Celebrating CHS Re:Take at Capitol Hill Library

Seasons turn at Volunteer Park, 1912 and 2011

Stop by the Capitol Hill library this Thursday from 6:30pm-7:30pm to hear me talk more about the images and stories captured in our year of CHS Re:Take. A preview is below.

It’s been exactly a year since the first Re:Take ran on CHS. The idea behind Re:Take is deceptively simple: take an old photo, blend it into the current scene, and write about the history of the spot.

Together the seventeen articles reveal one truly astonishing thing: very little has been written about the earliest days on Capitol Hill.

Relying mostly on digital resources, the series blazed new ground on streetcars, regrades, auto row, the gold rush, and esoteric family histories.


At Mercer and Summit, the most recent installment laid out the story of Seattle’s 1906 streetcar plan (#17, c1910, 9/30/2012), pivoting on its impact on the Summit neighborhood with the creation of the now-47 Metro line. This article had a bonus feature: an endless series of 2012 presidential election memes.

James Street, 1891 and 2012

The story of the Broadway’s first streetcar line was perhaps the series’ tour de force, seen at James and Broadway (#13, 1891, May 18, 2012). Besides digressing into the life of a man born in 19th-century Vietnam, the article also debunked the origin story for the name of Beacon Hill.


Another candidate for the best in the series explained why those houses are on top of hills on Melrose and Pike (#9, 1909, 2/26/2012). It described the Pine Street regrade by tying together references from old topographic maps, birding magazines, state Congress minutes, and beautiful old engineering diagrams. This article was already in the works, but became a response to conversation in the comments of Re:Take #8.

At 12th and Union, the topic of forgotten regrades was broached with a description of the 12th Avenue regrade (#7, 1920, 1/29/2012). Seattle engineer R. H. Thomson’s plan to build a tunnel from downtown drew in the series’ highest readership.

Auto Row

Lower Pike, 1921 and 2012

The social network of auto row was a provocative claim that there was more going on than just neighborhood commerce at Pike and Melrose (#6, 1921, 1/13/2012).

A guided tour of one of our historic auto row buildings led to the story of an almost-built apartment tower at Pike and Belmont (#8, 1909, 2/12/2012).

Broadway’s first car dealership – and their experiment in electric vehicles seen at Summit and Seneca Thomas – was the frame for a conversation on the meaning of life (#14, 1913, 7/4/2012) .

Gold Rush

The series debuted with a couplet of loves stories (#1, 1934, 10/23/2011). A lucky inquiry to the Alaska State Library produced the autobiography of a one-time Capitol Hill resident who was a two-time Gold Rusher – both the Yukon and Nome. This document was just one of many primary sources linked to from the article, a feature which was dropped after the debut.

U.S. Assay Office, 1905 and 2011

First Hill’s U.S. Assay Office, which purchased and smelted gold, provided an opportunity to chastise other historians (#4, 1905, 12/4/2011). How could everyone screw up something so simple as the date the building was built?

Volunteer Park was the site of our giving of thanks (#3, 1912, 11/24/2011). Thanks to William Seward for buying Alaska, and thanks to all of the Capitol Hill pioneers for spending gold lavishly.

Two gold rush anecdotes anchored the love story of a gifted young woman at Virginia and Minor (#15, 1910, 7/22/2012).

Esoteric Family Histories

The story of a man, his death, and his dream of being reborn on Mars was told at John and Broadway (#2, 1899, 11/6/2011).

The misplaced photographs of a world traveler who tried to leave her life to her family in photo albums found their way to 12th and Union (#5, 1957, 12/23/2011).

Second Hill from B’way Silver Cloud, 1905 and 2012

The pre-regrade neighborhood viewed from Broadway and Spring provided the opportunity to explore the lives of a few people who lived in the damp depression at Division Street, 12th and Union (#10, 1905, 3/11/2012).

The first presidential candidate to visit Capitol Hill was just one of the many characters pulled into family stories of the Carroll, the girls and th
e dirt
at Thomas and Bellevue (#11, 1909, 4/7/2012).

The tale of a newly-weds moving to John and Summit served as second part in the Summit Line saga (#16, 1937, 8/11/2012).

Breaking the Mold

In a desperate attempt to make a new case for the Bauhaus block, one installment of Re:Take ditched the historic photo. Instead it focused on statistics to show that the Bauhaus block is special and should be saved (#12, 4/24/2012).

The Future

We’re looking forward to another full year of forgotten stories in Re:Takes for your enjoyment.

Next up is the conclusion of the Summit Line saga. Then who knows what! We’ve got photos of Victorians, the former location of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, the home of an architect-soldier-artist, and so many other tales to pluck from Capitol Hill’s past.

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9 thoughts on “Celebrating CHS Re:Take at Capitol Hill Library

  1. I find these CHS-Retake photographs fascinating- a glimpse in to the Seattle my great-great Aunt, Harriet Smith grew up in.

    Of possible interest to Seattle historians, amateur and professional: My charismatic and worldly great-great-aunt, Harriet Smith or “Aunt Hat” as we knew her, was the daughter of one of Seattle’s first doctors. The family’s home, located at 13th & Mercer still stands (tho progress has been less kind to it than other mansions closer to Volunteer Park). She spent several years in China during the 20’s as a nurse through the “Yale in China” program. A few years ago, my folks discovered a dusty box full of her letters home, a nearly-lost-treasure, and have compiled them in a book.

    While the letters are a document of her experiences abroad, local dwellers may find her story (and quintessentially “Seattle” quirky personality) compelling: It’s called “Healing Romance and Revolution” by Carolyn and Dennis Buckmaster:


  2. Robert I have professed my love for you before. These posts are amazing and so integral to all the discussions about how our landscape continues to change today. Every time I see these photos I am reminded of our history of urban revitalization and renewal – I still can’t believe we took trolleys out then only to put some back now. Sometimes I imagine concerned neighbors meeting in pike pine years ago – upset that “rooming house” buildings were invading the neighborhood. Now today we adore those old brick buildings and auto row warehouses. I wish we could all know and learn more about this history. Thanks for making it so accessible.

  3. Harriet Smith, mentioned in an earlier email, was an exceptional resident of Capital Hill, graduate of Broadway High School and idealistic activist. Her early adult years were highlighted by her involvement in the I.W.W. (International Workers of the World aka the “Wobblies”) a radical, socialist, anarchist union organization, famously known for the Everett Massacre of Sunday, November 5, 1916. She was very active in reform movements of various types. No doubt, Harriet was a strong advocate for womens’ rights. Being naturally charismatic she was a natural leader of men and women.

    Harriet was also involved with the Reverend Sydney Dix Strong and his daughter Anna Louise Strong, both very radical activist.

    These involvements were instrumental in Harriets’ “decision” to leave Capital Hill and Seattle for Changsha China to give the family name a rest. Harriet later returned to her family home to finish her education, later becoming Superintendent of Nursing at Harbor View and a much admired Assistant Professor at the University of Washington School of Nursing.

    Harriet was a longtime, visible resident and community leader on Capital Hill including being a leader in the Pilgrim Congregational Church on Broadway.

    Harriet is a bit of an unsung heroine who should be wider known to Capital Hill and Seattle.