2005-01-23 Main Street Redux

It is one of the commonplaces of cityscape (the depiction of cities and their parts) that certain places and landmarks get far more attention then can be warranted by their actual use.  Perhaps our best examples are the Space Needle and the Pike Place Market.  The former is more a symbol than a restaurant and the latter is at least as much the “soul of the city” as it is a labyrinthine supermarket for fresh produce, dried flowers and Turkish pastries.

But this week’s scene is quite the opposite.  From 1853, the year it was platted, to now very few photographers have been attracted to Main Street, especially to record a scene like this one that actually attends to the street as much as to the buildings beside it.

This comparison looks east on Main from First Avenue South.  Except for their ornamented cornices that were pruned for safety following the earthquake of 1949, the Grand Central block on the left and the Marshall Building on the right have not changed much in the century (plus two or three years) that separates the two views.  Fortunately they have been faithfully restored and/or maintained by Pioneer Square Historic District stewards like Ralph Anderson, Richard White and Jones and Jones.  (The last is the landscape firm that since the late 1970s has both owned and worked in the Marshall.)

Further east on Main Street toward Occidental Avenue and beyond it a few more of the many brick structures rushed to completion following the Great Fire of 1889 survive.   And a few have not.  For instance, on the left both the two -story New Squire Block and the six story Lebanon Building, respectively at the northwest and northeast corners of Main and Occidental, were lost in the late 1950s when it was regularly proposed to raze most of the historic neighborhood for parking lots.  Since 1972 the west half of this parking lot has been refurnish as Occidental Park.  The park’s architects are the park’s neighbors Jones and Jones.

Seven years ago (ca. 1998) the producers of Rose Red, a made-for-TV horror film, chose this block on Main Street to recreate a bustling Seattle Street Scene from 1900.  Looking in the opposite direction (from Occidental) through this block the scene of a few seconds employed, of course, the waterfront trolley.  It also did us the great pre-service of digitally eliminating the Alaskan Way Viaduct for an exhilaratingly open view to Elliott Bay.

(Aside from the excitement of its historical recreations, Rose Red as drama was a disappointment to most and dismal to a few.  Sometime later – it took a while for it to appear on television – I did an essay for historylink exploring the film’s several locations and their conversions.  The most elaborate was here on Main Street, although the point of view, as noted above, was looking west through Main’s intersection with Occidental Avenue.  Of course, the filmmakers made good use of the waterfront trolley.  Its use of Main Street and the intact qualities of Main’s siding architecture were the reasons the block was used and “restored” in Rose Red.)

When compared to most city scenes relatively little has changed in his view west on Main Street from First Avenue South in the century-plus between them.  (Historical photo courtesy of Lawton Gowey)
When compared to most city scenes relatively little has changed in his view west on Main Street from First Avenue South in the century-plus between them. (Historical photo courtesy of Lawton Gowey)


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