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Originally published Friday, October 11, 2013 at 10:15 AM

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First shovel of the last Denny Regrade

It chewed up the earth at Battery Street from 1929-31. A conveyor belt was used to move the remains of the hill to Elliott Bay, where the submerged pile became a danger to shipping and had to be dredged.

Special to The Seattle Times

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FIRST WE note the photographer’s caption at the lower-left corner of the “then” image. It reads, “1st Shovel at Conveyor 5th Ave. & Battery St.” And in the lower-right corner, it is also helpfully dated: May 11, 1929.

Most likely the photographer was James Lee, the skilled public-works employee whose industrious recordings of Seattle’s regrades also include film. The one-reel documentary, “Seattle Moves a Mountain,” was constructed from Lee’s footage of the project shown here — the last of the regrades of Denny Hill. The digging went on from 1929 into 1931. (You may have seen Lee’s footage on either Channel 9 or the Seattle Channel.)

After a 17-year pause at the cliff it had carved along the east side of Fifth Avenue, the Denny Hill Regrade began anew in 1929, using a belt to convey what remained of the hill on a 2,500-foot-long ride above Battery Street to the waterfront. George Nelson & Co., the regrade’s contractors, promised that the “huge conveyor belt” would be constructed of “sound-deadening equipment ... so that when the dirt starts moving there will be as little noise as possible.”

Every working day, about 10,000 cubic yards of the dwindling hill were dumped from the conveyor belt onto barges, which in turn were towed offshore so their loads could be dumped into Elliott Bay. In time, the dumping had a comedic effect. The submerged pile became a “reconstituted” Denny Hill and silently reached an elevation that was a danger to shipping. It required dredging.

Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard’s blog at

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