The city’s cable-car rides came to an end in 1940.
A POST-INTELLIGENCER photographer standing at the summit of First Hill snapped this photograph at the intersection of James Street and Broadway in February 1940. That was 49 years and a few months after the electric trolleys, on the left, and the James Street cable cars, on the right, first started meeting here beside the Union Trunk Line’s big red brick powerhouse and car barn at the corner.
Either on the instruction of the photographer, or motivated by a ceremonial urge, the crews of these cars are waving to each other across the short distance between them. They are waving goodbye. This is the end — or nearly.
Carolyn Marr, the Museum of History & Industry’s librarian, tells us the “given date” for this photo is Feb. 23, 1940. This introduces a small problem, because the James Street cable cars made their last run around midnight on Feb. 17. Perhaps the date written on the negative holder is its filing date. For some cable-car enthusiasts, a sorrier possibility is that the cable car is heading for its scrapping.
After the James Street run ended, James A. Wood, The Seattle Times’ associate editor, argued it was a bad idea in the April 4 printing of his feature, “Speaking for the Times.” Wood admiringly described the cars’ half-century “elevator service” up the hill from Pioneer Square and wrote, “Why not keep that James Street cable line going? … This would be greatly to the convenience and comfort of many people. It would also have advertising value, as one of the only two cable lines in American cities. In that respect we would rate a James Street cable car considerably higher than a totem pole.”
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Wood was alluding to the arson-torched and dry-rotting Pioneer Square totem that was then being replaced, near James Street, with a replica. Clearly it was a restoration the editor compared unfavorably to bringing back the James Street cable cars.
There’s another dating ambiguity here. Although difficult, and perhaps for some, impossible, to read, a poster on the right-front of the cable car promotes the 47th Annual Policemen’s Ball scheduled for Feb. 22 at the Municipal Coliseum. The top of the poster advises, “Ride The Street Cars.” That would be difficult on this cable car from this position on this corner because, as we mentioned, those cable cars stopped running Feb. 17.
MOHAI has consigned the decidedly low number 27,175 to this P-I Collection negative. Howard Giske, the museum’s longtime pro photographer, advises, “We are still numbering that collection. It is a work in progress that is now reaching 2 million negatives. We suspect that it will reach far beyond that.” And we might hope that ultimately most of this collection will be online for all to share and use, and that the museum’s library will be generously funded to do it.