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Before PikeOrPine…

If there’s one question guaranteed to cause most Capitol Hill folk to think carefully before answering (and even then, usually hesitantly), it’s got to be this one: Pike, or Pine? Quick! – Toys In Babeland – Pike or Pine?? (Well, uh, I used to pass by it on the way to QFC, so it must be the south one – wait, was that before or after I turned near R-Place? – after, I think, which means it’s not the one with N in it so… Pike – I think?) The Question has even inspired its own quiz show parody.

After living here a few years, I eventually figured that it’s easier to just refer to both as the same street, a notional Pikeorpine Street (“The sandwich place? It’s definitely on Pikeorpine.”), as though it’s not actually two separate streets, but perhaps really a quantum superposition of two streets that only resolves into one street or the other when you actually set foot there. (One benefit of this Pikeorpine technique is that it still works even if someone swaps the signs around as an April Fools’ Day prank…)

But it wasn’t always that way. The portions of Pike and Pine East of Melrose were originally known as Choat (or Choate) and Gould streets – and they weren’t even originally connected to their downtown counterparts. Choate and Gould initially grew out of Broadway, and only later on – with a bit of regrading – did they meet up with the actual downtown Pike and Pine streets.

Back in the late 1800’s, Seattle was a crazy patchwork of land claims, with much of the area around what would eventually become Pike and Broadway being claimed by a John A Nagle (pronounced ‘nail’). As these claims were platted, some used names consistent with the surrounding plats, others didn’t: what would eventually become Pike street changed name from Pike St to Choat (or Choate) St to Blakely St, back to Choate (or Choat) St and finally Johnson (or Johnston) Ave as it headed Eastwards, while Pine changed from Pine to Gould to Mastick, back to Gould and ended as Warren streets.

All that changed in 1895, when city finally had enough, and with The Great Renaming of 1895 (not it’s official name – but it does sound much better than City Ordinance 4044…) declared that all of Choat(e), Blakely and so on would be known as Pike, and that all of Gould and co would be considered to be Pine – and thus in resolving one problem, another (though perhaps lesser) problem was born.

All the same, while it might have been slightly easier to remember Choat apart from Gould (and would have resulted in signage less prone to April Fool’s pranks), the “Choat/Gould neighborhood” just doesn’t have the same ring to it that Pike/Pine has.

Brendan McKeon is a budding amateur historian and volunteer tour guide with the Seattle Architecture Foundation, and will be giving their Pike/Pine walking tour this weekend, and at three other dates this season.

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9 thoughts on “Before PikeOrPine…

  1. Fixed – thanks! – I’m always typo-ing those. (The fact that I was listening to 1980’s pop at the time likely didn’t help…)

  2. I finally figured that out a few years ago.

    But I still have problems remember what businesses are on which street.

  3. That only works for me until I get to Boren, then into downtown I’m all “Wait, which one’s East of which? They both have an E!”

    Also, I guess I’m the only one who snickered at Choat ?

  4. Great article. It led me to get lost in the Seattle City Council article proclaiming all the new street names and alignments.

    One question: the Great Renaming mentions Depot Street. What is that now?

  5. Maybe we can bring back a piece of history and rename the forthcoming streetcar:


  6. Depot Street was the stretch of Denny Way from the waterfront to the base of Capitol Hill; on the hill proper it was Hawthorne, and then Decatur after it crossed Madison.