Usually, a Front Street designates a city’s waterfront. Front Street in Philadelphia parallels the Delaware River; NW Front Avenue in Portland, Oregon, goes up the Willamette River; Front Street in Toronto runs along Lake Ontario. Seattle once had a prominent Front Street alongside Elliott Bay, but it was renamed 1st Avenue in 1895. The Front Street we do have runs a grand total of ⅖ of a mile split among three segments, and it runs east–west, while the nearby Duwamish River runs north–south. Why is this?

As it turns out, S Front Street — established as part of Joseph R. McLaughlin’s Water Front Addition to the City of Seattle in 1906 — did use to run along the river, before it was rechanneled beginning in 1913. (Here is an excellent post from the Burke Museum on the Duwamish meanders, with some great maps and aerials.) The maps below show its course along the Duwamish River Oxbow in 1912 (left) and its current landlocked state (right). You can still make out its former location, as well as small remnants in the form of the Slip 2 and Slip 3 inlets. (Incidentally, Front Street originally was shaped like a horseshoe — today’s S Front Street was originally North Front Street, and South Front Street is today S River Street.)

Portion of index page of Baist's Real Estate Atlas of Seattle, 1912, showing Duwamish River oxbowPortion of King County Parcel Viewer map and aerial view of Seattle showing former location of Duwamish River oxbow

Speaking of the Oxbow, here’s an advertisement for it. So much for that “16,000 feet of deep water frontage.”

Advertisement for Oxbow in June 1, 1906, issue of The Seattle Times
Advertisement for Oxbow in June 1, 1906, issue of The Seattle Times

Today’s S Front Street begins at 6th Avenue S and goes ¼ of a mile west, ending just beyond 4th Avenue S. There is another 400-foot-long section between E Marginal Way S and 1st Avenue S, below the approach to the 1st Avenue S Bridge. And then there is one last 200-foot-long section on the west side of the Duwamish River — SW Front Street starts at W Marginal Way SW and ends at the entrance to the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 115 (which used to be Boeing Plant 1, the airplane manufacturer’s first production facility).

Incidentally, here’s a great article on the one in New Orleans I came across while looking up various Front Streets. It’s hard to beat a lede like this: “In a city replete with famed streets, scenic avenues and poetic street names, one particular artery excels at being obscure, nominally insipid, marvelously intermittent, and sometimes barely even a street.”

Sign at corner of SW Front Street and W Marginal Way SW, May 20, 2013
Sign at corner of SW Front Street and W Marginal Way SW, May 20, 2013. Photograph by Benjamin Lukoff. Copyright © 2013 Benjamin Lukoff. All rights reserved.

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