WRITTEN BY PAUL DORPAT
To Ballard or Bust
COURTESY OF LAWTON GOWEY
The older photograph is a record of what is now one of the busier arterials in Seattle, 15th Avenue Northwest, although this bustle is mostly hidden in the "now" view behind and beyond the architecture of the 15th Avenue Bridge.
The bridge is only implied in the historical photograph by the trolley tracks in the scene's lower right corner. They lead directly to the bridge. These tracks are the photographer's intended subject, although for us, the more likely interest is in the late-afternoon quiet on 15th Avenue.
Fortunately, we have trolley historian Leslie Blanchard's account of the deeper significance of this sleepy scene. It appears in his book, "The Street Railway Era in Seattle," and what Blanchard wrote in 1968 is even truer today.
"Only the oldest residents of 'Snooze Junction' . . . will believe this, but here is 15th Avenue Northwest from Northwest 47th Street (or just north of the old Ballard lift bridge, itself only 3 years old) as it appeared on a balmy day in early August 1921." Blanchard relates that the tracks on 15th Avenue north of 47th were "used exclusively by electric freight trains until July 1927, when new track was laid on 15th and the 14th Avenue (passenger) line was abandoned."
Only 13 years later all these tracks were abandoned, and when the new concrete approaches to the Ballard Bridge (seen here in the "now" scene) were planned in 1939 no provision was made for trolley tracks.
Finally, two of the four billboards on the left of the "then" scene support Leslie's 1921 date. One promotes "The Wayfarer, America's Passion Pageant," which was performed that year at Husky Stadium. The other is an advertisement for "Over the Hill," a silent melodrama issued by Fox Films that year.
Paul Dorpat specializes in historical photography and has published several books on early Seattle.
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