Before the Denny Hill Regrade, Pike was the easiest trek from the waterfront to Lake Union, and the best way to get up to First Hill.
IN 1891, A DOZEN years or so before the recording of our featured photo of Pike Street at Fifth Avenue, journalist-historian Frederick James Grant published his “History of Seattle,” the city’s first book-length history. Grant described Pike as “having been from the first a business street” and predicted that it “will always be crowded with retail houses and minor business establishments.”
We know that was not to be. Pike, the main street of early Seattle’s north end, continued its development into the city’s retail center not with “minor houses” but with major multistory retail blocks.
Before the Denny Hill Regrade, Pike was the most northerly street to cross with ease the southern flank of the hill. Essentially, for Pike between First and Fifth avenues, there was almost no Denny Hill. It was because of this natural kindness that both a narrow-gauged coal railroad in the 1870s and a horse-drawn trolley in the 1880s used Pike, and not Pine, to move east from the bluff above the waterfront.
Heading for Lake Union from the Pike Street wharf, the coal-hauling railroad turned north toward the lake a few feet from where a Webster and Stevens photographer later set his tripod to record this week’s featured photo. The photo likely was taken early in the 20th century. In this photo, we also discover two electric trolleys, but no motorcars, which were still rare. Of the 3,959 vehicles counted crossing through the nearby intersection of Pike Street and Second Avenue on Dec. 23, 1904, only 14 were automobiles.
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From this prospect, we also can see Pike Street’s second topographic advantage: It easily climbed First Hill. One block to the east at Sixth Avenue, Pike begins its bearable rise to the hill. Union Street, paralleling Pike one block to the south, could not manage the climb, because it ran into one of the steeper parts of the ridge that, aside from a pedestrian path, still blocks Union Street at Ninth Avenue.
The Idaho Block, here on the left at the northeast corner of Pike and Fifth, appears in the 1890 city directory. It was considered the first business block raised in this neighborhood of mostly modest homes, one-story tenements and tall stumps. The Idaho was built by or for Aaron and Esther Levy. Esther was founder of the Ladies’ Hebrew Benevolent Society, the first Jewish charitable organization in Seattle.
The Idaho’s units were stocked with homemakers and small businesses. For instance, a Seattle Times classified for May 28, 1897, reads, “Hats and bonnets, reshaped, dyed, cleaned or pressed; latest styles. 1504 Fifth, Idaho Block.” With the rest of the businesses facing Pike, the Idaho survived a 1906 widening of the street by being moved back. It just missed a quarter-century of service when it was razed in 1914 for construction of the Coliseum Theater, which has been revamped as Banana Republic clothing store.
Pike Street was named for John Pike by his friend Arthur Denny, the “city father” who made the claim, surveyed it and sold off its lucrative parts. Pike, a carpenter, helped build the Territorial University (later the University of Washington) and was paid with land and the tribute of his own street.