Though rests isn’t quite accurate. The (probably) almost 100-year-old sign still works. Still does its job of telling you that you are on ‘E. Olive Pl.’ near the corner of Melrose. Hill shutterbug and frequent contributor to the CHS Flickr pool Rob Ketcherside recently added this picture of the old sign and his research into its origins. He graciously permitted us to share his work on CHS.
Seattle’s Oldest Street Sign?
Hanging on the corner of the Celeste Apartments, this is a good candidate for the oldest street sign in Seattle.
I think it’s from about 1918.
The Celeste is at 304 East Olive Place, at the corner of Melrose Avenue East and East Olive Place. Now, be careful. There is no Melrose Place in Seattle. But we’re right next to the dividing line of Melrose Avenue East and “not East”. That dividing line is East Olive Way.
This is where things get tricky. A half block away is also the dividing line between East and “not East” Olive Way. And a block beyond that is the start of East Olive Street. Thankfully there is no “not East” Olive Street (anymore). And there is also no “not East” Olive Place – the street we’re standing on that ends one block away.
Nestled in this forgotten armpit of Olive Ways and Places and freeway entrances is our aged sign.
Seattle does not put street signs on buildings anymore. There’s one just left of the “G R” text in this pre-1909 photo of 2nd and Columbia. Older style font than this, but our signs haven’t been white on black for a long time, either.
The Celeste Apartments, like so many Capitol Hill denizens, underwent a sex change at some point. She was built as the Allen Apartments. And just to muddle matters, he was at the corner of Melrose Avenue and then-known-as OIive Street. The year, 1908.
By 1912 it was known as East Olive Street. And by 1919 the Allen was listed in ads as its current address, 304 East Olive Place. But a year later, the city still officially referred to it as East Olive Street when describing the creation of Olive Way from Bellevue to Boylston and John (still missing in this 1918 map). Confusing, but I’m guessing that East Olive Place was christened in around 1918.
And, with nothing else to go on, I’ll venture that the sign dates from those early days.
(To be clear, I’ve only established a “no older than” date. Find me another white on black street sign though!)
We asked SDOT about the sign but the department could not provide information about the specific sign. They did point us to some useful background on the “oldest sign” question, though. According to “Public Works in Seattle, a Narrative History of the Seattle Engineering Department 1875-1975,” the first porcelain enamel-on-metal street name signs with white letters on blue background appeared in the Central Business District around 1922. Wooden signs of the same color predominated throughout Seattle until about 1952. According to the book, most of those were attached to wood posts or to existing utility poles.
At this point, we have no information indicating when the enamel-on-metal signs were phased out. But Ketcherside’s sign probably does date from the early 1920s. We’ll have to hold a big party in 2022. But, then again, why wait?