AS WE DID last weekend, Jean Sherrard and I offer another vibrant image from Frank Shaw’s camera. We know from Shaw’s notes that he recorded this “foot of Madison Street” at 2 o’clock on the afternoon of March 4, 1961.
The gentle backlight of a mother-of-pearl sky comforts both the scene’s centerpiece, the closed Fire Station No. 5, and beside it to the left, the Grand Trunk Pacific pier. Between them, and half hidden behind an Alaskan Way Viaduct pier, is a line of red Northern Pacific boxcars parked on the railroad spur that snuggled to the apron along the north side of the wharf. Shipping was once the primary business of this waterfront, moving materials between Railroad Avenue (Alaskan Way) and the lineup of finger wharves controlled for the most part by railroads. These days, entertainment is the main business of the central waterfront.
When the Grand Trunk opened in 1911 it was, by several descriptions, the largest wooden pier in the world. Three years later, in 1914, it burned to its pilings and was then rebuilt, but without a grand tower for the harbor master.
Shaw’s No. 5 was the third of what would become four fire stations at the “foot of Madison.” Dedicated in 1917, it was described in this newspaper then as “Seattle’s New Building Novelty.” City Architect D.R. Huntington designed it to roll temporarily to one side when — if ever — it was time to replace the station’s supporting piling. The station was closed in 1959, although the attached dock continued to service fireboats.
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In 1961 the Fire Department shared its dull drawings for the “modern concrete structure” it planned as a replacement. Unlike this No. 5, it featured neither brick veneer nor ornamental masses. After a sustained howl from the city’s historic preservationists, a new design by local architect Robert Durham was chosen. While still concrete, it was less boxish. Its 15-minute dedication on Dec. 27, 1963, was serenaded by Ivar Haglund, No. 5’s popular neighbor to the north since 1938. The “king of clams” wrote a special song for the ceremony; however, the lyrics have gone missing.
Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard’s blog at www.pauldorpat.com.