A photographer from the city looked south along Railroad Avenue (Alaskan Way) on Sept. 22, 1931, to record this profile of the Lenora Street overpass. It was completed a...

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A PHOTOGRAPHER from the city looked south along Railroad Avenue (Alaskan Way) on Sept. 22, 1931, to record this profile of the Lenora Street overpass. It was completed a year earlier to connect Piers 64 and 65 with the streets above the waterfront bluff. Then and for many years after, the Princess Ships of the Canadian Pacific Railroad delivered their passengers at the foot of Lenora Street. After the Port of Seattle suspended leasing the piers in 1980, the viaduct was closed off, then demolished in 1983.

The “fort” on the hill (far left) is the old Armory that held the block between Virginia and Lenora streets from its dedication in 1909 to its demolition in 1968. The historical view also shows Seattle’s two tallest business-district landmarks between the late 1920s and the late 1960s: the Northern Life Tower (center at Third and University) and the Smith Tower (far right at Second and Jefferson).

In 1931, Railroad Avenue was less substantial than it seems here. Until the seawall (that now needs fixing) was completed in 1936 between Madison and Broad streets, the tides washed in and out below the wooden trestle shown here. The Port of Seattle’s Bell Street Terminal, from which the photograph was taken, was the rare exception. It was built in 1914-15 on fill taken from a Denny Regrade site.

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The modern condominiums that now face the bay and the Port’s public facility, the Bell Harbor Marina, represent the first time residents have returned to the waterfront since the sizable squatters-shack town covered the beach and bluff here in the 1890s. That community survived until 1903 when construction of the north entrance of the railroad tunnel that passes beneath the city cut away much of the bluff.


Paul Dorpat specializes in historical photography and has published several books on early Seattle.