Posts Tagged 'downtown seattle'

Just look! #2 – “The courage of reflected light”

Two kinds of blog posts there are for this blogger. There are posts that I write in one sitting and publish pretty much as soon as I can get the images sized (and in some cases permission to distribute them from other original artists), and there are posts that I return to again and again in draft form, which never really let me know when they’ll be ready until — zowie! — they’re suddenly ready. Nothing seems ready this week, which means the time is ripe for another Just Look post. This is the alley leading from Cherry to James between First and Second avenues, showing the Lowman Building on the right and the Broderick (née Bailey) Building on the left. It’s actually taken just a few steps from the viewpoint of the previous (inaugural) Just Look. Besides the “mood interest” inherent to low, forlorn places that collect trash, bad smells, graffiti and the unlucky, what caught my eye here was the reflection of the sunset in a single window in the curved corner of the 1892 Seattle National Bank Building (a.k.a. Interurban Building) at the end of the alley (actually further, over on Yesler). But looking at the image later I became enamored of all the details in the alley itself — the shimmering cobbles and the broken louvre slats. If you look closely near the left edge you can see part of the name Nathan on a promotional poster in a window belonging, appropriately enough, to the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. The green color cast upon the right wall from the high lamp was not visible to my eye as green but rather gray at the time and I did not “greenify” (enverden?) the image. It just seems to be the way the camera balanced the hues. Click the image for a larger version.

The proverbial dark alley. Whom would you not want to meet?


A penny for your history

On the northwest corner of Second and Marion downtown there is an arch made of stone. I passed it the other day while I had my camera with me. It stands near the sidewalk at the front of the upper plaza of the Henry M. Jackson (a.k.a. “Federal”) Building. I’m going to tell you just a little story about that arch. 

It's been here a long time.

Many of them were silly, but we had a lot of traditions. Looking back, I guess they were a way that we teenagers — famously stuck between impotent childhoods we wished to leave behind and the responsibilities of adulthood that we were not yet allowed — could make the world our own. My friends and I excelled at creating these traditions. There was a tradition upon leaving Kip’s house that as I or Jeff was pulling away, Kipper would thump “BUMP BUMP baDUMP BUMP” — the five notes of the old “shave and a haircut” musical phrase — on the trunk of our car (or, if we were backing out, on the hood). We would sound the corresponding two notes of “two bits” lightly on the horn. This just happened once, and then it became a thing we always did, even if we were leaving after midnight and sleeping neighbors might hear. It was no less than a pledge of continued friendship at parting.

Kip and I also had a tradition, whenever we ate at Pizza and Pipes in Bellevue, of asking the organist, Dick Schrumm, to play “Windy”, which he always did. We sat down close to his perch at the front and drank root beer and ate pepperoni pizza and heckled him, and he heckled us back. He once told us with a salacious wink that he was known far and wide as “Big Dick and his swingin’ organ”. 

Not just a work of art.

There was a season when Jeff and I rode the bus from Bellevue to downtown Seattle a lot, and we ended up waiting in front of the Federal Building, which had been built in the early 1970s. It is an amazement to me now that I gave no thought whatsoever to the nature of this arch, to this peculiar portal’s provenance. I think I assumed that it was simply a recent piece of sculpture erected there, since the building’s plaza was also home to some other works of art.

Every time we ended up here waiting for a bus home, we each climbed up one side of the arch as high as we could, and reaching up above our heads we deposited a penny on the little ledge formed by the capital above the pillars. It was just an inch or so wide. We did this every time, hoping to ascertain whether a penny thus saved might be a penny earned next time we reached up there. But the pennies were always gone the next time we checked.

The arch in the last days that it was still part of its original structure. Jan 20, 1971. Photo by Lawton Gowey courtesy of Paul Dorpat.

Destruction precedes construction. Feb 10, 1971. Photo by Lawton Gowey courtesy of Paul Dorpat.

All gone but the arch and the corner doorway (which as far as I know was not saved). Feb 25, 1971. Photo by Lawton Gowey courtesy of Paul Dorpat.

It’s hard for me to remember this mindset, but there was a time when I viewed the built environment as a static thing. I had not lived long enough to see any of it change significantly, and so it didn’t occur to me, I mean consciously, that every modern building I could see had replaced some older building of brick or stone, and that the old stone and brick buildings still extant had in their time replaced grand old Victorian houses — right here on the slopes of downtown Seattle. It seems intuitive and obvious now, but I swear it didn’t occur to me, especially since we still had an “old” section of town called Pioneer Square. That’s where the old buildings were, and they were still there. I didn’t actually say that in my mind, but the assumption informed my perspective. Similarly, we didn’t have Victorian mansions here in Seattle. Those were houses I read about in stories about the East Coast. If you had asked me if I believed that every building I saw had been erected on newly cleared ground I would certainly have chuckled and said no. I had just never really had any occasion to imagine the layering of the city’s history through time.

Had I bothered to read the little plaque bolted to the wall next to the arch, I might have known that it was the preserved front portal of the Burke Building, which had preceded the Federal Building on this site and had been razed to make way for it, as these photos kindly provided by Paul Dorpat show. The Burke was one of the many “Richardsonian Romanesque” buildings that architect Elmer H. Fisher designed for Seattle’s post-fire reconstruction boom. I believe it was built in 1889, just after that fire reduced most of the downtown area to smoldering ash.

Now when I look at the arch I see this. As usual, click for a much larger version. Photo courtesy of Paul Dorpat.

You can walk right up and touch these decorative elements today. A century ago they were fixed to the top of the Burke Building; you can see them in the photo above. Photo by Jmabel licensed through Creative Commons.

The Burke Building in mid-life (1940s) next to the 1929 Exchange Building. Unsure of the date. Photo by Asahel Curtis courtesy of Paul Dorpat.

My discovery some years later that this piece of stone art that we had been clambering on was a remnant of Seattle’s elusive past marked the beginning of my awareness of the city as an unfolding thing, a dynamic system, and a corresponding change in my attitude toward it. I had enjoyed Paul Dorpat’s Now & Then column every Sunday in the paper for years, but I somehow hadn’t connected the historical photos he presented with a citywide historical view in my mind — each was simply a unique visual puzzle. Now I was enchanted. What had the rest of the Burke Building looked like? What other treasures lay unheralded around the city in little squares and down forgotten alleys, or right out in front of everyone’s noses? Even ten years ago, when I first discovered what the arch was, it was not as easy as it is now to simply google up the name of a building and find out everything you wish to know about it, with photos. Now, of course, a quick search of the building’s name turns up many photos from different eras. Here, in addition to my own photos, I’ve used several that Paul sent me and one I found online.

In 1971, the great and grand makes way for the merely big. The doomed Burke Building from the rear. Photo by Lawton Gowey courtesy of Paul Dorpat.

At some point we stopped going downtown on the bus. Our lives became about college, and other things. Jeff moved away. I’ve walked past the arch many hundreds of times since those days, but a few weeks ago I actually stepped up onto the base of the right-side pillars and reached a hand up above the capital to see if there was a penny there.  

Who’s on Second?

Hi. If you’ve come to this blog following a link from Paul Dorpat’s weekly Now & Then column in the Sunday Seattle Times supplement, Pacific Northwest magazine, or from Paul’s own website, welcome.

Even though Paul and I connected around old (or no longer existing) buildings downtown, I write about a lot of other things here. Feel free to browse — all my posts are listed on the right. But if you came looking for things having to do with the city and its buildings and its people and other treasures, you’ll be best served by the Categories drop-down menu at right. Select “In my city” and you’ll filter out all my parental musings, my Tristram Shandyesque reveries, and my anguished handwringing over the ills of modern Western life and find all my posts about down- and around town.

The rest of you — the other nine or so — friends and acquaintances of both my actual and virtual lives, already know that what I’m about here is telling long-winded stories for the sake of preserving the art of long-winded storytelling. But you may not yet know that I have a little cameo part in Paul’s Now & Then article this week. That’s a little story in itself.

I’ve gotten to know Paul a little through our mutual interest in the history of Seattle’s built environment, especially as it involves photography. The weekly repeat photographs and history lesson in his column were always one of my regular reading stops since he began doing them in the early ’80s or so. I bought my dad volume one of Paul’s Seattle Now and Then book series, and bought myself the second volume, read it cover to cover and studied each photo and caption, enthralled by the connection of places in my world to the corresponding places in historical photographs and amused by the wit and humor in Paul’s writing.

I enlisted Paul’s help in solving a mystery of missing floors last summer, which resulted not only in my getting to meet him at Ivar’s for a bowl of chowder on him, but also in his asking me to stand as the “now” figure in a repeat photo for his own treatment of the Hotel Savoy. I am beside myself with delight at being involved in one of Paul’s articles. Jean Sherrard risked his life standing in the middle of Seneca Street in busy weekday traffic to get the photo.


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.

The Savoyad: a story of stories

“Twelve Stories of Solid Comfort”
Savoy Hotel, Seattle, 2d ave., near Seneca St.; 12 stories, fire proof, concrete, steel and marble, In the most fashionable shopping district. Special large sample rooms for display, English grill; 210 rooms, 135 baths; barber shop; library. Most refined modern hostelry in Seattle. Busses meet all trains and boats. RATES $1.oo UP

— Advertisement in March 10, 1908 Victoria Daily Colonist

When I was younger one of the few stops I made regularly in the local Sunday Seattle Times newspaper was Paul Dorpat’s “Seattle Now and Then” photos. In this weekly feature of the Pacific Magazine supplement, the Earl of the Emerald City’s visual past would provide two photos of some Seattle prospect, one an historic photo and another that he would take “now” so you could orient yourself and appreciate how things in that view had changed over the decades. I was always fascinated by the effects of time on my home city.  

The Brooklyn at lower left on the corner of Second and University, Third Avenue's Plymouth Congregational in the left-side background, and a mystery building dead center, supposedly around 1905. This image belongs to the University of Washington collection and is used without permission.

While looking for an old photo to support my recent post about the Brooklyn Hotel and WaMu Tower, I encountered a photo dated 1905 showing the Brooklyn and its neighbors at the time. The building next to it seemed to have only seven or eight floors, which sent alarms through my mind. I happened to know that the only other commercial building to occupy that spot before the WaMu Tower took over the block in 1984 was the Savoy Hotel, which was famous (around here, at least) for its advertising slogan: “Twelve Stories of Solid Comfort”. So how could there be a seven- or eight-story building there?

A moment of scratching around on the Internet ensued, whereupon I realized that the Savoy was built in 1906, so this building was there BEFORE the Savoy. An eight-story building. With the same window pattern. And the same footprint with regard to wings and courts. On the same spot. Hmmmm. I got to thinking: at a time when there were plenty of empty lots around or real estate with old rickety houses that needed to be razed in the name of progress, why would someone knock down an eight-story building just to put up a twelve-story one that was almost identical? It didn’t make sense.

This vintage postcard was sold on Note the slogan beneath the image and the red-ink one across the top. What does it suggest to you? Image copyright

The date of 1905 I was able to dismiss. Photos in the University’s collection (and others’) are often incorrectly labeled, often as a result of careless cataloguing that occured decades after the photos were taken, but just as often at the hands of the photographers themselves, who came to Seattle from other parts of the country and took lots of photographs without knowing which street corner they were standing on. I myself have caught and sent in corrections for a number of errors, such as in this entry on King County Snapshots, where the famed Webster and Stevens — or someone later cataloguing their work — noted the shot as being taken from Seneca, when in fact anyone who takes the time to go and look at these buildings — all the near ones are still standing — could tell you it is taken from Spring. (The error is forever preserved in the “Handwritten on sleeve” note, though all the corrected “Caption” info was supplied by yours truly.)

So I could imagine that this photo was really the Savoy, built in 1906, but then what to do with the too-few floors? I wondered, naturally, if the hotel had originally been built with eight and then added four later? I knew of other buildings — the Telephone Building and the County Courthouse (both on Third) to name two — which had been added to, so it seemed like a distinct possibility. Still, I’d seen slogans on vintage postcards that implied that the Savoy had always had twelve stories, or at least it was easy to interpret them that way.

I emailed the alleged 1905 photo to Paul Dorpat, who first helped me out with my post about the reemergence of the old Standard Furniture Co. legend (one of the many, actually), and asked if he knew anything about this. Like Commissioner Gordon hoisting the bat-shaped beacon into the sky above Gotham City, I raised the photohistorian’s distress flag.

One of several buildings I know of that grew over the years. The Telephone Bldg circa 1921 at its original stature.

Pardon our dust. The only photo I know of showing construction (1926) of the Telephone Building's additional floors.

Circa 1928. Notice the slightly lighter bricks in the upper courses and the redesigned top windows. Photo property of Museum of History and Industry.

Paul had never heard of an eight-story Savoy, but was game for the adventure, and before I knew it he was emailing me every few hours with old images from his extensive collection, images that showed the twelve-story Savoy from a number of angles and in various kinds of light and at different times. It appeared, Paul thought, that the bricks were lighter above the eighth floor, which would suggest an addition at some point. He said he would keep searching in hopes of finding evidence that the old inn once topped out at eight stories.

Throughout that day and the next, photos poured in. I have never met Paul nor seen his stash, but I imagined him in a happy frenzy of a chase, riffling and rifling through old magazines and boxes full of postcards and dead people’s bequeathed photo albums, and searching his hard-drive for images he’s scanned on earlier occasions. He seemed determined to find proof that the Savoy had originally been an eight-story building, and he would not rest until he did so.

King County Courthouse in 1916. Evidently not imposing enough.

Circa 1930. The courthouse reaches is present height.

I must here pause to disclose that I’m only telling you this story because it strokes my ego no end to have been involved in the sleuthing out of a historical mystery with (None Other Than) Paul Dorpat. I would like to make much of the fact that I’m tight with the League of Extraordinary Photohistorians’ de facto leader, but the truth is that Paul is the most accessible and amicable person you could ever hope to encounter online, and he’s always game for a good romp through history. He is also unselfish: he suggested I write about this on my blog using the photos “we” found in his collection. I counter-suggested that I had really done nothing but raise the question — that in fact he had done all the legwork, and that this kind of article was really his sovereign territory and that I wouldn’t presume…and he double-dog-counter-counter-suggested that I get busy, and to let him know if I needed any of the photos in higher resolution.

He was zeroing in on it, I could tell. One email he sent included a photo that he had photocopied, then marked up with a red pen, and then scanned. It showed a certain arrangement of windows on the shorter building that we’d seen in a later photo of the twelve-story Savoy. Paul’s eye for detail is amazing. There was also a strange piece of brickwork at the level of the eighth floor where the original (lower) cornice would have been if the roof had really been raised. I verified that there was a similar anomaly on the other side of the front of the building from a photo that I happened to have found myself (okay, so I really did help).

In this 1906 view looking north on Second Avenue, Paul has indicated not only the cornice and a giveaway window arrangement on the "lower" Savoy (center), but also the Burke Bldg at left, the short-lived Washington Hotel (in mid-tear-down) up on the hill that is no more, and Plymouth Congregational Church on Third (right). Click for larger.

We both became convinced, from the forensic evidence alone, that the Savoy had originally had only eight floors but that history had forgotten that fact.

History never was very kind to the Savoy, it turns out. Paul says that the hotel was unusual in that it was “so little covered, caught between the upbuilding around Pine and that at Madison and south of Madison.” He also notes that “the Savoy…was neglected throughout its life, it seems to me.  It was just a bit smaller than other structures put up then, held no corner, and was rather skinny.” It became a seedy dive even before midcentury. The beautiful decorative capitals on the interior pillars were hidden behind a false ceiling for decades (see the Brooklyn/WaMu post for a photo). Still, at one time its owners thought its future seemed bright enough to warrant enlarging it by a third.

I was willing to call it good. I didn’t think we’d get any closer than that, but here I underestimated Mr. Dorpat’s tenacity, or his ability to defer the benefit of sleep, or his vast collection of photos, or all of the above.

On the morning of the third day (is that ominous or what?) I found another email from Paul:

Look what I found, a copy neg from an advert in Prosperous Washington published by the Post-Intelligencer in 1906!

Attached was the following photo.

Payday! This advert names the Savoy and clearly depicts the eight-story building. Photo thanks to Paul Dorpat. Click for larger.

There you had it. Eight floors. Not long afterward, I found this on, though strangely it doesn’t show up on obvious Google image searches.

Here again, the shorter manifestation of the building is named as the Savoy. Image copyright Click for larger.

But it gets better. Last week, Paul finally found and forwarded the following shots of the business actually occurring.

Caught red-handed. The Savoy adds some rooms with a better view. Photo thanks to Paul Dorpat. Click for larger.

Scaffolding atop the Savoy, and some early Seattlites, April 20, 1907. Note the steeple of Plymouth Congregational poking up in the "skyline" right of center. Photo thanks to Paul Dorpat. Click for larger.

At last, we’d caught this history mystery in flagrante delicto! I felt like half of the Hardy Boys, and I wanted to go buzz the town in Chet’s jalopy.

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?


The Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt