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The Seattle Times | Pacific Northwest

Now & Then Paul Dorpat

Tent City, Temporarily

The city's "great fire" of June 6, 1889 consumed most of the business district but not this block on Second Avenue.

After the disaster it quickly served in the rebuilding that turned practically every available lot and lawn on Second into a strip of temporary tents. The Seattle Times of June 10 reported that while "the slabs and sawdust piles are still burning and sending clouds of smoke back over the town," more than 100 permits had been issued to put up tents.

Judging by the signs, the large tent on the far left, at the southwest corner of Second Avenue and Seneca Street, is shared by two firms: Doheny and Marum Dry Goods and "manufacturers agents" Avery, Kirk and Lansing. Before they were, for the most part, wiped out by the fire, the two businesses were already neighbors at the corner of Columbia and Front (First Avenue).

About a half-hour before the fire started, Avery and his partners were suddenly $2,500 richer, when W.A. Gordon, a young man recently arrived from Maine, invested that amount, "everything he had," the papers reported, in the business. The cash most likely helped with the construction of the big tent.

We know from an Aug. 2 Times article that a firm on Second just north of Seneca had paid $2 a month per running foot for space to construct a tent "at the expense of several hundred dollars." Less than two months later, the landlord was asking the city to remove the tent to make way for a building. The threatened residents appealed, "We do not want to be thrown into the street."

A few tents did business for a year before the City Council decided there were "buildings enough for all" and ordered the last of them removed.

"Washington Then and Now," the new book by Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard, can be purchased through Tartu Publications at P.O. Box 85208, Seattle, WA 98145.