At University Street a timbered ramp that crossed above Western between Front Street (First Avenue) and Railroad Avenue (Alaskan Way) was built soon after the Great Fire of 1889.
I IMAGINE THAT many readers will recognize Lawton Gowey’s not-so-old “then.” They might remember the location of this stubby trestle from the times they chose Western Avenue to escape the congestion of other downtown avenues. That was a handy avoidance strategy, which began in the 1890s when Western was planked, supported then on its own trestle.
Here at University Street a timbered ramp that crossed above Western between Front Street (First Avenue) and Railroad Avenue (Alaskan Way) was built soon after the Great Fire of 1889. Plans to rebuild it in steel were never fulfilled, its many repairs kept to wood. Gowey studied the history of this bridge and many other Seattle subjects, keeping track of our changing cityscape. He was not a typical urban photographer; his interests were not so picturesque. I believe that could explain this photo of the somewhat dilapidated trestle, and the scar where it had been cut short years earlier. Late in the 1930s the city’s engineers recommended removing the ramp’s center pier over Western Avenue.
I met Lawton Gowey early in 1982, the year he took this photo. By then Lawton was recognized as a local authority on the history of public transportation, and I went to him for help. In the 1930s he had explored Seattle with his father and the family camera. Later, working downtown as an accountant for the Seattle Water Department, he had ready access to many of the city’s archives. With his camera he continued to explore. Some of his subjects, such as the construction of the Seafirst building in the late 1960s, he tracked from his office in the City Light building. He used his lunch hours to explore and record changes in the central business district and on the waterfront. His collection includes the many shots he took over time and in all directions from the Smith Tower observatory.
Gowey died at age 61 of a heart attack in spring 1983. In the little time Lawton and I had to nurture our friendship, we shared many interests, including repeat photography, London history and the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Beginning in 1954, Lawton was organist and choir director for Bethany Presbyterian Church on Queen Anne Hill.
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