Photographer Frank Shaw captured a rickety staircase and a historic headquarters in 1962, before the freeway came to Seattle.
THIS FEATURE is another witness to photographer Frank Shaw’s interest in the changes to our cityscape that came with the building of Seattle’s freeway on the western slope of First Hill. Through its construction in the 1960s, this part of Interstate 5 kept to a blockwide swath between Sixth and Seventh avenues. Shaw dated this example of his Hasselblad camera’s work Dec. 6, 1962.
Pacific NW magazine first visited this block with a 2014 “Now & Then” story on a 1960 photo pulled from the Shaw collection that showed the sunlit facade of the brick-and-stone building whose back fills most of this week’s “Then” photo. Located at the corner of Columbia Street and Seventh Avenue, it was the Seattle Fire Department’s headquarters, built soon after the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. We speculate that the preservationist in Shaw took that photo in admiration of his subject’s substantial architecture, as well as its distinguished past.
The more in-your-face subject here is the collapsing rear stairway of the three-story apartment row that in time strung six addresses together on the west side of Seventh Avenue, north from its corner with Cherry Street. Construction of the row began in the late 1880s, but not at the corner. Footprints of its first two flats are drawn in the 1888 Sanborn Fire Insurance map. These two were built on the largest of the row’s five lots, and their roofs distinguished them from the addresses beginning at Cherry Street.
The row’s last name, Coo Coo, seems both appropriate and surely silly.
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The name of the apartments and the tavern at the corner appear in my copies of the Polk City Directory for 1938 and 1950. In the 1938 edition, the Coo Coo’s proprietor, George H. Thomas, lives at 701½ Seventh Ave., and so perhaps above the tavern listed at 701 Seventh Ave. We learn from a Seattle Times clipping for May 12, 1944, that George and his wife, Ethel, had their tavern license suspended for 20 days for their “purchase of improperly stamped beer from an unlicensed wholesaler.”
This, I’m guessing, was a profitable racket learned during Prohibition and continued afterward.