Now & Then -- Seattle's Front Street (now 1st Avenue)

  • By Paul Dorpat
  • Posted 1/01/1999
  • Essay 2585

This is a photograph of Seattle's Front Street (now 1st Avenue) taken in 1878 or 1879. The street's name was appropriate. At high tide, Elliott Bay beat against the timber retaining wall that held Front Street high and dry above the waterfront. The photo shows Seattle's first major public works -- the regrading of Front Street from a stump-strewn, ravine-ridden path to a filled-in, smoothed-out highway, with a sidewalk promenade with guardrail along the shore of the bay.

The scene was shot from the balcony above Maddock's drugstore at the northeast corner of Front's intersection with Madison Street. The drugstore burned down in the Great Fire of 1889. I took the "now" shot from the second floor of a brick building raised there soon after the fire.

The fire started across Front Street in the Pontius Building. The corner of its balcony is on the older photo's far right. It and the Woodward Grain House, the building that dominates the photo's center, both stood on pilings.

The Woodward was the business home of Peter's Furs, Cigars and Liquors. Peter was in the right line. The 1878 city directory claimed that "five out of every six men in the territory use tobacco, and nine out of every ten men use intoxicating drinks."

Posing in the photograph's lower left-hand corner are A.W. Piper, his son Wallis, and their dog Jack. As the proprietor of the Puget Sound Candy Manufactory, Piper was very popular. The 1878 directory reviewed his confections as "warranted strictly pure."

For 30 years the Pipers lived in Seattle making candy and friends. When Piper died in l904, historian Thomas Prosch eulogized "Pipers cream cakes" in the obituary he wrote for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "[N]othing of the kind . . . has ever approached them in excellence."

Piper was also an artist. Prosch recounted, "He could draw true to life, could mold in clay, cut stone ... his Christmas display was noted for its originality, humor and beauty."

In many ways the candymaker was unconventional. He was a religious Unitarian, and a socialist member of the Seattle City Council. He was also a practical joker. Once he mimicked Henry Yesler so convincingly at a public dance that the real Yesler ran home to construct a sign which read "This is the only original Yesler."

Prosch concluded, "Everybody regarded him as a friend." A. W. Piper died at the age of 76, survived by Mrs. Piper, their nine children and many friends.

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