Pacific Northwest MagazineMay 25, 2003seattletimes.com home
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COVER STORY
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PLANT LIFE
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ON FITNESS
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NOW & THEN
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PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW
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WRITTEN BY PAUL DORPAT

Virginia's Pier Group

Photo
COURTESY OF LAWTON GOWEY
Before a seawall was constructed north of Madison Street in the mid 1930s, Railroad Avenue was a deceptive and often dangerous trestle built over the tides. In the older scene, warehouses pack the land side of this narrow stretch that has been more recently congested with condominiums.

 
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PAUL DORPAT
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AFTER THE GREAT Seattle Fire of 1889, the waterfront was developed with piers on the bay side of a planked trestle that was crowded in its widest stretch north of Yesler Way with nine sets of parallel tracks and two blocks of warehouses. North of Pike Street, this swath narrowed considerably into what is seen here in 1909 or 1910. Here below Denny Hill the water was too deep for long finger piers, so they were built either relatively short or set parallel to the shoreline.

As its banner declares, this overpass links the Virginia Street Dock and Warehouse Company's dock with its warehouse. The bridge was necessary because, when the rolling stock congested this narrow stretch, there was no hauling of bulky goods across Railroad Avenue except at short, unscheduled intervals.

After World War II, the Port of Seattle began buying up piers and properties on the likelihood that it would build long piers paralleling the shoreline to service the great new postwar freighters that were expected here. The big ships did come, but they carried containers to the other end of the waterfront, where a deep channel was dug and a line of giant cranes set alongside on their own tracks.

The Virginia Street Dock (far left) was built in 1905 and the Gaffney Dock, its near twin to the south (out of the picture) two years earlier. The spur track between them serviced the Northern Pacific Railroad. During World War II the Virginia Street Dock assumed a role that it would long keep: handling thousands of heavy rolls of newsprint for regional newspapers — The Seattle Times included — and printers. These old piers, without their sheds, now support One Reel's Summer Nights at the Pier.

Paul Dorpat specializes in historical photography and has published several books on early Seattle.

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