The Seattle-Tacoma Interurban Railway stopped at this intersection, where salmon oil once greased the streets for log delivery.
THERE’S SOME arterial tension in this “Then” photo. Is the open (and yet covered) van on Occidental Avenue pausing with a full stop, or advancing toward Yesler Way? Is the driver trying to encourage the clutter of pedestrians to “move it” onto the Seattle-Tacoma Interurban Railway cars parked at their Seattle terminus?
This is nearly the center of Seattle’s Skid Road district. Here, it seems it is all men who are boarding the parked carriers about to head for Tacoma or some suburban stop on the way.
Skid Road originally was named for the greased logs that were laid to shoot timber off First Hill to Seattle’s waterfront mills. There survives remarkably — or distressingly — little pioneer evidence as to where Seattle’s first Skid Road was constructed. A convivial scholarly debate endures between those choosing Washington Street and the more popular Mill Street, aka Yesler Way.
Whichever, the sliding log delivery most likely came close to crossing over this part of Occidental, a popular name for European immigrants who immigrated to America from somewhere between Moscow and Galway. Originating at Yesler Way, Occidental ran south into the then-not-yet-reclaimed tidelands beyond King Street. By the time this busy street scene was shot, the neighborhood was long free of its slippery salmon oil and log deliveries. (We confess to not knowing the date for this circa-1920s, unattributed snapshot.)
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Many Asian merchants serviced the Skid Road district. Seattle’s first Chinatown was just around the corner, east on Washington Street. There were loan shops; barbers; oyster bars; and “bar-bars,” where a free lunch might come with whatever drink one ordered — usually beer — and many of them. Here professional bar bands competed for audio space and “keep the faith” souls with parading ensembles of Salvation Army brass players and drummers. Adding to the percussion, the corner to the left rear (southwest) of the photographer was Seattle’s “Hyde Park” platform for protest, polemics and the occasional police riot.
Besides the Interurban cars, this cityscape is limited to two pioneer landmarks. The one that obviously survived, on the right side of Jean Sherrard’s “Now” photo, is the Interurban Building, the 1892 creation of English-born architect John Parkinson, who arrived in Seattle six months before its Great Fire of June 6,1889. This red-brick-and-sandstone Romanesque landmark was built for the Seattle National Bank, but after the Interurban’s completion from Tacoma to Seattle in 1901-02, it became the ticket office and waiting room for the Puget Sound Interurban Railway.
The wide facade facing south to Occidental Avenue from across Yester Way is the still-mourned Seattle Hotel. Like Parkinson’s bank, it too was built soon after the fire. Seventy years later, it was lost to the modern urges that preluded the Seattle Century 21 World’s Fair. By comparison, the strikingly puny “Sinking Ship Garage,” which replaced it, survives.