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February 26, 2015 - March 4, 2015

Building Up

On March 4, 1885, Dirty Dan Harris -- founder of Fairhaven -- and a bunch of his drunken, rowdy pals raised one of the biggest and highest flags seen in the Northwest up to that time. Planted in front of the Fairhaven Hotel, the flagpole was so tall -- 110 feet -- that it had to be made in two sections. It took the boozy bannermen most of a day to hoist the 50-pound flag aloft, after which they toasted themselves with a round of congratulatory drinks.

Just shy of a century later, this brief act of erectile dysfunction was a distant memory when Seattle's Columbia Center became the tallest structure in Washington when it opened on March 2, 1985. Topping out at a whopping 997 feet, the new skyscraper's dominating presence on the Seattle skyline led to a 1989 voters' initiative to establish growth limits in downtown Seattle. It passed, but new zoning laws have effectively repealed the cap on heights, and no building has risen higher than Columbia Center … yet. (Image courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives)

Seattle's first steel-framed skyscraper was the 14-story Alaska Building, built in 1903. In 1910 work began on the Smith Tower, which opened in 1914. The pyramid-capped edifice was twice as tall as the King Street Station's clock tower, the city's erstwhile tallest structure. For almost 50 years the Smith Tower was claimed by many to be the "tallest building west of the Mississippi," even though in 1931 a Kansas City skyscraper topped it by 19 feet.

Seattle's skyline remained relatively unchanged until the opening of the Space Needle for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. Even though it stood north of downtown, the space-age structure immediately became the recognized symbol for Seattle, so much so that when the Seattle First National Bank Building claimed the crown as the city's tallest structure in 1969, it was often referred to as "the box the Space Needle came in." Since then, Seattle's skyline has changed dramatically, and these days the South Lake Union neighborhood has become home to the newest wave of tall buildings.

Starting Out

On March 2, 1853, President Millard Fillmore established Washington Territory, carving it out of Oregon Territory. When Oregon gained statehood in 1859, Washington Territory was expanded to include all of present-day Idaho and parts of Montana and Wyoming. President Lincoln severed these in 1863, creating Idaho Territory and establishing Washington's current boundaries, and residents began to campaign for admission to the union. Some argued that it made the most sense to divide the territory into two states along the crest of the Cascades (an idea that never quite dies), but Washington ultimately joined the union in one piece in 1889.

When the new Territorial Legislature convened its first session on February 28, 1854, Seattle pioneer Arthur Denny proposed a constitutional amendment to give women settlers (but not the Indian wives of settlers) the right to vote. The motion, which would have made Washington the first U.S. jurisdiction to enfranchise women, failed by a single vote, but set the stage for a war between the sexes that would rage for more than half a century to come.

News Then, History Now

Concurrent Event: On March 2, 1899, Congress created Mount Rainier National Park to preserve its purple mountain majesty. That same day, in the peak's long shadow, the city of Prosser incorporated in central Washington.

Horrific Descent: Shortly after midnight on March 1, 1910, a peal of thunder dislodged a snow shelf directly above two stalled trains near Wellington, not far from Stevens Pass. Millions of tons of snow and ice swept locomotives, carriages, and 96 lives down the mountainside, making this the largest avalanche disaster in United States history.

Making the Scene: On March 1, 1911, Washington's youngest county, Pend Oreille, was carved out of Stevens County in the state's northeast corner. Also celebrating birthdays this week are the towns of Langley, which incorporated on February 26, 1913, and East Wenatchee, which became a city on February 28, 1935.

Stage and Screen: On March 1, 1928, the curtain rose for the first time at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle. More recently, the historic venue became home to the Seattle Theatre Group's Historic Theatres Library, which opened to the public on March 1, 2012.

Go With the Flow: On February 29, 1948, Captain Alexander Peabody halted his vessels after state officials refused to grant his request for a 30-percent fare increase on his privately owned Black Ball ferry line. Residents of Vashon Island, who had dealt with a similar crisis one year earlier, began running their own ferries the very next day.

Three in a Row: Twenty-five years ago this week, SeaTac and Federal Way both got their start on the same day, February 28, 1990. And nearby Burien became a city exactly three years later, on February 28, 1993.

Quote of the Week

The supreme end-result of early Gothic Phallic forms is the skyscraper.

                                    --Jack Kerouac

Image of the Week

On February 27, 1989, Governor Booth Gardner announced the Tri-Party Agreement to clean up radioactive waste at the Hanford Reservation.

Today in Washington History      RSS Feed

Congress establishes the first federal forest reserves on March 3, 1891.

Voters elect John F. Miller as mayor of the City of Seattle on March 3, 1908.

Children drown in Green River on March 3, 1912.

Voters elect Hiram C. Gill as mayor of the City of Seattle on March 3, 1914.

William Boeing and Eddie Hubbard deliver the first shipment of international airmail on March 3, 1919.

Washington Governor Martin closes banks on March 3, 1933.

The State Normal School of Cheney becomes the Eastern Washington College of Education on March 3, 1937.

Chehalis volunteers begin work on a spur rail line from Chehalis to the industrial park on March 3, 1957.

Great Northern, Northern Pacific, and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy merge to become the Burlington Northern Railroad on March 3, 1970.

New Essays This Week       RSS Feed

Seattle's first automatic traffic light begins operation on April 21, 1924.

Joe Ronnie Hooper receives Medal of Honor in White House ceremony on March 7, 1969.

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