Around 1903, this bustling intersection with Third Avenue held one mysterious triangle and very few motor vehicles.
WITH THE NUMBER 677 inked, lower-right, on the original glass negative, this week’s “Then” photo is an early exposure from the Webster and Stevens Studio. Loomis Miller was the last owner of this magnum opus (about 40,000 mostly glass negatives), which Pemco purchased for the Museum of History & Industry in 1983. The low number of this subject in MOHAI’S “Pemco Collection” dates it very early in the 20th century. (I’m choosing a circa 1903 date until corrected.)
The photographer — perhaps one of the partners, Ira Webster or Nelson Stevens — focuses east on Pike Street through its intersection with Third Avenue. While I have just speculated with some confidence on the date, I have no idea about the purpose of the triangular contraption, a kind of designed street clutter, on the left. With the aid of magnification, one discovers that the wood frame holds two gears that might be connected to the large coil of rope partially hidden behind the second man from the left. He is looking in the direction of the “SIGNS” sign attached to the corner of the ornate Heussy Building. Meanwhile, directly below him, another man, smoking his pipe, has improvised the coil as a chair, a modern-looking one.
Looking east on Pike, we can make out, in the half-haze, the Capitol Hill horizon about a mile away. The tracks in the foreground were a feeder to three Capitol Hill trolley lines: one that did not reach the summit; another that did, on 15th Avenue; and a third that went over it.
In the early 1900s, tracks were not new on Pike Street. In 1872, there was the narrow-gauge railroad that ran between the Pike Street coal wharf and the south end of Lake Union. There, coal from the east side of Lake Washington reached its last leg on prosperous trips to the fleet of coal-schooners that kept California stoked with our own Newcastle nuggets. The coal was transferred from barges on Lake Union to the coal hoppers waiting at the railroad’s lake terminus, about a block east of where Westlake now crosses Mercer Street.
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In 1884, the horse cars from the Pioneer Square neighborhood turned east onto Pike from Second Avenue to continue and complete their zigzag route to Lake Union. In 1889, the four-legged horsepower was forsaken for electric trolleys, which were scrapped in the early 1940s and replaced with gas and rubber.
Both the Heussy Block on the left and the Hotel Abbott on the right were prestigious three-story brick additions to Pike Street in the early 1890s. The timing of their construction was one part fortuitous and the rest self-evident. The booming of Seattle in the 1880s continued into the teens, and the city’s Great Fire of 1889, which was blocks away in the oldest neighborhoods and on the central waterfront, helped quicken the development of this, the North End.
We see here no motor vehicles on Pike because they were still rare. On Dec. 23, 1904, the city’s Public Works Department counted the vehicular visits through Pike Street’s intersection with Second Avenue. Of the total count of 3,959, a mere 14 were not pulled by horses.