legendary shell maker George Pocock works in 1922 or 1923 in his upstairs shop in the Shell House. (Courtesy of University of Washington)
An unfinished shell rests in upstairs shop at the Shell House in 1924. (Courtesy University of Washington)
Shell maker George Pocock works on May 15, 1938, in his upstairs shop at the Shell House. (Seattle Times archives, courtesy of University of Washington)
Family of George Pocock pose Feb. 25, 2020, inside the Shell House (from left): Katie Kusske, grandaughter; Dave Kusske, grandson-in-law; Sue Pocock-Saul, granddaughter; Nathan Pocock, great-grandnephew; Beth Pocock, grandniece-in-law; and Jim Pocock, grandnephew. (Jean Sherrard)
Family of George Pocock pose Feb. 25, 2020, in Pocock’s upstairs shop at the Shell House (from left): Dave Kusske, grandson-in-law; Katie Kusske, grandaughter; Nathan Pocock, great-grandnephew; Beth Pocock, grandniece-in-law; and Jim Pocock, grandnephew. (Jean Sherrard)
Children of rower Chuck Day — (from left) Jeff Day, Kris Day and John Day — pose before a standee that shows 1936 rowers Chuck Day (left) and Roger Morris. (Jean Sherrard)
Sportswriter George Varnell walks the ribbed apron of the Shell House in the 1920s. (Courtesy University of Washington)
Katherine Varnell Dunn, great-granddaughter of George Varnell, approximates the pose and position of her sportswriter ancestor. (Jean Sherrard)
Aug. 20, 1936, Seattle Times, page 22
The Montlake Cut in 1936, the year the University of Washington crew won a gold medal at the Summer Olympic Games. (Seattle Municipal Archives, courtesy University of Washington)
Future coach Al Ulbrickson as a University of Washington student rower, 1924. Notice his name, “Al,” on the oar handle.(Courtesy University of Washington)
A.K. Ulbrickson, great-grandson of coach Al Ulbrickson, repeats his ancestor’s pose on Feb. 25, 2020. (Jean Sherrard)
A.K. Ulbrickson adds a smile to his pose. (Jean Sherrard)
Coach Al Ulbrickson on Feb. 19, 1941. (Courtesy University of Washington)
Lindsay Ulbrickson, great-granddaughter of coach Al Ulbrickson approximates the pose of her ancestor outside the Shell House on Montlake Cut on Feb. 25, 2020. (Jean Sherrard)
Lindsay Ulbrickson speaks into the megaphone toward Montlake Cut on Feb. 25, 2020. (Jean Sherrard)
Card commemorating the football career of Ray Eckmann, later University of Washington athletic director. (Courtesy University of Washington)
Plaque at ASUW Shell House (Clay Eals)
Shell House campaign poster. For more info, contact Nicole Klein. (Courtesy University of Washington)
Standing in near-freezing water on the ramp of the Shell House, barefoot Jean Sherrard photographs family of rowers and associates on Feb. 25, 2020. (Clay Eals)
July 7, 2002, “Now & Then” column by Paul Dorpat features the Shell House.
Click the photo of George Clooney to read about his plan to direct a film version of “The Boys in the Boat” for MGM.

Oct. 6, 1935, Seattle Times, page 25


Seattle Now & Then: Mark Twain on the Waterfront, 1895

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THEN: In a photo likely snapped by manager James B. Pond, Mark Twain pauses in August 1895 on the deck of the Flyer, a 170-foot steamboat making daily trips between Seattle and Tacoma. It sported a full restaurant that served, among other delicacies, mock turtle soup — a pottage of calf brains and organ meat with onions. With a cruising speed of 16 knots, the trim steamer could outrun almost anything else on the Sound. In service between 1891 and 1929, she finally was displaced by car ferries. (Ron Edge collection)
NOW: Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist David Horsey approximates Twain’s waterfront location in a visit to a Colman Dock construction site. “I dressed to catch echoes of that not-so-distant age of horse-drawn wagons, steamships and Klondike gold,” Horsey says. “My great-grandparents already lived in Seattle then. Who knows? They might have been in the audience when Mark Twain took the stage to share his wit.” (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on March 19, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on March 22, 2020)

Roughing It on the waterfront with Mark Twain, 1895
By Jean Sherrard

In the hot, dry summer of 1895, virgin timber burned throughout the Pacific Northwest. For locals who only seven years before had witnessed the Great Seattle Fire that reduced 30 downtown blocks into piles of ash, the suffocating, brown pall must have evoked unpleasant memories.

On Aug. 13, when a 59-year old Mark Twain (given name: Samuel Clemens) stepped onto Colman Dock, his eyes and throat were irritated by not only the smoke but also the ill effects of a rare cold.

Earlier, the chair of a reception committee had tendered profuse apologies: “I’m sorry the smoke is so dense that you cannot see our mountains and our forests.”

“I regret that your magnificent forests are being destroyed by fire,” replied Twain. “As for the smoke … I am accustomed to that. I am a perpetual smoker myself.”

Nevertheless, he may have considered delaying or canceling his sold-out performance that evening at the Seattle Theater, Third and Cherry — a 90-minute comedic lecture with an unlikely subject: “Morals” — were it not for his recent bankruptcy and pressing need for cash.

Internationally celebrated for “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and its sequel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (widely considered the greatest American novel) as well as humorous short stories and travelogues such as “Roughing It,” Twain was less fortunate when it came to money. An ill-advised publishing venture, compounded by the crash of 1893, had left him more than $80,000 in debt, which he felt honor-bound to repay.

“I do not enjoy the hard travel and broken rest inseparable from lecturing,” he said, “but writing is too slow for the demands that I have to meet. Therefore I have begun to lecture my way around the world.”

Entreated by Australian promoter Carlyle Smythe, who long had sought his participation in a tour abroad, Twain committed to a packed set of performances across the northern United States, then to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India.

His friend and manager, Major James B. Pond, who accompanied him on the U.S. portion of the tour, described Twain’s reception here: “A great audience in Seattle … The sign ‘Standing Room Only’ was out again. He was hoarse, but the hoarseness seemed to augment the volume of his voice.”

Critics concurred. “A great literary improvisation,” gushed the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “To tell the story of such a lecture is like trying to narrate a laugh.”

In Victoria 10 days later, accompanied by beloved wife Olivia and daughter Clara, Twain boarded the Warimoo, bound for Australia. Before departure, Pond recalled, the perpetual smoker bought 3,000 “Manila cheroots” (cigars) and four pounds of Durham tobacco, calculated to be just enough for the month-long voyage.


A special thanks to David Horsey and Colleen Chartier for the assist. For Jean’s narrated 360 degree video, click here.

The helpful line up. Washington State Dept. of Transportation helped us with access to the dock construction site. From left, Alan Johnson, Sharon Gavin (Communications Manager), David Horsey, and Colleen Chartier.

Seattle Now & Then: National Archives and Records Administration on Sand Point Way, 1960

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THEN: Behind chain-link fence and west of Sand Point Way from an undeveloped bluff at Northeast 61st Street stands the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) building circa 1960, three years before its dedication. It was built in 1946 as an airplane-parts hangar for nearby Sand Point Naval Air Station. Rising above the structure is the Hawthorne Hills neighborhood. (Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration)
NOW: Standing on a deck across Sand Point Way from NARA Seattle are Peter Jackson (left), son of the late U.S. Sen. Henry Jackson, and KIRO Radio journalist and Columbia magazine editor Feliks Banel, who broke the news about the proposed property sale on Jan. 15. Jackson says, “Let’s hope there’s a happy coda to this story.” (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on March 12, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on March 15, 2020)

If our historical records aren’t here anymore, do they still exist?

“Public access to government records strengthens democracy by allowing Americans to claim their rights of citizenship, hold their government accountable and understand their history.” – from the mission statement of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

By Clay Eals

If we can’t readily put our hands on something, does it have a purpose?

The question fits the proposed demise of the 1946 federal warehouse that for 57 years has had a sole and distinguished use, as the NARA repository for the Northwest states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii and (starting in 2014) Alaska. Our revered former U.S. senators, Warren “Maggie” Magnuson and Henry “Scoop” Jackson, helped dedicate it in 1963.

With a rectangular footprint on 10 acres, the former airplane-parts hangar stands on the farmland of Japanese who were relocated and incarcerated during World War II. It’s tucked along abandoned rail track, now Burke-Gilman Trail, west of Sand Point Way, north of Children’s Hospital and south of the ex-naval air station that is Magnuson Park.

Executing a 2016 law enabling speedy land disposal, the Public Buildings Reform Board last fall targeted the Seattle archive (which is operated by the National Archives and Records Administration) and 11 other sites nationwide to sell off. Why? The parcels are high-value and “underutilized.” Nearly 1,000 people visited NARA Seattle to dig up info last year, which might belie such jargon.

The building is hardly charming, and its deferred maintenance is estimated in the millions of dollars.

What counts is inside – some 800,000 cubic feet of boxed records, 17% of which are permanent and stored in secured, climate-controlled chambers. More significant is what public and agency access to the records would look like if, as proposed, these boxes are shipped at no small expense to federal records centers in Kansas City or Riverside, California (near Los Angeles).

No wonder many historians, news outlets, genealogists, plus eight U.S. senators from four Northwest states, eight of our state’s House members and our state’s attorney general are aghast. Particularly egregious would be the effect on 272 native tribes as well as other non-white groups whose stories are captured in Bureau of Indian Affairs documents and immigration interrogation and photo files.

Notice of the plan was scant at best. It came to light nine days before a supposedly final decision on Jan. 24, but opposition is intensifying. Tellingly, none of the other 11 targeted sale sites is a NARA archive, and none, says Adam Bodner of the Public Buildings Reform Board, is generating dissent.

The situation triggers questions both practical and rhetorical: How many could travel 1,200 or 1,900 miles from Seattle to research their past? Would the NARA sale have gained traction in the days of Scoop and Maggie? Will protests alter the outcome? Is there a question that history cannot answer?


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

Our automotive informant Bob Carney provides us with the years and makes of the cars in our “Then” photo: In the foreground is a 1956 Ford Fairlane. In the background are (from left) a 1956 Chevrolet, a 1949-1952 Chevrolet sedan delivery, a 1959 Ford station wagon and a 1948-1953 Chevrolet pickup.

Below are 10 links to related articles, an additional photo plus seven clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that, among others, were helpful in the preparation of this column. There’s also a bonus as the bottom. Enjoy!

Advisory panel recommends putting 12 high-value federal properties up for sale

Federal panel recommends closure and sale of Seattle National Archives facility

The latest from the Public Buildings Reform Board

Seattle Times column by Trish Hackett Nicola, Jan. 24, 2020

Seattle Times story by Eric Lacitis, Jan. 25, 2020

Seattle Times follow-up story by Eric Lacitis, Feb. 12, 2020

Seattle Times follow-up story by Eric Lacitis, Feb. 26, 2020

Seattle Times editorial, Jan. 31, 2020

Seattle Times editorial, March 8, 2020

International Examiner story by Chetanya Robinson, Feb. 4, 2020

Here’s an alternate “Now”: Peter Jackson (left), son of the late U.S. Sen. Henry Jackson, and KIRO Radio journalist and Columbia magazine editor Feliks Banel, stand at the entrance to NARA Seattle. (Jean Sherrard)
Protesters at a Feb. 11, 2020, demonstration at NARA Seattle sought retention of Native American records at the Sand Point facility. (Jean Sherrard)
Protesters at a Feb. 11, 2020, demonstration at NARA Seattle sought retention of Native American records at the Sand Point facility. (Jean Sherrard)
Covering the Feb. 11, 2020, demonstration at NARA Seattle was Feliks Banel (extending microphone) of KIRO Radio, who broke the story about the proposed sale of the facility. (Jean Sherrard)
Also covering the Feb. 11, 2020, demonstration at NARA Seattle was (right) historian Knute Berger of Crosscut. (Jean Sherrard)
Aug. 26, 1945, Seattle Times, page 8
May 25, 1958, Seattle Times, page 137
Aug. 24, 1958, Seattle Times, page 78
Sept. 1, 1963, Seattle Times, page 72
Nov. 17, 1963, Seattle Times, page 17
Aug. 31, 1969, Seattle Times, page 89
Aug. 31, 1969, Seattle Times, page 90
Feb. 26, 1980, Seattle Times, page 1
A quote from former President Thomas Jefferson that hangs inside NARA Seattle. (Clay Eals)

Seattle Now & Then: Seward Park, 1903

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THEN: With Bailey Peninsula (later Seward Park) behind them, a trio looks west from the dock of the summer cottage of Tekla Nelson, widow of Nels Nelson (co-founder of downtown’s Frederick & Nelson department store, now Nordstrom), circa 1903, some 13 years before the water level dropped nine feet with the opening of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. On the far side of the dock and house, the water sometimes rose high enough to make the peninsula an island. (Courtesy Marilyn DeWitte and Rainier Valley Historical Society)
NOW: A cyclist skirts two leaders of the Wild Isle in the City project, author-researcher Paul Talbert (book in hand), president of Friends of Seward Park; and photographer-archivist Karen O’Brien (with dog, Buddy, hidden), president of the Rainier Valley Historical Society, as they pose on South Orcas Street near the park entrance. They will present an illustrated talk at 7 p.m. March 10 at Third Place Books, 5041 Wilson Ave. S. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Feb. 27, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on March 1, 2020)

The future of a pristine peninsula through the eyes of the city
By Clay Eals

Playing outlaw Butch Cassidy in 1969, Paul Newman nonchalantly expressed one of my favorite movie maxims: “Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”

Of course, vision pertains as we struggle with today’s urban development maelstrom. But go back more than a century to when much of Seattle’s destiny was uncertain. Take South Seattle’s Bailey Peninsula, not yet known as city-owned Seward Park.

Many, indeed, wanted to take it – city government picturing it as a park in 1892, as did the famed Olmsted Brothers landscape consultants a decade later. Other interests touted it as a golf course, a stockade and a scout camp. It even was pronounced by a nearby land agent to be the “logical” site for our first world’s fair, the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. “The majority of the people of Seattle would like this location,” Columbia Realty claimed June 17, 1906, in an ad in The Seattle Times.

The fledgling fair quickly opted for the University of Washington, rejecting “beautiful” Bailey Peninsula as “badly isolated, and there is no positive assurance that the grounds can be had from the private owners.” The Pennsylvania-based Bailey family and owners of other smaller portions of the peninsula held out for a high price, and in 1911, four years after the land was annexed to Seattle, the city stuck to its vision. Leveraging condemnation and court proceedings, the city bought the parcel for a whopping $322,000.

Crucial to the pristine peninsula’s appeal was its size, nearly 200 acres. Instantly it became the city’s largest park. Boosters called it “a wonder of the West.” No surprise, then, that the city named it for statesman William H. Seward.

In 1867, as President Andrew Johnson’s secretary of state, Seward had purchased for the United States (from Russia) the enormous Alaska territory. A white expansionist, Seward drew native criticism near Ketchikan, but his endearment to Seattle grew after the late 1890s when the city exploded as the jumping-off point for the Gold Rush, which lured 100,000 prospectors through Alaskan ports.

Like a thumb penetrating Lake Washington, Seward Park always has embodied unusual geography. In early days during spring runoff, water covered its isthmus, and the peninsula became an island. But when the new Lake Washington Ship Canal dropped the lake level by nine feet in 1916, any future island status evaporated.

From planning to politics, from geology to greenery, emphasizing the beloved park’s diversity of uses and users, its story is told precisely and pictorially in the 336-page coffee-table book Wild Isle in the City: Tales from Seward Park’s First 100 Years, published last fall by Friends of Seward Park. Even read with bifocals, it’s clearly a validation of vision.


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 Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.

Below are three additional photos plus 27 clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that, among others, were helpful in the preparation of this column. There’s also a bonus at the end. Enjoy!

The cover of Wild Isle in the City, which will be the subject of an illustrated talk at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 10, at Third Place Books Seward Park, 5041 Wilson Ave. S.
A 1913 south-facing view of the Nelson cottage, far in the distance. (Seattle Municipal Archives)
A portion of the 1908 Baist Map of Seattle showing then-privately owned Bailey Peninsula. (Courtesy Karen O’Brien)
Sept. 24, 1905, Seattle Times, page 20
May 27, 1906, Seattle Times, page 28
June 5, 1906, Seattle Times, page 4
June 17, 1906, Seattle Times, page 29
June 23, 1906, Seattle Times, page 2
Sept. 28, 1906, Seattle Times, page 10
Feb. 10, 1907, Seattle Times, page 8
April 8, 1909, Seattle Times, page 8
May 2, 1909, Seattle Times, page 14
May 15, 1910, Seattle Times, page 28
June 3, 1911, Seattle Times, page 16
June 4, 1911, Seattle Times, page 6
June 11, 1911, Seattle Times, page 6
Feb. 10, 1912, Seattle Times, page 5
March 3, 1912, Seattle Times, page 72
April 6, 1912, Seattle Times, page 3
Nov. 5, 1912, Seattle Times, page 7
July 13, 1913, Seattle Times, page 11
Aug. 12, 1913, Seattle Times, page 6
Aug. 15, 1915, Seattle Times, page 4
Aug. 22, 1915, Seattle Times, page 4
Sept. 23, 1915, Seattle Times, page 5
Jan. 14, 1917, Seattle Times, page 30
Jan. 28, 1917, Seattle Times, page 32
Oct. 27, 1917, Seattle Times, page 2
Jan. 5, 1919, Seattle Times, page 16
Jan. 5, 1919, Seattle Times, page 21
Nels and Tekla Nelson’s residence was in the Capitol Hill neighborhood best known by its “granite pile,” Broadway High School, seen here behind and to the right of the Nelson home. Most of the residences in this part of Capitol Hill have been replaced by apartments, and Broadway High (most of it) was razed for Seattle Community College.

(This column first appeared in Pacific magazine
of The Seattle Times on March 15, 1992.)

Nelson home on Boylston
By Paul Dorpat

Standing on his front lawn, Charles Whittelsey aimed his camera across Boylston Avenue toward Nels and Tekla Nelson’s home at the northeast comer of Olive and Boylston. The Nelsons’ was the most lavish residence on the block. Nels was C.D. Frederick’s partner in what was one of the Northwest’s largest mercantile establishments: Frederick and Nelson. Whittelsey, an accountant for the city’s water department, photographed this view in 1906.

The city directory lists the Nelsons at their new home at 1704 Boylston in 1901, the year construction began on Seattle High School (Broadway High). Whittelsey’s snapshot includes, behind and right of the Nelson home, a good glimpse of Broadway High’s western stone facade.

Born in Sweden in 1856, Nels Nelson crossed the Atlantic as a teenager. In the years before his arrival in Seattle, he farmed in Illinois, mined for gold and raised livestock in Colorado, and there met C.D. Frederick.  In 1891 Nelson visited Frederick in Seattle and stayed as his partner. The following year Nelson helped found the local Swedish Club and in 1895 he married Tekla, another Swedish immigrant.

Nelson was C.D. Frederick’s second partner. J.G. Mecham, his first, left their then still-mostly-used-furniture store soon after Nelson arrived with his $5,000 raised in Colorado on cattle. The three, however, remained friends. After Nelson died in 1907 on the Atlantic while returning from an unsuccessful attempt to renew his health at a Bavarian spa, Mecham remembered him as “truly one of God’s noblemen. With his passing I lost a valued friend.”

The Nelsons had three sons, but no grandchildren by them. In 1913 Tekla married Daniel Johanson, another Swedish immigrant, a mining engineer, fish wholesaler and ship builder. They lived in the Boylston home until Daniel died in 1919. Daniel and Tekla had two children of their own, Sylvia and Tekla Linnea, and ultimately one grandchild, Marilyn DeWitte, a Kirkland resident.

Seattle Now & Then: Our Deepest Snow, 1880

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THEN: This 1880 scene, recorded by the Peterson Brothers from their photography studio at the foot of Cherry Street, looks east across Front Street (now First Avenue). Henry Yesler’s Hall, having narrowly avoided collapse, stands at right. Up the hill, on Fourth Avenue, stands First Baptist Church. The 64 inches of snow that fell is still a local record. (Paul Dorpat collection)
NOW: In a view up Cherry Street through swirling snow on recent January afternoon, Jean’s red umbrella caps the scene, protecting his camera. As typical for modern times, the snow did not stick around. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Feb. 20, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on Feb. 23, 2020)

Seattle’s Deepest Snow, at First & Cherry, 1880
By Jean Sherrard

Since 2005, when I began contributing photos to this column, whenever flakes of snow begin to fall, I pack a camera bag and hit the slippery Seattle streets, clutching a sheaf of old photos to repeat. However, in those 15 years I’ve repeatedly failed to capture snow blanketing First and Cherry, as shown in this week’s classic “Then” photo from 1880. The Captain Ahab in me calls it my “white whale.”

Longtime Seattleites may recall wistfully the rare blizzards of 2018, 1996, 1969 and 1950 (whose 20-inch blitz set the latter-day record for greatest one-day snowfall).

Their effects were dwarfed by Seattle’s second biggest snow, beginning Feb. 1, 1916, when 21.5 inches nearly KO’d the young city. On Groundhog Day afternoon at 3:13, the dome of St. James Cathedral collapsed under the extra load, only hours after a morning Mass attended by a group of schoolgirls from Holy Names Academy.

The dome of St. James Cathedral litters the sanctuary floor on Feb. 2, 1916

My grandmother Dorothy later recalled that as a girl of 10 she joined thousands of skaters on frozen Green Lake in the cold snap preceding the snow.

The immensely popular Green Lake Ice Rink of late January, 1916

But the king of snows in the Queen City was crowned the same year that Seattle, its population having grown to 3,500, overtook Walla Walla as the region’s largest town.

In a “state of the territory” address published Sunday, Jan. 4, 1880, in the Seattle Intelligencer, territorial Gov. Elisha P. Ferry warmly promoted our region’s temperate, near-Mediterranean climate. “Ice and snow,” he wrote, “are of rare occurrence and almost unknown in Western Washington.”

That same evening, the weather gods replied with a vengeance. Bitterly cold winds invaded homes “through cracks not before known to exist,” the paper reported. The next day, snow began to fall and continued through the week, collapsing awnings and threatening buildings across town.

Yesler’s Hall, used for dances, concerts and theatricals, was “in danger of wrecking; the walls cracking and opening from the enormous weight upon [its] roof.” Only the quick action of men paid an exorbitant $1 an hour to shovel off the snow averted disaster.

At week’s end, the Intelligencer projected the snow “would average a depth of six feet on the townsite of Seattle.” In a petulant potshot (take cover, Elisha), it continued, “If any one has anything to say of our Italian skies and climate, shoot him on the spot.”

On Jan. 12, the Seattle Fin-Back, a free weekly rag, polled elderly natives on “the snow question.” Chief Seattle’s daughter Kikisoblu, known as Princess Angeline, said she “had never seen so much snow at any one time.” Old Ned, however, who lived at the foot of Battery Street, was less impressed. He boasted that he had “seen snow 50 years ago over seven feet deep” when Angeline was a mere child.

A studio portrait of Kikisoblu, Chief Seattle’s daughter

Check out Jean’s visit to First and Cherry in our delightful 360 video.


Seattle Now & Then: All roads lead to Roadhouse at Fall City, mid-1930s

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THEN1: About to cross the Snoqualmie River and cruising northbound on U.S. Highway 10 past the Riverside Tavern is a 1934 Ford Model 40 Deluxe Tudor Sedan, according to our auto informant, Bob Carney. An eye-catching corner sign advertises Alpine Ice Cream, produced by Alpine Dairy, formerly Northwestern Milk Condensing Co. and Issaquah Creamery and later part of the Darigold Cooperative. (Fall City Historical Society)
THEN2: A multi-pointed sign depicts mileage to various locales from Fall City, adjacent to the two-floor Riverside Inn, in this photo published July 23, 1950, in The Seattle Times. Room prices at the Riverside started at $1.25, and meals at 50 cents.
NOW: Braving the snowy chill of mid-January are (from left) Donna Driver-Kummen and Sheryl Gibler of the Fall City Historical Society, with Cynthia Heyamoto and John Manning, owners of The Roadhouse Restaurant and Inn. The two worked there a half-dozen years before partnering to buy the business. Says John: “We’re passionate about food, we’re people persons, it’s a historic building, and out here you’re really not that far from anything. It was a no-brainer.” (Clay Eals)

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

In riverside Fall City, all roads lead to The Roadhouse
By Clay Eals

What comes to mind with the word “roadhouse”? For me, the answer is cinematic – the scenes of Madonna and others in the 1992 film “A League of Their Own” dancing raucously to a big band in a World War II-era saloon called the Suds Bucket. For others, the term may summon the 1990-1991 and 2017 episodes of TV’s mystery/horror series “Twin Peaks,” set partly at a seedy rural outpost known as The Roadhouse.

In either incarnation, a roadhouse bore a smear of the unsavory, given that an isolated establishment along a country highway could produce experiences as fleeting as the travelers it served.

Such may have been true at times for the business depicted in our 1930s “Then,” the Riverside Tavern, built between 1916 and 1920 (accounts vary). It perched in Fall City along the Snoqualmie River and U.S. Highway 10, better known as the cross-state Sunset Highway in the decades before Interstate 90 bypassed the burg 2 miles south.

But as ownerships changed and the Riverside gained a second floor (mid-1930s), morphed to the Colonial Inn (1966) and evolved with an extensive renovation (2008) to the name it bears today, The Roadhouse Restaurant and Inn, it became a community hub. Known for fine food and likeable lodging, it primarily serves locals and the surrounding, increasingly suburban cities fueled by our region’s tech boom. (It doesn’t hurt that the “Twin Peaks” producers filmed exteriors at this very spot.)

It stands near a unique crossroads, what might be called a double-Y intersection that straddles the river and leads motorists to nearby Preston, Redmond, Carnation and Snoqualmie. A 1950 Seattle Times photo depicts a multi-pointed sign outside the building denoting mileage to those Eastside destinations as well as to Seattle (25), Ellensburg (87) and Spokane (270).

Fall City itself possesses a curious nomenclature. The hamlet of 2,000 never formally incorporated, and while it sits less than 3 miles downstream from Snoqualmie Falls, its name may have nothing to do with that spectacular cascade. Robert Hitchman, writing for the Washington State Historical Society in 1985, asserts that the name derived from a fellow named Fall who started a ferry nearby in the 1870s.

Ruth Pickering

The 14-year-old Fall City Historical Society, led by the indefatigable Ruth Pickering, keeps track of this ambiguity while shepherding a searchable online collection and producing a stuffed slate of events and projects, including 520-page and 350-page history books and an annual calendar.

Though the historical society operates from the second floor of Fall City United Methodist Church, fittingly its most prominent display of photos and artifacts can be found inside – you guessed it – The Roadhouse.


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 Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.

Here is video about The Roadhouse Restaurant and Inn:

VIDEO: John Manning and (briefly) Cynthia Heyamoto, co-owners of The Roadhouse Restaurant and Inn in Fall City, tell the story of their business. (8:32)

Below are two additional photos plus two clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that, among others, were helpful in the preparation of this column. Enjoy!

Riverside Tavern, circa 1930. (Fall City Historical Society)
Colonial Inn, post-1966. (Fall City Historical Society)
Feb. 11, 1950, Seattle Times, page 2
July 23, 1950, Seattle Times, page 77

Seattle Now & Then: The Trianon Ballroom, 1927

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THEN: This 1927 vantage looks northwest along Third Avenue toward the full block between Wall and Fir streets, where, the just-completed Trianon Ballroom would prove an anchor in the emerging Denny Regrade business district, attracting thousands of dancers each night. (Museum of History and Industry)
THEN 2: The Trianon’s opening night booklet, recently tracked down by collector Ron Edge. For a link to the pdf, please see below.
NOW: The Trianon interior was entirely remodeled in 1985, with stores on the ground floor and offices on the second floor. Preserved was the original, Moorish-style brick façade with arched windows. Lining a Third Avenue crosswalk, a group of accommodating couples celebrates this upcoming Valentine’s Day with waltzes and Lindy Hop. The dancers are (from left): Monique and Charlie Catino, Jamie with daughter Frances Alls, Maria Mackay and Joe Breskin, Casey Engstrom, Leslie Howells, Liz Wentzien, Ethan Sherrard, Gary Sandberg (hidden), Anne Kiemle, Kael Sherrard, Lynn McGlocklin (face hidden, with raised arm), Solika O’Neill and Riley Miller

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Feb. 6, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on Feb. 9, 2020)

Tripping the light fantastic at Seattle’s Trianon Ballroom, ‘Cupid’s Headquarters’
By Jean Sherrard

Advertising that patrons would “trip the light fantastic,” the legendary Trianon Ballroom, designed by architect Warren H. Milner, opened its doors on May 20th, 1927, at Third Avenue and Wall Street. With its springy, white-maple floors, overseen by a giant, silver, clam-shaped bandshell, the Trianon quickly became Seattle’s premier dance palace.

Held the same day Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic, the Trianon’s inaugural drew the city council, chamber of commerce and Bertha Landes, Seattle’s first female mayor. Four-thousand dancers foxtrotted to the sounds of Herb Wiedoft and his Brunswick Recording Orchestra. Between sets, dancers were entertained by vaudeville acts and a dancing exhibition by Priscilla Pharis and George Blanford, a couple who had triumphed at a recent dance marathon in Los Angeles.

The Mediterranean-style dance palace showcased the nation’s biggest of big bands, including Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Guy Lombardo and Louis Armstrong, along with the local Max Pilar and Vic Meyers bands. (In 1932, Meyers, swapping bandstand for grandstand, would be elected Washington state’s lieutenant governor, serving 20 years.)

The Trianon became “Cupid’s headquarters,” contended Ted Harris, its longtime manager, in a 1975 Seattle Times interview, “because so many guys and gals met their future mates there.” Couples, he said, gathered on the long, open balcony, with its 17 arched windows facing Third Avenue, for “a little romantic action.” For late-night swing shifts and visiting servicemen during World War II, the Trianon remained open till 5 a.m.

Despite condemnation from some Seattle pulpits, couples continued dancing cheek to cheek at the Trianon until its closing in 1956. By then, ballroom dancing was declining in popularity as youths of America fell under the spell of the less formal dance moves of rock ’n’ roll.

Here we must sound a particularly sour note.

Through much of its tenure, the Trianon’s owner, John E. Savage, insisted upon a segregated dance floor, claiming repeatedly (and falsely) that a city ordinance prohibited “mixed [race] dancing.” The result: hugely popular African American musicians were welcome to perform, while African American dancers were turned away. For Seattle’s growing black community, this irony was painfully bitter, scarcely remedied by management’s “compromise” of selected Monday night shows set aside for “Colored Folks.”

After the ballroom’s closure, the building was converted for use as a Gov-Mart department store, then into an exhibition warehouse for a business selling pool tables, shuffleboards and jukeboxes.

Before partitioned office spaces took over the vast Trianon interior, the maple floor was cleared one last time. On May 18, 1985, two days shy of the 58th anniversary of its original opening, the Trianon held its last dance in the ballroom. All were welcome.


As promised, here’s another of column regular Ron Edge’s found treasures: a pdf of the opening night booklet for the Trianon (18 Mb).

For more Now & Then fun, click through to this week’s 360 degree video, narrated by Jean.

And a few late-breaking photo additions from Paul:

A Trianon Ballroom interior – hundreds of dancers pose
Another interior with tables and chairs
A colored postcard

Seattle Now & Then: August Engel Grocery, 1918-1922

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THEN: In this photo, likely taken between 1918 and 1922, August Engel’s Grocery operates at 110 W. Republican St. (now 503 First Ave. W.). In the foreground is track originally built for the West Street & North End Railway Co. streetcar running from downtown to Ballard. To learn more about Queen Anne mom-and-pops, visit the Queen Anne Historical Society website and search for “grocery.” (Courtesy Hugh Engelhoff)
NOW: A cyclist rides where a streetcar used to run, as the all-brick Grex Apartments, built in 1930 according to the property record card held by the Puget Sound Regional Branch of Washington State Archives, take the place of August Engel’s Grocery. (Clay Eals)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Jan. 30, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on Feb. 2, 2020)

Every Seattle mom-and-pop store stocked its own story
By Clay Eals

Do you recall a mom-and-pop grocery from your younger years, perhaps a favorite where you actually shopped?

For my grade-school friends and me on Mercer Island, that store was Bill Muncey’s Roostertail, owned by the hydroplane hero and nestled in the Shorewood apartments. The store provided no sustenance for our family dinner table. Rather, it was a measure of our maturity when our moms let us ride our bikes that far from home. Our bounty was five-cent packs of baseball cards. (I threw away the cardboard-tasting gum.)

The point is that a mom-and-pop evokes stories, and such stores – and stories – once dotted our cityscape. At the dawn of the Roaring Twenties, when our “Then” image was taken, Polk directories indicate that Seattle had nearly 1,000 identifiable grocers – one for every 315 residents.

This store, August Engel’s Grocery, specializing in dry goods, fronted on a private streetcar line running from downtown to Ballard, at the northwest corner of First Avenue West and West Republican Street in Lower Queen Anne.

Bellingham paralegal Hugh Engelhoff is Engel’s great-great grandson. When he submitted this photo for “Now & Then” consideration, a century-old story came along for the ride.

As family lore has it, August, a German immigrant who operated the store until his death in 1921 at age 73, also ran a grocery “down the street.”

“Whenever he had dissatisfied customers,” Hugh says, “he would tell them, ‘If you don’t like it, you can take your business elsewhere,’ and would direct them to his other store down the street.”

The photo hints at other aspects of the enterprise. A sign facing Republican promotes Olympic flour, cereal and feed from Northwest mills. Window lettering (“MJB Coffee WHY?”) reflects the coffeemaker’s intriguing national slogan. Sears & Roebuck Co. touts itself on the front bench, while banners announce a temporary move to precede a building project.

Keen insights on mom-and-pops fill detailed articles written by archivist Alicia Arter and Jan Hadley, board members of the Queen Anne Historical Society. Their interviews with store-owner families and ex-delivery boys affirm that neighbors patronized a store because of its mix of products, gossip and the grocer’s personality. Also popular were stores that offered credit and were near a butcher or bakery.

Mom-and-pops began to dissipate in the 1930s. The culprits? Depression-induced business failures, plus the onset of electric refrigeration, which brought larger stores with lower prices and longer open hours. Another factor – no surprise – was society’s deepening love affair with the convenience of cars, diminishing proximity as a top reason for where to shop.

Scattered mom-and-pop grocery stores still survive in Seattle. But reflecting our bigger-is-better modern mentality, across the street from the former Engel’s Grocery now stands a mega-Safeway.


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 Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.

The car in our “Then” is from 1915 or 1916, according to automotive informant Bob Carney. Our thanks to other helpers Mike Bergman and Rob Ketcherside.

Below are two additional photos plus nine clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and other newspapers that, among others, were helpful in the preparation of this column. Enjoy!

An undated photo of August Engel (Courtesy Hugh Engelhoff)
Here is an alternate, wider “Now,” which takes in the Safeway at right. (Clay Eals)
Sept. 21, 1886, Evening Telegraph
July 17, 1897, Pullman Herald
June 25, 1903, Evening Statesman
April 7, 1904, Evening Statesman
May 7, 1921, Seattle Times, page 3
May 11, 1921, Spokane Spokesman-Review
July 18, 1922, Seattle Times
Sept. 28, 1958, Seattle Times
Sept. 6, 1971, Seattle Times


Seattle Now & Then: Water from Lake Youngs, 1930

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THEN: Between Maple Valley and Renton, the Seattle Water Department’s Lake Youngs Supply Lines No. 4 and No. 5 gleam on May 27, 1930. The parallel, wooden stave pipes carrying Cedar River water reach their intersection with steel-riveted bypasses and connectors. A system-control works had just been built next to the 500-acre lake to screen debris and chlorinate water before delivery. The lake is directly behind the photographer, who points his camera east toward Robertson’s Pond, which, for a time, was connected to the lake. Since drained, it has been returned to its original wetland status.
NOW: The last of the 78-inch wooden stave pipes were replaced with rerouted steel pipes in the early 1990s, says Dave Muto, manager of water system operations, standing atop an obsolete connector (“I don’t know why they never removed that last little stub,” he says). The Cedar River continues to supply most Seattle water, traveling as far north as the Maple Leaf reservoir. For more photos of the Lake Youngs facilities, check out our Web Extras below.

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Jan. 23, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on Jan. 26, 2020)

Connecting thirsty Seattleites with the life blood of water
By Jean Sherrard

Begin with a taste test. Fill a glass with water straight from the tap. Take a sip. Before swallowing, swish it between your teeth and over your tongue. If you’re in or around Seattle, the water you’re savoring likely flows directly from the Cascades, filtered from snowpack down through mountain streams and rivers that have supplied the city and environs for more than a century.

This week’s photos reveal obscure vestiges of the infrastructure that has made it all possible.

Arguably, our earliest water-supply system began with Henry Yesler, who in 1854 ran a suspended V-flume from a spring near Eighth Avenue and Madison Street just past his original homestead (near the heart of today’s Pioneer Square) to his waterfront sawmill.

Other settlers followed suit, tapping the abundant streams and springs of First Hill, then still crowded with virgin timber, improvising a creaky patchwork of wooden pipes and flumes.

As the young city grew, need for a less Balkanized water supply became apparent. The privately owned Spring Hill Water Company, incorporated in 1881, initially fit the bill, integrating sources and expanding to meet the needs of a thirsty population. In a substantial upgrade, the company studded First Hill with large wooden tanks, and a newly built, steam-powered pumping station on Lake Washington kept a 4-million-gallon reservoir on Beacon Hill brim full.

But on June 6, 1889, nearly 30 blocks of downtown Seattle burned to the ground, largely due to the failure of the Spring Hill water supply system. Tanks and reservoirs alike ran dry before the fire could be doused. Out of those flames a public utility was born.

Within months of the fire, the City of Seattle purchased Spring Hill Water Company and planned for expansion. All eyes

turned to the Cedar River, long recognized as a potential source of abundant, pure water, flowing from Cedar (now Chester Morse) Lake, some 35 miles southeast. The proposed gravity-fed water-supply system would be the one of the largest engineering projects yet undertaken by the rapidly rebuilding city.

Politics and economics might have shelved the project were it not for the vision and leadership of a newly appointed city engineer, Reginald H. Thomson, known for a formidable drive and intelligence.

Throughout the 1890s, Thomson lobbied tirelessly for Cedar River water, identifying the liquid as “the life blood of a city.” At last, on Jan. 10, 1900, from the Landsburg timber-crib dam (elevation: 536.4 feet), water coursed through 28 miles of wooden stave pipes around the south end of Lake Washington and north to two city reservoirs on Capitol Hill.

The expansion was just in the nick of time. Over the next decade, Seattle’s population exploded to nearly 240,000 from 80,000, tripling its thirst for pure mountain water.


First, a huge thanks to Dave Muto of the Seattle Public Utilities, a veritable fount of information and my generous tour guide at Lake Youngs.

I’ll add in a few photos of the water works at Lake Youngs. Dave kindly provided several of the captions.

Our narrated 360-degree video can be found here.

The water department’s Dave Muto examines a section of the old 78″ wooden pipe.
Pipes like this one remained in service until the early 1990s.
From Dave Muto: “The pipes out of the ground are known as the doglegs.  They are the inlet pipes to Lake Youngs. The building in the background is called the Cascade Valve House, and it allows us to bypass the lake.”
Another shot of the doglegs emerging from Lake Youngs
“The interior of the Cascade Valve House.”
“The raw water pump station and discharge pipes.  Water is pumped out of the lake here and into the start of the treatment process.”