I imagine that many Pacific readers will recognize Lawton Gowey’s not so old “then.” Without comparing Jean Sherrard’s repeat, they may remember the location of this stubby trestle from the times they chose Western Avenue to escape the congestion of other downtown avenues. That was a handy avoidance strategy, which had begun already in the 1890s when Western was planked, supported then on its own offshore trestle.
Here at University Street a timbered ramp that crossed above Western between Front Street (First Avenue) and Railroad Avenue (Alaskan Way) was built soon after the Great Fire of 1889. Plans to rebuild it in steel were never fulfilled, and so all its many repairs kept to wood. Gowey had studied the history of this bridge and many others Seattle subjects. He kept track of the changes in our cityscape. He was not a typical urban photographer; his interests were not so picturesque. These interests, I believe, explain this photo of the somewhat dilapidated trestle on University Street, and the scar where it had been cut short years earlier. Late in the 1930s the city’s engineers recommended removing the ramp’s center pier over Western Ave. That claim stopped all traffic on the ramp; only pedestrians could still reach Western Avenue by the stairway shown.
I met Lawton Gowey early in 1982, the year he took this photo. By then Lawton was recognized as a local authority on the history of public transportation, and I went to him for help. He honed his interest in the 1930s, when he explored Seattle with his father and the family camera. Later, working downtown as accountant for the Seattle Water Department, he had ready access to many of the city’s archives. With his camera he continued to explore. Some of his
subjects, such as the construction of the SeaFirst Building in the late 1960s, he tracked from his office in the City Light Building and other prospects as well. He used his lunch hours to explore and record changes in the Central Business District and on the waterfront. His collection includes the many shots he took over time and in all directions from the Smith Tower observatory. We’ll insert here two looks up a freezing Third Avenue photographed by Lawton from the Seattle City Light (and water) Building on the west side of 3rd between Madison and Spring Streets.
Lawton Gowey died of a heart attack in the spring of 1983 at the mere age of sixty-one. In the little time Lawton and I had to nurture our friendship, we shared many interests, including repeat photography, London history, and the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. This last fondness was also fortunate for both Bach and the members of Bethany Presbyterian Church. Beginning in 1954 Lawton, was both organist and choir director for that Queen Anne Hill singing congregation.
Anything to add, Paul? Yessir. Ron has put up four former features. Startlingly, or predictable for those who remember the week past, the first if last week’s feature, which was also on University Street and near the waterfront. The other three edge-links stay near the neighborhood, and predictably, as is our way, some of the images will appear again and again but in different sets or contexts. This week’s fairly recent (from 1982) photograph is another by Lawton Gowey, and I’ll introduce a portrait or two of Lawton and a clip or two too. Contrarily, I may take some of them and insert it in the above – the main or featured text. Next week we return to another touchstone – Pioneer Square.
Here we stand – about a century ago – with an unidentified photographer recording five U.S. Postal Service teams and their drivers. The year is about 1905, six years after the Post Office moved from its previous headquarters on Columbia Street here to the Arlington Hotel. Larger quarters were needed, in part for sorting mail.
On the left (of the top photo) is the hotel’s north façade extending west from the corner of University Street and First Avenue. Above the sidewalk on First, the hotel reached four ornate brick stories high with a distinguished conical tower at the corner, not seen here. To the rear there were three more stories reaching about forty feet down to Post Alley. First named the Gilmore Block, after its owner David Gilmore, for most of its eighty-four years this sturdy red brick pile was called the Arlington, but wound up as the Bay Building, and it was as the Bay that it was razed in 1974.
By beginning the construction of his hotel before the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889, Gilman performed a considerable, if unwitting, service. The south foundation of the structure was formidable enough to stop the fire from reaching University Street. Off shore, a chain of volunteer fire fighters, passing buckets of water pulled from Elliot Bay, stopped the fire’s northerly advance as well along the off-shore quays and trestles built of pilings for warehouses and railroad tracks.
Free mail delivery started in Seattle on September 11, 1887, with four carriers. Remembering that booming Seattle’s population increased in a mere thirty years from 3,533 in 1880 to the 237,194 counted by the federal census in 1910, we may imagine that this quintet of carriers and their teams were a very small minority of what was needed to deliver the mail in 1905. Behind the posing carriers, University Street descends on a timber trestle above both Post Alley and Western Avenue to Railroad Avenue (Alaska Way). Most likely some of the mail was rolled along the trestle both to and from “Mosquito Fleet” steamers for waterways distribution.
After the post office moved three blocks to the new Federal Building at Third Avenue and Union Street in 1908, First Avenue between University and Seneca Streets continued as a block of hospitality with seven hotels.
Anything to add, Paul? A few variations from the neighborhood, Jean, beginning with a look south on First Avenue through University Street.
FIRST AVENUE SOUTH THRU UNIVERSITY STREET
WHERE THE UNIVERSITY STREET RAMP REACHED RAILROAD AVENUE
[NOTE: The NOW describe directly above has not been found, or rather a good print or the negative for it stays hidden.]
WESTERN AVENUE LOOKING SOUTH FROM THE UNIVERSITY STREET VIADUCT
[ANOTHER NOTE: The “Contemporary photo noted in the paragraph directly above may have joined the other “now” subject missing above it. ]
Here – if Ron Edge reads his mail on awakening Sunday Morning – we may find a link for the story feature we published here on the Buzby’s Waterfront Mill, which was nearby at the foot of Seneca Street. After the story of Buzby and his pioneer flour, we follow Jean and his students off to Snoqualmie Falls for another now-then. After a few more digressions, the linked feature returns to the “hole,” above, for more of Frank Shaw’s photos of it. This may all transpire soon for Ron arises about the time I join the other bears here for another long winter’s sleep.