It is difficult to imagine Queen Anne as a working-class neighborhood. The views from the ridges on the south, east and west sides have attracted large elegant houses built by many of the movers and shakers in city history. Once you leave the ring of elegant aeries, though, one-story commercial buildings, a huge quantity of apartment houses and numerous industrial sites on the neighborhood fringe suggest a working-class history we don’t want to forget.
As this series unfolds, it will explore different working-class buildings, businesses and, if we can find them, people who live, lived, worked or work in them.
The choice of “working class” rather than “blue-collar” to describe these subjects rests on the assumption that many of the jobs held by Queen Anne residents during most of the 20th century may have been in retail and service industry activities, rather than manufacturing, railroading or ship-building.
This series will consider buildings like the historic MarQueen Hotel on Queen Anne Avenue between Mercer and Roy streets. It was built in 1918 as the Seattle Engineering School and housed workers training at the Ford assembly plant on Lake Union. (The plant is still there at the corner of Fairview Avenue and Valley Street, but it now serves as a storage facility).
In 1920, the school opened the Kuay training garage (later named the MarQueen Garage and now known as the Ten Mercer Restaurant) that operated as a school and working garage for more than 50 years.
The workers who lived in the SRO apartments would have found nearby bakeries, bars, restaurants and early grocery stores to meet their daily needs. In the 1920s, the Chase bank building around the corner on Mercer was probably where they bought groceries. They probably ate some meals at Preston and Frances Smith’s Mecca Café, which opened on July 1, 1930.
Still housing transients, the MarQueen no longer serves blue-collar guys with greasy hands.
Just down the street, SIFF’s recently acquired 1926 Uptown Theater is another icon of working-class Queen Anne.
Designed by Victor Voorhees, the theater no longer has stairs leading to a mezzanine lounge and flanking bathrooms, and the original hall has added the two buildings south of the 1953 marquee by architect B. Marcus Priteca. The large Uptown auditorium is now smaller than in the beginning and “talkies” projected digitally have replaced the silent films of 1926, but the theater still serves the residents of the very many nearby Uptown district apartment buildings.
Another surviving blue-collar business is the Five Corners Hardware store, located where West McGraw Street, West McGraw Place and Third Avenue West intersect. This business has been in the same family since 1938. The streetcar line from downtown used to cross this intersection, too, on its way to the Mount Pleasant Cemetery, but its replacement, the No. 3 electric trolley, got rerouted to Rodgers Park and the No. 2 gets you to the cemetery now.
A time of growth
Our series will scoot down the hill to explore the docks along the canal, where hundreds of folks still go every day to repair ships at Foss Maritime, unplug their drain with the help of Bob Oates Sewer & Rooter or sell lumber at Gascoigne Lumber, which has been at it since 1926 — obviously a big year for neighborhood growth.
The railroad spur that still reaches Foss follows portions of the route of the historic Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railway (SLS&E), founded by Daniel Gilman, Judge Thomas Burke and others. By 1887, it ran from the Seattle waterfront to Smith (then Smith’s) Cove and then on the northwest side of Lake Washington. By 1888, the line reached Fall City to the east and Snohomish to the north, eventually connecting with the Canadian Pacific system near Sumas.
The spur that now forms the Ship Canal bike and pedestrian path once extended around the base of the hill, connecting that Ford assembly plant at Fairview and Valley to the main lines, bringing the cars in parts from the eastern United States.
The SLS&E took coal and lumber down to the freighters at Smith Cove. A careful look at historic maps suggests that the coal and lumber dock may have been on the fill now under the Queen Anne side of Elliott Avenue West.
A historic foundation
Just north of the former railway terminus, along the former shore of Smith’s Cove and opposite the twisting Amgen Bridge on Queen Anne’s fringe at 1038 Elliott Ave. W., Wilson Machine Works is a classic working-class operation.
Founded by brothers Wilhelm, Wilson and Otto Niedergesaess as Niedergesaess and Sons Electric Co., it has been around for more than a hundred years.
In 1926, Wilson — his brothers no longer involved — built the two-story masonry building and changed his name to match the new company’s, becoming Robert John Wilson. He painted the new office a shade of light brown, installed a rolltop desk just inside the door and opened for business.
The sign proclaiming Wilson Machine Works has not been touched, the desk has not been moved and the office has not been repainted. Overhead, belt pulleys on the ceiling still drive one historic machine. Current owner Dave Wilson reports that the foundations sit on clamshells.
This working-class Queen Anne series will explore topics like these and reach out from time to time to follow curious bits of local history. For example, the road that ran along the beach beside the site of Wilson’s shop may be the military road commissioned by Jefferson Davis and built by his later Civil War opponent. Ulysses S. Grant.
MICHAEL HERSCHENSOHN is president of the Queen Anne Historical Society (qahistory.org). To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.