THE SEATTLE ARMORY was built in 1908-09 at the north end of the then-nearly new Pike Place Public Market. It was designed to resemble a fort, but like most of America’s community armories after 1900, it battled nothing but the ghosts of the Spanish-American War and the costs of maintaining its many routine community services with meeting halls, public concerts, grand expositions (such as for new cars) and indoor marching drills.
RELATED: “Now” photographer Jean Sherrard shares his 360-degree video of the story of the armory fire at the new YouTube channel Seattle Now & Then 360.
Here, however, the Seattle Armory was in a war for its very survival, partnered with the Alaskan Way Viaduct where the arterial passed a few feet from the armory’s west wall. The faux-fort caught on fire during the early morning of Jan. 7, 1962, when the viaduct was just a child of 9 years. The emergency was signaled with an alarm that likely was triggered by a concerned citizen or an excited firebug. (Two months earlier, in similar circumstances, another northwest Market building mysteriously caught fire. Predictably, the neighborhood’s truck farmers and merchants were thinking arson.)
For this week’s 1962 “Then” photo, brave Seattle Times staff photographer Larry Dion looks to the southeast from the then-still-admired viaduct. Obviously shaken by the fire and its falling debris, the armory would not recover. It eventually was demolished in 1968, after attempts to preserve it failed.
The bricks were sold for salvage to a company that fenced the ruins for their picking. After the fence was removed, an old friend, John Cooper, a local banker who also was a spare-time collector of abandoned or forsaken items such as salvaged bottles, discovered that several rows of dirt-covered bricks had been missed along the building’s south wall. Cooper rescued and employed them for a rustic facade on a home he owned in Shoreline.
Jean Sherrard reveals his tactful tactics for finding the prospect of the fire photographer in 1962:
“In late March of this year, the Alaskan Way Viaduct was torn down almost to Lenora Street, and the crash and roar of demolition raged behind barriers and chain-link fences. Trying to repeat the ‘Then’ photo of the burning armory, taken from a now-disappearing section of the viaduct, sent me to the waterfront, looking for a comparable vantage point. A colorful lineup of five-story condos and hotels begins at Pine Street and continues north until Bell.
“Perhaps understandably, building managers are reluctant to allow access to their rooftops, but after some shimmy and jive and an appeal to history, I was allowed to clamber freely and snap away. The ‘Now’ photo approximates the same prospect as the ‘Then’ (back 100 feet), with a view of the soon-to-be demolished viaduct just below Market Place One and Two, the commercial structures that stand on the footprint of the old armory. The original steep hillside that confronted Seattle’s earliest settlers still looms above the waterfront.”