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Alaskan Way Seattle 1939: Images of a Bustling Roadway

The Alaskan Way is a thoroughfare in the City of Seattle, Washington, located on the waterfront of Elliott Bay: it travels in a northwesterly direction from downtown and along the water to the Belltown neighborhood. It was originally constructed by the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway in the years before the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 consumed it. After the Fire it was rebuilt in the same location above the water of wooden pilings with a plank deck and named Railroad Avenue. Trains carried freight on it and serviced the piers, warehouses, and industry located along the route.

Today’s lead image and the enlargeable version of it below are of a view to the north dated 1939 along the busy roadway. Left-to-right in the photo: buildings and warehouses constructed on piers over the water, Alaskan Way, streetcar and train tracks, a parking lot, a second set of train tracks, and industrial buildings.

The second photograph below, also dated 1939 is bustling with activity; a policeman is visible on Alaskan Way directing traffic at the intersection just north of the Waterfront Fish Co. The cars and trucks in both pictures date from the late-1920s to then current 1939 models.

Tell us what you find of interest in this set of images courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives.

12 responses to “Alaskan Way Seattle 1939: Images of a Bustling Roadway

  1. Huh, seems just about all the cars of this era around today have sidemounts (including mine), but I don’t see one car in either of these pictures so equipped. Very interesting.

    • Interesting observation. On all the pre war cars I have owned over the years (not really that many in 50 years) I never altered the original tire configuration, always left it the way it was from new. I do have to admit with the limited interior room in the cars of that era, side mounted spare tires do allow for a little extra space, either in the trunk or with a trunk rack.

  2. Those train tracks are currently underneath the viaduct, built in the early 50s so that through traffic could bypass the busy waterfront. The viaduct was damaged in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake is to be demolished soon, so after sixty-some years the general layout in that scene will return to much like it is in the photograph — albeit with very different cars.

  3. Do I see two c. 1937 Hudsons passing each other in the center picture? A large series 1936 Buick at the front left? A 1938 DeSoto, center? A 1939/40 Mercury woodie parked center right? How ancient the big flat grill early 30s cars look compared to the new streamline designs.

  4. So, where is the truck going? Into the building through a door? Quite a job to back up with the trailer if turning around.

    • Yes, into the building.
      Some of those wharf warehouses were as long as the ocean freighters which brought in the goods.

  5. First pic: Don’t see any traffic lights, so getting out from side streets into the heavy flow must have been a free-for-all with plenty of cussing and indignant horn blowing.

    Second pic: The parking lots on the left side must have been for people who worked the same shift, as there are cars parked two, three and four deep, nose to tail, and then others parked at right angles , (latecomers?) blocking in the whole lot of previously parked cars.

  6. Lots of AA (U.S.P.S) BB, A, & B Fords! Looks like the siding is not frequently used — or scheduled for: “off hours” Tracks are Steam Railway (No trolley wire nor Heavy (600 Volt D.C.) cables on the cross arms . An intersection nearby, (behind the Camera) as the overhead steel support cable and Wires to the 4- way Red/Green Traffic Signal (probably “Acme”), was suspended there — over the vehicles. Edwin W.

  7. In the first photo, the building 2nd from left is home to SFD engine 5 and either 1 or 2 fire boats depending on the year. That station was replaced on the site C. 1962, and still is in use today. The street directly across from Sta. 5 is the foot of Madison street, one of Seattle’s cable car lines (until 1940).

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