The view from a much-lower Denny Hill looks very different today.
THE FIRST PHOTOGRAPH of Lake Union recorded from Denny Hill was one of the many shots the famous itinerant Californian photographer Carleton Watkins made during his visit to the Puget Sound area in 1882. Despite building an elevated platform on top of the hill to help him see and shoot the lake, only a glimpse of it is seen through a forest selectively cut for the best lumber and also ravaged by a windstorm that flattened many of the trees on Denny Hill in 1879.
This week’s feature, photographed in the early 1890s, looks north from Denny Hill to a Lake Union landscape dappled by a mix of virgin timber and pioneer construction. The Western Lumber Mill, the lake’s largest development, can be seen smoking at the south end of the lake. Built in the early 1880s, the mill escaped Seattle’s Great Fire of 1889 and overnight became the city’s principal supplier of the lumber that rebuilt what was already the largest town in Washington Territory.
In his caption at lower left, photographer Frank La Roche includes the name of his intended subject, where he positioned his camera and the address of his studio. With the help of other photographs, maps and directories, it is possible to determine within a shout where La Roche set up.
The best clue to La Roche’s location is the Gothic one, right of center: the Norwegian Danish Baptist Church at the northeast corner of Virginia Street and Sixth Avenue. The city’s Sanborn Real Estate Map for 1893 gives footprints for the city’s structures, including the church and the homes to this side of the Baptists. From these footprints we deduce that La Roche was overlooking Fourth Avenue to the east. Behind him, gleaned from other sources, early construction proceeds on the 400-room grand Victorian hotel, The Denny, named for the city’s principal pioneer founder, Arthur Denny.
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On the evidence of another photograph, taken about 1904 by Asahel Curtis from nearly the same spot, but higher, possibly from a ledge or window in the Denny Hotel looking east over Fourth Avenue, the considerably more developed neighborhood sits in a late-afternoon shadow cast by the hotel.
Three years after that, the hotel would be razed, along with much of Denny Hill. By the result of another regrade that straightened Westlake Avenue between the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Pike Street as far as Denny Way in 1906-07, the Baptists’ tidy sanctuary, threatened by public-works pruning, was sold to George J. Hodge, a developer who razed the Gothic landmark.
Hodge paid the congregation more than $7,000 for its exposed corner. Some of the largesse was used to build a new sanctuary near Denny Way and Yale Avenue, which I remember from the 1960s, in its last incarnation, as the BFD, a pop-music palace that sometimes featured psychedelic rock ’n’ roll.