This area on Third Avenue in downtown Seattle looks much the same as it did in 1936.

Share story

HERE IS ANOTHER billboard negative from the Foster and Kleiser collection that I have visited a few times. The anonymous photographer chose a prospect that exposed the company’s two billboards on the roof of the Virginian Tavern, the tenant of the modest brick building at the southwest corner of Virginia Street and Third Avenue.

The “Now” photo shows us that in this block, anyway, not much has changed in 80 years.

What were they thinking in 1936, the pedestrians and motorists here on Third Avenue? Perhaps about the kings of England: both of them. This is the day the Duke of York took — or was given — the throne of his older brother, Edward VIII, who abdicated it for love. The Seattle Times trumpeted news of the switch, including a front-page photograph of the new king’s daughter, 10-year-old Elizabeth, who, an unnamed friend of the royals assured, was figuring it out as an “astute, sharp-witted little girl.”

The neighborhood was variously called the Uptown Retail Center, Belltown and the Denny Regrade. Only the first two names survive. It is likely that many of these motorists on Third Avenue between Virginia and Stewart streets remembered the regrade itself, and knew they were driving under what 30 years earlier had been the south summit of Denny Hill.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

Just left of center, the six-story White Garage, the tallest of the five buildings shown here on Third Avenue, fails to reach the elevation of the historic summit. It is also short of reaching the elevation of what before the regrading was the basement of the majestic Denny Hotel, AKA Washington Hotel, that sat atop the hill and advertised itself as “the scenic hotel of the West.” Both the south summit and the hotel were razed between 1906 and 1908.

Given that this is in the midst of the Great Depression, Third Avenue seems surprisingly rife with motorcars. A review of historical statistics might explain the motorized zest: Four blocks away at Second Avenue and Pike Street, and only 32 years earlier, the city’s street department counted 3,959 vehicles visiting the intersection, of which only 14 were automobiles. By 1916, many Seattle cyclists had turned into motorists, and Seattle had some 16,000 cars. By 1921, with the Doughboys returned from World War I, there were about 48,000 cars in Seattle. By 1929, there were 129,000 cars on the city’s streets.

Of the two billboards above the Virginian Tavern, the one on the left advertises next year’s model 1937 Buick for $1,099. Figured for inflation, the price seems surprisingly affordable. In today’s showroom, the sticker would convert to about $18,400. It seems that despite the ongoing Depression, if one had a good middle-class job, it was possible to own the mobility and prestige of a brand-new Buick.