Driving Seattle Home -- As Long As You're On Holiday, Why Not Explore Some Historic Places In Your Own Back Yard

This weekend seemed appropriate for another of our periodic treks through this town's history. The kids are home on vacation, maybe you've got visiting out-of-town relatives. By now, everybody should be getting on each others' nerves.

So why not pack them up and spend a few hours learning about your town? I promise you'll discover at least three interesting things. How many other stories come with such a guarantee?

Do you know where the oldest existing structure in Seattle is? Driving by it, you'd never know.

Do you know which major arterial was actually supposed to be a canal from Elliott Bay to Lake Washington, and be big enough for a battleship to go through?

How about the location of one of Seattle's secret parks, which has one of the most scenic vistas around?

As I've said in previous introductions to our historical strolls, nowadays it's easy to become isolated. We go to work, go home, watch a video, order a pizza. Soon we don't have connection to much of anything.

But towns do have hearts and souls, and it's not very hard to find them. When you know something about your town, it gives you a sense of identity.

Tear this page out. Save it for that afternoon when you're just sitting around. Pack a few sandwiches; we'll stop in plenty of places for a picnic.

Our previous outings were walking strolls. This time we're taking a car.

The trip can be done in a little over an hour. But I'd suggest taking your time.

As always, most of the information and photos here were provided by the historian Paul Dorpat, who has devoted his life to chronicling Seattle. His "Now & Then" feature runs in this newspaper's Pacific magazine, and he has a series of books by the same name. Without Paul's unselfish help, I couldn't put together these historical tours.

You can begin the tour anywhere on the route. I'd suggest, however, starting at Alki Point and ending at Leschi Park.

1. Seattle's oldest surviving structure, 3045 64th Ave. S.W. Carole and Wes Pearson said they didn't mind having their address published. It's hard to believe that their modest, brown shingle home has this distinction. It has no commemorating plaque, no special historical designation.

But repairmen who've had to access the 3-foot crawl space beneath the main floor certainly have been startled. What they find are timbers thick enough to support a mansion.

This is the home's history as pieced by Dorpat: It used to be owned by Seattle pioneer Doc Maynard, who probably had it built in the 1860s. Maynard had bought property on Alki Point in part to escape the resentment of white settlers in Seattle.

Maynard was an Indian agent, a federally appointed position in which he managed Indian affairs. Some white settlers accused Maynard of having too much sympathy for the natives - the natives would travel for miles to seek his medical help.

In the 1930s, the home and other Alki property came into the possession of Ivar Haglund, a more recent Seattle personality. Ivar didn't make his money early on by selling clams. His income came from collecting rent.

2. The Denny Party's log cabin, southwest corner of Alki Avenue Southwest and 63rd Avenue Southwest. A two-story apartment house is on the site now, but let's go back 142 years, to a rainy dawn on Nov. 13, 1851. Across the street is a monument commemorating the Denny Party landing.

Ten adults and 12 children made their way to shore from the boat Exact. Included were such later-to-be-famous local names as the Dennys and Borens. The white settlement of Seattle had begun. It was a rough beginning.

Waiting for them was a roofless log cabin. One of the women who stayed on the Exact later remembered that rainy day: ". . . when the women got into the rowboat to go ashore they were crying every one of 'em. . . . The last glimpse I had of them was the women standing under the trees with their wet sun bonnets all lopping down over their faces and their aprons to their eyes."

Fifty years later this site changed. Using driftwood from the beach, an imposing summer resort called The Stockade was built. It got its name because the timber structure looked like a fort.

Seattleites would be ferried there (no bridge back then to West Seattle) for hiking, boating, riding, clam digging and eating the resort's famous chicken dinners. Alki Beach would advertise itself as "the haven of the Sunday crowds." The resort finally closed during the Great Depression, eventually to be replaced by an apartment house.

3. Alki Beach Park. Have you ever seen as many warning signs as along this stretch? No amplified sounds, no excessive noise, no dogs on the beach, no boats of any kind near shore. Plus, remember, at any time you might be subject "to enforcement of anti-cruising ordinance." That's how it goes when you have a popular spot.

Seattleites have always flocked to Alki Beach. At the turn of the century, it would be compared with the New Jersey resort of Long Branch, the sandy escape for New Yorkers.

A publication called "Seattle Newsletter" described the scene nine decades ago: " . . . refreshment houses, bath houses, dime side shows, merry-go-rounds, ice cream stands and sandwich counters . . . the haven of the Sunday crowds . . ."

At the turn of the century, Seattleites set up tents and camped along the three miles of beach, 2,000 of them, by one estimate, during the summer of 1902. There were no warning signs to greet them, though.

4. Luna Park, at the tip of the Duwamish Head, across the street from an apartment house at 1150 Alki Ave. S.W. In 1907, an amusement park like one Seattle has never seen since was completed on the tide flats here. Today, at low tide you can see the stubby pilings that supported the park.

From downtown Seattle, thousands of lights from Luna Park rides beckoned. There was the Chute-the-Chutes Water Slide, the Figure Eight Roller Coaster, the Giant Swing, the Canal of Venice.

There was also trouble. The park featured the "longest bar in the bay," and as a Seattle Post-Intelligencer headline explained, "Many Drunken Girls and Boys at Luna Park." There were charges that teenage girls were hanging out with cigarette-smoking, beer-drinking "older, more dissipated patrons." So you see, parents, you can't blame it all on heavy metal music.

It certainly didn't help that Luna Park's manager was implicated in a corporation that allegedly wanted to build a brothel. In 1913, six exciting years after it was built, the fun was over for "Sin City."

The only attraction left open was the Natatorium, a salt-water bath house. In 1931 an arsonist torched it, and the last of Luna Park was gone.

5. Seacrest Park. Stop by the cafe here, where Dave Nelson, the manager, has old maps of the area decorating the walls. For $5, he'll also rent you a salmon rod. At certain times of the year, you can catch salmon right off the dock.

If you ask, Nelson will point out the pilings that used to be the ferry dock. That's how Seattleites used to get here, and why maps show a "Ferry Avenue" leading to the top of the hill.

From this location, Nelson can also show what used to be West Seattle's working waterfront, with businesses that built and repaired ships, processed fish and milled grain.

6. The West Seattle bridge. You could say West Seattle was one of Seattle's original bedroom communities. In 1888, a ferry ride across Elliott Bay took as few as eight minutes.

West Seattleites, however, wanted a bridge they could use anytime. A story in a 1930 issue of the West Seattle Herald explained the problem quite well:

". . . a young man acquired an extreme fondness for a certain young lady living in West Seattle. . . . The young man often overstayed the last ferry and (then) his only recourse was to walk many weary miles around the old wagon road through South Park to Beacon Hill."

Beginning in 1890, it took a half-dozen tries to get to the current massive bridge. Somehow there were always problems, whether it was a ship plowing into the bridge or something else.

In the accompanying picture, you see a 1910 effort, a bridge that pivoted on a central turntable to allow boat traffic on the waterway.

Pipes along either side of the bridge carried water to West Seattle. When the bridge pivoted, you had better not be in the middle of a shower, because your water supply would be shut off. Obviously, this effort needed improving.

7. The Impossible Canal. Driving east on South Columbian Way, as it goes up from I-5, you'll pass through an unrequited dream. In 1895, Eugene Semple, an ex-governor of Washington, dreamed of cutting a canal right through Beacon Hill and connecting Elliott Bay with Lake Washington.

He wanted a canal big enough to "admit a great warship into Lake Washington." He would not be dissuaded by his detractors.

Semple tried mightily to conquer Beacon Hill. He had workmen attack it with 4-inch-thick jets of water that reached 300 feet into the air. A newspaper story said the jets turned the hillside into "mud, sand and gravel crumbling away like ashes before a cyclone."

Semple wanted to cover the tide flats below with dirt from the hillside above. A portion of Beacon Hill, however, started caving in.

Five years after beginning his project, Semple was forced to quit. What's left is that drive up on South Columbian Way.

8. Dr. Jose P. Rizal Park, one of Seattle's secrets, provides a magnificent view from Beacon Hill. A sculpture in the park donated by the local Filipino-American explains who Rizal was. He died in 1896 and was a "Filipino patriot, national hero, martyr and genius."

The park is on South Charles Street by the Pacific Medical Center, which used to be known as the U.S. Public Health Hospital. It has an amphitheater, children's play area, picnic grounds and a panoramic view of the downtown skyscrapers, the bay and West Seattle.

From here you can compare the 1882 view from Beacon Hill accompanying this story with the changes 110 years later.

The photo shows a city in its infancy. In 1882, Seattle's population was about 3,500. It had only recently overtaken Walla Walla to become the largest town in the territory. Back then, King County recorded 54 marriages a year; that's two days' worth of marriages in 1993.

9. Before Pill Hill, there were the mansions of First Hill homes. The antiseptic buildings that make up the medical facilities here used to be the first neighborhood of Seattle's wealthy.

The mansion in the accompanying photo was at James and Minor. There was plenty of room back in the 1880s. The historical photo shows the James Campbell residence, a big home on a big lot. This is one of the neighborhood's smaller residences. James Campbell made his money running a hardware store, selling miner's outfits and anvils.

The First Hill Medical Building now sits on the lot. It's just another drab building, but it's worth stopping in. The hallways of the building are lined with historical First Hill photos and captions supplied by Paul Dorpat.

10. High society tennis, Madison and Minor. On what is now the site of a McDonald's, the wealthy used to dress up and socialize at the Olympic Tennis Club in the 1890s.

A newspaper story from July 25, 1895, described the people at an annual tennis tournament: "The crowd, which included a number of ladies and gentlemen from Tacoma and Victoria, was of the right sort, and the number of pretty girls in summer costumes did much to stimulate the spirit with which the matches were played."

In 1900 the mansion you see just behind the tennis court became - and still is - the quarters of the University Club at 1004 Boren St. A Seattle Times story described the club's members this way: ". . . you are suspected of certain things - of being a good bridge player, an excellent host, an interesting sort of person, a man of position and substance and achievement." That's why you're thinking of joining the Bellevue Athletic Club, isn't it?

11. The original bicycle craze congregated at bike paths where East Terrace Street meets 36th Avenue. There is a certain haughtiness to hard-core present-day bicyclists, as if only they somehow are privy to special insights. Maybe that's why they think nothing of running down mere pedestrians.

The bicycle craze at the turn of the century was much more civilized. The town really did go nuts over bikes. Many of the narrow, windy roads going down to Lake Washington Boulevard were originally bike trails.

To find where this photo was taken, drive east on Yesler, turn north on 32nd, then east on East Terrace. Do expect to lose your way.

In "Bicycling in Seattle, 1879-1904," Frank Cameron writes that more than 100 brands of bikes were sold in Seattle back then. On a summer day, a rider had a lot of possibilities.

"Riders could cross Lake Washington on one of the boats and ride to Snoqualmie Falls. . . . A favorite ride was to Kent for dinner," Cameron wrote. "The riders would send a telegram from the train station at Orillia or Black River to the Kent Hotel to order dinner so it was ready when they arrived."

Now, THAT'S bicycling.

12. The Leschi ferry to Bellevue at Leschi Park, named after the Nisqually tribal leader. In 1913, before anyone had even fantasized about a floating bridge, you took the Leschi auto ferry to the Eastside and the cow town of Bellevue. The run lasted for 27 years until the bridge opened in 1940.

You got to Leschi Park on a roller-coaster cable-car ride from Pioneer Square along Yesler Way. The final section was a thrilling 200-foot-plus descent on an exposed ramp to the power house.

Besides ferry riders, the cable cars also brought visitors to Leschi. Besides the natural beauty of the lake, there was another attraction: In 1890, a mammoth casino was constructed here to be run "strictly as a first class resort."

For the July 4th celebration in 1908, a crowd of 40,000 came to Leschi. You local historians - any ideas as to what happened to this town's willingness to cut loose?

13. The Jackson Street cable car trestle, Frink Park. It seems appropriate to end our tour with No. 13, a bad luck site.

The return cable car trip from Leschi Park wasn't along Yesler, but Jackson Street. If you stand in Frink Park, and look up where Jackson Street would come down, you visualize the anxiety felt by riders on that cable car. "Scared out of their wits" might be a more appropriate description.

They were pulled up a trestle that, at its highest point, was 140 feet above ground. The trestle was built with 350,000 board feet of crisscrossed lumber. During high winds from the lake, the trestle literally shook.

On Aug. 17, 1890, a strong gale knocked a car on the trestle from its tracks. The car remained on the trestle and the passengers scrambled to safety. Then the car bounced its way down the trestle incline, only to be stopped by loose ties that were frantically thrown across the tracks. Within a year, the trestle was abandoned.

And that's the end of today's tour.

If you have any comments or suggestions, write to me at P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. Happy holidays.

Paul Dorpat's two-hour videotape on Seattle's early history, "Seattle Chronicle," is available for $29.95 from Tartu Publications, P.O. Box 85208, Seattle, WA 98145.