To look south through the full four blocks of Seattle's pioneer Commercial Street (First Avenue South from Yesler to King), an unnamed photographer carried his camera to the top floor of the Yesler-Leary Building.

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To look south through the full four blocks of Seattle’s pioneer Commercial Street (First Avenue South from Yesler to King), an unnamed photographer carried his camera to the top floor of the Yesler-Leary Building. The occasion was a parade heading north, and considering the array of small American flags strung across Commercial, this rare view was most likely recorded on July 4, 1888.

There was both a physical and cultural jog here at “Yesler’s Corner” (later Pioneer Square). It required all traffic to go around the Yesler-Leary Building in order to continue north on Front Street (First Avenue). Yesler Way was also the line between the grander, newer Seattle facing Front Street (behind the photographer) and the old pioneer Seattle seen here “below the line.”

An 1888 Commercial Street sampler includes seven of the city’s dozen hotels, three of its four pawnbrokers and three of its four employment agencies, nine of its 41 restaurants, four of seven wholesale liquor merchants. The tightest quarters were in the block on the left, where 14 storefronts crowded the east side of Commercial between Yesler and Washington streets. Among those were a hardware (note the “Stoves and Tinware” sign) and the druggist M.A. Kelly, whose flamboyant sign shows bottom-left.

By contrast, Front Street featured more of the “finer things,” like bookstores, a confectioner, jewelers and an opera house. Of the 37 grocers listed in the 1888 city directory, 18 had Front Street addresses, while on Commercial there was apparently none.

In another 11 months, the city’s Great Fire would destroy everything on Commercial Street and most of Front Street.

“Washington Then and Now,” by Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard, can be purchased through Tartu Publications at P.O. Box 85208, Seattle, WA 98145.