Snowy Owl Swoops in to make Queen Anne HISTORY

Snowy Owl seen from the alley between 1st and 2nd W. Photo: MH on my iPhone12
Snowy Owl 11/20/20. Photo: Melinda Baker

Triptychs by Elaine Chuang


[UPDATE 12.8.20 at 3:30 pm.  Owl is flying over the alley north of McClure doing fanciful landings at the top of the tall evergreen tree on the west side of the alley.]

Local news references/images:  KING5, The Seattle Times, Seattle P-I , KING5 Evening


The inventory of 351 King County bird types on the wabirder website (2020_macro_checklist for pdfs) disappointed me.   I was sad to see that snowy owls such as the elegant specimen gracing Queen Anne roofs for well over a week are rare in King County.  ‘Rare’ in birder language means that more than five of them have been sighted in the last year in the county.  In my fantasy world, I believed our owl was the first one ever to venture south of its normal range which extends from the Arctic to the Canadian border.  Now, I may just have to settle with the fantasy that this is the first snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus) ever to alight on Queen Anne.

Our owl ranks with the wild animals that occasionally venture across the railroad bridge at the Locks to camp in Discovery Park.  Coyotes, bears and cougars have all been reported.  Indeed, I even saw an owl on a limb in the park about ten years ago on a bike ride.  The Cascade Bike Club had set up the ride to cover some 80 inner-city miles.  One of my companions that day bravely towed his daughter on a trailer bike.  As we churned up the steep hill alongside DayBreak Star, the little girl, who didn’t bother pedaling, screamed “OW.”  We screeched to a stop (easy to do going up that hill) and turned to her to see what was wrong.  “What’s the matter?”  “Nothing,” she replied.  “Are you hurt?”  “No.”  “So why did you scream OW?”  “I didn’t,” she replied.  Then, pointing to the beautiful bird in a tree beside the road, she insisted, “I said OWL.”  As you might guess, there was nothing special about Discovery Park’s (barn?) owl when compared to Queen Anne’s recent visitor.

Owls do fire imaginations.  The Discovery Park owl surely excited the girl on the bike and me too, but our owl continually thrills my granddaughter.  I am obliged, actually probably more pleased than obliged, to ride by the owl’s haunts every day to make sure he/she/they is ok.  Indeed, every day last week my granddaughter drew a different sketch of an owl during breaks from her arduous first grade school work at virtual Coe Elementary.

Ever since it arrived, large crowds of birders and just plain folks from around the city and probably the entire county have been spending whole days watching the owl apparently stay cool in the shadows of handy chimneys.  You can always tell the birders from the regular folks, for they watch through massive monocular telescopes and cameras whose huge lenses require tripods just to hold them up.  I took a picture with my cell phone.  As you can see in the top photo above, its poor quality tells you why you need massive gear if you want to photograph birds, even big furry ones like our owl.  My friend Elaine Chuang has been out every day documenting this incredible event and took the triptychs above.  More effusive than I, she recently wrote:  “When it comes to looking back on an extraordinary 2020, this will be the most heavenly of our blessings — memories of how we were graced by this Magnificent One.”

Walking the alleys and streets between 1st and 2nd Ave W and W Crockett and W McGraw on Monday afternoon (12/7/20) where I’ve been told she has been on Queen Anne since November 14, I couldn’t find snowy owl, but later a clutch of birders was observed near McClure.  Maybe the owl’s diurnal feedings exhausted the nearby food supply, and it had to roam farther for dinner.  Those owls eat rodents whole, you know!

In the end, I am going to have to accept the hard truth, that this snowy owl isn’t as special as I want it to be.  Yet in this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the visitation of the snowy owl between Thanksgiving and Christmas has made me happy.  So happy, it seems, that I wanted to record its passage with you and in the archives of the Queen Anne Historical Society.

An unknown artist is also capturing the owl’s visit on the alley off W. Boston between 1st and 2nd W.

Keep well,

Michael Herschensohn, President



Remember the Queen Anne Historical Society stays strong when you join us or renew your membership here.

This Week in Queen Anne History

On December 6, 1918 The Seattle Daily Times announced that the upcoming Queen Anne High School and Franklin High School football games scheduled for that day were called off as a precautionary measure to fight the spread of the Spanish Flu.  The final two championship playoff games scheduled for the weekend, Lincoln vs. Broadway and West Seattle vs. Ballard, were cancelled as well.

The order was issued by the Board of Education at the request of Dr. Ira Brown, Medical Inspector of Seattle Public Schools.  Brown said of the decision to effectively end the 1918-1919 high school football season,

 The schools are free from influenza and we want to keep them that way.  If the games were attended by only school boys and girls, there would be no danger, but under present conditions we deem the action a necessary precaution.

The influenza pandemic was first detected in Washington state during the first week of October, 1918 and closure of all Seattle schools, theaters and restaurants was announced on the front page of the October 5th edition of The Seattle Daily Times.  On November 3, statewide orders required surgical masks “entirely covering the nose and mouth” be worn in all public places where people came into close contact.  Seattle’s bans were lifted by mid-November as cases ebbed, but intermittent school closures continued with fluctuations in case numbers for the six months that the city battled the virus.  By the time it was over, the pandemic had claimed the lives of approximately 1,500 Seattleites.

1918 Queen Anne High School Grizzlies Football team.

Queen Anne High School Grizzlies football players pose for the 1918-1919 yearbook.  The football season was cut short by the influenza pandemic.

WHO IS LIANE? Our Embedded Street Names

Typo at W. Blaine & 7th W. The B has disappeared.

Try as I may, I haven’t found a good source explaining when or even why Seattle began marking intersections with metal letter street names embedded in concrete sidewalks.  It has been suggested that the practice developed before there were street names posted on telephone poles.  It has also been suggested that developers who platted our streets were required to insert the names in the sidewalks.  So much for urban myths!  On Queen Anne almost all the platting took place before the advent of concrete sidewalks.  Also, the consistent size and font across all of Queen Anne and elsewhere in the city suggests that even after we started having concrete sidewalks, it may not have been the developers who installed the names.  My guess is that once the wooden sidewalks began to rot, the city laid up sidewalks and had a store of those matching letters that it used at every intersection.

My guess is practically confirmed by what we know of the history of street paving.

According to A Narrative History of the Engineering Department, the first concrete pavement in Seattle was laid in 1919 (p. 105).  The word pavement apparently related to the roadway.  The earliest, and truth be told, only reference to concrete sidewalks that I’ve been able to locate in the Seattle Municipal Archives relates to a petition submitted on November 14, 1902 by August C. Anderson protesting a payment of $844.95 that he paid for the construction of a concrete sidewalk on both sides of Eastlake Avenue between Howell Street and Mercer Street, under Ordinance 7928 creating Local Improvement District 578 (SMA 990027 transcript).

UPDATE to all the guessing which it turns out was much closer to the truth than I imagined.  David Williams, the prolific author of articles and books about the geology, geography and history of Seattle including the 2017 Seattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City, knew all along.  In a  July 2015 post, David identify City Resolution 387, passed on October 20, 1902 as the reason for the embedded names.  It reads: 

A Resolution declaring that all concrete sidewalks laid in the City of Seattle shall have the names of the streets countersunk in plain letters at the street intersections, and instructing the Board of Public Works to provide for this being done in all contracts and permits for such sidewalks; also directing the Board of Public Works to procure samples of durable and suitable street signs, together with prices, and to transmit them to the City Council with a cost estimate.

Mr. Anderson would be shocked to see what happened to the east side of the street around 1962 when I-5 ploughed through the neighborhood, but his petition gives a vague sense of when the city gave up wooden sidewalks for the more durable concrete ones and when it may have begun insisting on the metal names at intersections.

H. Ambrose Kiehl took this 1895 photo (UW Special Collections) of his family’s house on Republican St. when he worked as the Army’s photographer at Fort Lawton and before the family moved up the hill to Fifth W. and W. Galer.  Note the wooden sidewalks and unpaved surface of the roadway.

Recently, Julia Herschensohn photographed some of the interesting metal names she’s located on her morning walks around the hill.  The misspellings such as Liane St. above make me chortle, so do Julia’s shoes.

Epler Place now W. Olympic Place and 7th Ave W.










Here is one set of embedded letters at the intersection of Galer and Second W. that makes it a real stumper.

Missing teeth at Galer and Second N.

Adding an H and an I to the beginning of the first word and a D at the end along with a C to make ‘place,’ transforms this mysterious set of letters into HIGHLAND PLACE. It is a street name that has changed!

The metal street names embedded at all the intersections on the 2018 Mercer Street rebuild show the city and its traffic engineers tipping their hats to a Seattle tradition.  It may be that the huge size of these newer street names reflects an aging population, a decline in visual acuity in the general population or the traffic engineers’ desire to tease us with a font size that reflects the massiveness of the roadway they’ve built in our 21st century automobile age.   In any case, there is no need to tell you where I took this photograph.


It would be lovely to learn for sure how, when and why the city started identifying streets in this delightful way.  In the meantime, here are the letters which got me interested in this problem.  They are on my street corner and remain my favorites.

Photo: M. Herschensohn
Letters at First Ave N and Howe