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37th Avenue, 1908: What’s Left?

37th Avenue looking north, Seattle, 1908. RVHS: 1993.001.0037

This 1908 photo of Columbia City was taken looking north along 37th Avenue from Dawson Street at the foot of Hitt’s Hill. It is a primitive scene: a muddy track veers around a raw stump and an oddly listing tree. Crooked planked sidewalks wind along in front of the wooden houses. The original Columbia School building, with its distinctive bell tower, is visible on the left. The only sign of modernity is the line of utility poles marching down the hill. When this photo was taken, Columbia City, founded in 1891, had just been annexed to the City of Seattle. Some 300 people lived in the little town, which was connected to Seattle by a streetcar that ran down what is now Rainier Avenue.

Fast forward to 2004: the hill has been graded, the streets are paved, and the utility poles have been moved to the west side of 37th Avenue. The old Columbia School was torn down in 1922 after a one-storey school was built behind it. The new school’s slender white smokestack is visible on the far left.

On the right, a block of houses has been replaced with a large flat-roofed building. This building was built in 1979 as an expansion of the manufacturing plant that has been in operation in Columbia City for nearly 50 years. The company began in 1955 as a gasket and machine shop called Fabricators, Inc. in the old streetcar barn at Rainier and Hudson. (The streetcars had quit operating in 1937.) It became Fluorocarbon, Inc. in 1973, then changed its name to Furon around 1995. The company was bought by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics in October, 1999. Today the plant employs 95 people and provides molded plastic and foam products to the aviation, medical, and computer industries.

Only one feature remains the same in this altered landscape: the small peaked-roof house just beyond the plastics plant, visible in the 1908 photo behind the second utility pole. In the early 1900s, the house belonged to the Womach family, who owned a fuel business nearby. Even this building has changed: in 2002 it was lifted off its foundation and a lower storey was built beneath it. Teng Lauk, a Sudanese immigrant, has opened the Maar Store on the new ground floor of the building.

Double Exposures: the Rainier Valley Rephotography Project

The Rainier Valley Historical Society, worked with local photographer Kerry Zimmerman, in selecting historical photographs from its collection and recaptured those images as closely as possible in the Rainier Valley of today. We then researched both the changes and the remnants of the past that are revealed in the photographs, and presented the images to the public. Double Exposures is supported by King County 4Culture and the Rainier Rotary Foundation.


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