Ask almost any Seattle resident about the architecture of Pioneer Square, and they will talk about the rebuilding after the Great Fire of 1889. Push a little harder and they may also recall the period of construction in the first decade of the 20th century after the Klondike Gold Rush reenergized the economy. It’s unlikely that anyone will point to the time between World War I and the Great Depression, yet those years also left their mark through a few Art Deco structures, facades along the Second Avenue Extension, and three parking garages: the Terminal Garage (now called the Old Seattle Garage) on South Jackson, dating from 1919; the Frye Garage adjacent to the Frye Hotel, dating from 1926; and the MacRae Garage at 4th and Yesler, dating from 1927.
These garages are buildings we barely notice, yet they, too, have stories to tell. They serve as reminders of the rise of automobile ownership and commuting—with the accompanying requirements of automobile storage—and also the decline of Pioneer Square after 1910 as the center of downtown shifted decisively northward and sites in the district became inexpensive enough to use for parking. For these reasons, the Pioneer Square National Register of Historic Places registration form identifies both the Frye Garage and the MacRae Garage as “historic” and “contributing,” meaning these structures not only date from the period of historical significance (1889–1931), but they are also part of the architectural ensemble that makes the district noteworthy. Although it is arguably the most significant of the three, the Terminal Garage has not been similarly recognized because its true history was only recently uncovered.
For over 20 years, from about 1890 to after 1910, the site at South Jackson and Railroad Avenue (the former name of Alaskan Way) was occupied by a two-story wood frame building with retail spaces and hotel rooms. However, in 1914, the site was mostly vacant, with only a small one-story commercial structure at the corner. By 1919, the site was owned by the J. M. Colman Company, which applied that June for a permit to build a one-story-plus-basement parking garage including an automobile service station. The Daily Bulletin (now the Daily Journal of Commerce) listed the garage’s cost at $55,000. The City issued a permit for an additional floor in August. In September the lease of the garage was announced in a Seattle Times article, and the Terminal Garage opened for business later that year.
The garage’s architect was Ernest C. Haley (1867–1954). His Seattle career was brief, lasting less than two years, but he practiced successfully in Minneapolis after 1920. The contractor, the J. A. McEachern Company, was headed by Jack McEachern; the company would later merge into the General Construction Company where McEachern would have a significant career.
Although the building has undergone minor changes and no longer includes a service station, the Terminal Garage has been in continuous use for 97 years; it is the oldest parking garage in Pioneer Square and arguably one of the oldest in the entire city. The garage is also notable as an early cast-in-place concrete structure. Although some early accounts suggested the garage would be timber and brick, the building permit includes inspection records of concrete pours showing that it always had a cast-in-place concrete exterior. The quality of concrete finishes in that period was less than ideal—the forms were individual boards aligned horizontally, as plywood would not be used for concrete forms until the 1930s or later—so the primary elevations of the building facing Jackson Street and Railroad Avenue were finished with stucco to create a smooth surface and a surprisingly modern appearance. The quality of the original concrete work can be seen on the side facing the alley where it was never coated with stucco.
The oldest known photograph of the garage, from 1937 (pictured above), is now at the Puget Sound Regional Branch of the Washington State Archives. At the time, the Viaduct was not yet constructed, and it provides a particularly clear view of the building from the west. Taken only 18 years after the garage opened, the photograph no doubt shows the building as it was designed and constructed in 1919.
Unfortunately, the garage’s property record card—completed in 1937 at the same time the photograph was taken—incorrectly listed the building’s construction date as 1909. The reason for this error is unknown, but it led later researchers to misunderstand the building. Cast-in-place concrete was in common use in Seattle in 1919, but it would have been extraordinarily unusual in 1909. Because of the mistake in dating, researchers assumed the building had been radically altered after its initial construction, and historians only recently pieced together the garage’s correct history. As a result, the National Register form still lists the Terminal Garage as “historic, non-contributing,” which leaves the building unprotected. In fact, a development project has been proposed for the site.