A ghost of First and Madison

There’s a wall on the east side of the 1000 block of Seattle’s First Avenue between Madison and Spring. On that wall is a legend, painted in faded white, that no one can see. It’s likely that no human being will ever see this wall again, because of the particular way in which it has been hidden. I’ve seen this wall and the white painted lettering. I was among the relatively few who were lucky enough to see it when it was uncovered for a brief time a few years ago. The legend is not mysterious or important, or even very meaningful anymore. But up until the time I saw it, it had not been seen by anyone for a hundred years. This is the story I’m about to tell you.

It was a sad day in 2004 when they knocked down the Warshal’s buildings. I had just started working downtown again and was walking past the soon-to-be-destroyed Warshall’s Sporting Goods every day. For much of the 20th century, Warshal’s occupied two buildings on the northeast corner of First and Madison. Unless I am mistaken, the one directly on the corner was originally the two-story Hotel Louvre. The other one, nextdoor to the north, was the Wadsworth Building, an edifice of about six stories.* The Wadsworth Building had actually been registered as a historic landmark in 2001, but that didn’t prevent it from being knocked down to make room for the Hotel 1000.

This is the way Periscopic Map Co. viewed the situation in early 1903.

This is the way Periscopic Map Co. viewed the situation in early 1903.

And down it all came very quickly, in a day or so, all except for the northernmost wall of the Wadsworth Building. The Wadsworth Building was built sometime around 1902 and stood brick-by-jowl with the Schoenfeld Building, the next one to the north of it. Workers on scaffolds had to use caution in removing the bricks of the Wadsworth Building lest they damage the Schoenfeld Building. This took a week or more. As the bricks were slowly removed, I began to see a long-covered-up advertisement or legend reappearing on the Schoenfeld Building’s southern wall.

It said, “Standard Furniture Co.”

Not very surprising, since this legend and many others had appeared on multiple walls around town as businesses grew and changed locations. But I was intrigued. The sign had been entombed for more than a century. I wondered if would be possible to see this particular legend on this particular wall in historic photographs from the turn of the 19th to 20th century. The paint was faded now, but I imagined it blazing white among many such exclamations of the contemporary downtown brickscape.

The same block ca. 2007. Hotel 1000 at the south end, Holyoke Bldg. on the north end, and Schoenfeld Bldg. in the middle. Photo copyright Microsoft Virtual Earth.

The same block ca. 2007. Hotel 1000 at the south end, the red-brick Holyoke Bldg. on the north end, and white-fronted Schoenfeld Bldg. in the middle. Photo copyright Microsoft Virtual Earth.

The construction of the Hotel 1000 took place shortly after I bought a ’40s-era 4×5 Graflex Speed Graphic camera. This is the kind of camera you always see in old movies when the press is snapping photos — it’s a huge thing with bellows. This camera might have been the one that captured Jack Ruby doing in Lee H. Oswald, for instance. It’s unwieldy and once you load the film, you can’t see through the lens to line up or focus your shot. Despite this, it was designed for action photography such as sports and on-the-spot news coverage. I lugged my Graflex down to Madison Street during the winter of ought-four and ought-five, while the wall was exposed, and took a shot, because I knew this view was a rarity that would soon disappear again. (When I told my cousin this story, he likened this wall to Halley’s Comet. Touché.)

First Avenue runs through the right side of this ca. 1901 photo. The white lettering of the Standard Furniture Company is visible just above center. The Colman Building in the lower right foreground is still there, unlike the distant Washington Hotel and the hill it rode in on. Photo courtesy of Paul Dorpat. Click for larger image.

I’ve always been a big fan of Paul Dorpat‘s “Now and Then” articles, which have run for years in Pacific Northwest Magazine and always include an old historic photograph (“then”), a little history of what the view depicts, and his best attempt to reproduce the shot (“now”). He’s assembled many of these essays into a series of books, and on the introduction page of Seattle Now and Then Volume II, which I had bought and read years ago, I found what I was looking for. It’s a panorama of the cityscape shot from a rooftop on Western Avenue. In the middle panel of it can be seen the south wall of the Schoenfeld Building and the legend “Standard Furniture Co.” No photo credit was given nor any other information except that it was taken “ca. 1901″.

Recently I started thinking I should track Paul down and ask him where I could get permission to reproduce that photo for my blog. After all, he lives in the neighborhood. Last week I emailed him asking about the photo. He not only emailed me an electronic copy of that middle panel, but also emailed later in the day with an even better shot that was taken in May of that same year. When I asked whose they were, he said “mine.”, and he went on to say that I could use them as long as I told my readers that he intends to treat of the subject matter in these photos himself someday, when he gets around to it. (Lou, Kip, Marni…consider yourselves informed.)

May 1901. The Wadsworth Building was erected shortly after Major John Millis (or Mills?) took this photo and obscured Standard's legend until it came down in 2004.

May 1901. The Wadsworth Building was erected shortly after Major John Millis (or Mills?) took this photo and obscured Standard's legend until it came down in 2004. Notice that General Arthur Cigars has tagged a few walls in this scene. Photo courtesy of Paul Dorpat. Click for larger image.

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I won’t go on frothing at the mouth about it, except to say that I consider it an honor and a privilege, to say the least, that Paul would let me publish some of what he calls his “ephemera” before he does.

The last piece of the story is my own photograph. I took my film holders to Panda Lab, the only place in Seattle that will develop black and white 4×5 sheet film anymore. It was among the very first shots I’d taken with the Graflex, and I wasn’t at all sure it would turn out. With the ubiquity of photography these days, it’s likely there were many photos taken during the winter of 2004-2005 that show the exposed wall. But for all I know, this may be the first publishing of a photograph showing daylight on this wall for the first time in a century. I never got around to printing it, but here is a scan of the contact sheet, dust and all:

The legend lives on.

The legend lives on. This was taken in the winter of 2004-2005. Notice the ghosts of original windows and doorways in the wall. Photo by Matt. Click for larger image.

*There’s an enlargeable photo of both the destroyed buildings that looks to me like it was taken in the ’40s in a Seattle Times article by Steve Warshal, chip off the original block, that was published online in 2007. Note that in that photo the Wadsworth Building advertises itself as the “Geo. V. Heringer Building”.

Update: 30 June 2009

I walked round there today with a digital camera and got a current photo matching the viewpoint of the one immediately above, the final word on this piece, you might say.

Looks like curtains for this particular graffito.

Looks like curtains for this particular graffito.

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18 Responses to “A ghost of First and Madison”


  1. 1 Kip July 28, 2009 at 22:23

    I must say that I have a greater appreciation for Seattle history now that I’ve been gone lo these 20 years. You have found some stunning photos of the old city, and you can tell Paul Dorpat, should you communicate again with him, that I look forward to his upcoming treatment! May I also compliment you on YOUR fine photograph! I think it has all the character of the photos took by it in the “Good Old Days”, and I hope at some point to see, and maybe even be the subject of, the camera itself. Don’t let me touch it…of late anything old I touch, I seem to break (please, I know I set myself up for some good natured ribbing, but do try to exercise restraint). Now, if you could get up on a rooftop for a skyline picture…..look at me, I’m trying to direct!

    • 2 jstwndrng July 29, 2009 at 03:29

      Mon ami, this city is virtually shedding a skin. Belltown is about midway through a slow metamorphosis and regentrification, and “Allentown” at the end of South Lake Union is in nothing short of upheaval. I can’t keep track of what has disappeared. To document the lowly brick buildings was the reason I got the 4×5 in the first place, before they were all knocked down. Alas, parenthood put paid to that project.

      Yes, rooftops are go, if you can get access. Unfortunately, the second of Paul’s photos above was shot from the roof of the Burke Building, and that spot is now about ten floors up in the Federal Building, between someone’s desk and a file cabinet.

      I don’t think you could break this camera.

  2. 3 Louis July 28, 2009 at 23:23

    How exciting to not only witness the unearthing (unbricking?) of this wonderful old sign, but to capture it, then by way of Paul Dorpat (I too am a fan), be able to look at it when it was a “working” sign back in the day! And a lovely story to link all the pictures together. Love that Periscopic image.. Perhaps you should pass a link onto VintageSeattle?…

    • 4 jstwndrng July 29, 2009 at 03:48

      Unbricking, yes. Let’s say it. I’m all for expanding the language, as you may have noticed, especially in light of your own post about texting. I believe we’re losing whole folios of the dictionary as the cellular minutes tick by.

      That Periscopic map is a treasure. I can’t remember whence I downloaded it, but it names all the buildings of 1903 in the downtown core. I think Metsker Maps still sells it on paper.

      And yes, my thought all along was to pass these photos to Jess in case he’s interested, and Paul actually said that was okay with him, with the condition noted above, although I think only the Major’s shot is high-res enough for vintageseattle.

  3. 5 paul dorpat July 30, 2009 at 05:32

    Dear Matt
    “Your Credit is Good” you probably know was Standard Furniture’s slogan, which it pasted or spiked along the east shore of Puget Sound with big stores in both Seattle and Tacoma. Schoenfields it became. (Hope I have that spelled correctly.)
    The Millis photo is not “mine” in any acquisitive-consumer sense. I was allowed to copy from and use the album by a friend who descends from the officer who took the photos and spent a few years here in the early 20th Century connected with Fort Lawton. Strangely I do not remember any Fort Lawton photos in the album, but there were plenty of family snapshots from Capitol Hill. Included were views from the hill that are thoroughly unique because of their timing. He took those neighborhood pictures when some of the streets were still rough and curving paths. One stunning panorama of the neighborhood looks to Lake Union and Queen Anne Hill from his homesite on Belmont. You can find it and a few more in a story I did in Pacific Northwest – what? – a few weeks past. As is Jean Sherrard and my habit now we always put those Sunday stories on the blog we share with our Parisian friend Berangere Lomont. It is dorpatsherrardlomont, and key word Millis or Belmont or Capitol Hill and you will find it.
    Well there is a section or “button” as Jean calls them that has the entire line-up of then-nows we have chosen. Eventually – if I live that long – we will put up about 1500 of them.
    You did a swell job with your Standard sign story and if I knew how to make myself a subscriber to your blog I would. I’ll ask Jean.
    Pretty soon we are putting up the entire first volume of what I consider the most important addition to the Seattle Canon since the Second World War. It is Rich Berner’s three volume history of Seattle in the 20th Century. I persuaded Rich – after illustrating and captioning volume one – to let us put it on the blog. Now I will do the same for the other two volumes after I have found the illustrations. That will take months.
    Eventually I will probably do something on that Millis view with the Standard sign – but when I cannot say. It was fine that it fit your bliss so well. You probably figured out that it was taken from the north side of the Burke Building, which stood in its Romanesque splendor at the northwest corner of Second Avenue and Marion Street. One troublesome part of that shot is that the pollution from the steam plant at the foot of Union Street really obscures the waterfront.
    Waterfront! You may like to know that I am putting up the Waterfront history I wrote four years ago for City Council. It is rather huge with lots of illustrations and good stories too. I think I have put up seven parts so far. Eventually there will be more the fifty. It too is “buttoned.”
    That’s all for now Matt.
    Paul
    (dorpat)

    • 6 jstwndrng July 30, 2009 at 17:27

      Paul,

      I “struggle for utterance” (rare for me). Your stamp of approval on my effort here means a lot. Thanks again for contributing the photos and info.

      I’ve read some of the articles you mention on your blog, which is linked here (up on the right) under “Worthwhile Blogs”. I didn’t see a “button” for the Waterfront series but I found it on the Archives tab. A veritable trove. The picture of Denny’s house sitting among the original firs at First and Union, like a cabin on some Whidbey bluff, is just riveting. To think that the duolithic SAM and WAMU behemoth now occupies that spot is mind boggling. Also found the Belmont post. Did anyone ever identify the Millis mystery houses?

      Don’t know how you subscribe to an RSS feed in Internet Explorer, but if you’re using Firefox you can just click Bookmarks > Subscribe to This Page and it will take you from there. I plan to share more stuff like this, so if you’re reading, feel free to add/correct/clarify. I know you’ve turned over every brick in this city at one time or another.

    • 7 norman hathaway August 10, 2012 at 18:29

      I distinctly remember a Standard Furniture wall sign that was on the side of a building in Belltown. I no longer live in Seattle, but it was somewhere near 4th & Bell, and was a bit more epic than the one you photographed, as it had a wicker couch and a female figure in it, along with the Your Credit Is Good slogan. I wonder if it’s still there? This story gets even stranger, as I own the original sketch/painting done for that sign. It was done by one of the Lingenbrink brothers, who ran a successful sign shop for several decades. Anyone else spotted this ghost sign?

      • 8 Matt August 10, 2012 at 20:46

        Hi Norman,
        Thanks for commenting. When I read your description, it seemed that I have seen that wall before, or maybe a photograph of it. I don’t recall where. But it is true that Standard had their adverts and their legend all over the bricks of downtown at one time. Maybe you saw a similar temporary unveiling on a wall now again hidden? I think I’ve also seen a website or a blog dedicated to Seattle ghost signs. If not, then it was something I was thinking I should do myself.

  4. 9 mpg August 5, 2009 at 00:14

    (I don’t know about “unbricking” but it seems worth mentioning that “Unhalfbricking” is the name of a noted album by Fairport Convention — and the word, apparently, has its origins in wordplay)

    -mpg

    • 10 jstwndrng August 5, 2009 at 03:59

      Hmm. I’m intrigued as to what play of words could end up with a punchline of unbricking, but that reminds me of a great joke that I have lost, one that comes in two long parts that you have to pull at an overnight outing for best results. You tell the first part as a story about a construction worker who is working with a pile of bricks, and at some point he tosses one of the bricks away. Then you feign that you’ve muffed the telling (helps to have a spouse or friend that will vouch loudly that you never tell that joke right). The next day, you tell the same people “another” joke about a woman on a train with a little tiny yipping dog, which canine is annoying a pompous cigar-smoking man in the same compartment. After some drama about the man tossing her dog out the window, and then she tossing his cigar out the window, the train pulls up at the station, and you say “and they look out the window and there’s the little dog trotting along the platform, and what do you think it had in it’s mouth?” And everyone of your audience rolls their eyes knowingly and says “the cigar, right.” And you say, “no, the brick!” as if you can’t understand how they could have got it wrong. I have been looking for the details of this joke for years. If anyone finds it, please let me know.

  5. 11 Ben August 12, 2009 at 03:48

    Blow me down, Matthew. I love this stuff and your way of putting it on electronic paper. You know of my love for history and I remember Mr. Dorpat’s books. One of my favorite passtimes. When I was in Seattle for the Convention (of FOOLS) I took several pictures of the old bricks. In the fire service we call them “Ordinary” construction. A name which comes from their common presence throughout pre-1940’s America. Uitil dethroned by “light-weight construction (starter mansions and the like), Ordinary buildings were the most deadly for firemen. Now it is the simple Single-Family dwelling we must watch out for.
    I don’t know what it is about the children of our parents, but we tend to be easily “haunted” by these moments of the past. Our sister once let it drop that she had similar moments of “nostalgia” for things never experienced but somehow known.
    During this year’s Convention in Portland, Maine, I went to the Portland Fire Mueseum and the experience there was full of ghosts. I should have told you about some of it when I was with you. Good read, Matt.

    • 12 jstwndrng August 12, 2009 at 07:05

      I love brick. I’ll probably do a post just about brick. I’d like to see the pictures you took of the brick buildings in this area.

      I think there are many around who are aware of the “ghosts” of our cities and towns. They’re usually active in historical societies. I’m actually getting to know a number of them through “communities” of history and architecure buffs on the web. Louis, frequent commentor and generous booster of this blog, is one.

      You should check out Jess Cliffe’s vintageseattle.org and also Paul Dorpat’s site, http://pauldorpat.com/, not to mention Louis’ blog about life as a Seattle expat in Brazil…catch him at http://www.roccosmusicamusica.blogspot.com/

      I would think firemen would be especially leary of something called a “starter” mansion, if you take my meanin’ sir.

      • 13 Ben August 12, 2009 at 18:32

        I’ll send you some I took (I’ve taken, ..pardon). I have spent away several hours on Vintage Seattle and followed your link to Paul Dorpat’s page. I perused for several hours last night.
        As for construction types, the newer buildings have less density of mass, basically. It doesn’t take as much to burn through them, they and their contents produce more than 4 x the amount of BTU’s or (heat) and failure to deal with these factors produces a really bad day.

  6. 14 Linda Hill January 17, 2012 at 15:05

    I ran across this article after googling Standard Furniture Co. I have a very large (and heavy) buffet that has Standard furniture imprinted on the back. I bought it about 12 years ago at an auction for ten dollars as no one but me saw its beauty. So this is very interesting for me. It is too bad what we do to our historic buildings in this country–unlike Europe where age is prized–here only new and youth seem to be worthy of care. THanks for having the foresight to take these pictures.

    • 15 Matt January 17, 2012 at 15:22

      Linda,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. I don’t know anything about the furniture company itself, but they advertised an awful lot so I imagine there is still quite a bit of their merchandise out there, and that’s interesting that you have some of it in your possession. I agree it’s too bad, especially since what replaced our oldest buildings in this city was the architecture of inhumanity — bare concrete bunkers most often. I think things are getting better now from a civic space point of view, but the materials seem ephemeral to me — glass and plastic. I miss the arches, the stone on stone — “two over one and one over two” — that suggested a high value placed on durability, on age, and on commitment.

  7. 16 Linda September 25, 2013 at 21:59

    Thank you so much for this info! I just inherited several pieces of furniture from my mom and grandma and Standard Furniture company is stamped on the back of all the pieces. They were in OK shape, but I decided to take them to Cypress Tree furniture refinishing in Redmond where they returned them the most amazing beautiful condition…thay are Victorian bedroom pieces in Walnut and other woods, carved, with beveled mirrors, and wood tones. They were probably bought in the very early 1930’s. I was curious about this store and loved reading your work. I am going to make copies and save it in one of the drawers for future generations. Funny thing…I bought almost all of own furniture from Ken Schoenfeld…Linda


  1. 1 Things to kiss goodbye « Just Wondering Trackback on August 5, 2009 at 04:42
  2. 2 The Savoyad: a story of stories « Just Wondering Trackback on July 14, 2010 at 21:44

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