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Now & Then
Between 1909 and 1968 the National Guard Armory on the west side of Western Avenue filled most of the block between Virginia and Lenora streets.

spacer Photo PAUL DORPAT
The historical photo was taken from the top of the retaining wall (shown here behind the railroad engine) built during the 1903 construction of the north portal to the Great Northern railroad tunnel beneath the city.
An Unarmed Guard

FROM THIS prospect on the bluff below its battlements, the military lines and slotted towers of the old National Guard Armory on the slope of Denny Hill stood out like the bastion it was not. The architectural style was strictly high military kitsch. Through its 59 years, the honeycomb of about 150 rooms within its 3-foot-thick brick walls saw more auto shows, conventions, athletic contests and community services than it did military drills.

Built just north of the Pike Place Market on Western Avenue, the Armory was dedicated on April 1, 1909. A month later, during an indoor Seattle Athletic Club meet, an overcrowded gallery collapsed, maiming many and killing a few. During the Great Depression the Armory was outfitted with showers and free food services, and in World War II it was used by both the Greater Seattle Defense Chest as a hospitality center for servicemen and by the Seattle General Depot as a warehouse. Most of the military uses had already been transferred to the armory that survives as the Seattle Center Centerhouse.

After the war, the state unemployment-compensation offices were housed there. In 1947 a fire swept through the offices. The Armory was repaired, but after a larger fire in 1962, in which much of the west wall fell onto the Alaskan Way Viaduct, it was merely shored up.

While asking to purchase the Armory from the National Guard, the Seattle City Council described its 1959 vision of the site: some combination of lookout park and garage, without the battlements. Nine years later, when demolition expert John McFarland began tearing it down, local preservationists put a temporary stop to it. But the City Council instructed the wrecker to resume his wrecking.

Paul Dorpat specializes in historical photography and has published several books on early Seattle

Cover Story Plant Life On Fitness Northwest Living Taste Now & Then Sunday Punch

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