The Seattle Gas Company built two storage tanks in South Lake Union in 1907, back when deliveries of tomatoes and bananas was news. By the 1950s, the tanks were gone.

Share story

HERE WE LOOK northwest across the intersection of Ninth Avenue North and Republican Street to the first of two gasholders, or gas storage tanks, that were built in succession on this South Lake Union block.

The tanks were around until the 1950s, when they were replaced by the Seattle Gas Company’s modern building, popularly known as the “Blue Flame Building” after the illuminated sign that crowned it. It, too, is gone.

The photo of the gas tank was copied from an album of views, most of which concerned the many big changes made for the Seattle Gas Company between 1906 and 1908. Most of the snapshots feature the destruction of the company’s first plant, built in 1873 at Fifth Avenue and Jackson Street, and the building of its gas works, now Gas Works Park in “Lower Wallingford.”

The album was loaned to me by Michael Maslan, one of Seattle’s busiest sellers of historical photographs and other ephemera. Michael has been sharing his often rare and exquisite “stock and stuff” with me since the mid-1970s, and many of the images that have appeared in this column the past 33 years came to me through him.

The print is dated May 4, 1907. On that Saturday, The Seattle Times reported that railroad cars of Florida tomatoes and bananas had arrived, and that a “heavy shipment of strawberries (had) reached the city this morning.” On its front page, The Times explained that two clergymen with “differing schools of theology,” the Unitarian Rev. W.D. Simonds and the Baptist Rev. J.M. Dean, agreed that “men are most iniquitous,” not women. One week later, on May 11, the renamed Seattle Lighting Company ran one of its illustrated advertisements, saying, “Cook With Gas and avoid worry and trouble. It is cheaper, healthier and cleaner than any other fuel in use.” This promotion was repeated on the storage tanks with large hanging signs also reading “Cook with Gas.”

It is clear from the photo album that the charming building to the right was built with the storage tank, and somehow served it. The oversized shed — or barn — on the left might be the livery stable for the company’s horses, which by 1907 were beginning to lose their horsepowers to internal combustion.