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Originally published Friday, February 21, 2014 at 12:07 AM

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1911: When Polk directories were really big

To anyone who has pursued a study of local history, Polk directories are downright endearing. First published in Seattle in 1887, they grew with the city until the company abandoned them in 1996 for “digits” — disks, that is, and online services.


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RIDING ITS own float south on Fourth Avenue is, perhaps, the largest Polk City Directory ever assembled. It is dated 1911, the year of this “Industrial Parade” for what was Seattle’s first Golden Potlatch, a summer celebration staged intermittently until World War II.

Fourth Avenue has been freshly flattened here for the Denny Regrade, a public work that by this year reached Fifth Avenue and then stopped, leaving on its east side a steep grade, in some places a cliff. On the far left horizon, the belfry of Sacred Heart Church still stands high above Sixth Avenue and Bell Street. Both were razed in 1929, along with what remained of Denny Hill east of Fifth Avenue.

Those are not helpful monks from the neighborhood parish guiding the horse-drawn float, but volunteers dressed in cowls of the potlatch pageant’s own design. When first delivered fresh from their Chicago factory and unveiled early in July (the potlatch month), the robes were described by a Seattle Times reporter as “insuring a brilliant or gorgeous display.”

Across Fourth Avenue, the covered VIP reviewing stand below the welcome sign was the first of many sections of bleachers constructed along both Third and Fourth avenues. With thousands of seats offered for weeklong rent to anyone with a dollar to spare, they helped pay for potlatch, a celebration that this paper explained would “be first, last and all the times a joy session. Seattle is going to pull the top off the town and let the folks see what it looks like when it is really going some.”

To anyone who has pursued a study of local history, Polk directories are downright endearing. First published in Seattle in 1887, they grew with the city until the company abandoned them in 1996 for “digits” — disks, that is, and online services. Over 40 years I have managed to collect about 40 Polks, most of them recycled copies bought from the Friends of the Seattle Public Library’s annual book sales. All are big, and all were worn when I got them. They surround my desk, because I keep using them.

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



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