Our ‘Then’ photo doesn’t perfectly match our ‘Now’ one, but we’re hoping to identify a three-story prefire landmark on Mill Street.
THIS WEEK’S “NOW” photo is a noon-hour streetscape graced by a morning downpour. The clean puddle on Yesler Way reflects the dappled clouds that fringe the 40-plus-story Smith Tower, which is mirrored in this small flood nearly as brilliantly as the landmark’s terra-cotta tiles shine in the sky. Sunlight escaping across Yesler Way from the alley between First Avenue and Occidental Street draws a warm path through the scene’s center.
I confess that this week’s “Then” photo is not “on spot.” Rather, it was recorded a half-block west, on Yesler Way. One reason we chose this photo is because at its center stand two of the landmarks that Seattle rapidly raised in 1883-84, early boom years for the growing town that in 1881 first took the prize for numbered citizens in Washington Territory.
This developing strip of Victorian landmarks on Mill Street (Yesler Way) continues south from this intersection on Commercial Street (First Avenue South) and especially north on Front Street (First Avenue).
This look into Pioneer Square, or Pioneer Place, as it was first named, shows photographer W.F. Boyd’s stamp on its flip side. Boyd arrived in Seattle not long before he recorded this view. Beside his centered stamp are additional messages, including, “Photo taken day before fire,” meaning the Great Fire of June 6, 1889.
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But it cannot be. Instead, we date this circa 1887, based largely on a lead from Ron Edge, who pointed out the work-in-progress extending the Occidental Hotel (with the flagpole and mansard roof) to fill the entire flatiron block bordered by Mill Street, James Street and Second Avenue.
Another grand construction stands center-left: the Yesler-Leary Building, with its showplace tower topped by a weather vane, at the northwest corner of Front and Mill streets. Another of our reasons for picking this “Then” photo is the brick building in the shadows on the scene’s far right.
We ask readers smarter than us to name this three-story prefire landmark. While I have never seen any face-on photograph of this south side of Mill Street, west of First Avenue, it does appear in a Seattle 1884 birds-eye map and in that year’s Sanborn map. But neither of these early sources gives it a name or address.
Perhaps it is the Villard House, listed in the 1884 city directory at 15 Mill St. and “near the Steamboat Wharf,” aka Yesler’s Wharf. C.S. Plough, the proprietor, dauntlessly advertised it with a mondo boast: “The Villard is the best and cheapest hotel in the city.”