Now & Then -- Seattle's Fremont Neighborhood

  • By Paul Dorpat
  • Posted 2/24/2001
  • Essay 2992
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This file contains Seattle historian and photographer Paul Dorpat's Now & Then photographs and reflections on the Seattle neighborhood of Fremont in the 1940s and in 2000.

This view north on Fremont Avenue from its intersection with 34th Street was photographed on Tuesday afternoon, April 2, 1940. It is one of the photographs of trolley motorman James Lee, who recorded neighborhood streetcars in the last months of their operation. Three riders risk the curbside traffic -- the van on the left is not parked -- while waiting to board car 569 of the Phinney Line, most likely for a ride downtown.

By the time of Lee's visit to Fremont, electric buses were already in operation on some of the routes close to downtown and by the end of the month, trackless trolleys would join in the revolution to replace streetcars. Car 569, however, is an exception. It has a reprise still of one year and three days. Phinney Line 21 was the next to last rail service to be shut down and torn up. On April 5, 1941, the last car made its last turn on the track showing here in the lower right corner for the final leg west to the old Fremont Car Barn. Built in St. Louis in 1898 or 1899 it would soon be scrapped in Georgetown.

Losing the stimulant of commuters to the Aurora Bridge in 1932 and its lumber mill the same year, Fremont was hit especially hard by the nation's Great Depression of the 1930s. In 1941, the year streetcar tracks were removed, there were seven vacancies among the 31 addresses listed in this block between 34th and 35th streets. Among the open businesses were three candy shops, three taverns, a paint and hardware store, a grocer, a drug store (at the far corner behind the trolley), and the second floor clubhouse (above the streetcar's roofline) for The Fraternal Brotherhood.

The nearly terminal seediness of depression-time Fremont now lends it its distinctive charm among Seattle business districts. Despite the recent nearby developments by Fremont's new money -- its gentry -- all of these 1940 rooflines are today (February 2000) still familiar, including the slice of the Fremont Baptist church, the highest structure in the scene.

Fremont still has plenty of confectioneries and beer halls. The "now" scene has been widened some to include the landmark Red Door Alehouse at the northwest corner of the intersection. On the same corner in 1940 are a bubbling fountain beside a trashcan signed "Your Streets are Washed Regularly / Help Beautify Your City by Keeping Them Clean." And on this sunny spring afternoon everything appears spotless. [Note: This 2000 "now" scene is now also a "then." In 2004, the Red Door had moved a block north and Pete's Coffee had taken its place, among many other changes.]


Paul Dorpat, "Now & Then," The Seattle Sunday Times, Pacific Northwest Magazine, February 13, 2000.
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