I think it likely that this candid photo of a lone pedestrian on a bright sidewalk was snapped to show off the new streetlights. Recorded by a municipal photographer, the view looks north on First Avenue from its southeast corner with Virginia Street. The city’s first ornamental light standards, of City Light’s own design, were introduced in 1909-10, and on Seattle’s busiest streets featured five-ball clusters like these. Here the elegance of the new lights is interrupted by the somewhat comedic counterpoint of older and much taller power poles – all in the name of progress.
This neighborhood was sometimes named North Seattle on early maps, but more popularly it was also called Belltown, for the family that first claimed and developed it. Like many of the first settlers, William and Sarah Ann Bell kept two homes, one in the platted village that was growing to the sides of Pioneer Square and Henry Yesler’s sawmill, and the other on their claim, in order to “prove” it. (Virginia Street was named for their long-lived third daughter, Mary Virginia,1847-1931).
Seattle’s first major public work was the 1876 regrading of Front Street (First Avenue) between Pioneer Square and Pike Street. Soon after it continued with an improved path over the western side of Denny Hill, meant to help the Bells develop their claim. In 1884, First Avenue was lowered and improved north of Pike Street with a cut that allowed the community’s then new horse-drawn street railway to continue north to Belltown and beyond, as far as the lower Queen Anne Neighborhood. Then in 1898-99, this cut was deepened to the grade we see here, leaving a cliff along the east side of First Avenue.
In 1903 the earnest (and long) razing of Denny Hill began by moving that cliff to the east side of Second Avenue. By 1911 the regrading reached the east side of Fifth Avenue with another cliff, and there it rested for seventeen years.
While construction of the brick Hotel Ridpath, center-right in the featured subject at the top, waited for the cliff to be pushed east to Second Avenue, the ornate clapboard Troy Hotel across the street, far left, was built soon after the 1898-99 regrade. The Troy survived into at least the late 1940s. The Ridpath, long since renamed the Preston, I remember almost like yesterday.
In the featured photograph from about 1910, First Avenue’s Belltown blocks were mostly given to hotels and shops and a few vacant lots. Some of the latter were fitted with elaborate billboards, like the one on the right, which is stacked with exotic murals promoting popular habits, like vaudeville, cigarettes and chewing gum.
WEB EXTRAS (featuring story and song!)
Paul, I know you and Ron have much to add. Please do so, but let me interject a touch of Public Relations for our annual Town Hall program ‘A Rogue’s Christmas‘.
As you well know, this Sunday at 2 PM, you and I, Marianne Owen and Randy Hoffmeyer, will be reading stories and poems from E.B. White, Nabokov, Ken Kesey, and much more, including original music by Pineola, for this event – the eighth we’ve presented in collaboration with ACT Theatre. Join us for an antidotal and deliciously subversive holiday treat!
I’ll be there Jean. Remember you are picking me up. Here, repeating our by now weekly path, are a few relevant past features pulled and placed by Ron Edge. Ron might also come to the Rogue’s show. He took his then 96-year old mother last year.
When the Marine Hospital opened in 1933 to eighty-four veteran patients, many moved from the Fed’s old hospital in Port Townsend, the new Art Deco high rise on the head of Beacon Hill looked much higherthan its sixteen stories. And from its roof it also “felt” taller, as evidenced by this panorama that looks north over both the
Dearborn Cut (1909-1912) and the Jackson Street Regrade (1907-1909). This hospital observatory afforded this most revealing profile of First Hill. It made it actually look like a hill. Since the early 1960s the developing ditch of the Seattle Freeway, far left
in the “now,” made the western slopes of First Hill more apparent and gave the hill a western border. The slope of its eastern border, here far right, is occupied for the most part by the low-rise structures on the Seattle University campus, east of Broadway.
In 1940, the likely year for this “then,” the skyline of First Hill was scoredwith landmarks that are still standing, although by now most are hidden behind higher structures. These include more apartment buildings and the well-packed Swedish Medical Center campus, which is right-of-center in the “now.” The grandest exception is Harborview Hospital. In the circa 1940 photo its gleaming Art Deco tower stands out, left-of-center. In Jean’s colored “repeat,” Harborview, while half-hidden, still shows its true color, which is like a pale café-latte.
We know the photographer’s primary subject here. It is neither the First Hill horizon nor the man-made valley between First and Beacon Hills. Before the regrading began in 1907, the hills were two parts of the same ridge. Rather, the intended subject is the swath of
open lots and mostly doomed residences that run west to east (left to right) through the center of the subject. Within two years of this recording, a photographer from the Seattle Housing Authority visited the Marine Hospital again and recorded another panorama
with the same frame, but of the completed Yesler Terrace Public Housing. Nearly 700 housing units with their own front yards, new General Electric ranges, free utilities and low rents averaging about $17 a month replaced the former neighborhood of mostly modest Victorian residences..
There are two more panoramas photographed from the Marine Hospital by the Seattle Housing Authority. One shows the Yesler Terrace project completed (included here directly below), and the other, an early record of its construction (placed here directly below). Or dear reader come and see much of this on the big screen at Town Hall this coming Friday evening when Jean and I share illustrated stories on FIRST HILL & BEYOND. Again, this is next Friday evening, October 3. The Hall will also then “unveil” in its lobby our “now and then” exhibit of this and other First Hill subjects.
Anything to add, Paul? Yes. We will start with seventeen links to past features from this blog. As is our way, some we will have shown earlier in support of some subject or other. Ordinarily these links, of course, hold links within. And so on and on. For the most part they are relevant to the neighborhoods of the north end of Beacon Hill and the south end of First Hill, and the ridge/regrade that shares them. The first linked feature looks familiar because it repeats, far left, the Rininger Home at the northwest corner of Columbia and Summit, although at the time we submitted this feature to Pacific Northwest Magazine, now thirteen years ago, we knew nothing about its medical motives. We concentrated then on the Otis Hotel on the right. The next link is packed with relevance, built about a rare photo of a pioneer home near the future Deaborn Street on the slop leading up to the ridge that included both First and Beacon Hill before much of it was lowered with the combined cuttings of the Jackson Street Regrade and the Dearbort Cut. The third link uses the Sprague Hotel on Yesler Way to lead into a small survey of buildings in the Yesler Terrace neighborhood that were removed because of it. Some of them were surely worth saving and/or moving. Links sixteen and seventeen, the last two, give Jean and I an opportunity to first wish you a too early Seasons Greetings and second to promote the First Hill lecture we are giving at Town Hall this coming Friday Evening – early. It is cheap – $5 – and the title is FIRST HILL & BEYOND. (The title suggests more hills.)
Thanks again and again – seventeen times – to Ron Edge for finding and putting these “associates” up.
THE MARINE HOSPITAL
The Feature above was pulled from Pacific Magazine for Nov. 13, 1994. Perhaps the older of you dear readers will share some sympathy with me when I confess that those twenty years went by far too fast. “It doesn’t seem possible” that I took the “now” for this – printed directly below – so long ago. I can still smell the pine cones and feel the breeze off the Bay.