Monday, November 30, 2009
The Not-So-Great Seattle Fire
Ladies and gents inspect the damage in the upper photo. The Galbraith Bacon dock survived the fire only to become the Edgewater Inn in later decades. The lower photo is Wall Street today, or, more precisely, yesterday.
On June 10, 1910, a little over 21 years to the day after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, Belltown was hit with a destructive blaze of its own. It started, as many things did in those days, along the waterfront. Its exact cause remains a mystery, but thanks to strong 40mph winds, it was soon consuming entire city blocks and moving steadily uphill along Wall Street towards the heart of Belltown. The fire gave the newly-mechanized Seattle Fire Department a chance to do battle with their shiny equipment. Unfortunately, it had little to no effect on the blaze. The winds were too strong and too many buildings were on fire. It burned so ferociously that most who watched from above were certain that the entire neighborhood would be consumed. At that moment, all seemed lost.
But then it began to rain. Not only that, but the winds suddenly calmed, as well. The fire department eventually gained the upper hand and brought the once-desperate situation under control. By morning, all that remained of the fire was smoldering rubble.
Wall Street immediately afterwards and today. Notice all the gawkers in the upper photo? "Smoldering ruin viewing" seems to have been a very popular public pastime back then. Well, people also turned out in droves to see public hangings. What can I say? It was before radio and TV; people had to do something.
In all, the fire destroyed 17 blocks of the waterfront and lower Belltown from Alaskan Way to Western Avenue. There was no mention of casualties, but there were definitely no fatalities. In comparison, the 1889 fire destroyed 25 blocks (and killed one), but at the time, the Pioneer Square area was Seattle's primary business district. Even by 1910, Belltown was still something of a suburb, so we can confidently say that the 1889 fire had a far more profound impact on the city. But nevertheless, the destruction was extensive. Among the structures lost were the Glenorchy Hotel, four apartment buildings, two restaurants, a hardware store, several stables, a few warehouses and dozens of houses. The cost of the blaze was certainly in the millions, but not nearly as much as the 1889 fire's $20,000,000 price tag.
The aftermath of the fire.
Well, I'm happy to say that the area was quickly rebuilt. Unlike reconstruction in Pioneer Square, there is almost nothing to indicate that it was ever the scene of such widespread devastation. But it happened almost 100 years ago.