Rarely does an odd piece of street furniture capture our imaginations, but the 1979 cast-aluminum streetcar shelter sculpture on the north bank of the Lake Washington Ship Canal known as ‘Waiting for the Interurban” is an exception to the rule.
Everyone in Seattle knows the six people waiting with their dog for a train that never ran there, but almost no one pays attention to the authentic shelter on the south bank of the ship canal that may have served as its model.
The Queen Anne Historical Society recently nicknamed the historic shelter “Really Waiting for the Interurban” and is excited that the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has decided to take on its restoration and preservation.
The project’s announcement encouraged figuring out why the pragmatic, little cover was curiously two-sided. We all regularly stare at this odd, triangular structure as we idled, waiting to turn left from Nickerson Street to cross the Fremont Bridge.
Bicyclists headed north careen down the Dexter Avenue North bikeway to stop by the shelter as they eagerly anticipate triggering the counters embedded in bridge’s sidewalk. They surely don’t realize that they owe Dexter’s gentle slope going southeast from Fourth Avenue North and north from Mercer Street to the easy climbs graded for the Nickerson streetcar line.
A history of the streetcar
The shelter sits on the narrow peninsula formed by the intersection of Westlake Avenue North and Dexter, a mind-boggling intersection for those who think the two avenues are parallel to one another. Indeed, parallel they are from downtown around the base of Queen Anne to “kiss” just where Fourth Avenue North comes tumbling down the hill to cross the 1917 bascule bridge over the ship canal.
The shelter is uniquely two-faced with a metal frame, whose brackets hold up a wooden, V-shaped roof protecting two wooden benches.
Before 1939, folks waited here to board the train to Everett on Westlake (the Interurban headed to Seattle did not pick up passengers south of 85th Street), while others waited on the Dexter side for trips west on Nickerson past the Third Avenue North car barn to 14th Avenue West. Today, bus stops located near the intersection still serve on both Dexter and Westlake.
The streetcar line on Westlake was the city’s oldest. It first ran from Pike Street to Lake Union and was built between Oct. 15 and 20, 1890 — yes, in five days! The Seattle Electric Railways and Power Co. owned the route.
Later that year, the company extended the line to Fremont on wooden trestles that had only to cross a narrow creek where the Fremont Bridge is now. The trestles on Westlake stood until 1915, when the route was filled and a parallel auto road was completed.
After a number of changes in ownership, the line was taken over by Stone and Webster Seattle Electric Co. (SEC) in 1900, which acquired all 23 miles of streetcar tracks in the city and rebuilt them all with uniform trackage within two years.
Incorporated on May 29, 1902, the Everett and Interurban Railway ran 14 miles north from Market Street and 20th Avenue. In 1909, Stone and Webster took the line over, rerouted it down Phinney Avenue and completed the 29 miles to Everett by 1910.
This Interurban is memorialized by the eponymous sculpture and the pedestrian-and-bicycle trail that follows the line north from 110th Street and Dayton Avenue.
From the Fremont Bridge, the Interurban shared the Seattle Electric Co. rails along Westlake into downtown, terminating after 1927 at the current, soon-to-be-demolished Greyhound Bus station at Stewart Street and Eighth Avenue. The last train to make the one-hour-and-10-minute run left Everett at 11 p.m. on Feb. 20, 1939.
The city, having initiated its own municipal service, completed the streetcar line on Dexter on May 23, 1914. It ran from Third Avenue and Pine Street, past the car barn just north of Third Avenue West and West Nickerson Street — where the No. 13 turns around today — to 14th Avenue West, near the southern terminus of the Ballard Beach line.
A sheltered history
We don’t know for sure when our Queen Anne shelter was constructed. It isn’t in a 1915 photo of the site, but it appears in photos taken in the late 1920s. A good guess would place construction after the completion of the Dexter line and the 1917 opening of the Fremont Bridge.
Simple as it may be, the shelter tells a marvelous story about the history of street railways in our neighborhood.
SDOT plans to restore the structure to its original glory. We hope they find a way to restore the back-to-back benches and dress up the landscape, as well.
MICHAEL HERSCHENSOHN is president of the Queen Anne History Society (qahistory.org). Larry Johnson, AIA, contributed information to this column. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.