Double Exposures: Rainier Avenue at Genesee Street

This 1930s photo shows the Genesee streetcar - affectionately known as the "Dinky" - turning east onto Genesee Street from Rainier Avenue. The corners of the intersection are lined with gracefully curving rows of storefronts. The intersection was built up as a commercial district partly in anticipation of the construction of a bridge across Lake Washington at the east end of Genesee Street - a bridge that was never built. But the businesses there - including Mondo's meats, Hilda Kane's café, and Shaw's pharmacy - thrived anyway.

Harry Shaw lived in the neighborhood and operated a pharmacy at 3553 Genesee Street in the 1920s. Shaw's Pharmacy moved to this more prominent corner location at 4400 Rainier Avenue in 1930, and then closed up shop sometime during, or just after, the Second World War. This information, along with the 1920s vehicles visible in the photograph and the fact that the streetcar quit operating at the end of 1936, allows us to date the photograph within a couple of years.

In its time, the Genesee "Dinky" went along Genesee to 50th Avenue South, and then turned south up the hill. The line ended at Hudson, just past Lakewood Playfield. There was no turnaround; instead the streetcar was reversible. The motorman would switch the control lever, fare box, and overhead trolley to the other end of the car. He would then walk the length of the car flipping the seat backs so they faced the other way. Then the car would make the return journey down the hill to Genesee and west to Rainier Avenue to connect with the Rainier Avenue streetcar line.

The "Dinky" earned a kind of grudging affection among its ridership - some people called it "Galloping Gertie" because of the rickety ride; others referred to it as the "Toonerville Trolley."

It also attracted its fair share of mischief. Teenagers are rumored to have greased the tracks at the bottom of the 50th Avenue hill, making the climb nearly impossible and the downhill curve downright dangerous. Other youngsters hitched free rides on the rear cowcatcher (the reversible car had them at both ends, of course) - and other riders would give the boys ample warning when the conductor tried to catch them at it.

At least once the "Dinky" jumped the tracks and ended up in the ditch at the bottom of the hill - not, as it turns out, due to foul play of any kind, but rather because the motorman forgot to set the brake when he went to use the restroom at a neighbor's house at Hudson Street. As the car was empty, no one was injured.

Hilda Kane owned a restaurant on the northeast corner of Rainier and Genesee in the 1940s. Kane and her establishment had quite a reputation; one former customer recalled: "She was a mean old witch, and a swinger. Her place was a tavern on Genesee. It was a dump!" Kane's and the other buildings on the corner were torn down in the 1950s when Safeway built a supermarket there. In 1996 the Safeway moved north to the Rainier Valley Square shopping center, replacing Max Foods. The old Safeway building stood empty for several years, facing an empty lot across Genesee Street. These were tough times for the Genesee neighborhood. Activists such as Claude Forward, who owned a TV repair shop on the west side of Rainier, fought graffiti and crime, while working to bring investment and businesses to the area.

In 1999 the old Safeway building re-opened as the Rainier Mall, with a variety of shops and a Chinese restaurant; the Rainier Mall parking lot is visible in the 2004 photo. In 2002 a Walgreen's opened on the southeast corner of Rainier and Genesee, bringing a pharmacy back to the old Shaw's location. In a nod to history, the developer also built a curved building on the corner, echoing the lines of the buildings in the 1930s photo. This corner space is now occupied by a Tully's Coffee shop. Johny's Nails - one of dozens of nail shops along Rainier Avenue - has occupied the southwest corner since 2003. Finally, the Genesee "Dinky" streetcar route has been approximately replicated by the No. 39 bus, sans the charming nicknames.

For info about the "Double Exposures" project, contact the Rainier Valley Historical Society at (206) 722-2838.[[In-content Ad]]