Growth and Change

The history of Seattle city government parallels Seattle's greater history. Sometimes, as with the regrading of downtown, the City created history itself. In other cases, the City reacted to an era's events and challenges, whether by encouraging or celebrating growth in good times, or responding to the consequences of harder times such as wars, depressions, natural disasters, and social upheaval. Although City photographers rarely set out to capture these greater themes in their routine documentation of City work, the resulting pictures often provide glimpses into Seattle's broader history.

Growth and Development

Seattle was incorporated in 1869, eighteen years after the first white settlers arrived. From these beginnings, Seattle's population grew to over 80,000 by 1900, tripled in the following decade, and expanded to about 550,000 people by 1960, a number that has remained relatively stable to the present. Seattle also expanded geographically, from its original territory around Downtown and the Central Area, through a wave of annexations in the early 1900's that included the suburban towns of Ballard, West Seattle, Columbia, South Park, and Georgetown, and finally with several annexations in the 1940's and 1950's that brought in Arbor Heights and areas north of 85th and 65th Streets up to the current city limits at 145th Street. See our Brief History of Seattle for a more detailed account of the city's history.

Pioneer Square Waterfront
Seattle from the waterfront, 1896
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 29984
Smith Tower Under Construction
Smith Tower under construction, 1913
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 11930
Railroad and West Seattle Bridge
Construction of Seattle Depot for the
Oregon & Washington Railroad
(now Union Station), 1911
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 52100
Central Area
Central Area and Mount Baker from Beacon Hill, 1955
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 52376
Seattle Sunset
Aerial of Seattle at sunset, 2000
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 108525

Reshaping the City

More than any other major American city, Seattle's geography has been transformed by several ambitious feats of civil engineering. These projects include the flattening of downtown from the International District and Pioneer Square to Lake Union (raising Pioneer Square and lowering elevations north, in some cases, by more than 100 feet); removing the northern portion of Beacon Hill to open up the Rainier Valley to downtown; filling Elliott Bay south of downtown from the East Waterway to Beacon Hill (creating today's Industrial District); lowering Lake Washington and changing the lake's Puget Sound outlet from the Black and Duwamish Rivers to a new Ship Canal from Union Bay to Shilshole; straightening and deepening the Duwamish Waterway (making it navigable for oceangoing ships), and the undertaking of many smaller regrades and landfills that altered neighborhoods and shorelines.

Ross Hotel
Ross Shire Hotel at 6th Avenue and Marion Street, 1914.
This is one of several privately owned "pinnacles" in
regraded areas where private landowners did not
arrange to have their property lowered at the same time
the City paid to have the adjoining street regraded.
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 240
Cherry Street Regrade
5th Avenue regrade, view north from Cherry Street, 1911.
This picture was taken from the location of
present-day Seattle City Hall and the Seattle
Justice Center. First United Methodist Church
is visible in the background.
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 52174
East Terminal
East Waterway Terminal, 1915.
Looking north from the Hanford Street Terminal.
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 739
Locks Under Construction
Lake Washington Canal Locks under construction, 1913.
Although Lake Washington Ship Canal construction
was overseen and funded, in large part,
by the U.S. Government and King County,
Seattle was responsible for building bridges
across the waterway.
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 6325

Celebrations and Dedications

Seattle has always found occasions to celebrate: announcing to the world its progress as a city in the 1909 Alaska-Yukon Pacific Exposition and 1962 World's Fair, commemorating holidays and patriotic events, dedicating public works and monuments, and otherwise expressing community pride.

Golden Potlatch
First Golden Potlatch Parade, view north along
2nd Avenue at Marion Street, 1911
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 30953
Fourth of July Parade
Fourth of July Parade in front of
County-City Building on Fourth Avenue, 1936
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 10633
Bridge Dedication
First Avenue South Bridge dedication
with Mayor Clinton and Governor Langlie, 1956.
Governor Langlie, left, was twice elected
Seattle's mayor before he resigned
to become Washington's governor in 1941.
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 53776
Seattle Birthplace Monument
Dedication of Birthplace of Seattle
Monument at Alki, 1926
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 46980
City Hall Dedication
Council President Peter Steinbrueck, Mayor
Greg Nickels and Councilmember Jan Drago at
ribbon cutting for new City Hall, 2003
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 145342

Events and Challenges

Like any other city, Seattle has faced hardships and challenges imposed on it by outside forces, whether natural or manmade.

Perkins Lane Landslide
Perkins Lane house after landslide, 1954
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 44997
Columbus Day Storm
Car damaged in Columbus Day storm, 1962
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 63149
Lake Union Dam Washout
Lake Union dam washout, 1914.
A small 1850s dam at the western outlet
of Lake Union disintegrated and washed out
in 1914, lowering the lake by eleven feet.
The washout exposed several sewer and
drainage pipes around the lake. This view,
looking east, includes the north end of
the Stone Way Bridge in the background.
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 100
Ravenna Blvd Sinkhole
Ravenna Boulevard sinkhole, 1957.
The Ravenna trunk sewer break cost more
than $2 million for the City to repair,
the most expensive sewer break ever
experienced by a municipality up to that
time. The sinkhole grew to 175 feet wide,
200 feet long, and 50 feet deep.
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 56016
Cadillac Hotel Earthquake Damage
Earthquake damage to Cadillac Hotel, 2001.
The Cadillac Hotel has been repaired and
restored, and now serves as the permanent
home for the National Park Service's
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 113523

Next section-->

Municipal Archives, City Clerk

Anne Frantilla, City Archivist
Address: 600 Fourth Avenue, Third Floor, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 94728, Seattle, WA, 98124-4728
Phone: (206) 684-8353

The Office of the City Clerk maintains the City's official records, provides support for the City Council, and manages the City's historical records through the Seattle Municipal Archives. The Clerk's Office provides information services to the public and to City staff.