Capitol Retrospective | The motorcycle hill climber who climbed Capitol Hill — Part 1

May 15, 1945. Image: WA State Archives.

On Labor Day weekend of 1929, 300 motorcyclists and their families roared into the sleepy resort town of Long Beach, WA for a motorcycle rally known then as a Gypsy Tour.

Aside from the three days of two-wheeled camaraderie that ensued, one rider raced ahead of the rest. His name was Marion Diederiks, an unknown motorcycle messenger from Portland who became “grand champion” after winning 8 out of 12 races over the weekend.

His victories included various pursuit and get-away races, the two-mile open, and a broad jump. Although a promising start of a career in racing, he curiously never won any other speed races like these hereafter. Instead he later found his true calling in a different form of racing known as the hill climb — a race to the top of rough hills that were so steep they were practically vertical.

Marion’s career negotiating these hills spanned two decades and culminated in the establishment of his own Harley Davidson dealership on a most unique hill — our very own Capitol Hill.

His fortune in cash prizes, his regional fame, and the tightly-knit group of riders he bonded with along the way made it all possible. The result was a dealership with a unique business model that wove standard sales and service and the spectacle of professional racing into the same fabric. And although this fabric abruptly unraveled with the onset of war and personal dramas, Marion kept the dealership going in one form or another for three decades on 12th Ave and later on Broadway. 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

Capitol Retrospective | Dodge’s Triangle: Seattle’s smallest known piece of private property

1949-08-23 Sea Muni Archivces - Madison at Union and 12th (triangle)

Looking Northeast where 12th Ave E and E Union St intersect with E Madison St. Approximate dimensions of Dodge’s triangle highlighted in yellow. Image courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives

I want to say this Capitol Hill triangle spun me around in circles all week, but it’s a triangle, not a circle, so that won’t do. However, I can say that much like ships and planes are rumored to have disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle, historians and cartographers are rumored to have done the same trying to figure out what the hell the deal is with this triangle. What is it, how and why does it even exist? Well, you’re in luck, because after spending a harrowing week confined within its absurdly narrow boundaries, I’ve emerged to tell the tale.

It all started as a joke.

On April 16, 1916 Seattle Times broke the humorous story. They described it as a small triangular strip with about 6 feet on E Madison and about 5 and a half feet on E Union with a depth at the widest of approximately 4 feet. It baffled expert appraisers and architects alike who would dare attempt to price it or design a structure suitable to its size. Real estate mogul Henry Broderick claimed it was probably worth less than it would cost for him to properly appraise it and it would be hard to sell because a for sale sign would entirely obscure it from view. Someone suggested you could maybe install a gas pump, but the attendant would be obliged to rent the sidewalk from the city just so he could operate it. Jokes aside, things start to break down when you take a closer look at the matter. Continue reading

Five women who shaped Capitol Hill’s apartment past

Corinne-Simpson-400x379Women were some of the most prolific early 20th Century developers to shape Capitol Hill into the neighborhood we see today. Author Diana James documented some of the more interesting female characters behind Capitol Hill’s classic apartment buildings in her 2012 book Shared Walls: Seattle Apartment Buildings, 1900-1939. In a 2014 talk, James said that while she was researching for her book, she was struck by the number of women who popped up in the real estate business.

“Researching women’s involvement in the business of buying, selling, and building apartments was a worthy pursuit,” she said. “The accomplishments of these women would be commendable today, but the fact that they occurred over 100 years ago make them even more remarkable.” 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

Auto row history and Seattle Central housing development future behind Broadway landmarks hearing

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As it seeks a partner in its plans for affordable housing, Seattle Central will take the auto row history of one of the two Broadway properties it is pushing forward toward redevelopment in front of the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board next week. The board will weigh just what architectural features if any should be protected in the one-time Stewart Warner service station and its neighbor the old Eldridge Tire building in the 1500 block of Broadway between Pine and Pike. Today, the structures are home to a burger joint, a taco joint, and a hair stylist.

The board will consider the buildings for nomination Wednesday afternoon.

Landmarks board: 1515 Broadway and 1519 Broadway

Seattle has a relatively robust and busy landmarks system but the process is as much about development as it is preservation. Seattle Central is moving the properties through the review as a prelude to redevelopment and a requirement of the permitting process for buildings from before 1940. 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 History | Neighbours New Year’s arson, $43M Broadway Market deal, Cone & Steiner debut


Here are the top stories from this week in CHS history:

2016

 

E Pike Caffe Vita’s upstairs — one of the Hill’s best coffee hangouts — now ’employees only’

Mattress chain Sleep Train moving in on Broadway

2015

 

Grocery-focused real estate investment company pays $43 million for ‘an Entire City Block’ of Capitol Hill


Continue reading

CHS Pics | Last visit to Capitol Hill’s Value Village-REI-Kelly Springfield building

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Last week before the holiday weekend, the neighborhood had one last chance to say goodbye to the old Capitol Hill Value Village before a landmarks-protected, preservation-friendly office and commercial redevelopment of the nearly 100-year-old building. A Punk Rock Flea Market was a fitting end to its era as a thrift store. Images from the final nights in the space show a few glimpses of the structure’s deeper past.

Dubbed the Kelly-Springfield Motor Truck Company building for its first tenant after construction in 1917 and built as an investment development for $70,000 in the midst of World War I, the “Chicago School style,” concrete frame building with red brick, parapets and window spandrels was home to an important player in the area’s burgeoning auto row economy: Continue reading

Capitol Hill Historical Society forms to preserve, find new stories of old Capitol Hill

A group of history buffs have decided to combine their hobby with their community as they follow suit of other neighborhoods to form the Capitol Hill Historical Society.

Tom Heuser and Rob Ketcherside joined forces to try and organize the community group with a focus on researching and recording the historical stories of the neighborhood.

“Every neighborhood in Seattle has a historical society, except Capitol Hill,” Ketcherside said. “With all the new change and people coming in, it’s beyond time to have one.” Continue reading