Now & Then delves into the history of the “Latona Knoll.”

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THIS LOOK WEST on Northeast 40th Street is not as sharp as desired, but we can still see what the 1912 Baist Real Estate Map marks simply as the “wall” that separates the upper and lower grades of 40th in its atypical four-block run between Latona Avenue Northeast and Seventh Avenue Northeast. About a century separates the historical photograph from Jean Sherrard’s repeat, but the truth is I don’t know when the photo was recorded. A lengthy survey of tax records for the many workers’ small homes that dapple the “Latona Knoll” would probably reveal the photo’s age.

The earliest photo evidence I’ve seen of this great wall is included in a 180-degree panorama that was recorded from a tethered balloon high above the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Seattle’s first world’s fair. The pan extends from Lake Washington’s Union Bay through Portage Bay and into the Latona and Wallingford neighborhoods. In the pan, the dark-stained retaining wall on 40th appears to be whitewashed. It gleamed when new. The wall’s construction was part of the city’s ambitious effort to prepare the “north end” of town for the upcoming exposition.

During the summer of 1909, an estimated 4 million people crossed the Latona Bridge: most of the visitors rode trolleys, which reached the exposition through this intersection. Moving the multitudes from the bridge to the AYP, held on the grounds of the University of Washington, the trolleys followed a new route that began with a one-block run on Sixth Avenue north from the bridge. The new tracks were aimed directly at the great timber wall and the Latona Knoll above it.

While the lower and upper halves of the Northeast 40th Street grade separation are glimpsed to the left and right of the couple walking in front of Jean’s camera, the trestle and the trail are hidden behind the landscape and signs on the left.

Despite the anxious doubts expressed by the press, the improved trolley service was ready for the June 1 opening of the AYP, although on this stretch it had required eleventh-hour help of a chain gang from the city jail. The Seattle Times complimented the prisoners for their “able assistance.”