It is easy to miss that old house. Its walls, roof, doors, and windows are all painted in a particularly unnoticeable black. If not for the simple, unexpressive sign hanging outside none of us would know it held Complete Automotive Detail for many years.
It is much older than the city thinks, though: 1900 rather than 1918. A close look at its history reveals a surprising view into early settlement, residential development, and the rise and staying power of Auto Row.
In Part 1 we’ll look at how the surrounding streets came to be. Until recently, it’s an area no one needed to talk about for decades, surrounded by Union, Madison, and Broadway. Let’s call it UMadBro.
It’s on a weird street
If you missed the house, you probably also missed Broadway Court. It’s a short street running from East Union to Madison that serves as a back alley for The Garage, Silver Cloud Hotel, Optimism Brewery, IHOP and other businesses. Most of the street names on Capitol Hill have changed once or twice, including this area south of Pike/Pine. But Broadway Court is a contender for the most oft renamed street in Seattle.
It was platted in 1882 as Werett Place, named by George Werett as the west edge of his small plat, Werett’s Addition. Werett’s Addition was the original name of UMadBro.
Werett Place separated his plat from land that later became A. A. Denny’s Broadway Addition in 1890. The plat didn’t quite fill the triangle between Madison, Union and Broadway. The eastern tip and the narrow block between Broadway and Werett Place were outside of his land. Our subject building, 953 East Union, was later built in lot 14 of block 2 in Werett’s Addition.
Werett Place was just raw dirt, unimproved and unpaved and accidentally too narrow on the south end due to a misplaced house. It was colloquially known as Williamson on maps and in newspapers and directories, matching streets roughly north and south of it. Houses and commercial buildings began filling in Werett’s Addition but they sometimes were described with mystifying locations like “corner of Cooper and Spring”. Cooper was the old name for Union, and Union and Spring have never met in this area.
In the 1895 simplification of street names all of Williamson was changed to 10th Avenue, including little Werett Place. Cooper Street was renamed Union Street at this time as well.
That name didn’t last twenty years. In 1911 City Engineer R. H. Thomson readjusted this little triangle neighborhood as part of the 12th Avenue Regrade. He added a new north/south street to the west and decided to call it 10th Avenue. Faced with the prospect of two 10th Avenues, Ordinance 26511 hilariously dealt with the problem by calling them “New Tenth” and “Old Tenth”. Mapmakers were befuddled as well. Although 10th was clearly labeled in the 1905 Baist map, it had no name at all in 1912. A map reader would presume that the new street was 10th, a continuation of the north and south streets. “Old Tenth” must have seemed just an alley.
The official name “Old Tenth” lasted a short time. By 1913 Broadway Court was bestowed upon it, and we’ve now had a century of stability. The old names in and around Werett’s are forgotten: Spring Place (now Seneca Street), Cooper Street (Union), Filbert (Spring), Renold (11th in Werett’s), Hughston (11th), Werett, and Williamson.
One new name appeared on the map after the reworking of UMadBro and surrounding streets. Barely legible in the 1920 Kroll map is “Madison Court”, the part of old 11th Avenue south of Madison Street. That turned into an alley for Seattle University, given to them in 1985. Unofficially the name remains today on Google Maps. Like Broadway Court, it’s a weird street and a reminder of the odd triangle’s origins.
Here’s a handy animated gif of the changes to UMadBro that CHHS President Tom Heuser put together. Tom will pick up the baton on later articles about the old building at 953 East Union.
More CHS articles about Werett’s Addition by Capitol Hill Historical Society members:
- Division’s Damp Depression
- Tunnel from Capitol Hill to downtown
- Life at 12th and Union
- Dodge’s Triangle
To find out more about what the Capitol Hill Historical Society is up to, visit our webpage, find us on Facebook, or join us for a meeting!