The former neighborhood of cafes, hotels, barbershops and furniture upholsterers was revamped into a concrete ramp over a concrete ditch.

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THIS LOOK EAST on Pike Street from Ninth Avenue is dated May 21, 1939. In about two decades, this neighborhood would be cut, crushed and cleared for construction of the freeway. Through these two blocks between Ninth Avenue and Boren Street, Pike’s neighborhood of cafes, hotels, barbershops and furniture upholsterers would be revamped into a concrete ramp over a concrete ditch.

Pacific NW Magazine: Outdoor Living 2017 edition

Pick up a hard copy on Sunday, Feb. 19 for a Great Plant Picks poster on the inside cover. 
The “cityscape” at the dining-room end of the deck features year-round grasses, rushes, ferns and a small maple tree in a cluster of gray urns. The dining table is from Crate and Barrel. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
The “cityscape” at the dining-room end of the deck features year-round grasses, rushes, ferns and a small maple tree in a cluster of gray urns. The dining table is from Crate and Barrel. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
Come visit The Seattle Times booth at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show at the WA State Convention Center, Feb. 22-26, 2017.

The fact that this part of Pike was once an “upholstery row” surprised me. In 1938 (I have a city directory for 1938 but not 1939), there were five furniture upholsterers listed in the few blocks between Eighth and Melrose avenues. It is at Melrose that Pike begins its turn to conform to the more-recently platted street grid on the ridge. The jog’s directional change is indicated with an adjustment in the name to East Pike Street, which in 1939 was one of Seattle’s principal “auto rows.” East Pike also marks the subjective — and by now, traditional — border between the First Hill and Capitol Hill neighborhoods.

Also with the help of the Polk City Directory for 1938, I have counted four hotels in these two blocks that were lost to Interstate 5: the Stanley, here at Ninth Avenue; the William Penn and the Crest near Terry Avenue; and the five-floor Hotel Alvord, on the left. (The “now” photo reveals a survivor: The Villa Hotel at the corner of Pike and Boren, which can be glimpsed directly above the trolley in the “then” photo.)

The Alvord’s publicity stream begins in 1924, the year of its construction, and reaches its most sensational height around midnight on March 1, 1933. Mildred Russell, the 24-year-old bride of violinist and orchestra leader Jan Russell, opened a window in search of fresh air and fell all five of the hotel’s floors to the ground below. The Seattle Times qualified the ground as “soft earth” because, from her tumble, Mildred received only a few bruises and a cracked skull. “I had just lit a cigarette,” she said. Only three years later, Margaret Thaanum fell from the Alvord’s third floor to her death. The trained nurse was trying to walk the 3-inch ledge outside her window.

Returning now to the trolley heading east on Pike Street: On this spring day, there was a growing sense that these often-rattling common carriers were about to lose out to the buses and trackless trolleys promoted by internal combustion and “big rubber.” Two years more, and most trolley tracks in Seattle were pulled up, the interrupted brickwork patched with asphalt and/or concrete.

On that Sunday, May 21, 1939, we learned from The Times that while Hitler and Mussolini were preparing a military alliance with a Rome-Berlin pact, Seattleites were anticipating the grand Potlatch Pageant and its big parade. Two days later, Boeing’s Yankee Clipper inaugurated the first commercial airway service between the United States and Europe. Perhaps playing it safe at the start, other than the crew of 15, the clipper carried only mail, four tons of it.