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. His rephotography and history column Re:Take appears here monthly.

Capitol Hill Historical Society | The grocery revolution reaches Broadway

Seattle’s first self-service grocery chain, Groceteria, opened its Broadway store in the Summer of 1916 at 233 Broadway E, just south of Thomas. It served the neighborhood along with Capitol Hill and Renton Hill stores for a decade before its surprising collapse.

Listen to Rob Ketcherside’s interview with NPR 88.5 KNKX about Seattle’s Groceteria stores and the tragedy of Alvin Monson, from Saturday January 6. It repeats on air Monday January 8 at 7 PM.

It started with retail innovation: Prior to the 1930s creation of supermarkets, food in America was sold at specialty stores focused on individual product types: green grocer (fruits and vegetables), fish monger, butcher, baker, and grocer for example. They were clustered in neighborhood business districts and shared space in public markets. Contrary to the name, only two of the dozen-odd public markets in downtown Seattle were publicly owned. But they all guaranteed one-stop shopping and easy access to streetcar lines. If a Seattleite couldn’t find what they needed near home, they could certainly get it downtown.

After the onset of World War One in mid-1914, inflation set in worldwide. This included a rise in the price of canned and packaged foods that were sold at grocery stores. Grocers immediately felt strain on their service-rich business model. Most stores offered purchase on credit, delivery by horse and buggy and ordering by telephone. Notably “cash groceries” offered no-frills purchases. The standard shopping experience was like a deli: shoppers asked for items at a counter and it was slowly filled from the back while they interacted with one of the many clerks. Stores filled their shelves with piecemeal deliveries by distributors and layers of middlemen.

Within a few years, self-service shopping at chain grocery stores upset the industry. If you know anything about self-service grocery history, then you believe that Piggly Wiggly started it all in Tennessee in late 1916. The Smithsonian believes that. Wikipedia believes that. But it’s wrong. Continue reading

Capitol Hill Historical Society | E Pine’s Colman Automotive on the National Register

Photo by Joe Mabel (Wikimedia)

Colman Automotive in 2014 (Photo by Joe Mabel / Wikimeda)

The Colman Automotive Building entered the National Parks Service’s National Register of Historic Places very recently — in 2013. It is not currently a City of Seattle Landmark, but the national listing is good enough for it to make our Landmarks Profile roundup.

The two-story commercial building covers the short block between Bellevue Ave and Crawford Place on the south side of Pine Street. It was lovingly restored by Hunters Capital in 2012. They took a useful building that was well-known for its first floor tenant Area 51 and turned it into an Auto Row gem that ushers folks up Pine Street and into the neighborhood. Continue reading

Capitol Hill Historical Society | The many landmarks of Cal Anderson Park

Cal Anderson Park was designated a Seattle Landmark 19 years ago this month on November 4, 1998.

But if you search the city landmark list for “Cal Anderson,” you won’t find anything.

In 1998, Cal Anderson Park was still a civic dream. As part of the process leading to the creation of Cal Anderson, Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle Parks self-nominated the existing reservoir (Lincoln Reservoir) that they hoped to lid over, the grounds around it, and Bobby Morris Playfield to the south which would also be affected. The entire stretch from Pine to Denny, Nagle to 11th became a landmark.

Holding Seattle’s water

Lincoln Reservoir was an important part of the municipal water system created by Seattle following the Great Seattle Fire in 1889. One of the realizations after the fire was that the collection of private wells at springs across Seattle’s hillsides could not supply enough water to carry the city forward. After a successful funding vote, City Engineer R. H. Thomson set out to create a dammed reservoir in the Cascade mountains and a 20 mile pipeline to three reservoirs. Continue reading

Capitol Hill Historical Society | Nagle Place created this month in history

On November 15, 1899 — one hundred and eighteen years ago this month — Nagle Place was dedicated by the Seattle City Council in ordinance 5630.

Where it’s at

Nagle Place is among the shortest streets in Seattle. It’s bounded by Pine Street on the south and Denny Way on the north, just three blocks long. It’s intersected only once, by Howell Street. The former Olive Street right of way brings a staircase down from Broadway which continues as a path through Cal Anderson Park to the east.

Nagle Place in the 1980s

Nagle Place in Kroll Map book at Seattle Public Utilities Engineering Vault, apparently updated through the 1980s

What’s a Nagle?

John H. Nagle came to Seattle in 1853 as the pioneers were first staking their land claims and filing “plats”, the first official maps of roads and property to be sold. The land that Nagle claimed was more than a mile northeast of the main town, centered on current Cal Anderson Park. He built a homestead and he worked a farm on the land.

We don’t know exactly what afflicted him, but in 1874 Nagle was committed to the Washington Territory Insane Asylum, deemed a “dangerous man”. His stay at the asylum was funded by renting and then slowly selling his property. Continue reading

CHS Re:Take | Walking off into the sunset, Capitol Hill landmark by landmark

I dug a bit in Archive.org’s Wayback Machine and was surprised to find that CHS started in January 2006 as a Blogspot. That first recording captured a microcosm of Justin’s neighborhood writing: a hair salon review, a couple of restaurant reviews, a warning of an upcoming moth spray, and a lamentation on the loss of an old, dependable haunt. As you know, this was a formula that he looped through a few hundred thousand times over the next 11 years.

While Justin was developing CHS from a hobby blog into a life-sucking addiction, geologist David B. Williams was basking in the afterglow of the publication of his first book about Seattle: 2005’s The Street-Smart Naturalist.

Street Naturism

One reader of the book let it all hang out in a brief Seattle Public Library review of Street-Smart Naturalist: “Everyone in Seattle should read this engaging and insightful book about how nature and the wild still exist within city limits, and that we are part of it.”

I second the recommendation, but I’ll strip away the book jacket and show you the salient bits. Capitol Hill made two appearances in Street-Smart Naturalist. First was a short piece about the several hundred year-old Garry oak tree at Oak Manor on Belmont Ave and Belmont Place. Then in the chapter The Hills Williams rightly questioned whether it’s appropriate to call the long form of Capitol Hill a hill at all. Continue reading

CHS Re:Take | The 1892 problems at Harvard and Thomas

When you are at the intersection of Harvard and Thomas and look around, it’s impossible to not be awed and a bit baffled by the utter lack of planning and engineering.

You probably have an intersection that confuses you or an intersection you hate. Leave a comment and we’ll see if we can console you with some sort of reasoning. Meanwhile, here’s one odd truth.

What’s wrong?

Harvard and Thomas… it’s one of a kind. As it heads south Harvard changes from a normal, comfortably cozy Capitol Hill residential street into a confusing mass of concrete with no clear use or direction. Continue reading

CHS Re:Take | Pike’s place on Capitol Hill

Pike and Minor, 1902 and 2017

Pike Street west from the edge of Minor in 1902 post-regrade blended with yesterday, January 14, 2017. The 1902 image is fantastic and worth seeing on its own. (Washington State Archives; blend by Rob Ketcherside)

John Pike

John Pike as an old man, from his 1903 obituary (Seattle Times)

John Henry Pike never lived in our midst. But the street named after him cuts the southern border of our neighborhood, and the improvement of Pike Street led directly to the creation of Capitol Hill. So let’s celebrate him and the street he begat.

John Pike
He was born in Massachusetts, probably Springfield, more than two centuries ago: 1814. Like Seattle’s founding fathers he was part of the “Go West” era of American history. European immigrants and young descendants of early Americans alike all moved successively farther west.

After living in western New York for many years, Pike found himself in the early 1850s living with wife and son in the fateful farming town of Princeton, Illinois.

If you find it on a map today you’ll see a cluster of commercial buildings with a road leading out of town to a freeway and a Walmart. Zoom out beyond the residences and the map is swallowed by farmland. Eventually Chicago appears to the east and Peoria to the south. Continue reading

CHS Re:Take | The Julia’s building, past to present

Julia’s has become one of the most venerable nightlife spaces in Seattle. The drag-bar-restaurant has been open for 15 years now, and I think you qualify as a Capitol Hill old-timer if you remember further back than that.

The building’s time as Ileen’s and Ernie Steele’s is worth going over again for the newcomers. And hey, it seems the first few decades of the building need to be covered for the first time.

300 Broadway East in 1937 with Julia's sign

300 Broadway East, seen in 1937, carries the modern Julia’s neon sign. Billboards for Parent Teachers Associations, Mobilgas (Mobil Oil), and the film San Francisco starring Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald.

In the beginning

The Seattle Public Library’s online 1907 real estate map shows that things were quite different for Julia’s lot. There were just a couple of tiny buildings here along Broadway that didn’t even deserve addresses. There was a house on Thomas Street. Continue reading

CHS Re:Take | In a message home to E Union, Seattle and Japan’s war with Russia

Geisha going out, 1906

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

It’s just a simple postcard.

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

There are just enough traces to glimpse the world that created it. Let’s follow them back.

Home and Harry
The house is gone. It was a large, seven-room house built in about 1901. It shared its parcel with two other rentals, probably all copies of each other. The house was only newsworthy in later years when its residents were arrested for drunk driving or were killed by cars when crossing the street. Continue reading

CHS Re:Take | Born on Capitol Hill, the architect who became a pilot and a painter

1102 Harvard Ave N, 1937 and 1957

The home Fransioli grew up in, 1102 Harvard Ave N. Pictured in 1937 (top) and 1957 (Washington State Archives)

Fransioli yearbook photo

Thomas Fransioli, 1923 (Broadway High School yearbook)

Let’s have a little talk about Thomas Fransioli, Jr. When a pilot is on patrol and his plane takes pictures but he parks to ply as a painter of the places he previously planned, he is called a pylon penning, pillbox pecking, painting pushing poster boy.

From here to there
Thomas Fransioli, Jr. was grandson of early streetcar executive M. H. Young (check out this vintage CHS Re:Take!). He grew up in Harvard-Belmont, went to Lowell and graduated Broadway High in 1923. He was the senior class treasurer, and active in the glee club and drama.

A 1949 Seattle Times article said he attended the UW for two years, but the timing isn’t clear. Maybe he took classes while in high school? After graduating Broadway in ’23 he went to the University of Pennsylvania, got a degree in architecture, and became an architect on the east coast. A couple of his design works are mentioned online: a house in Virginia, and work for John Russell Pope on the National Gallery. Continue reading