A look back at old Seattle in a loving photo book

"Vanishing Seattle" by Clark Humphrey, Arcadia Publishing, 128 pp., $19.99

We know a place in part by how well we remember it. "Vanishing Seattle," by Clark Humphrey, contributes to Seattle's collective memory of itself with an array of smartly assembled images from the city's more "downscale past," depicting a period before Seattle became a hub of high-end design and economic globalization.

Humphrey focuses his retrospective predominantly on mid- to late 20th-century Seattle. This is the past of living memory. It's a past that in 2006, like an old bowling shirt, carries a certain retro cachet and hipster appeal, as Humphrey seems to recognize.

In "Vanishing Seattle," Humphrey's emphasis is on the stuff of day-to-day life, from the corner Ma-&-Pa store and neighborhood tavern to Seattle's many locally made products and popular media personalities. This is the stuff people grew up with, and often look back on most fondly.

Some of the Seattle icons included here are still revered by many Seattleites, such as the streamlined (now neglected) Kalakala ferry and ill-fated Kingdome. Others are pure kitsch, such as Greenwood's Leilani (Bowling) Lanes and North Seattle's Playland Amusement Park. Most of the Seattle icons presented in "Vanishing Seattle" have passed the point of vanishing and are long gone — along with the mostly working-class, distinctly local kind of life associated with them.

From the first image, a street-level view of the Westlake and Fourth Avenues juncture downtown, circa 1968, it becomes apparent just how local life once was in Seattle. From the Frederick & Nelson department store to the Pay 'n Save drugstores, the places where we shopped were locally owned.

Likewise, the food we ate (a Sunny Jim PB&J with a glass of Vitamilk milk) and the beverages we drank (Rainier Beer and winemaster Grenache-Rosé) were locally produced. And we dined at restaurants made famous by local personalities such as Ivar Haglund, Ruby Chow and Stuart Anderson. The irony, of course, is that being so locally oriented smacked of a provincialism that the city persistently sought to shake from the 1940s on through the '90s.

In opening "Vanishing Seattle," there's no avoiding a jaunt down memory lane. To his credit, though, Humphrey never indulges in nostalgia. A well-researched note detailing the background and present circumstances of its subject accompanies each image.

Who knew the Frye Art Museum, one of the city's true treasures, was founded through the estate of Charles Frye, who produced Frye's Prize Lunchmeat, a Spam-like substance in a can? Humphrey also brings to bear the corny brand of humor he finds so endemic to Seattle. "There was a time," he notes, "when downtown Seattle still had Penney's and didn't have penne."

"Vanishing Seattle" is as inclusive as its 128 pages will allow. Humphrey goes from First Avenue sleaze to Capitol Hill synagogues, from the Frederick & Nelson Santa to sportscaster Wayne Cody.

Yet, in the end, while it offers easy perusing, the volume can cover only so much. Readers will invariably identify their own lost Seattle icons that should have been included. Perhaps, for example, the original Turf Restaurant on Third Avenue or the Teamster Hall on Denny Way.

Humphrey, editor of the neighborhood monthly Belltown Messenger and author of "Loser: The Real Seattle Music Story," culled many of the entries in "Vanishing Seattle" from reader suggestions off his blog, MISCmedia.com. The volume is the latest installment in Arcadia Publishing's ubiquitous Images of America series, which has become America's unofficial scrapbook, documenting small towns and cities throughout the country. Seattle already claims several volumes in the series, including "Maritime Seattle" and "Hockey in Seattle."

Indeed, "Vanishing Seattle" is a worthy complement to the "Seattle Then and Now" photo-history books by Paul Dorpat and Jim Collins. This is vintage Seattle at its best. Seattle old-timers and newbies alike will enjoy thumbing through its pages.

And while Humphrey never pines for days gone by, "Vanishing Seattle" makes one wonder about the effect on Seattle heritage, déclassé as it may be, when the city undertakes such projects as razing its circa-1960 public library and replacing it with a memory-less, albeit spectacular, Rem Koolhaas structure. Fortunately, the book also reminds us to cherish what remains.

Peter Donahue is the author of the novel "Madison House," set in Seattle, and co-editor of "Reading Seattle: The City in Prose." His reviews of vintage Northwest literature appear regularly in Columbia: The Magazine of Northwest History.

Ronnie Pierce and Elaine Bonow collection The Vault, below, run by jazz musician Ronnie Pierce from 1962 to 1976, was an alcohol-free live music club downtown. Go-go dancers joined the scene from 1966 to 1968.
The Sunny Jim peanut-butter empire began when Germanus Wilhelm Firnstahl bought a peanut roaster in 1921 and began selling peanut butter at Pike Place Market. (SEATTLE PUBLIC LIBRARY)
In the 1932 photo below, still-unfinished sections of the Denny Regrade are in the distance. The Orpheum stood on the current site of the south tower of the Westin Hotel. (SEATTLE MUNICIPAL ARCHIVES)
Above, a 1970s ad for Rainier beer featuring "the wild Rainiers." (SEATTLE PUBLIC LIBRARY)
A 1980s Frederick & Nelson advertisement. The historic department store, founded in 1890, closed in 1992. (JULIE ALBRIGHT COLLECTION)
Greenwood's Leilani Lanes opened in 1961 at the peak of tiki-culture mania. It closed this year. (COURTESY OF CLARK HUMPHREY)