Archive for the 'Venerabilia' Category

Granddad’s violin

In October of 1995 when my friend Jeff was studying in Columbus, Ohio, I wrote him a letter that he eventually sent me back a copy of. He’d told me, “Your relation of your grandpapa’s violin is just the sort of stuff you should write. Just the sort of stuff I like to read, in fact.”

I never forgot that unmitigated affirmation, rare from him, and I’ve always meant to slip the piece in here when the blogging was slow. You may or may not notice but the style of this older piece — reentered here in original form minus my last name — is a little different from that of the writing I do now, though its subject matter somewhat foreshadows it. It’s slightly more acrobatic, more deliberately self-conscious and post-modern — more winky — but much less so than other things I wrote back then. Even though I would write it differently now, the heart of the thing is still a story I feel good telling.

*  *  *  *

When my father returned from a trip to Baltimore a few years ago he brought back his father’s violin, or at least its remains. Before finding several decades’ rest in my Aunt Miriam’s (dad’s sister’s) attic, the old fiddle had apparently been the target and recipient of neglect or abuse or both, for it had come apart in several places: the bridge was off, as was a string, one of the keys, and the entire fret-board. In addition, the post supporting the bridge inside the violin’s body had come unglued and was rattling around inside. Missing completely were an ebony string support at the narrow end of the instrument’s neck, and aught to draw across the strings: No bow. Most of the dislodged pieces were in the battered case, and the body of the violin itself was intact but for one small crack near where player puts chin. Withal it was a sorry sight and no sound.

My father could remember James Ezra F-, Baltimore college teacher of German and French, stern disciplinarian and tolerator of no back-talk, father of five who did not talk back (including my father Willard Foster) and one who did (Aunt Vivian, who for her insubordination was once chased upstairs with a glass of water by Granddad) and lover of music, scratching away on this violin in his upstairs bedroom late at night, after the children were put to bed (when Dad was a child, the youngest of the six) and in later years whenever the mood took him, though by then my dad was out with his buddies, far from the noise of Granddad’s fiddle.

My dad’s older brother Jim told him (Dad tells me) that before Willie was born James Ezra and Jennie Viola, his wife, my “Granny”, used to play popular duets in the living room, she at the piano, he standing or sitting nearby. Uncle Jim, who is my dad’s senior by fourteen years, has told him they made beautiful music together. Dad has his doubts, judging from the sounds squeaking under the upstairs bedroom door years later. Who knows, though? Those would have been the years after the Great War and before the Depression, and wasn’t everything more beautiful then?

The violin is a forgery, technically. This startling news from Herr Hermann Bischofberger, Seattle Violin Maker and Reparateur since 1956 (of Chicago before that since 1948, before that from Germany or Austria somewhere) to whom my father and I took James Ezra’s fiddle-pieces in hopes that they might be reassembled and once more made to bring forth sweet sounds. After holding the thing up like a newborn babe and tapping on its body several times in several places, and after rummaging through the case — essentially a puzzle-box of broken parts, only some of which could be reused — he assured us that it could be made good-as-almost-new, but that it was not an echt Jacob Stainer wiolin, othervise ve vould be sitting on $50,000 – $100,000, despite ze damage. As it was, hundreds of mediocre “copies” of this “Stradivarius of German violins” were being hastily assembled toward teh end of the last century and sold as J. Stainers. The real ones were made by the master in the late 1700s, an entire century before, and (though Herr B. did not say so) I imagine that the real McCoys were not fitted with a parchment-like paper inside — visible through the * slots — with the first two numbers of the alleged manufacture date printed and the last two penciled or crayoned, as ours was, thusly: 1799.**

We were disappointed, though only in an immediate sense and only in relation to the news that a Stainer was any kind of violin name at all. We had not entered the violin shop with any hopes that our busted fiddle was a collectors item worth tens of thousands. My chagrin was not about the money, but at the fact that granddad’s fiddle was a copy of something instead of that something itself. Once repaired our forgery will be worth $500 or more (it is still, and will ever be, an antique) but I would almost rather have an actual cheapo, an authentic beginner’s fiddle, than a copy of something better.

Be that as it may, and forgery or no, it was my father’s father’s violin, and both his son and grandson (the latter of whom he never met, having succombed to a liver infection in 1951, eight years before yours truly was born — first born son to his last born) valued the thing as such. “We’ll go ahead and do it,” said my dad with quiet certainty, despite the $350+ repair estimate.

“Don’t you want to take it home and think about it?” I asked him [aside]. I had not expected such cost, and felt a pang of guilt since it was I who had suggested to Dad that we bring the thing in after having it sit in a corner of our house, shut up in its dusty case, for four or five years. I had been about to open my mouth and tell Bischofberger that we thanked him for his prognosis but would have to go home and speak with our inner piggybanks. Dad’s quiet announcement surprised me.

“I don’t want to take it home and have it sit around for another forty years and get banged up even more,” he reasoned. We agreed that we didn’t know what he would tell Mom (for whom, it turned out, the impulsive decision needed no justification whatsoever, James Ezra and his violin being who and what they were), but he’d worry about that later. I agreed to lay out for a bow, which cost was not part of the estimate since that missing piece was not known to be broken but merely missing and was anyway not necessary to make the violin whole and playable again. I’ll choose one when we return around October 20th to pick up the restored violin. Since this whole adventure came about because of a renewed desire on my part to play jigs and reels, I figure the $50 for a beginner’s bow is a justified expense…

*  *  *  *

There was a little more at both ends of this letter that I’ve excluded. In Jeff’s enthusiastic response, which I reference for historicity and because Jeff was an inimitable correspondent, he scolded me gently for giving any thought to the idea of forgery, saying “For sooth, Sternherz†, a copy it is not. It’s your grandpapa’s violin! And there’s only one…This is magic, Matthew. What you are doing is that which should be done. You and Willard Foster are okay in my book. That violin’s voice, a voice all its own and exactly matched by no other violin anywhere, will be heard again two generations after its last stroke. How very Middle Earth. Bravo Matt!”

Bischofberger’s was located at the time in a century-old Victorian house on East John Street near 14th Avenue on Capitol Hill, but after a four-alarm fire gutted the place in 2000 they retreated to 1830 12th Avenue East, which according to the Seattle Times (July 20, 2000) was the shop’s original Seattle location, a building the family still owned. They are still in business on Capitol Hill, and an elder son has opened a shop on the Eastside.

As for the violin, I never learned to play it, and I gave it back to my parents when a young niece expressed interest in violin lessons. I don’t know where it is now or what became of it. But it’s okay, I have a concertina to wrestle with.

*In the letter, I drew a slot shaped like an elongated s.
**In the letter, I wrote in the two nines by hand as they were done in the instrument.
German for Starheart, one of Jeff’s nicknames for me.

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The life electronic

At this very moment, Mara is falling asleep to a Gordon Bok album being played on a 1980s vintage CD player and amplified by a Realistic amp/tuner made and sold by Radio Shack in about 1978. Angela and I brought these items into our marriage, like cats.

The CD player was Angela’s, given to her used by her brother-in-law before I knew her. Its LED display sometimes declines to come on and show you the track number, and the eject button broke about ten years ago so that we’ve always had to stick a pinky into its hole and touch a little protrusion back there, like a uvula, which creates a kind of gag reflex in the player and makes it barf up the disk, except when it starts shuddering loudly instead, which it does every time now, come to think of it, and at which point we have learned we must gently touch the left side of the disk tray to release whatever is hung up and make the horror stop. Mara has grown up understanding that she must stick her finger in the hole and then instantly tap the left side of the tray to get a CD out.

Arthritic and falling apart, maybe, but they don't make 'em like this anymore.

The amp/tuner was mine, part of a suite of stereo components that comprised my earliest sound system. I cannot adequately verbalize my awe that it has lasted so long. The only thing wrong with it is the volume knob, which, being turned, now causes one speaker to be intermittently mute, so that you have to find one of the acceptable sweet spots, which may not be precisely the volume you wanted.

Another piece in my teenage stereo set-up was my treasured Sony turntable, which I bought in about 1978 or 1979 and which was one of the finest pieces of stereo equipment ever manufactured on this earth. Sometime in the late 1990s it began to have trouble with playback speed, but there was no belt to get loose — it was direct drive, meaning that the motor was centered beneath and directly drove the platter table — so I could only surmise that the motor itself was slowly croaking. I once unscrewed the screws holding down the platter table and removed it, then unscrewed and removed the cover over the motor and looked inside, hoping I might find a “loose wire” or something. I felt like Indiana Jones stumbling into some ancient temple of shining and indescribable beauty and splendor: there were three large coils of glistening red wire in there, arranged like the petals of a flower, with smaller coils attached symmetrically, and no dust nor light nor eyes of men had ever violated that sacred chamber from the time its cover was first secured until that moment. Seeing that I would determine nothing by peering at at and by messing with it would only bring doom and destruction to this crypt of late-twentieth-century Japanese stereo engineering I buttoned it up toot sweet and got out of there. But that glimpse of its inner beauty made me unwilling to part with the increasingly useless turntable. Such a marvel! They didn’t make them like this anymore. Back then Sony developed a reputation, in fact, for building things to last too long. This was one of those things.

For almost twenty years, my amp/tuner and turntable were accompanied everywhere they went by a Technics tape deck, a really good one also from the late 1970s, which would probably still be working had I not come home one summer evening in the mid-90s to find that my roommates had recorded some vocals at demonic levels in order to achieve maximum distortion of the sound, which I could hear before I got to the driveway as I walked up the street. It had recorded and played flawlessly before that, and afterwards one channel did not record properly. Still, I kept it for years because it was just such a well-built machine.

Below this platter table...workings of unspeakable beauty. The PS-X50 on the last day I owned it.

The picture I’m trying to paint for you here is that while neither Angela or I is a technological early adopter, we have always bought (or accepted as gifts) quality electronics and have thereafter not been technological frequent exchangers. If we can still use the old, we tend to not covet the new o’ermuch.

Nevertheless, new electronics equipment accumulates. I insisted on recording the music from my vinyl platters onto tape cassettes well after the “mass of men” had given up on analog and migrated to CDs, even after the final failure of my Technics tape deck and after my Sony turntable took ill. Thus, besides these well-made relics that I could not bring myself to get rid of I also have housed over the years an assortment of lesser turntables, tape decks and speakers and other items I picked up here and there to feed my analog habit.

I also have one of my dad’s old tube radios, a short-wave radio that picked up high-frequency broadcasts from all over the world, and the front dial pane has Cairo and Ecuador and “USSR” and a bunch of other cities and countries printed right on it so you can find them quickly. It made that staticky whistling whirr when you were tuning it, dropping in pitch when you got near a station and then rising again if you went beyond it. My dad said he’d got it running and gave it to me because he knew I loved the old battleship, but it didn’t work when I tried to fire it up and we never got around to checking into it. Still, I have fond memories of listening to announcers speaking crisply in foreign languages on that radio when I was a kid.

We should have replaced our CD player and amp/tuner long ago, and I guess we’ve always meant to, but other things have taken up our time, money and drool. And the sad fact is, the old thing is always built better than the new thing you replace it with. We finally bought our first VHS video tape recorder/player (Toshiba) in 2002 and it only lasted until about 2007, when I had to pry a rented tape out of it with hammer claws. Compared to my steel-fronted and metal-knobbed stereo components from the 1970s, the Toshiba was a piece of flimsy plastic garbage. Its malfunction and subsequent mangling propelled us into the world of DVDs, which we had thitherto resisted because, well…our VHS machine was still working and the VHS videos at the movie rental place had not yet completely vanished from the shelves. We bought a DVD player, which is still working at this write, but it is nothing like the solid pieces of equipment I saved up my money for in the late ’70s.

Radio Bangladesh, anyone? The old Hallicrafters tube radio my Dad built in the 1960s, I think from a kit.

So this moment came, or this moment assembled itself over time in my consciousness, when I realized that the pace of technological advancement in consumer electronics has sped up to such a degree, and the lifespan of any given electronic “good” has concomitantly shrunk to such a brief period, that to buy a piece of equipment these days for playing back music on or viewing a movie on is to risk being very soon stuck with a piece of junk no one will want for money and no one will let you get rid of for free.

And because you cannot now legally throw these things into a hole in the Earth the way you did when I was a lad — what great fun we had in those golden days, hurling truckfuls of toxic nonbiodegradables into the soil without so much as wincing — these things go in the garage in a stack, and every time you look at them you feel that particularly Western feeling of being owned and enslaved by your possessions, a feeling that you live in your own plastic midden, your useless crap piling up around you. Try getting rid of a broken or even an unwanted vacuum cleaner. We have had two sitting in our garage because no one wants them, not even for parts, and in Seattle you have to pay $35 apiece to leave them at the Dump. I mean the Transfer Station. (See? I still refer to it as the Dump, which was a happy term of endearment when I was a kid.)

So when Angela told me about the Free Electronics Recycling Event going on at a church parking lot in Crown Hill a few weekends ago, I opened the hatch of the Subaru with glee and made to load up. The process engendered mixed emotions for me. One of the two turntables I threw in the back of the car was part of a plastic mid-90s amp/tuner-tapedeck-turntable combo stack “not worth the powder to blow it to hell” that I had picked up at a garage sale for a couple bucks. But the other was my beloved old Sony PS-X50. This was like loading up a ’57 Chevy to give to the Goodwill. I figured it was time to quit pretending I was ever going to have the time or money to get it fixed. I tried once, spent some money to have someone make the motor run right, but it started speeding up and slowing down again almost immediately.

A trip backward in time. The back of the tube radio.

The crazy part is, I still have one more turntable, a decent made one that still works well enough to play the old vinyl which, oh, I forgot to mention, I still have much of. Especially noteworthy among the old platters are some kids’ records, which I played for Mara once on a turntable and she loved. I was going to throw away even this last turntable but Mara complained. I reminded her that we now had digital versions of those old stories that we could listen to on my computer, and she said “the computer’s not the same!” Inwardly I smiled, glad that she has a little Luddite in her.

The annual recycling event is hosted by Windermere and the recycling company is 1 Green Planet. (They’re open — and free — year round if you don’t want to wait for the annual do.)  They were nice people. We drove up into the church parking lot. They smiled at us, unloaded all the electronics carcasses, thanked us, and charged us nothing (we donated a small sum to the church for a missions project). The Sony PS-X50 turntable was carried off before I had a chance to tell them what a rare and wondrous piece of equipment it was, and I doubt they would have known by looking at it (though possibly its weight might have alerted them to the fact that it was not of this era). Every person there was younger than it. I don’t know if anyone will have looked it over to see if it could be fixed or if it just got thrown onto a heap of turntables and tape decks and DVD players. I can’t really bear to consider its fate. It served me so well.

I could not bear to part with Dad’s old short-wave radio. Not now. It’s been in the get-rid-of pile for a long time, since it never worked right since I’ve owned it and I never had any clue how to fix such a thing, but when I look in the back I see sawdust from my dad’s shop, a shop bulldozed half a decade ago, sawdust that got in there when he was using his radial arm saw years before he gave it to me and I never bothered to clean out. The vacuum tubes stand like rigid, pointy-helmeted sentinels from a ghost army, guarding against a rear attack on the open-backed casing. Well, they didn’t see transistors coming, did they? Still, they are as marvelous to me as the coils I glimpsed in the PS-X50 that time. How can it be that there is no longer any place in the world for these things?

The City Dump will never be the same

Among the adult male voices imprinted on my memory, only that of my father goes back further than this one. Not even my two uncles who lived in Seattle when I grew up, not even the men heading the households in my neighborhood, not even the anchormen I heard every evening on the news, have been more immediately recognizable to me throughout my life by their voices than this man.

It was like trying to see Jesus. Mara is at lower left, indicated by the red arrow. Note all the big red noses.

This morning, watching YouTube videos I had dug up to demonstrate to Mara what fun we were in for today, I felt an instant feeling of well-being as the sound of the voice stroked some paleo-neurons in my brain, receptors formed early in life around the particular resonant and velvety frequencies and the roundness and breadth of enunciation that could only belong to Julius Pierpont Patches, Seattle’s beloved hobo-clown.

As far back as I can remember, and in fact back to 1958, J.P. Patches, the “Mayor of the City Dump”, came on television every morning and again every afternoon to amuse both children and adults — we kids loved his slapstick antics and the cartoons he would introduce by taking off his hat so the camera could zoom into it, and the adults sat behind us busting a gut at J.P.’s double entendre and at other aspects of the show that were above our heads.

For instance, all the other characters besides J.P. were played by one man, Bob Newman, including Gertrude (J.P.’s girlfriend I guess), the Swami of Pastrami, Boris S. Wart (the second meanest man in the world), Ketchikan the Animal Man, Gorst the Friendly Furple, and the voice of Miss Smith of Miss Smith’s Delivery Service, whose front side we never saw but she was ostensibly a white-haired old lady who rode a motorcycle, wore a helmet and leather jacket and growled like a longshoreman. Sometimes J.P. would tease his fellow actor by putting him in the impossible position of having to voice one character while appearing as another, for instance, if Gertrude was present he would say “let’s call up Ketchikan the Animal Man and see what he knows about this”, and while J.P. called Ketchikan on the huge black phone, Newman-as-Gertrude would have to step surreptitiously off-camera and throw his voice so that we kids would believe that Ketchikan was on the other end of the line. The two actors frequently cracked up in fits of laughter, and the crew was notorious for bonking J.P. on the head with the microphone boom or delaying sound effects.

When it comes to Simon Says, J.P. plays dirty, and the audience loves it. Still, this Patches Pal (in the white shirt) withstood the barrage of tricks and prevailed to win the candy.

The show, which ran until 1981, was unrehearsed and improvisational and completely off the wall. J.P. had a doll named Esmerelda whose contribution to the show was a canned child’s laugh track that was played whenever he spoke to her. There was a stuffed dog named Griswald, a grandfather clock whose face became animated when he spoke with J.P., and Tikey Turkey, a headless rubber chicken that “lived” in a metal oven at the back of the room. There was also a bookworm named Sturdley that emerged from a shelf of books occasionally. Often Chris Wedes, who played J.P., and Newman came into the studio not having any idea what they would be doing on the show, but with so many characters and friends, there was never a dull moment. This was early T.V.

Several generations of Seattleites grew up with J.P. and call themselves “Patches Pals” to this day. Many were brought onto the show as part of a scout troop or school class. As a kid I thought these were the boring moments, where twelve kids would shuffle in and J.P. would stand behind each one and ask their name, and if the kid wasn’t paying attention he’d grip their head in his hands and tilt it up to look at him. But for the kids who were on the show, it was a moment they never forgot.

No one ever forgot J.P.’s ICU2-TV set. Say it out loud to get the joke. This was a cardboard box with a T.V.-tube-shaped opening into which J.P. would peer while sitting “Indian style” on the floor. The camera was inside it, and the set’s magical powers allowed him to see that, for instance, little Katy who was turning seven should look in the dryer for her birthday present, or Jamie, who might be turning nine, should look in his sock drawer. Parents would call the studio with these hiding places and J.P. would “discover” them through the ICU2-TV set.

Selecting contestants for the hula hoop contest.

J.P. never talks down to kids, and they could always tell that he enjoyed their own wit and energy. He made them the stars. His games of Simon Says, which he has continued to conduct at the many public events he has appeared at in the decades since the show went off the air, were legendary.

Wedes is 82 years old. I don’t know and have not been able to find out whether Newman is still alive. I found out late this week by the merest happenstance — a newspaper headline glimpsed on the sidewalk — that Wedes would be making his last public appearing as J.P. Patches today at the Fishermen’s Fall Festival at Fishermen’s Terminal. Patches Pals old and young would be able to see the Mayor of the City Dump live just this one more time.

I hadn’t seen J.P. in a live performance since the early ’90s when I wrote an article about him for a local newspaper. I felt a sudden and profound sense of loss, perhaps exacerbated by the fact that my father recently passed away (which makes J.P. the Elder Vox), as did a beloved older member of our church community. There has been entirely too much of old men riding off into the sunset lately for my inner little boy. I had to see J.P., and although I didn’t know if she would appreciate the significance of seeing a clown she’d never heard of, I wanted Mara to be able say someday that she saw J.P. Patches do his thing. This would be her only chance.

We hit the road. Emilia’s nap precluded her and Angela’s attendance.

One of the lucky Pals (and a very young one, all in all) gets her photo taken with J.P. We never even got in this line.

We got to Fishermen’s Terminal in plenty of time, even found the last parking spot, but I had grossly underestimated, or forgotten, the loyalty and dedication — to say nothing of the sheer numbers — of Patches Pals. It was like trying to see Jesus. There were a few score plastic chairs set out in front of the stage, but just beyond the last row of chairs — all of which were occupied — was an impenetrable wall of Patches Pals. Mind you, these are not kids, these are people in their 40s and 50s. There were a dozen or so kids down in front — we could not get there and there was no room anyway — but the seething throng of hundreds of people were adults like me who quite simply adore J.P. Many wore the signature red clown nose of the Patches Pal.

I am too slight and too old and Mara now too big for me to put her on my shoulders, but I hoisted her onto my back in piggyback fashion and she could just barely see over my shoulder, between the arms of the people holding up digital cameras, to the place on the stage where J.P. was. He asked if everyone here were Patches Pals and the place erupted in a single affirmative roar. Similarly a negative when he squinted and wondered if there were any “Boris Buddies” present (Boris Buddies are the minions of the second meanest man in the world). Then he got to the business of the Simon Says contest for kids, the Simon Says contest for adults, and the hula hoop contest. Candy was doled out to winners and losers alike.

I was sad that we couldn’t see him better, but two-thirds of the way through the show a spot opened at the front of the human wall that Mara could get to and she bravely threaded her way among the knees and elbows and got to where she could see a little better.

Mara’s wooden boat becalmed. We floated it at the adjacent marina.

After the show J.P. was escorted by Seattle Police officers to a booth where a line formed for autographs that included literally hundreds of people. Instead of standing in this line, Mara and I went and got fish n’ chips. Checking back after an hour, we found the line to be just as long. Mara really wanted to get an autograph (and was even keener to have the J.P. action figure), but she wisely chose again to give the queue a miss, whereupon we sheered off to join the madness of hundreds of children trying to build wooden boats with their parents standing behind them nipping at their every move. (J.P. was just one attraction at this festival, which included lots of things for kids to do.) Hammers, glue, nails, and building materials were provided, but room to breathe was not. We checked the line one last time and it had not shrunk, or really even moved much. Everyone wanted to sit down with J.P. and get their picture taken, which took time. I wondered how long the old man could do this. It must have been exhausting, all that adoration.

I was feeling bad that I hadn’t been better prepared for viewing the show — and there’s no next time to apply lessons learned about Patches Pal Density Quotient — but we made the right choice, because as we were walking to our car we saw J.P. being driven away, and it had only been a few minutes since we last saw the line snaking away across the grounds. I can’t imaging the disappointment of all those people in the line who never even got to the booth, who were told, in effect, sorry, J.P. is over forever.

The passenger-side window in his car was rolled down as he passed, and I shouted “We love you J.P.!” Another lady said the same thing right after me (copycat).

“Thank you”, J.P. said with a wave. “Goodbye!”

Down in the old hotel

In Joseph Mitchell’s story “Up in the Old Hotel” the author stops to eat at a regular Lower Manhattan haunt of his called Sloppy Louie’s, and the owner, an old friend of his, convinces him to accompany him to the upper floors of the building, which was once the old Fulton Ferry Hotel and at the time of Mitchell’s story (1952) had been abandoned for decades. Louie had bought the old building and had opened his restaurant in it but had never ventured above the second floor because the stairs did not go further and to access the upper floors you had to ascend a ladder through the second-floor ceiling and then pull yourself up into the dark in a rusty lift with old ropes. Like two nervous schoolboys exploring a haunted house, Louie and Joe try to uncover the hotel’s past.

My story about the Camlin is a little like that.

By invitation of His Anonymous Generality the Manager...

After I wrote about “sneaking” into the old Camlin Hotel here in Seattle last year (see Trespass), the general manager of the hotel found my post and left a comment employing perfect comic timing and understatement, not only letting me know that I was busted, but also that I had missed a few things he would be glad to show me next time I was in the neighborhood. I am not allowed to name him nor the company that now owns the venerable property, but I contacted him last week and asked if I might come round for my grand tour. Mara got wind of it and wanted to come too, so I took a long lunch and Angela and Millie made a large sacrifice (skipping an important midday nap for Mills) by bringing Mara downtown to meet me at the old hotel.

As it happens, the general manager (we’ll just call him GM) is a person uncommonly well suited to the managing of an old hotel like the Camlin. He loves history. He is a regular visitor at the same local history-related websites I frequent, and he is persistent and resourceful in teasing out tangible bits of the historic Camlin from the mists of the past. In the very little free time that overseeing the operations of a busy time-share location leaves him he has amassed — is amassing — an impressive collection of ephemera — articles, postcards, advertisements, menus, brochures — related to the Camlin and its famous (though now erstwhile) Cloud Room. Using eBay he has even found such odd items as salad plates with the Camlin logo and letters from former managers to prospective VIP visitors. A note he showed me from many years back states that one Ozzie Ozborne contacted the hotel staff late one night to tell them that there was someone lying on the sidewalk near the front door. A later note informs us that the person had jumped and was pronounced dead at Harborview.

The GM with some of his treasures.

In addition to the collection he has formed, GM’s office holds a series of red-cloth-bound log books dating back to 1979, with entries written in many hands and in many shades of blue and black ink, detailing the salient events of any given day, such as fights breaking out between besotted patrons of the notoriously lively Cloud Room. There is also a set of smaller books, also bound in red-cloth, that the bartenders logged separate nightly reports in, mostly about which patrons got so plastered that they were cut off. It’s all there in writing, so if you misbehaved at the Cloud Room anytime in the last quarter of the twentieth century, the details have been duly noted for posterity. GM said the logs were lively reading and I would love to have simply kicked back and read some of their entries, but Mara was soon spinning complete circles with the chair we had deposited her in, so GM grabbed some keys from the front desk and we hit the elevator.

Entering the (in)famous Cloud Room on the eleventh floor, now a quiet place for guests to read or take in the view.

First stop was what is left of the Cloud Room. The sign is still there above the door to the back portion, which is now simply a quiet lounge area with a stunning view. According to GM, and you could google this or TiVo it or whatever, a scene from the movie The Fabulous Baker Boys pans through this room as Michelle Pfeiffer is yelling at the Bridges Bros., and out the window you can see the lit sign on the roof of the Roosevelt Hotel, the other surviving Seattle hostelry famed for its neon. GM got a lot of hate-mail when the hotel’s new owners closed the Cloud Room in 2004 and added several penthouse suites, even though they thoughtfully named them Cumulus, Nimbus, Cirrus, etc. as an homage to the great old skyscraping pub.

On the terrace of one of the penthouse suites, where patrons of the Cloud Room once took in the night air after a show at the Paramount nextdoor.

The Paramount nextdoor. It's not every day you get a chance to photograph an old showboat like that from the roof of an old inn like this.

Next GM showed us one of the penthouse suites, and then we descended a few floors and toured one of the more modest rooms on the north side. I would have taken some photos of these rooms except that a) Mara’s attention span was better served by moving at GM’s clip, which was not slow enough for me to really think out my compositions, and b) I was too busy listening to all the fascinating historical factoids that GM was telling me. An example: the mahogany doors that once fronted each room were not usable in the renovations the new owners made because they would not meet fire code specifications, so they now comprise the bar in a pub on Capitol Hill called 22 Doors.

Now you know. (Don’t mention it, it’s my job.)

GM was like a fountain of these small vignettes from the Camlin’s intriguing and often comical past. Or if the facts or events weren’t funny in themselves — like the fact that whole kitchens were walled up intact in the 1940s when some of the original apartments were converted to guestrooms (the hotel opened with both guestrooms and apartments)  — we could tell he was very amused by them, or by the telling of them, which makes him the perfect host for a tour such as this. As we breezed through the hallways, in and out of rooms and elevators, he regaled us with snippet after snippet in an understated style that often left me puzzling for a moment what he meant. He enjoyed telling us just enough of an anecdote for me to put together what he meant a few minutes later. For example, he told us that some decades ago it was someone’s brilliant idea to put a small yacht in the swimming pool as a room you could rent. He stopped at a framed newspaper article on the wall depicting workmen lowering the storied craft into the pool. Then he remarked that it would have been a good idea if the bilge pump had been checked beforehand. With a twinkle of his eye and a slight grin, he whirled off down the hall while I explained the portent to myself by saying to Mara as we raced to follow him, “Mara, wow, they forgot to close a valve in the bottom of the boat and it sank in the pool!”  

A museum in the basement depicting one of the original kitchens uncovered after being sealed up for decades. Wha--- is that a ghost?

One of the many mysterious little anomalies in the basement of the old hotel -- a hidden storage area.

Lastly we descended to the basement, which I must admit turns out to have been my favorite part, despite the view from the Cloud Room (still a nice view to the south even though the famous views of the water to the west and the Space Needle to the northwest have been forever occluded by new highrises) and the view from the penthouse terrace. Down here are mysteries…mysteries I tell you. Before going through one set of doors, GM paused to bid us bear in mind that the hotel was built in 1926, smack dab in the middle of Prohibition, a time when anyone building a hotel might have taken great pains to make sure that their guests could…let’s see…enjoy a full range of refreshments, as Americans of the high class and growing middle class felt they were entitled to do, regardless of what the law said. I may be mistaken about this, but I think many good people regarded Prohibition as a temporary inconvenience they knew would surely end, and with which they must “play along” until it was over. In any case, the person who built the Camlin (the son of the man who built the church next door) built it with $800,000 siphoned from his father-in-law’s bank (one indiscretion among many that eventually earned him a long stay as the guest of the state at a facility in Walla Walla).

This tunnel just goes out toward the back alley. The question is...why?

So it is puzzling, but not surprising in the least, to find tunnels running off here and there and hidden rooms and staircases that rise a few steps and then stop at blank walls. GM first showed us a long hallway that ended at a big delivery door. Low along one wall of the hallway was a hole covered in plexiglass, the forgotten entrance to a strange, low-ceilinged room that was rediscovered only a few years ago. Behind this window a light was left on and you could see the base of a ladder that rose up to a hole in the ceiling, leading to another hidden room on top of the first. They were last used as storage rooms for old junk the hotel was shedding, including a huge Vance Lumber Company sign that used to hang out front (the Vance Lumber Company owned the hotel for a time). GM believes that this hallway was used to bring in the booze when the front door might have been watched, and these hidden rooms were used to store it. A dumbwaiter that has since been removed would have completed a path to the guestrooms upstairs that liquor could travel without ever having to pass through the publicly accessible parts of the house. 

The lunch menu at the Cloud Room the last day it was open.

We stopped in the kitchen to sample some homemade pozole that one of the staff had brought in to share (muy delicioso… ¡Muchimas gracias, Maria Lena!). Mara and I had to go after that, but I left all bothered about those tunnels and hidden rooms in the basement. And there are still further mysteries that haven’t even been identified. As we passed out of the boilerroom on our way to somewhere else, GM rapped his knuckles on a wall of bare sheetrock put up before his tenure began more than a decade ago, a wall that encloses a space unaccounted for, and said with one raised eyebrow, “still have to get in there”. 

NOTE: For a great article about the men who built the Camlin by my mentor from my days at Washington Magazine, local author and historian J. Kingston Pierce, see this excerpt from his book Eccentric Seattle: Pillars and Pariahs Who Made the City Not Such a Boring Place After All. Order it from your local indie bookshop.

Piggy back

A pig had been standing on the corner of Pike Street and Post Alley in the Pike Place Market since 1986 and as far as I know had not moved until last month.

The pig is made of bronze and is named Rachel after the prize winning Whidbey Island sow that modeled for the sculpture. It’s actually a piggy bank, and every year, so it is said, the Market Foundation pulls between USD$6,000 and $9,000 out of her in currencies from around the world.

A pig in a pinch. Note the handmade signs visible behind the blonde woman's head. Click to see larger.

Whenever I go visit my friends up at the Post Alley Seattle’s Best Coffee, I walk past Rachel coming and going, and she is almost never not covered with children having their photo taken on it. Many is the time I have broken stride momentarily or walked around a person holding up their iPhone in order to avoid walking through their shot.   

So it is remarkable that I didn’t even notice that for the past month, the pig has been absent. Granted, the market has been under exensive renovation (“so it can stay 104 years old” goes the slogan) and there have been barricades and cones and yellow tape and temporary plywood walls directing and corraling pedestrian traffic for months, so part of the reason I didn’t realize she’d vacated her post was simply that there has been so much of moving things around.

A crowd of Rachel fans looks on. Note the small boys ready to spring. Click to see larger.

Today, however, on my way to meet my friend Erik for a coffee, I came up the stairs from Post Alley and found a circle of people gathering around a handsome, very old truck as if something were happening. The pig was in the back of the truck, and my first thought was…where are they taking the pig? At the coffee shop, Vangie told us that Rachel had actually been hit by a taxi cab in February and roughed up pretty badly and that she was actually returning today after having been away for repairs.

You could have knocked me over with a 5 Deutschmark note. Sometimes I think I’m very observant, and sometimes…well, sometimes I think I’m not very observant.

Erik had known about it. Much of his immediate family lives on Whidbey Island, which for you outtatowners is just up the Pugest Sound a few leagues. According to what Erik has heard, the artist who originally brought Rachel to immortal life and who was called upon to make the repairs lives on the island.

In case you think you might heist this piggy bank, the rebar fastenings and the expression on this man's face should dissuade you. Note plaques on pole and under worker's foot. Click to see larger.

Erik and I took our coffees over and joined the crowd. The men in reflective vests had already hoisted the pig off the truck and within seconds of setting her on the ground were having to pause while kids hopped on and off her back. Eventually they taped her off so they could fasten her down to the concrete in the same place where she has stood all these years.  

Trespass

Nestled among the wings of the old Camlin Hotel on Ninth Avenue is a narrow courtyard shaded by a canopy of several large green Japanese maple trees and serene with the burbling of a fountain. It is in my opinion one of the loveliest and serenest little spots to take a cup of coffee in that part of the city on a sunny day. I discovered it only because Monday, in a moment of uncharacteristic audacity and brio, I strolled into the hotel as if it belonged to me. (Note: it does not. It belongs to the Wyndham Resort Development Company).

The Camlin Hotel, built in 1926. As with most images below, click to enlarge.

I have always admired people who can march into places not their own. I am timid of entering places in which I do not feel I have any business being, and that turns out to be most places. If you read this blog you may think me something of an investigative swashbuckler, but almost everything I write about is on the street or open to the public. I remember often over the course of my life being embarrassed in the company of someone I considered very bold because they walked into places as though they had a perfect right to be there when I felt sheepish and guilty.

There was a time, for a while, when I rebelled against this feeling. Jeff had a defiant streak in him that I much admired and that I was willing to ride shotgun beside. I’m sure that our schooldays adventures into areas off limits to students were mostly his idea. It had started at Bellevue Junior High when we ventured into the old, brick, multistoried administration building that stood quietly at the center of the low modern complex of classrooms and breezeways. Jeff said that if anyone asked us what we were doing in there we should counter-ask if they had seen a “guy in a blue coat” come through there and say that we were looking for him. We also made a dash up the stairs to a staff-only area of the school library and then fled down a long back exit stairway, certain that the hand of authority was right behind us grasping like the fingers of some ghoul from a Scooby Doo cartoon.

This sign was once visible for a long way in all directions.

In high school we took it further. For some reason we got it into our heads to make a project of climbing onto the roof of every building at Bellevue Senior High. Most of it was easy — shimmy up a pole and heave ourselves up onto the covered breezeway, then hop onto the roof of this or that low building — but the cafeteria and gym complex eluded us. It was a tall square box with nothing next to it that was really tall enough to gain access by. One afternoon after school, we were studying a drain or vent pipe that ran down the south side of this hulking mass from top to bottom, maybe forty feet, and I decided to take a practice run at it. I ran to the wall and clambered up the pipe as far as momentum would carry me, about ten feet, and found footing against the rough-textured side of the building while holding onto the pipe with my hands. It felt a little rickety, and I was just about to turn around and shout down to Jeff my opinion that this was no safe route when he scurried up behind me. I was agitated, because I wanted down, but he urged me to get going, and his will was the stronger, so up I went. I was skinny and lithe in those days, like a spider, and it wasn’t too difficult to get to the top, though the pipe wobbled and I was unnerved. Jeff, stronger but heavier, pressed me from behind because he was getting tired. The trick at the top was getting to one side of the pipe, since it rose up above the top of the wall by a foot or so and impeded the heave-over. Once you’d let go with one arm and moved it over or around the pipe, it was possible to haul yourself over the edge, but that moment of repositioning was terrifying, since your whole weight had to hang for a long moment by the grip of four fingers on one hand. It didn’t occur to me, because I was a young idiot, that I would have to reverse that process if we had to go down that same way.

A large framed copy of this image, taken c.1926, shortly after the Camlin was completed, hangs by the elevators. I wonder how many notice that the electric sign is now mounted in a different position than it was then. Image copyright Museum of History and Industry.

While Jeff and I were investigating the skylights that lit the interior of the gymnasium beneath us, a fellow student and friend of mine named Jim happened by and hailed us from below. Jim was always game for heady experiences and asked how we had gotten up there. We indicated the pipe and he climbed up. He got stuck at the top, physically exhausted and unable to move either arm over the pipe, so that he was basically hanging there with the pipe in his way. At this moment fellow Wolverine Shawn L. walked by down below, saw us, and muttered, “Your guys brains are gonna be all over the sidewalk.” Jeff and I ran over and hauled Jim up and over the edge. Jim not only survived this ordeal, but he went on to win an Oscar a few years ago for his part in the screenwriting of a movie you’ve all seen, but out of respect for his reputation I’ll not bust him here. Suffice to say, the future of Hollywood was briefly imperilled that afternoon. 

Over the front door.

It was a grotesque time for details in the stonework.

I was wandering around Monday and found myself in front of the Camlin. Although it is not ancient (1926) and not terribly fine, I have always loved this little hotel, mainly for its sign. It is little now, especially now that a high-rise glass condo building has gone up right next to it. But at one time it was a big deal. It still has the electric sign on its roof, one of two that I remember seeing from the freeway on rare occasions when my family was in the car driving through the downtown at night. The green sign of the Camlin and the pinkish red of the nearby Roosevelt seemed somehow special. They were unlike anything else in Seattle. Over the years, I actually lost track of where the Camlin was because of the crowd of tall buildings that have been erected in that neighborhood.

The Camlin once had views of Puget Sound, but a forest of high-rises has grown up around the hotel since then.

I had never stood in front of the Camlin before, that I recall. It was a beautiful day and the sky was blue. To the east a  tiny cumulus cloud hovered over the Spam Can Buildings. I had a coffee in my hand, and I just stood outside enjoying the hotel’s architecture, the eagle’s head above the front door. (I didn’t have my camera with me then; I went back for these photos later.) Then this feeling came over me that I wanted to go inside, and another feeling came swiftly on the heels of the first saying that I had no business doing so and would be ejected, in spite of the hundreds of books and movies I have ingested in which people agree to meet in the lobby of some hotel or other that neither of them is staying in, and countless more in which the plot turns on someone actually entering someone’s hotel room unlawfully. Of course you can go into a hotel. Most hotels have restaurants or bars, after all. They WANT you to come in. But for me it is as though a moral portcullis comes slamming down in front of me.

But then I heard a voice, half mine half Jeff’s, saying that if anyone asked me what I was doing in there I could say — truthfully this time! — that I was curious if there were any historic photographs of the building on the walls inside.

"Meet me in the lobby of the Camlin as soon as you can! And make sure you don't pick up a tail!"

I walked in with my coffee. At first I was astonished. The lobby is small and you are instantly in the middle of it, but it is marbly and elegant and has high, gilt-coffered cielings. A grand piano stood to the left, the round-fronted concierge station to the right. Another desk, maybe having to do with luggage, was ahead and to the left, but I didn’t really get a chance to gawk in here much because I wanted to give the impression that I belonged here. A family with teenagers seemed to be checking in or out and the two or three people who seemed to be attached to the hotel were busy with their luggage, so I strolled past this little gathering into the elevator hall directly ahead. Here on the wall was a large framed photo of the hotel in its early days.  On the opposite wall a more recent photo showed the electric sign that reads “Camlin” lit up at night. I stood appreciating these for awhile until I felt comfortable.

Past the elevators was a double wooden door marked “Terrace”. That sounded good. By now my mask of entitlement was working even on myself, and I didn’t mind if I did. I could see a pool table and some sofas in the room beyond, and I pushed through the doors, thinking as I did how embarassing it would be now if these doors were locked, or I was stopped and questioned. This room, an annex built on the back of the original hotel structure, was empty of souls, though it was brightly lit with big windows out of which I could see a small blue swimming pool and an even smaller jacuzzi. Though no one was present, the room was dominated by a monstrous television that presented an announcer belching sports news at a hideous volume.  I didn’t feel like watching tv, but it occurred to me that there might be a good documentary on if this room had cable. Then I saw a glass door to the right, and the courtyard beyond, and the bench by the fountain under the tree, and I was drawn through the door as if by the intake of some magical breath willing me to enter there. I did not even doubt that this door would open. There was no thought of me not sitting on that bench in the shade of the Japanese maples, with the fountain burbling next to me.

Rear view. The top floor housed the famous Cloud Room until it closed a few years ago to make way for new penthouse suites.

I sat out there for twenty minutes, just looking at the courtyard, which is planted with several smaller Japanese maples and a number of vine maples and sarcococcas. There was a barbecue grill intruding on the pleasant curves of the patio planters and the greenery of the plants. It was a Char Broil Quantum grill with the Sure-Fire lighting system. I sat facing the back of the hotel, noticing the pattern of small, large, and double windows that suggested the way the rooms might be laid out up there.

After a few minutes I closed my eyes and listened to the water dribbling in the fountain behind me. I was glad I had come in here. When I opened my eyes again a tall, slender man in a crisp white shirt was passing me, having just come out from the television room. He smiled at me. His face was bony and his skin very dark — in my ignorance I always imagine such faces to be Ethiopian — and on his way past to go take care of something in another annex across the alley his deep set eyes showed a humility, as though he felt he were intruding on my moment of calm. Then, and only then, I felt my crime. As if he owed me anything, I thought, and yet this servant of the happiness and comfort of others tiptoes by me, unaware that it is I who trespass in this garden today.

A familiar old evening sight. Photo by M. V. Jantzen licenced through Creative Commons.

Above it all

When old buildings start changing ownership frequently, I start getting nervous. Seattle’s 1914 Smith Tower has been flipping a lot lately if you ask me, considering its age and its historical value. Certainly the building will not be torn down, nor do I believe that its observation deck will ever be closed — the view is too much of a civic treasure — but you never know, you just never know. And since I had never been up to that vantage point despite growing up across the lake and living in Seattle for most of my adult life, the observation deck has been on my “local adventures” list for several years.

At dusk. The observation deck is just below the pyramidal section. Image by Christopher S Maloney licensed via Creative Commons.

For a while in my lifetime Seattle’s first skyscraper was owned by Seattle’s first clam chowder magnate, Ivar Haglund, who bought it for 1.8 million clams in 1976. Ivar is long gone, but I remember a fish-shaped windsock fluttering from the tower’s pinnacle in those days. Sometimes you still hear someone call it “Ivar’s Tower”.

The Samis Foundation bought it in 1996. Sam Israel, from whose name the foundation takes its own, is a story in himself, maybe for another time. Walton Street Capital bought Smith Tower in 2006, and because economic hard times have created a low occupancy rate for the old spire in recent years, Walton Street has recently talked about turning the whole thing into condominiums, and then more recently (I’m not quite certain of my facts here) of turning just the twelve floors of the tower below the famous Chinese Room into condominiums and leaving the rest as office space.

A building a-building. 1913. Image licensed via Wikimedia Commons.

For years, every time I’ve looked up near the corner of Yesler and Second I’ve thought “I’ll hate myself if I wait so long that I lose my opportunity”. I mentioned this to my boss Michael last fall while we were out walking during lunch. He said it sounded like a good field trip for the development team, on the company’s nickel. Every once in a while the engineers get out of the building as a group and do something fun. We took the Seattle Underground Tour a few years back.

At the time Michael suggested the tower field trip, the observation deck had just closed for the winter (you could still visit it on weekends, but not weekdays), so I put a note in my Outlook Calendar and when April came I scheduled the trip. Click each photo to enlarge it. 

The steely-eyed missile men I work with. Around the ring starting at the left are Walter, John, Michael, Glen, Kirk and Mike. Chris had wandered off around to the other side at this moment.

Above is a photo I almost forgot to take because I was so enthralled by the 360-degree views. I really am fortunate to work with this crew. A little stiff in social situations, but they’re smart and funny. This is a good picture of them getting a collective rare dose of vitamin D.    

Detail of the Hoge lions. If you click to see more of the image, the building we work in is just visible -- the top of it anyway -- at the top edge of the photo left of center, beyond the old white-capped Post Office building.

The Hoge Building is one of my favorites. Lyman Cornelius Smith, of guns and typewriter manufacturing fame, and John D. Hoge built their buildings at roughly the same time (the Hoge Bldg went up first, in 1911) and I once heard a story to the effect that they had come to an agreement about how high each would be, but then Mr. Smith had the “tower” portion of his building added to his design on the huggermugger. Needless to say, Mr. Hoge was not amused. Or maybe he was. That’s how developers were in Seattle back then. As Herodotus was wont to disclaim, I don’t know if that story is true.

Looking north on Second to the Space Needle. Click to search for window washers.

On a clear night, you might be able to see your friend flashing signals to you from the observation deck of the Space Needle. I don’t know. You could try it. The above view also shows two very recent edifices erected in the downtown, both on the west (left here) side of Second. The carpets in the WaMu Center, which was designed to house the overflow of personnel from Washington Mutual Bank’s nearby WaMu Tower, had barely finished offgassing before our favorite local lender folded up, and the building is now called the Russell Investments Center. Here it stands behind a building that is boringly named for its cross streets but that locals call the Ban Roll-On Building. Behind WaMu’s folly is a new one whose name is its address (yawn), the Fifteen Twenty-One Second Avenue Bldg. It is topped by the permanent crane that you see in action here, maybe for lowering the window washing scaffold.

The Yesler Building at 400 Yesler, named for Henry, whose last name was...say it with me now...

The image above is of one of several buildings named after one of Seattle’s early movers and shakers. Movers and shakers could be a pun, I guess, because ol’ Hank moved a lot of timber and sold a lot of shakes for roofing the housing boom that the presence of his mill generated. I don’t know anything about the building. I just like it. It’s triangular and I like triangular buildings because triangular buildings mean odd-angled streets, and odd-angled streets mean interesting vistas for the pedestrian. And it’s all about the pedestrian. Or it should be. The street to the right of the Yesler Building is Yesler Way. It was the road that logging crews used to “skid” timber from the forested hills behind Seattle down to Henry Yesler’s mill on the waterfront. It became the infamous “Skid Road” celebrated in the classic 1951 book of the same name by Murray Morgan, which you should read no matter who you are or where you live. Today’s phrase “skid row” is derived from that name.

A lot has changed in this view over the years. Looking southeast from Smith Tower.

Let’s swing a little further south. The view above is looking southeast toward Beacon Hill. The Second Avenue Extension is the street approaching in the immediate foreground (receding, I should say, since it’s one-way south). Smith Tower sits at the junction between the street grid laid out by Doc Maynard, who sensibly oriented his streets on north-south and east-west axes, and the street grid laid out by Denny and Boren, who followed the angle of Elliott Bay. The main downtown streets, therefore, met at kinky, inconvenient angles. Doc Maynard was just a sweetie who ended up giving away (or losing) most of his property in an effort to pursuade visitors to settle here, while the latter men were powerful businessmen who managed to attract more commerce to their own neighborhoods. Evenually, Maynard’s old turf fell largely into disrepair and neglect, which made it easy for city leaders to bulldoze this extension of Second Avenue, linking it to Fourth Avenue at the angle (center) and meanwhile creating a whole ‘nuther slew of truncated angular buildings. I remember when most of these had watertowers on them, and if you click on the image and look closely you can still see the platforms for several of them.

King Street Station is here, of course, with its clock tower, and Union Station to the left of it across Fourth. Did you know that there were two stations because each railroad that came to town had to build its own infrastructure? I was surprised when I learned about that. It explains that spaghetti of rails in separate railyards south of downtown, which you can’t see in this view. What you can see here is the tracks disappearing under Washington Street in the lower left corner of the image as they enter the south entrance of the tunnel underneath the city. They emerge along the waterfront below the Pike Place Market (see “Two Pigeons”, the second photo here).

One final delight meets me as I study this view. There’s a green bridge visible in the far upper left of the photo. You can barely see it. Look for the yellowish Bush Hotel in Chinatown and follow the left edge of that building directly upwards in the image, and you’ll see where a wide street heads down curvingly from Beacon Hill right in front of the old hospital that Jeff once said looked like a Turkish fortress. That descending street becomes Twelfth Avenue. There’s a newer, more visible bridge crossing all the freeway ramps and there’s a harder-to-see one to the left, a dark green arched affair. See it? When I was a kid, Interstate 90 didn’t connect to I-5 as you see it doing here; it petered out just over the ridge in the Rainier Valley and came to a stoplight. You ended up on Dearborn, and Dearborn brought you the last mile into town beneath that old green bridge. You look at that bridge and you imagine that the first time a road traversed that stretch was when the bridge was built there. A reasonable assumption, but it’s not the case. Before there was a gap there for the Twelfth Avenue bridge to cross, the ridge continued across there from Beacon Hill.

The ridge before the bridge. If you click to enlarge, you can see the ridge already under attack along what was called Fourteenth Street in 1891. Look for Mikado Street between Lane and Charles. Mikado eventually became Dearborn when the hill was finally removed.

That northern piece of the hill was a wall that isolated the city, and back when the industrious folk who made Seattle the success it is thought nothing of moving entire mountains if they were inconveniently located, they blasted through the ridge and created the gap that Dearborn now passes through and that Twelfth Avenue now must traverse by bridge.

Just thought you’d like to know.

I took plenty more photos, but that’s enough of a city-tour for today. What do you see here that sparks any memories for you?


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