Queen Anne Yesterday & Today

When searching for historic images of Queen Anne to recapture for a contemporary comparison, I’m often frustrated by streetscapes and vistas that are too obscured by mature vegetation or engineering of the landscape to make for interesting subject matter.  Today’s subject provides a rare example of an urban intersection where little has changed in nearly 100 years.

6th Avenue West and West Ewing Street intersect at the northern edge of Queen Anne, between Nickerson Street and the Fremont Cut.  Just beyond its intersection with West Ewing, 6th West terminates at a small public boat launch bisecting a community of houseboats.  The land north of West Ewing Street and west of 4th Avenue West is one of two small slivers of Queen Anne’s base that are zoned for manufacturing and industrial use (the other being between 13th and 15th Avenues West, and continuing along Elliott Avenue West, bordered north and south by West Newton and West Prospect streets).  It is due to this zoning of the land and the long duration of its occupants that the intersection is nearly identical today to when the historic image was taken in 1956.

6th Ave. W. in 1956

The property on the left side of the image is part of the Foss Maritime shipyard, which extends westward to the Ballard Bridge.  Founded in 1889 in Tacoma, Foss established operations in Seattle during World War I.  The wooden warehouse building on the left, built in 1930, bears a Foss sign in the same position on the building’s clerestory today as in the historic image.  The small white house at the water’s edge, built in 1935, still stands but is hidden behind tall bushes.

6th Ave. W. in 2021

The warehouse buildings on the right were the location of the Gascoigne Lumberyard from 1926 until 2018. The most noticeable change since 1956, other than the vintage of the cars, is the absence of the warehouse building in the right foreground of the historic image.  It was among several warehouse buildings owned by Gascoigne that were destroyed in a fire on November 10, 2018.  The highly combustible contents of the buildings shot flames 100 feet into the air and resulted in Seattle’s first 4-alarm fire in a decade.  The fire was found to be the work of a serial arsonist who had set several smaller fires in the area.  Gascoigne moved their business to Everett, but a dark rectangle on the surviving warehouse marks the spot where their sign used to hang.

It certainly isn’t going to win anyone’s vote for the most attractive intersection in Queen Anne; but in a city that has seen as much rapid growth and change as Seattle, there is something special, and kind of comforting, about the little pockets that are seemingly untouched by time.  A walk or bike-ride on the path that runs along the canal, between the Ballard and Fremont bridges, offers a glimpse into the past and a reminder of the industries upon which Seattle’s fortunes were built, and that still thrive despite our image as a big-tech hub.

This Week in Queen Anne History

Tragedy struck the Queen Anne community on Sunday, January 12, 1930, when four young people were killed and six more badly injured in a horrific sledding accident.  It was the culmination of a deadly weekend for winter recreation seekers throughout the city and around Puget Sound.  The days leading up to the tragedy had been unusually cold, with temperatures falling into the teens and intermittent snowfall.

The sled, carrying 12 riders ranging in age from 14 to 22, collided with an automobile at the northeast corner of 1st Avenue West and West Garfield Street.   Everett Jensen, the 19-year-old driver of the car and son of wealthy Walla Walla department store founder A.M. Jensen, ignored the police barricade put in place on the designated “coasting” hill.  The 16-year-old pilot of the sled, Ray Whitteman, managed to steer the loaded coaster to his right after they saw the car’s headlights enter their path.  Inexplicably, Jensen steered the car to his left, leaving no time or room to redirect the sled. Whitteman died instantly.  Three others — Helen Haw, 15; Margaret Chadburne, 16; and Clyde Tucker, 22 — all died in hospital.

Jensen admitted to taking several drinks before he and his passenger, Henry Farish, headed to Queen Anne to visit Jensen’s girlfriend.  Farish confirmed that Jensen had been drinking and had ignored him when he told him he had passed a police barrier.  The coroner who attempted to question Jensen at the scene described him as so drunk that he couldn’t talk sense.  Despite this, a jury found Jensen not guilty in his criminal trial four months later.

Fatal Sled Ride

This image of the scene featured in The Seattle Times the following day includes an artist’s rendering of the accident and an inset image of Alice Logan, who witnessed the tragedy from her home at 105 1st Avenue West.

The days leading up to the accident on Queen Anne saw widespread sledding and skating accidents.  The Friday Times reported that eleven people had been injured, two critically, in separate incidents around the city.  On Saturday, 21-year-old Earl Vance, son of Seattle lumber and real estate magnate Joseph Vance, drowned after falling through thin ice while skating with his 17-year-old girlfriend, Dolores Totten, on Steel Lake, south of Seattle.  Ms. Totten was able to scramble to the shore.

After the tragedy on Queen Anne, Seattle Police Chief Louis Forbes and Mayor Frank Edwards issued a formal order to the police department to stop all coasting in Seattle.  The streets throughout the city that had been designated for the activity were immediately sanded, and people caught sledding on any city street were subject to arrest.

Queen Anne Yesterday & Today

Looking North from Mercer St. in 1902

The historical image of Queen Anne Avenue was taken in 1902, the same year that the Seattle Electric Railway streetcar system began service on the route, replacing the cable car system that had been in place since 1891.  Previously called Temperance Street, the name was changed to Queen Anne Avenue in 1895 after the city passed an ordinance to rename several streets and avenues around town.  As indicated by the handwritten note on the historic photograph, the steep incline became known as the Counterbalance for the underground tunnel-and-counterweight system, installed between Roy and Comstock streets, that assisted the streetcars as they climbed the hill and acted as brakes to slow their descent.  The system was used until 1940, when the city replaced the streetcars with “trackless trolleys,” buses that run on overhead powerlines.

Looking North from Mercer St. in December 2020

The east side of the block between Mercer and Roy streets is now occupied by the MarQueen Hotel, which was built in 1918 as the Seattle Engineering School and converted into apartments by the Vance Lumber Co. in 1926.  It was known as the Vance Apartments until 1930, when the name was changed to the MarQueen Apartments.  It was converted to a hotel in 1998.

In 1902, the block was occupied by at least three separate buildings, including the grocery store in the foreground.  Many small grocers set up shop along the various streetcar routes on the hill.  In the distance, on the west side of the street, the Queen Anne-style George Kinnear mansion is visible with its distinctive onion dome-topped turret.  The mansion graced the hill from 1888 until 1958 when it was torn down for construction of Bayview Manor.

The only things familiar in today’s image are the steep incline of the street itself and the location of utility poles on the west side of the street.  The single-strand overhead wires that powered the streetcar system were not yet in place in the 1902 image.  They would have looked similar to the double-strand cables in today’s image.