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.