Welcome to the magnificent, laden-with-fascinating-images Seattle Municipal Archives, a chronicle of our city from its very beginning.

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In the basement of Seattle City Hall there is a very large storage room — 110 feet one way, 35 feet the other — with shelving upon shelving, and rolling file cabinets packed together.

It’s always kept at 66 degrees with humidity of 40 to 45 percent so as not to harm the paper and photographic treasures inside.

At one end is a walk-in freezer kept at 0 degrees. It contains the most brittle of the treasures that are slowly degrading.

Welcome to the magnificent, laden-with-fascinating-images Seattle Municipal Archives, a chronicle of our city from its very beginning.

In this room, and upstairs on the fourth floor, you’ll find: 1.5 million negatives. 250,000 prints. 3,000 reels of film. 3,000 videocassettes. 4,000 maps. 100,000 digital maps. Enough textual records to fill three cargo containers.

It’s the legacy of Scott Cline, 66, who has headed the archives since they began in 1985, and plans to retire in August. He has been relentless in making sure such history doesn’t end up in the garbage can. He’s retiring in August, and profiled in an adjoining article.

[More: City Archivist opened a stunning view into Seattle’s past]

Let’s take a trip through some interesting images in the archives that caught our eye, and tell you the back stories.

The first garbage truck

Here is a photo showing garbage being picked up on Capitol Hill with a horse-drawn wagon. It’s from 1915.

A horse-drawn garbage wagon makes the rounds on Capitol Hill in 1915. (Seattle Municipal Archives)
A horse-drawn garbage wagon makes the rounds on Capitol Hill in 1915. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

In the early days of Seattle we were literally “awash in trash,” according to HistoryLink.org.

It goes on, “In Seattle’s earliest days garbage was randomly dumped wherever possible — in vacant lots and alleys, under piers and train trestles, on the outskirts of town … ”

Garbage dumps were everywhere, some with fires burning day and night.

Genesee Park. A playfield at Green Lake. The Japanese Garden at the Arboretum. Northwest Market Street & 28th Avenue Northwest in Ballard.

They all sit on abandoned landfills; 15 such sites once were within city limits. We also simply towed garbage out on barges and dumped it into Puget Sound.

One garbage-like container that Cline found in the city files was a jar full of “gooky, black sludge water” that had been collected by the city’s Health Department. It had been part of a long-forgotten 1950 water contamination report.

That’s one collectible he decided to throw out.

Customers had power

Please, use electricity, as much as you want, was the unofficial motto of Seattle City Light from the early 1900s until the 1970s.

An ad aimed at a frazzled homemaker said, “You can have the good old days … I’ll take automatic electric living!”

The agency had all kinds of innovative ways to get customers to use more of its product.

The first image is from 1950, when its repairmen fixed appliances for free, charging only for parts.

Seattle City Light’s appliance repairmen, 1950. (Seattle Municipal Archives)
Seattle City Light’s appliance repairmen, 1950. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

The service eventually came with a minimal fee — it was $6 in 1976; by 1984 it was $28.50 for the first half-hour, $8.75 for each additional 15 minutes.

By the late 1980s, the service ended.

“There were some grumbling from the private repair people,” says Dan Langdon, a customer-care adviser at the utility who also knows its history.

But the agency was accomplishing its goal. “They used to tout themselves as the utility with the highest amount of electric stoves,” says Langdon.

To entice that proverbial housewife then doing kitchen duties, the utility sold ranges, refrigerators and other appliances at easy, easy terms.

The second image is from 1938 of a City Light parade float, showing a grumpy-looking guy doing kitchen work while a woman sat a desk.

A 1938 City Light float shows a mom on a “sitdown strike” for an electric range while dad toils in the kitchen. (Seattle Municipal Archives)
A 1938 City Light float shows a mom on a “sitdown strike” for an electric range while dad toils in the kitchen. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

“Mothers on a sitdown strike,” a big sign on the float said. “She’s holding out for a new electric range.”

The third image is from 1953 of the then-local-celebrity Mary Norris, City Light’s expert home economist marketed as the agency’s version of Betty Crocker.

Seattle City Light Home Economist Mary Norris.  (Seattle Municipal Archives)
Seattle City Light Home Economist Mary Norris. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

Norris was on local TV, at home shows, in schools and with community groups.

She was on the cover of such brochures as “Elec-Tricks” that would show you just how to cook and freeze foods.

Norris left City Light in 1976 and went on to a second career in which she did very well. She was the first woman to sell Whirlpool appliances to retail dealers.

She died in 2012 at age 88 and is remembered as one of the “Pioneers in City Government.”

Fearful times

Here is an image of a nuclear bomb going off in the middle of downtown Seattle (scary enough as an artist’s rendition).

The Seattle Civil Defense Manual, circa 1955, included a long list of “subversive organizations.” (Seattle Municipal Archives)
The Seattle Civil Defense Manual, circa 1955, included a long list of “subversive organizations.” (Seattle Municipal Archives)

That’s from a 1955 Civil Defense Manual during the worrying Cold War times when families built fallout shelters. The brochure was sponsored by radio station KVI-AM, which these days airs the likes of Michael Savage and Sean Hannity.

It offered such advice as, “don’t rush outside right after a bombing,” “bury your face in your arms,” “close all windows and doors and draw the blinds,” and “don’t start rumors.”

It included a long list of “Subversive Organizations in the U.S.” courtesy of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Tip No. 1 for recognizing a subversive group: “Does the group espouse the cause of Americanism or the cause of Soviet Russia?”

The manual told how eventually 17,000 bloc wardens, the “eyes and ears of Civil Defense,” would be needed for the city.

It’s not clear how that bloc wardens effort panned out, but eventually the committee was widely discredited.

To catch a horse thief

Here is a flier from June 1891.

Police Chief Bolton Rogers’ horse was stolen in 1891. (Seattle Municipal Archives)
Police Chief Bolton Rogers’ horse was stolen in 1891. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

Somebody stole a police horse and the chief was plenty mad.

Police Chief Bolton Rogers is offering a “$25 REWARD!” for “one black horse” that was stolen “from Snyder’s pasture on White River.”

Says Seattle archivist Cline, “A stolen horse in 1891 is analog to a car theft. The stuff just repeats itself.”

The horse was found in North Bend.

The chief was concerned about being reimbursed by the city for the reward as he had not gotten prior authorization.

But “time is a very important factor in a matter of this kind,” wrote the chief, and the reward “was a good investment to gain the return of a $150 horse.”

Men who lunch

The archive images depict the times as they were; in this case, an all-guys outdoor power luncheon at Volunteer Park.

One such glass negative is from May 1, 1900.

Seattle’s City Council lunches in Volunteer Park with City Engineer R.H. Thomson, May 1, 1900, near the new reservoir there. (Seattle Municipal Archives)
Seattle’s City Council lunches in Volunteer Park with City Engineer R.H. Thomson, May 1, 1900, near the new reservoir there. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

Attending was the entire Seattle City Council as well as City Engineer R.H. Thomson, credited with doing more “than any other individual to change the face of Seattle. During his exemplary career as city engineer and beyond, he leveled hills, straightened and dredged waterways, reclaimed tideflats, built sewers, sidewalks, tunnels, and bridges, and paved roads.”

Washington has a “remarkable record of electing women to public office,” says the Washington State Historical Society, with women elected to serve as county school superintendents as early as 1875.

In 1926, Bertha Knight Landes became Seattle’s first and, to date, only woman elected as mayor.

But in 1900, the optics of Seattle politics were guys, guys, guys.

Women in the firehouse

The archives also chronicle the sometimes-halting efforts by the city to change with the times.

Here is a flier after the Seattle Fire Department got a 1974 affirmative-action report that included the notable acknowledgment that it had zero female firefighters.

In 1974, Seattle had no female firefighters, so the Seattle Fire Department used this poster to recruit women, offering pay of up to $18,000 a year.  ( Seattle Municipal Archives)
In 1974, Seattle had no female firefighters, so the Seattle Fire Department used this poster to recruit women, offering pay of up to $18,000 a year. ( Seattle Municipal Archives)

The flier was — how to put it — an interesting effort.

Bonnie Beers, who had majored in psychology at the University of Washington and played on its basketball team, was the first woman firefighter at the agency. She was placed in a combat company in 1978.

By 1992, Beers was the highest-ranking woman in any fire department in the U.S., retiring in 2008 as a battalion chief.

Beers told The Seattle Times that in the early years she fought perceptions that women couldn’t be trusted behind the wheel of a fire truck. She also put up with hostility from firefighters who thought she didn’t deserve to be in the department.

“I had to pay for it dearly,” she said. “There were people who said, ‘You’re taking someone else’s job,’ and you have to show them you can do it. It made my life very hard. People hated me, but it’s one of the prices you have to pay.”

What progress has there been in the hiring of women firefighters?

According to the agency, now there are 77 women firefighters out of a total of 1,107, or 7.6 percent.

Postcard memories

The archives have a nice collection of old color postcards.

They show a Seattle before the boxlike apartment developments and rectangular offices expanded like concrete amoebas.

Or maybe it’s that vintage colorization that makes it all look more romantic.

Here is downtown Seattle in 1925, a time when the 38-story Smith Tower was the tallest building in Seattle, and, actually, on the West Coast until 1962 when the Space Needle was built.

A postcard of downtown Seattle from the 1920s. (Seattle Municipal Archives)
A postcard of downtown Seattle from the 1920s. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

Here is Cal Anderson Park back in 1918, when it was known as Lincoln Park.

Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill in 1918, when it was called Lincoln Park (not to be confused with Lincoln Park in West Seattle).  (Seattle Municipal Archives)
Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill in 1918, when it was called Lincoln Park (not to be confused with Lincoln Park in West Seattle). (Seattle Municipal Archives)

Here is what camping was supposed to look like in 1963 at Mount Baker: mom, dad and child. Was it ever like in the postcard?

A Mount Baker postcard shows camping in 1963. (Seattle Municipal Archives)
A Mount Baker postcard shows camping in 1963. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

Here is Third & Pike in 1947, with a “5-10-25” Kress” store across the street from a Woolworth’s. A couple of blocks away you can see the Coliseum Theater; “open until 5 a.m.” with movies like Gary Cooper’s “The Westerner.”

Third and Pike as it looked on a 1947 postcard. (Seattle Municipal Archives)
Third and Pike as it looked on a 1947 postcard. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

Now a Starbucks is in a portion of the Kress store, and Ross Dress for Less has replaced the Woolworth’s. The Coliseum is now a Banana Republic.

Market at risk

And the archives show how a riled-up citizenry stopped planning disasters hatched in the late 1960s by politicians and downtown commercial interests.

They would have killed the Pike Place Market, which has been called “the heart and soul of Seattle.”

This used to be the place where local farmers and consumers got together.

But as the decades passed, the aging market with its peeling paint and cracking walls looked old and neglected. To some it was an eyesore that should go.

It didn’t fit with the new, modern Seattle. Sound familiar as you read about the latest historic business to make way for development?

In 1950, an engineer named Harlan Edwards proposed demolishing the market and replacing it with a giant parking garage.

That proposal went nowhere, but by 1963 a plan supported by downtown businesses, the mayor and the City Council also called for demolishing the market.

In its place?

High-rise office buildings, hotels and a seven-story garage.

Here is a rendering of the proposed monstrosity, as if Darth Vader had designed it.

A 1968 model shows a high-rise development planned by the city before Pike Place Market was saved by voters in an initiative.  (Seattle Municipal Archives)
A 1968 model shows a high-rise development planned by the city before Pike Place Market was saved by voters in an initiative. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

But architect Victor Steinbrueck, artist Mark Tobey and the community group Friends of the Market rallied protests.

Still, in 1969 the City Council voted to go ahead with “urban renewal.”

Those trying to save the market then went the initiative route and in 1971 the voters spoke.

The market was saved.

And so it got new paint, the cracked walls were fixed and the market was restored.

Pike Place Market arcade before rehab, 1976. (Seattle Municipal Archives)
Pike Place Market arcade before rehab, 1976. (Seattle Municipal Archives)
Pike Place Market arcade after rehab, 1976. (Seattle Municipal Archives)
Pike Place Market arcade after rehab, 1976. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

You can see some of the work in these before and after 1976 photos of the arcade.

Today the market is the oldest continuously operating public market in the U.S. and the city says it is its most popular tourist attraction.

City archivist Scott Cline is retiring after spending 31 years building a massive, organized archive of documents, photos and maps that capture Seattle’s history. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)