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Then and Now: The Bluest Skies—and Greenest Buildings—You’ve Ever Seen in Seattle

Then & Now Seattle

Even before it had no right to such a claim, Seattleites have been calling their home the “largest city in the Pacific Northwest.” That still holds true in the 21st century, but Seattle could just as easily be known these days as a “company town.” That company is Amazon and its investment in historic downtown neighborhoods is transforming the city. Thanks to photographs from the Seattle Municipal Archives and the Library of Congress, and some modern snapshots from Google Street View we can look in on the progress on Seattle streets and put the coming of these business palaces in perspective…

RENTCafé invites you to take a stroll down memory lane—simply drag the arrows bar back-and-forth to view the old and the new images.

1. Third & Union — Pike Market

The Melbourne Tower, christened the Republic Building when it rose at 1511 Third Avenue at the northwest corner of Pike Street , dates to 1928. It was designed by architect George Willis Lawton who began designing Seattle buildings in the Victorian Age but its timeless classical features still look fresh in today’s bustling downtown environment.

Photo Credit 1929: Item 3291, Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives
Photo Credit 2014: Google Maps

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2. 2nd Avenue & Yesler Way — Pioneer Square

Greek immigrant Sam Israel owned much of Pioneer Square in the early 1900s, maintaining his properties in a state of “benign neglect” that worked as a preservation strategy. Eleven of his properties were restored after his death in 1994, including the Collins building at 520 Second Avenue (next to Smith Tower, on the right side of the image) that was owned by Seattle’s fourth mayor John Collins.

Photo Credit 1902: Library of Congress
Photo Credit 2015: Google Maps

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3. Bird’s-eye view of Gasworks Park — Wallingford

Photo Credit 1966: Item 29073, Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives
Photo Credit 2016: Google Maps

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4. 2nd Avenue near Seneca Street — Pike Market

With the Smith clock tower serving as a timeless beacon looking south, the intersection is shadowed by the 493-foot 1000 Second Avenue, formerly known as Key Tower (on the far left of the photo snapped in 2015). The Art Deco flourishes at street level give the skyscraper a classic modernist vibe for passersby.

Photo Credit 1914: Item 457, Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives
Photo Credit 2015: Google Maps

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5. Bird’s-eye view of waterfront looking South — Pike Market

The Port of Seattle is still the third busiest waterfront in North America but many of the freight packets of yesteryear docking in front of the Alaskan Way Viaduct have given way to cruise ships. Since Pier 59 was adapted as home to the Seattle Aquarium it has become a destination for nearly one million visitors annually.

Photo Credit 1952: Item 43586, Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives
Photo Credit 2016: Google Maps

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6. Mutual Life Building from Yesler Way — Pioneer Square

Seattle has never slowed down for progress. The current city was built straight on top of the ruins of the one that burned in 1889. Out front of this Romanesque Revival monument to city builder Henry Yesler are glass sidewalks that once illuminated Underground Seattle. Mutual Life re-energized the property at 601-607 First Avenue on Pioneer Square.

Photo Credit ~1970: Library of Congress
Photo Credit 2015: Google Maps

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7. 5th Avenue near Stewart Street — Pike Market

The Seattle Center Monorail was futuristic when it was constructed for the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962. And as two million riders each year will attest, it is still cool as it whisks above street traffic along Fifth Avenue between Westlake Center and Seattle Center, home to the world famous Space Needle. Your leashed dog is welcome to ride, too.

Photo Credit 1929: Item 3312, Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives
Photo Credit 2015: Google Maps

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8. 9th & Harrison — South Lake Union

South Lake Union was once generously known as “gritty.” That was before a little outfit known as Amazon. The online retail giant is so deep into its building plans for this slice of Seattle north of the downtown core that the two 12-story office buildings at this intersection were “Phase VII” and “Phase VIII.” Now the neighborhood is nothing short of vibrant.

Photo Credit 1929: Item 3314, Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives
Photo Credit 2015: Google Maps

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9. Bird’s-eye view of Downtown and I-5 — Downtown

When the interstate highway roared through the heart of Seattle in the 1960s it gobbled up some of the city’s most historic structures and a good bit of its identity. Now efforts are being made to re-knit communities with projects like Freeway Park and the I-5 Colonnade mountain bike park.

Photo Credit 1966: Item 175402, Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives
Photo Credit 2016: Google Maps

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10. 7th & Virginia — Belltown

Amazon began its transformation of the downtown Seattle skyline in 2015 with a three block campus. First up was Amazon Tower I, known internally as Doppler for the technology that created Amazon Echo. All told, the internet behemoth anticipates building 10 million square feet of office space for 71,000 workers by 2020.

Photo Credit 1929: Item 3313, Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives
Photo Credit 2015: Google Maps

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There have always been big dreams in Seattle—the first settlers in 1851 called the place “New York.” Seattle’s growth as it has risen to its position as the capital of the Northwest has always come in waves and the city is riding a new crest so far in the 21st century.

If you think we’ve missed anything, please let us know in the comments section below, and send us any photos you may have as they might appear in the next edition of our Then & Now series.

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About the author

Balazs Szekely

Balazs is a qualified journalist with a thing for real estate. This obsession comes in handy in his work as an online content developer and creative writer for RENTCafé. When he’s not thrashing his keyboard, he takes pleasure in photography, aquascaping and all kinds of DIY projects. Feel free to get in touch with Balazs via email or Twitter.

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