About Robert Ketcherside

Rob Ketcherside is co-founder of Capitol Hill Historical Society, http://capitolhillpast.com. He has a book, Lost Seattle, available at the library and the Elliott Bay Book Co.

CHS Re:Take Classic | The very first Broadway streetcar

This CHS Re:Take Classic first ran in May 2012.

Sherlock Holmes says, “The wheel turns; nothing is ever new.” Evidence number one: the First Hill streetcar. Its shiny, new set of wheels will soon turn again on the buried bones of the oldest streetcar on Capitol Hill.

If you’re well schooled on Capitol Hill history, you know these origin stories: David Denny began selling and leasing John Nagle‘s property along Broadway in 1880, and James Moore developed the Capitol Hill area near Volunteer Park after 1900. We’re going to talk about the period in between, a piece of early streetcar history that has not been chronicled.

A Ridge Too Far
You may remember our recent article about the Pine Street regrade. Pine Street was part of a “series of radiating regrades [which] carved down and filled in Seattle’s topography.” We all know that the Jackson and Dearborn regrades cut First Hill away from Beacon Hill, and that the Pike, Pine and Olive regrades made some space between First Hill and Capitol Hill. On the back side, the 12th Avenue regrade smoothed out the connection between First Hill and Second Hill (read the 12th Ave Re:Take). Call it 1901 to 1911.

Before all of that civil engineering madness Seattle was Pioneer Square, surrounded by mudflats to the south, a rise culminating in Denny Hill to the north, and a ridge running from Brooklyn (University Bridge) all the way south to Orilla (I-5/405 interchange). Some smart landowners who had visited San Francisco decided to put a cable car up and over First Hill and Second Hill, and down the back side to Lake Washington — the Lake Washington cable car on Yesler Way. 1887. Continue reading

Capitol Hill Historical Society | The mind boggling array of stairs and corridors connecting history at TOPS K-8

1905 Seward building in red, 1895 in b&w on the right (Paul Dorpat photo colorized by 7 year old)

Part 1: Jennie Lombard, Eastlake’s first principal
Part 2: 

TOPS is a K-8 school with an extensive history dating to the Klondike Gold Rush era. I recently met with a group of 1st to 3rd graders to share what I knew about Jennie Lombard, the very first principal of the first school at TOPS, and other details from the school’s history.

After we made collages, I took them on a tour of the many different parts of Eastlake’s K-8 school.

The oldest piece of TOPS opened in 1895 as the Denny-Fuhrman School and is on the state historic register. It was later expanded and moved, then moved again, then went through a few changes in use and is now the cafeteria. Continue reading

Capitol Hill Historical Society | Rentals to Radiators — Part 1: Weird streets of UMadBro


This is the start of a history of 953 E Union, that rundown building at Union and Broadway Court destined for demolition.

It is easy to miss that old house. Its walls, roof, doors, and windows are all painted in a particularly unnoticeable black. If not for the simple, unexpressive sign hanging outside none of us would know it held Complete Automotive Detail for many years.

It is much older than the city thinks, though: 1900 rather than 1918. A close look at its history reveals a surprising view into early settlement, residential development, and the rise and staying power of Auto Row.

In Part 1 we’ll look at how the surrounding streets came to be. Until recently, it’s an area no one needed to talk about for decades, surrounded by Union, Madison, and Broadway. Let’s call it UMadBro. Continue reading

Capitol Hill Historical Society | Jennie Lombard, Eastlake’s first principal

I recently had the opportunity to lead a learning activity at TOPS K-8. The school is located at Boylston and Roanoke — some would call that Eastlake, others might say it’s on the side of Capitol Hill. Originally opened as Denny-Fuhrman School, it was renamed to Seward in the early 1900s and is today called The Option Program at Seward and is better known as TOPS K-8.

I named the session “Old School TOPS.” A handful of 1st to 3rd graders joined me to learn about the school’s history, make art projects with old photos, and explore the different sections of the school.

To serve or to marry

At the beginning of the event, I shared information with the students about the first school’s first principal, Jennie Lombard. Continue reading

Capitol Hill Historical Society | 13th and Jefferson Park – Part 2: The father of Seattle Baseball

D. E. Dugdale, 1902 (David Eskenazi collection, used with permission)

Part 1Opening Day 1895

Part 2: The father of Seattle Baseball — The athletic field at 13th and Jefferson was the first home of the Father of Seattle Baseball, D. E. Dugdale. Dugdale is famous for creating a team in 1901 that eventually spawned the Milwaukee Brewers and the Seattle Mariners. But that was later, after YMCA Park.

In March 1898 D. E. “Eddie” Dugdale entered the Seattle baseball scene as a player, coach and owner of a professional team in the new Pacific Northwest League named the Klondikers. They took their name from the gold rush that started late the previous year when a ton of gold arrived on the steamer Portland in Seattle. The first game was in May in front of an audience of 425. Dugdale sold out his interest in July after the team lost too much money. Without him the team went on to win the pennant for that league as well as another for inter-league championship against California League teams. Dugdale represented PNL in a proposed merger with California, which fell through. Continue reading

Capitol Hill Historical Society | The Pink Dress from Boylston and Pine

Recently a story of kindness on Capitol Hill emerged from America’s dark history of racist mass incarceration. Since February of last year, the curated history project 50 Objects has revealed stories of Japanese Americans illegally sent to desert camps. The 12th installment on closer inspection ties back to a lost part of our neighborhood.

Pink Dress

In December, 50 Objects ran an emotional story called Pink Dress. An autobiographical tale by Marge Nitta, it described a precious, embroidered dress given to her by a family friend during their imprisonment.

The friend had not yet met Marge. Marge’s mother was pregnant when America’s President, scared of immigrants and guided by racism, issued an executive order for the U.S. Army to imprison all West Coast ethnic Japanese.
Continue reading

Capitol Hill Historical Society | American Sutra book launch at Elliott Bay and remembering the Koba family of Capitol Hill

Normally the story of the period of illegal incarceration of Japanese Americans is told as if they were homogeneous and of one voice. In fact, beyond obvious differences like living in the country or the city, or being American citizens or not, there were other discreet groups within the population of ethnic Japanese in America. An event this week at Elliott Bay Book Co. is a reminder of this diversity and one Capitol Hill family and its apartment building’s place in this history.

On Thursday, February 14 Elliott Bay is hosting a book launch event for Duncan Ryūken Williams’s book American Sutra. It’s the history of Japanese American Buddhists during World War Two.

Williams tells us that the largest group — and the least understood by other Americans — was the Buddhists. The racial discrimination we’re familiar with was not the whole story. It was exacerbated by religious discrimination as well. Buddhists were the focus of early FBI raids, their leaders were subject to separate imprisonment, and their religious activity was often suppressed. Continue reading

Capitol Hill Historical Society | 13th and Jefferson Park – Part 1: Opening Day 1895

YMCA Baseball Field, ca 1902 (MOHAI 2002_3_1644)

Below is a present day view of Championship Field, the soccer field for Seattle University. We’re looking northwest from near the corner of 14th and Jefferson.

Seattle University Championship field, looking northwest from the southeast corner. Former location of YMCA Park (Rob Ketcherside)

In September 1895, a new athletic field opened here in the two big blocks bound by Cherry, Jefferson, 12th and 14th. At the time Capitol Hill didn’t exist; James Moore platted Capitol Hill in 1901. But there were plenty of people living near the Broadway streetcar operated by Union Trunk Line (UTL). Starting in 1890 they could transfer at Madison Street to the cable car and head out to a new baseball ground on Lake Washington.

This new field in 1895 meant no transfer, though. The Broadway streetcar started at UTL’s James Street Powerhouse on Broadway, making the trip to sports entertainment for Broadway residents just as close as people living downtown. The powerhouse pulled a cablecar from downtown and fed electricity to streetcars to Madrona, Mount Baker, and Beacon Hill. The ballpark was known as YMCA Park and later Athletic Park, and its entrance was at 13th and Jefferson. Continue reading

CHS Re:Take | In a message home to E Union, a memorial of war in the Pacific

Geisha going out, 1906

To H. S. Gullixson, Esq in Seattle from “R. F.” in Yokohama, Japan. 1906.

Earlier this month, CHS reported that the Knights of Columbus, Seattle Council 676 is preparing to sell its 106-year-old masonry clubhouse at the corner of Harvard and Union. Part of that property was remembered in this classic CHS Re:Take from the archives inspired by a postcard historian Robert Ketcherside found documenting the edges a personal tale that predates the old Knights hall and shines light on Seattle’s connection to a global conflict many of us know little about.

The postcard may seem a benign note of thanks on a charming Japanese street scene. On closer inspection it captures global trade, journalistic pursuit of truth, and the sharing of ideas; and also has ties with racism, death, war, and exploitation of immigrants. Here’s a Memorial Day revisit to the history.

The postcard
It was just a simple postcard.

708 E Union today is part of the parking lot next to the Knights of Columbus Hall. The card was postmarked 1906 in Seattle and Yokohama, Japan. Continue reading

Capitol Hill Historical Society | Stepping on Republican stairs, the most forlorn landmark in Seattle

Republican Steps (Photo Rob Ketcherside)

The stairs on East Republican Street between Melrose and Bellevue may be both the most overlooked stairway and the most forlorn landmark in Seattle.

The stairs were landmarked in 1979, just after Seattle’s preservation ordinance went into effect. The landmark designation report issued at the time didn’t pinpoint its date of construction, vaguely stating that it was “…one of the finest… produced by the City Engineering Design Staff during the first two decades of the twentieth century.” Continue reading