Clues on a 1922 photo lead to the impending extension of Seattle’s Western Avenue down to the also-new Elliott Avenue.
HERE THE READER will wonder, we hope, how Jean and I sought and found (we are confident) the site for the “now” photo.
While the date, “1-4-22,” carefully hand-printed at the lower-left corner of the “then” photo, does not, of course, name the place, the general environs and directions are familiar. The right horizon is Queen Anne Hill, with its Kinnear Park landscape top-center. Magnolia makes the more distant horizon, on the left, and below it the dark elevator on the Great Northern Railroad’s Smith Cove pier stands tall.
Considerable help for our search arrived when we flipped the card on which the original print was glued, and gratifyingly read another caption: “Streets Western Ave. W. looking N.W. from 1st Ave. W. Jan 14, 1922.” Note that the caption’s author has misread by 10 days the date printed on the photo, which was most likely both correct and written by the photographer and city employee, James P. Lee. Lee’s early 20th-century photography for public works was both prolific and in focus. Obviously, Lee liked his work, and on Jan. 4, 1922, he was at it on a Saturday.
Lee is looking from where First Avenue North and Denny Way would form an intersection, if not for this bluff. If we draw lines (or consult Google Earth) west on Denny Way and south on First Avenue North, they meet here. In Jean’s repeat, the sidewalk along the west side of Western Avenue West continues down and north to the waterfront. What the municipal photographer is showing his engineers is where they will be both cutting and filling to extend Western Avenue down to the also-new Elliott Avenue, part of the tidelands regrade and reclamation then under way below the bluff.
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The decision to continue Western on to the waterfront north of Denny Way was made in 1917 but prevented by the city’s preoccupations with building ships and handling transshipments during World War I. By then, Seattle had become the second-busiest port in the nation (after New York), and it was hard to keep city employees from fleeing for better work in the shipyards. Here, below, the Elliott sanitary fill is taking form, lifting the old tidelands to 3 feet above high tide. In 1923, both Elliott Avenue and Western, with the new Ballard Bridge, created a speedway to the north end for a commuting population then riding rubber wheels, not hoofs.
In the late 1920s, O.M. Kulien built the Northwest Industrial Buildings that still stand here on the west side of Western Avenue West. Later, the Andrews family purchased the buildings, and later still, in 2000, remodeled them with a new name: the Northwest Work Lofts. Sid Andrews explains, “The Andrews family have by now owned the buildings for three generations — with the fourth in training.”