The official name of this spot is the “Alley in Block 34 of the Pontius Addition.” That’s kind of perfect because it’s so abstract. Block-what? Pontius-what? Even if you love secret alleys, there’s no way you use platspeak to talk about them.
So let’s figure out the true name of this place by delving into the poorly understood discipline of psychogeography. That’s the term coined by some French anti-artist in the 1950’s for the study of the connection between place and the human psyche.
We’ll look at a few of the people impacted by the place in this photo at the time it was taken. Then you should be able to come up with a few candidates for the true name of the alley. Our starting points are the photograph’s basic elements: the Carroll, the girls, and the dirt.
May 22, 1909 (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives)
In the last CHS Re:Take, we argued that you should start referring to 12th and Union as Division’s Damp Depression. This time, we want you to tell us what to call this alley. Because we know you love alleys as much as we do.
The view is May 22, 1909, looking up the alley from Thomas to Harrison between Bellevue and Melrose. The scene is a derelict public works project, left less than half done and more than a half year behind schedule.
There must have been so much work for the drawn-out Denny regrade and rapid construction of the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition that the contractors just couldn’t find enough people to do an unimportant alley job.
1912 Baist (Courtesy Paul Dorpat and Ron Edge)
On the right are the windows of the cheaper rooms below view units in the Carroll Apartments. It’s on the northwest corner of Thomas and Bellevue. It was just a year old, newly erected in 1908. If you’re keeping score at home, the Carroll is on pages 169 to 171 of Shared Walls.
One of the upper floor apartments was the residence of Clara and William Wiley. William was working as a real estate broker, his latest in a string of hustling professions. He was successful enough though to provide for a live-in servant now that their children were grown.
Their live-in, part-time servant — Teijiro Tamura — was a full-time political science major at the UW. He was a member of the Japanese student club and the international students’ Cosmopolitan Club. Tamura stayed to get his Master’s degree and then returned to Japan, where he successfully passed the foreign service exam in 1917. He worked at the Japanese embassy in D.C., the consulate in Chicago, and he was consulate general in Hawaii. CG Tamura was pushing the imperialist, nationalist party line to Japanese in Hawaii just a few years before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. What happened to him after that is tucked away somewhere in the archives of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
You have to wonder if the Wileys knew what became of the man who cooked their meals and ran their errands.
There were plenty of kids in the neighborhood in 1909. But most of them were a bit older than the two girls in our photo, picking their way down the dirt alley.
The younger girl could be Laura Ketcham, youngest daughter of Albert and Laura Ketcham. Their large family lived in the house just up on the left of the alley, at 314 Melrose. The older girl could be her cousin Mary Virginia Ketcham, who lived further up the street at the three Bellevues. “Cousin” might not be exactly accurate: their paternal grandmothers were sisters, and their paternal grandfathers were brothers. Is there a word for that?
A few weeks after this photograph, little Laura’s maternal grandfather General James B. Weaver visited Seattle, staying with the family and heading to the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition with them.
Despite everything else happening in the Queen City, he was front page news for the Seattle Times. Weaver was a national celebrity. He ran for president in 1892 on the Populist party ticket, grabbing four states and 30% of the vote in our nascent King County.
Populist Party poster, 1892 (Wikipedia)
He was one of the most successful third-party presidential candidates in American history, and the media loved hearing his outsider, maverick opinion on current politics. Here’s what he told the Seattle Times:
Congress will greatly disappoint the people and from all present appearances will be guilty of a perfidious betrayal of public confidence… The men who control the destinies of the Republican party are pursuing the tactics of Machiavelli — they obtained power by promises of relief, and, now in power, purpose to do as they please and trust for immunity in the forgetfulness of the people and the increased power of the ‘interests’ to keep them in position and control. (12 Jul 1909)
Yes, the Populists had a whole bunch of great ideas, but they were also the party of doom-and-gloom rhetoric. If you think the Tea Party or Occupy Movement are pessimistic, go back and read the preamble to the Populist party’s 1892 platform. Here are some highlights:
We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin… The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of those, in turn, despise the republic and endanger liberty. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes—tramps and millionaires.
And remember, that was before the financial panic of 1893. And 1907. So you know they only got worse. Or better, depending on your political leanings.
General Weaver died a couple of years later at the ripe age of 88. The girls grew up, of course.
Laura graduated from the UW in 1923, went to graduate school in Boston, moved to New York, got married, moved to Las Vegas, got divorced and moved to Long Beach. In California she lived nearby her nephew Hank Ketcham as he became the famous cartoonist of Dennis the Menace.
Mary Virginia missed out on all that. She got a late start at the UW, enrolling in 1926 after Laura graduated. In 1929, she suffered an illness for three weeks and succumbed at age 28. Her photo made it into the UW’s annual Tyee as an underclassmen for membership in Daughters of the American Revolution.
The rest of the Ketcham clan spread out around Seattle, each generation upholding General Weaver’s patriotism and their DAR roots through military service in every major American war. Even Dennis “The Menace” Ketcham volunteered to serve, joining the Marines and suffering through Vietnam.
Laura and Mary Virginia picked their way down the dirt alley. They walked around deep tire ruts, over makeshift plank ramps, next to piles of construction debris.
The alley wasn’t supposed to be dirt anymore. Contractor John Stanley had been hired in 1908 to regrade and pave the alley. An article in early April of 1909 chastised contractors for not completing public works projects in preparation for AYPE. This alley was called out for being only 24% done and already 202 days overdue. An update in May said no progress had been made.
John managed his father’s firm, William Stanley & Co, and they were simply swamped with projects, public and private. They did streetcar lines, railroads, street regrades, highway paving, and sometimes even alleys. The family had worked together for at least a decade, when William dragged John and his brother Samuel Stanley to the Klondike gold rush.
William Stanley became world famous as one of the richest passengers on the steamer Portland in 1897. The Portland carried the first prospectors to come back from the Klondike in Yukon Territory, and it hauled a legendary ton of gold in its safes. William Stanley had an easy $100,000 — a couple million in today’s money. His story was told widely, and it slowly became caricature of reality.
He’s now remembered as a bookseller and a blacksmith. Called “Papa” Stanley, he reportedly went to Alaska at the age of 68. The truth is that he was more of a machinist and civil engineer. He was a blacksmith before joining the Civil War, and then gradually acquired new skills as he moved west, doing work on railroads across the country and even in Hawaii. And he was mature but not elderly when he headed north, only 52.
At the time of our photograph, William was in California sitting on a beach, earning twenty percent. Samuel lived with his family over on 17th just east of Volunteer Park. And John, the object of Seattle Times’ ire, lived just down the hill from our alley at Fairview and Mercer.
John’s two children probably knew this alley well. Jacqueline Stanley was an underclassman of Laura Ketcham at Broadway High, and her brother WilliamStanley just a couple of more years back. Their route to school would take them up the Harrison steps and past here.
Hilariously, William went on to work for the City of Seattle’s Complaint Department of all places. Maybe if his dad finished the projects on time, there wouldn’t be a need to field so many complaints.
Somewhere along the line, William must have learned to fly. At age 37 he volunteered for World War II, and served his country flying unarmed reconnaissance aircraft. These were fighter planes with guns replaced by cameras. He was awarded for service in Normandy, apparently flying in the 10th Photographic Group’s harrowing, low-altitude runs in preparation for D-Day.
William returned to Seattle after the war, and took over his parents’ house after they passed away. Ironically a public roads project hired another contractor to demolish John Stanley’s mansion. It’s now the I-5 on-ramp at Mercer.
Name That Alley
You’ve got the background, so, what should we name this spot? Here’s a low bar that you can certainly improve on: Ketcham Flak Alley.
In case you missed them, here are the last few Re:Takes on CHS:
- Division’s Damp Depression at 12th and Union
- Undermining the Republican Senator from Melrose
- What became of the almost tallest building on Pike?
Local history expert Rob Ketcherside shares his vision of the past and present with his Re:Take series of works on CHS.