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Otto Theodore Frasch was one of boomtown Seattle’s most energetic postcard photographers in the early twentieth-century, when the public interest in sending and collecting postcards with “real” photographs on them was especially popular. Local collectors generally cherish postcards with the “O.T. Frasch Seattle” credit and caption.
In this look east on Yesler Way, where it still crosses above Fourth Avenue, Frasch also printed the names of three of Seattle’s primary civic buildings on postcard No. 173. First, left-of-center, is the triangular-shaped City Hall, the photographer’s primary subject. It was the brick replacement for the comically named Katzenjammer frame city hall, nearby at Third and Yesler, located in what is now City Hall Park. Earlier than No. 173, Frasch had made another postcard that included both municipal buildings on Yesler Way. Its number, nineteen, is early for the Seattle-based photographer.
Otto and Mary Frasch came here from Minnesota in 1906. Elsie, their first daughter, was born on the way. A charming picture of the three is included on the Otto Frasch website otfrasch.com, which is web-mastered by Elsie’s great-grandson, David Chapman. More than 500 images of Frasch’s Seattle and surrounds are featured, including the coverage of Luna Park (the family lived nearby on West Seattle’s Maryland Avenue), the Alaska Yukon and Pacific Exposition in 1909, the city’s Golden Potlatch parades from 1911 to 1913, and the 1908 visit of the Great White Fleet, all of which are worth a visit to the site. With Otto Frasch’s magnum opus of more than 1000 ascribed numbers, webmaster Chapman’s shepherding of the site continues with new discoveries.
This “real photo postcard” No. 173 (the featured photo at the top) most likely dates from 1908. Although barely visible in this printing, a monumental “welcome” sign for the Fleet stands high on First Hill to the left of the King County Court House dome, which resembles a wedding cake. City Light is the third landmark noted in the caption. With its own rooftop sign and two ornate towers, the citizen-owned utility stands above the northwest corner of Seventh Avenue and Yesler Way. From Frasch’s prospect they escape the horizon behind a screen of power poles beyond, and to the right of City Hall.
Otto Frasch did not include in his caption the private Grand Union Hotel, on the far right of the featured photograph on top. Opened in the fall of 1902, it survived for eighty-one years. The May 15, 1983, issue of this newspaper includes a photograph of the hotel’s destruction under the caption, “Going Going Gone.” The Grand Union “came down without a whimper, ending years of anxiety by the city over the lack of stability in the turn-of-the-century building.”
Hey Paul, where’s the beef?
Jean we will answer your beef question at the bottom (the last) of the LINKS LIST that Ron Edge is putting up of subjects that are, again, mostly relevant to this week’s feature. We encourage readers to start clicking and keep at it as long as they can – at least until they reach the beef. Here we also note that our beloved mentor Richard Berner is having his 95th birthday this December 31, aka New Years Eve. May we remind readers that we have on the front page of this blog Berner’s first of three books that make up his trilogy of Seattle in the first 50 years of the 20th Century. It is included in the books button. Appropriately, at least for his birthday, that takes Vol. 1 up to 1920, the year that Rich was born – on its last day. We have also pulled the little biography we wrote about Rich a few years back and copy it to the bottom of whatever else we come up with before climbing the stairs early this morning to again join the bears. If my copy attempts fail, you will find that vital Richard (his vita) on this blog with a key word search. Good luck to all of us.
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We are pleased now to introduce Seattle 1900-1920: From Boomtown, Urban Turbulence to Restoration, the first of Richard C. Berner’s three books named together Seattle in the 20th Century. When the details, stories, and insights are explored with a close reading, Berner’s accomplishment is by far our widest opening into Seattle’s twentieth century, the first half of it, from the 1900 to 1950. Those fifty years were also the second half of Seattle’s first hundred years, if we begin our counting with the footsteps of mid-western farmers settling here in the early 1850s.
Volume one was first published in 1991 by Charles Press, and the publisher – “Rich” Berner himself – made a modest list of its contents on the back cover. We will repeat it. “Politics of Seattle’s urbanization: dynamics of reform, public ownership movement, turbulent industrial relations, effects of wartime hysteria upon newfound civil liberties – all responding to the huge influx of aspiring recruits to the middle class & organized labor as they confronted the established elite. Includes outlines of the economy, cultural scene, public education, population characteristics & ethnic history.”
For this “printing” we have added many captioned illustrations, some of them copied from news reports of the events Berner examines, and we have almost always succeeded in placing each next to the text it illustrates. On-line illustrated editions of Volume 2: Seattle 1921-1940, From Boom to Bust and Volume 3: Seattle Transformed, World War 2 to Cold War will follow – but not at the moment.The collecting of illustrations and putting them in revealing order with the narratives for Volume 2 and 3 is still a work in progress.Readers who want to “skip ahead” of our illustrated presentations of Berner’s three books here on dorpatsherrardlomont can find the complete set of his history as originally published in local libraries or through interlibrary loans.
How Rich Berner managed it is a charmed story. He undertook what developed into his magnus opus after retiring in 1984 from his position as founder and head of the University of Washington Archives and Manuscripts Division. Between the division’s origin in 1958 and his retirement Rich not only built the collection but also studied it. Berner worked closely with Bob Burke, the U.W. History professor most associated with the study of regional history who first recommended Berner, a University of California, Berkeley graduate in history and library science, for the U.W. position. Together, the resourceful professor and the nurturing archivist shepherded scores of students in their use of the archive. Rich Berner is the first to acknowledge that he also learned from the students as they explored and measured the collection for dissertations and other publications. By now their collected publications can be imagined as its own “shelf” of Northwest History.
Rich Berner showed himself also a good explicator of his profession. His influential book, Archival Theory and Practice in the United States: A Historical Analysis was published by the University of Washington Press in 1983 and was awarded the Waldo Gifford Leland Prize by the Society of American Archivists. Composing this historical study on top of establishing and nourishing the University’s Archive and Manuscripts Division may be fairly considered a life’s achievement, but, with his 1984 retirement Berner continue to work in the archive at writing his three-volume history. He published Volume Three in 1999, and so, continuing the charm of this entire production, he completed Seattle in the 20th Century before the century (and millennium) was over.
(Lest we imagine this scholar chained to his archive we know that with his wife Thelma, a professor of Physiology and Biophysics in the U.W. Medical School and the first woman appointed Associate Dean of the UW graduate school, this famously zestful couple managed to often take to the hills and mountains.)
Rich was born in Seattle in 1920- the last year explored in this his first volume.His father worked on the docks as a machinist, and for a time was “blacklisted” by employers because of his union advocacy.During the depression, while Rich was attending classes at Garfield High School, his mother ran a waterfront café on the Grand Trunk Pacific’s pier at the foot of Madison Street.
During the war Rich served with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division.Following it with help from the GI Bill he matriculated at Cal-Berkeley with degrees in both history and library science.It was also in Berkeley that he first met Robert Burke, then Director of the Manuscript Collection of the Bancroft Library. Rich worked part time there.
For Seattle, as for any city of size, there is a “canon” of publications that are necessary reading for anyone wanting to get a grip on local history. The first half of the Seattle Canon may be said to begin with Pioneer Arthur Denny’s Pioneer Reminiscences of 1888. The pioneer canon receives its own magnus opus with the combined works – multi-volume histories of Seattle and King County – of Clarence Bagley, himself a pioneer. That Berner was already attending Seattle’s T.T. Minor grade school in 1926 when Bagley was still three years away from publishing his History of King County is evidence of the “Boomtown” included in the title of this Berner’s first of three books on Seattle history.
With rare exceptions the books included in this first part of the Seattle Canon were published by their subjects, like Denny’s still revealing Reminiscences, or under the direction and/or support of their subjects, like Bagley’s still helpful volumes.They are generally “picturesque histories” written to make their subjects seem more appealing than they often were.The stock of motives for “doing heritage” are there generally supportive or positive, showing concern for the community, admiration for its builders, the chance to tell good stories, and often also the desire to learn about one’s forebears although primarily those truths that are not upsetting.Not surprisingly, and again with rare exceptions, these booster-historians and their heritage consumers were members of a minority of citizens defined by their wealth, race and even religion.It would be a surprise to find any poor socialists, animists or even affluent Catholics among them.
Part Two of the Seattle Canon may be said to have popularly begun with Skid Road, historian-journalist Murray Morgan’s charming and yet still raking history of Seattle. Published in 1951, the year of Seattle’s centennial, it is still in print, and has never been out of it. Richard Berner has dedicated Seattle 1900-1920: From Boomtown, Urban Turbulence to Restoration to Morgan.The post-war canon is often corrective of the sins of the pioneers.The works of Morgan and many others, certainly including Berner, are not generally clothed in the pious harmonies of their predecessors, the ordinarily stress-free narratives expected of those who were writing under the “pioneer code.”
In our opinion Rich Berner’s three-volume Seattle in the 20th Century is the greatest single achievement of our Seattle Canon – “part two.”It has the scope and details required.It is profoundly instructive and filled with the characters and turns of fate that any storyteller might admire and wisely exploit.Within Berner’s three books are the wonders of what they did, the touchstones of their devotions and deceptions, their courage and hypocrisy, meanness and compassion.Certainly, it has been our pleasure to help illustrate this the first volume and to also continue on now with volumes two and three.
Paul Dorpat 10/1/2009
FOUR MORE of the 400 YESLER WAY Building