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Originally published Friday, November 23, 2012 at 10:00 AM

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The view across Seattle's Third Avenue, ca. 1918

Only one of the structures recorded in this view survives: the then-4-year-old YWCA building at Fifth Avenue and Seneca.

Special to The Seattle Times

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IN THE WINTER of 1920, Foster and Kleiser trumpeted the great success of their outdoor advertising business — aka billboards — by offering preferred stock in their company at $100 a share. Soon after, they ran an ad on The Seattle Times "finance and markets" page strengthening their offering with a boast: "The Power of Art Has Produced This Great Business."

The slogan was framed in a pen-and-ink rendering of one of the wonderfully pretentious billboard frames Foster and Kleiser had raised on some of the many local corners and rooftops for which they had leases. They adorned this double lot at the northeast corner of Third Avenue and Seneca Street four times with the "power of art."

The years that billboards cloaked the clutter of this corner were few. They began appearing after the ca. 1907 destruction of the big home that Dexter Horton, Seattle's first banker, built here in the 1870s. Foster and Kleiser made their fancy billboards in part to answer critics (led by local improvement clubs) who described boards as "blots on beauty" and "commercialism gone mad," among other things.

The art-deco frames were removed to make way for the Telephone Building in 1920. This sturdy survivor was engineered to hold the company's heavy equipment. For the foundation the builders also prudently wrapped in concrete the Great Northern Railroad tunnel that runs directly beneath the northeast corner of their skyscraper.

Only one of the structures recorded in this 1918 look east across Third Avenue survives: the then-4-year-old YWCA building at Fifth Avenue and Seneca. The Y's ornate upper floors hold the horizon. They are topped by a high wire fence for games on the roof.

Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard's blog at www.pauldorpat.com.

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