The grand Plymouth Congregational Church fell for the Pantages Theatre in 1913, but the curtain came down in 1965 to make way for a garage.
IN 1889, THE parishioners of Plymouth Congregational chose to sell their first church on Second Avenue near Spring Street for $32,000, a sum that allowed them to build the bigger brick sanctuary seen here at the corner of Third Avenue and University Street.
The rear facade of their new landmark faced the University of Washington’s first campus, whose 10 acres made a verdant backyard for the monumental sanctuary.
On the right, the northwest corner of the campus climbs what was called Denny’s Knoll, until that unique hillock on the western slope of First Hill was regraded for the creation of the Metropolitan Building Company’s “city within a city.” The Cobb Building, the most distinguished survivor of the Metro Company’s lavish commercial makeover of the campus, can be easily found right-center in Jean Sherrard’s “now” photo.
For my taste, this is the grandest of the many photo portraits of this hybrid Romanesque/Gothic landmark recorded during its tenure at this site. By some mystifying morning reflection, the light out of the east brightens the tracery of the church’s grandest window, which faced west over Third Avenue.
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After about 20 years, the rapidly growing Plymouth congregation received an offer it could not refuse. Alexander Pantages, the vaudevillian impresario, wanted the corner for a namesake terra-cotta-clad theater. On May 5, 1913, The Seattle Times reported that a day earlier, the “steeple was shorn from old Plymouth Church … to make way for the new Pantages Theatre.” Once its timber supports were sawed through, the lassoed spire was successfully guided by ropes and fell on the roof, rather than on the street. The congregation moved to its present corner, Sixth Avenue and University Street, three blocks east.
In the photo, Third and University sit at their original nearly natural grade. The later regrade that began in 1906 lowered the streets here by about 10 steps. That is what it took, after the second regrade, for Plymouth parishioners to climb from the new sidewalk up to their sanctuary’s pews. Here there are no stairs, because the Webster and Stevens photograph was taken sometime before that 1906 regrade. The photographers, Ira Webster and Nelson Stevens, were migrant Midwesterners who met while working in the Seattle Photo Studio, which they soon quit to open their own photography business in 1903. They advertised their reach as, “Anything, Anytime, Anywhere.”
We confidently speculate that W & S took this photograph sometime in 1904. The number 658, inscribed on the negative, is a relatively low one, especially for an enterprise that ultimately produced more than 60,000 images, many of them glass, and now protected in the library of the Museum of History & Industry.
To the left of the number, and also on the street in the photo, the partners have written the name of their subject, “Plymouth Church.” This treatment suggests they considered the image worthy of their general commercial stock — perhaps for distribution as a “real photo postcard,” then becoming popular.
Our proposed date is somewhat supported by the presence, far left, of the Antlers Hotel, which opened in the summer of 1903 on the corner of Union Street and Fourth Avenue. More evidentiary, directly north of Plymouth Church, the big corner lot, here on the left, was purchased in 1901 by the federal government for Seattle’s Beaux Arts Federal Building. Construction began at that corner in 1904. Surely, many Pacific NW readers will remember its pigeon-marked classical columns.