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DRIVERS WHO continue to be confused and/or delayed by the city’s “Mercer Mess” south of Lake Union may find some consolation by reflecting on the central business district’s public-works schedule a century ago. This look north from Columbia Street, mid-block between Third and Fourth avenues, is dated April 15, 1907. At the far left, Third Avenue, at its intersection with Marion Street, has been lowered about 15 feet.

Still, pedestrians could transcend the upheaval on Third by crossing the temporary, if spindly, viaduct, left-of-center. It passes high above the mess to reach a pre-regrade sidewalk that survives below the facade of the Second Empire-styled Stacy Mansion, with tower and rooftop pergola. This grand residence was, however, hardly a home. It was built in 1885 by Elizabeth and Martin Van Buren Stacy, an often-warring couple who did not move in until 1887. Following the migration up First Hill of Seattle’s most affluent families, the Stacys soon built another mansion at the northeast corner of Madison Street and Boren Avenue. Martin, however, hardly moved. Preferring the culture of the business district to the high society on the Hill, he lived mostly in hotels and clubs.

The Stacy Mansion might be considered the intended subject. It is not. Rather, it’s the private work of cutting and hauling for the Trustee Company’s Central Building excavation site. In the pit, a steam shovel feeds horse teams waiting their turns and pulling high-centered dump-wagons. Far right, in the alley, the company’s sign stands above its construction office.

A half year earlier in The Seattle Sunday Times of Oct. 7, 1906, the Trustee Company shared its intentions with a full-page ad. The Central Building promised to be “the most impressive and commodious office building in the Pacific Northwest. Including the offices in the tower section, this building is to be 20 stories in height.”

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Parts of the Central’s first four floors show to the left of the alley in Jean Sherrard’s repeat. The completed Central has eight floors, not 20, but is a cherished survivor of Seattle’s early affection for elegantly clad terra-cotta buildings.

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