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CHS Re:Take: Blood, snow, and Madison streetcars

Rephotograph of Madison at Pike looking West

Snow on Madison at Pike, c1916 with 2016 in the back. A cable car or streetcar heads towards us on Madison.  (Washington State Archives King County Metro collection LS0130 and Rob Ketcherside)

Recently, we were surprised again with snowflakes, one or two at a time trying their hardest to stick on the wet pavement. Every so often, though, Seattle gets a good snow. Look at those mounds in this old photo, which came undated from the State Archives. It must have been 1916. I’ve been dating these photos “circa 1913” that I copied a few years ago. But there was only one snow event from that period that resembled this, two feet over a 24-hour period at the start of February.

The snow was so bad that the manager of the street railways for Puget Sound Traction said “We have thrown our hands up in the air. The snow is too much for us… All Seattle can do is sit tight and wait for the snowfall to cease. We have done everything possible to keep service and have been beaten.” (Seattle Times, Feb 3, 1916)

But the cable on Madison pulled its way through. The Times explained,

“This morning found car service practically helpless in all but eight of the thirty-two systems in the city. The three cable lines, James and Madison Streets and Yesler Way, continued operation on an hourly schedule throughout the night and bid fair to continue well into tonight.”

The city dug its way out eventually, but the snow took its toll on buildings like St. James’ Cathedral, which lost its dome.

There’s understandable confusion about railway service on Madison. Historians often refer to the entire line as a streetcar, but it never was, not the whole thing. If you’ve been to or heard of San Francisco, you know what a cable car is: a car pulled up a hill by clamping onto a cable. That’s what Madison had to begin with, the full length from Post Avenue to Lake Washington. You and I know that streetcars have their own motors and are usually propelled by electricity from overhead wires. They’re different, cable cars and streetcars. But there is good reason people get mixed up.

In 1910, the rail monopoly Puget Sound Traction, Light & Power decided to simplify their operation by cutting off the cable and running streetcars to the lake instead. They took advantage of the city’s regrades of Pike and Pine to bring streetcars all the way up from downtown and then transition to Madison Street. In 1910 the end of the cables happened at 21st, in 1911 all the way back to Broadway and then in 1913 service was extended back to 14th Ave.

Map of Madison and Spring in 1912 showing car barn

In the center is the Seattle Electric Car Barn at Madison and 10th and Spring Street. PSTL&P was known as SEC until 1912. This building has been repurposed as Seattle University’s Fine Arts Building (1912 Baist Fire Insurance map via Paul Dorpat)

The 1910 work took advantage of a temporary closure of the cable line, necessary to accommodate the regrade of Madison Street from 2nd Avenue to 5th Avenue, allowing each of those streets to be leveled out. PSTL&P also built the car barn at Madison and 10th for the cable cars. They needed to park those cable cars somewhere.

The hardship for PSTL&P during the regrade was reviewed in Engineering News in 1913,

“The most difficult piece of cable track to handle during this regrade was on Madison St., with a cut of 16 ft. at 3d Ave. (Fig. 1). Six nights were required to bring these tracks to grade at that point. The men on the day shifts handled all the ditching, secondary cribbing, and placing of timber for the night crews [who lowered the tracks]. Prior to the regrade, Madison St. cable line was operating over a 20.4% grade between Second and Third Aves. It is now a grade of 16.7%… The average headway on the cars of our cable lines was 2.5 min. on the Madison St. cable… The speed of our cables at the time of this regrade work was 11.3 mph for Madison Street… The principal precautions taken to insure safe movement of cars were in the nature of keeping track-walkers or watchmen on the work. It was their special duty to keep all the bolts properly tightened, and all shims and wedges in place”

Madison and James 1913 regrade elevations

Madison and James 1913 regrade elevations (Engineering News, January 9, 1913 page 72)

(Paul Dorpat did an article in 2011 focused on the regrade’s impacts at 3rd and Spring, and he included a great photo of the roller coaster-looking cable on Madison. Also the late Dotty DeCoster wrote a piece for Capitol Hill Times, republished in CHS about the Madison Cable back in 2009.)

Amazingly there weren’t any major accidents during this work.

The blood
Still, there is blood hanging over the Madison car line. It’s right there on that sign, “Blood Makes Good Paint”. That sounds like some sort of reference to the death of the old Piecora building to make way for new apartments, doesn’t it? It would make a catchy, ironic populist rallying cry.

It also made great ad copy for T. L. Blood’s paint company. From its home in the Blood Warehouse in Saint Paul, Minnesota, T. L. Blood churned out lead-based paint for the blood poisoning of the nation. The billboard rested above the Independent Paint and Wall Paper Company.

Building at SE cor 14th and Madison c1916

Zoom on the former Piecora Building at 14th and Madison c1916. Next to Independent Paint were Klein’s Delicatessen (“DELICATESSEN AND RESTAURANT”) and Ideal Pharmacy (“DRUGS”). (Washington State Archives LS0130)

In case you came all this way just to read about real blood, here is a snippet from the 1913 Seattle Times for you:

“Robert McIvor, a clerk who is employed at city council chambers, was seated in his room at 1214 Madison Street, looking out the rear window. He had heard of the robbery in the Clark [apartments] and was talking to his mother about it. While he was looking out of the window McIvor saw fire spurt from [a] prowler’s pistol as he shot [Seattle police officer] Follrich through the right arm. McIvor said he fire three shots.

“Weak from loss of blood, Follrich was given first aid at the Clark [apartments] by James Wood, manager of the Tucker-Hanford Company [lithographers], and other tenants of the apartment building.” (Seattle Times October 12, 1913)

End of the line
Is this the end of the line for my pledge to write a streetcar history article every month until Sound Transit and SDOT open the First Hill streetcar? I hope so, and maybe you do, too. I’ll boldly subhead this section and then tell you how the line came to an end.

1936 aerial view of Seattle Municipal Railways car barn

Aerial photograph centered at 10th and Madison, 1936. “a” is the car barn. “b” is original home of Seattle University. “z” is the location the first streetcar-a-month article’s photo was taken from. (King County iMap)

Surprise! It ended in 1940, like every other street railway in Seattle. Streetcar service on Madison ended January 14th. The cable ended April 14th. The complete streetcar line closed on July 14th. Initial replacement service on Madison was a trolley bus.

Madison Cable at 10th and Madison

Madison Street cable car on April 15, 1940. The day after closing day. This is right in front of the old car barn on Madison. The building in the back is the Broadway Building, which three years ago I talked about profiling some day (Werner Lenggenhager photo at Seattle Public Library shl_shp_22991)

14th and Madison c1916

14th and Madison c1916 (WA State Archives LS0130)

14th and Madison, 2016

14th and Madison 2016 (Rob Ketcherside)


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One thought on “CHS Re:Take: Blood, snow, and Madison streetcars

  1. Excellent and thoroughly enjoyable read. Thank you.
    Mark Twain said “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
    I’m sure this is true, but I admit to harboring the perception of Capitol Hill Development repeating some of the same irrationalities over again and again. The concept of a streetcar without a dedicated lane appears to me to be just another bus stuck in traffic.
    I welcome the opportunity to be proven wrong in this case.