Alaskan Way

Alaskan Way was originally Railroad Avenue. Jennifer Ott writes for HistoryLink.org:

On the central waterfront a web of railroads grew out from the shore in the 1880s and 1890s as various railroads, including the Columbia & Puget Sound, the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern, and the Northern Pacific jockeyed for space at the foot of the bluffs that ended at the beach, where Western Avenue is today. In January 1887 the City Council passed an ordinance establishing Railroad Avenue, a street created, according to historian Kurt Armbruster, to provide space for the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern franchise to the west of the Northern Pacific’s franchise along the shoreline.

Railroad Avenue looking south from between Madison and Marion Streets, circa 1898
Railroad Avenue looking south from between Madison and Marion Streets, circa 1898

When the tidelands were platted in 1895, Railroad Avenue extended to Harbor Island and West Seattle, but:

  • Sometime between 1912 and 1920 the Harbor Island portion was renamed W Florida Street (SW Florida Street today).
  • In 1907, the West Seattle portion was renamed Alki Avenue.
    • Sometime between 1912 and 1920 the West Seattle portion southeast of Duwamish Head was given its current name, Harbor Avenue.

In an article for Crosscut, Knute Berger explains why a new name was wanted for the remainder:

Seattle’s waterfront was unpaved — a beat-up plank road ran its length. There was no modern seawall — the street was built over the water. Train tracks were everywhere.… But the waterfront was undergoing a massive renovation. A seawall was being constructed, the shoreline filled in, the road made into a wide, paved boulevard.…

According to Berger and Ott’s articles, names that were proposed but were ultimately rejected included Anchors Way, Artery Way, Battery Way, Bois Boolong, Bread Street, Cargo Way, Chief Seattle Avenue, Cosmos Quay, Dock Street, Export Way, Fleet Way, Gateway Avenue, Golden West Way, Hiak Avenue, Klatawa Avenue, Maritime Avenue, Metropolis Avenue, Olympian Way, Pacific Way, Pier Avenue, Port Strand, Port Way, Port-Haven Drive, Potlatch Avenue, Puget Avenue, Puget Dyke, Puget Portal, Queen City Way, Roadstead Way, Salt Spray Way, Salt Water Avenue, Seawall Avenue, Seven Seas Road, Skookum Way, Steamship Way, Sunset Avenue, Terminal Avenue, Terrebampo Way, The Battery, The Esplanade, Transit Row, Voyage Way, Welcome Way, and Worldways Road. (Those in italics apparently came under serious consideration.)

So how did we end up with Alaskan Way? And why Alaskan instead of Alaska (the already existing S Alaska Street could have been renamed)?

Alaskan Way, July 1939
Alaskan Way between Marion and Madison Streets, Canadian National Dock at left, July 1939. Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Identifier 77093

The May 19, 1932, issue of The Seattle Times reports that the Seattle Maritime Association had run a renaming contest which received “more than one thousand letters… some of them contained scores of suggestions.” 4,868 names (including duplications) were received, and the judges selected four finalists, in order of preference: Puget Portal (one submission), Klatawa Avenue (one submission, from Chinook Jargon word meaning ‘to go, to travel’), Hiak Avenue (one submission, from Chinook Jargon word meaning ‘lively, quick and fast’), and Maritime Avenue (49 submissions [Maritime Way received 99 submissions but was not chosen]). The next day, the Times reported that the judges had chosen Maritime Avenue, and awarded the $20 prize to a Mr. B.I. Schwartz, the first to have suggested the name.

Alaskan Way Viaduct, July 1952
Alaskan Way Viaduct, July 1952, the year before it opened. The double-decker freeway paralleled Alaskan Way as far north as Union Street, where it diverged from the alignment on its approach to Elliott Avenue and the Battery Street Tunnel. Bell Street Pier, with the large Port of Seattle sign, is at left. The Bell Street Overpass can be seen behind the ‘P’ in ‘Port’. The bridge at the southern end of the pier is the Lenora Street Viaduct. Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Identifier 43586

However, that July, a George D. Root proposed the name Cosmos Quay. At first, it was met with indifference, and then it seems the entire renaming project was put on the back burner until construction progressed. Somehow, when he restarted his campaign in 1934, Cosmos Quay became a leading candidate, and it was approved unanimously by the city council on January 14, 1935. An ordinance began to be drafted. But, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted the next day, this was only because one councilmember, Frank J. Laube, had been absent… and he was adamantly opposed.

He wasn’t the only one. The Seattle Times published an editorial on January 20 headlined ‘City Locksmith Needed for Pronunciation Key’, which proclaimed that “to burden the waterfront stretch with a name that could be used and understood only through long courses in cosmogony, cosmology, etymology, and articulation would be a sad piece of nonsense for which there is no excuse.” The next day the Times reported that David Levine, city council president, said Cosmos Quay “no longer sounds so good to him. Many citizens have complained its meaning, as well as its pronunciation, mystifies them.” On February 4, according to the P-I, the council killed the ordinance and decided to leave Railroad Avenue as it was.

Alaskan Way Viaduct, February 2018
Alaskan Way Viaduct, February 2018. It closed permanently in January 2019; the replacement tunnel opened the next month. and demolition was complete by November of the same year. Photograph by Flickr user Washington State Department of Transportation, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

When the new street opened in 1936, the question of renaming came up again. Mayor John F. Dore appointed a committee that chose The Pierway, a suggestion that won a W.C. Denison, Jr., a prize of $50 from the mayor’s own pocket, but the final decision lay with the city council, which was not enthused. Pacific Way emerged as their favorite, according to a Seattle Times article on July 2, 1936, though a July 6 article in the same paper “the public apparently was not in accord with the idea.” On July 7, the Times reported that even though “at least seven votes [were] lined up in advance for the adoption of ‘Pacific Way’… with Council President Austin E. Griffiths contending for ‘Cosmos Quay’ or ‘Cosmos Way’,” an ordinance renaming Railroad Avenue “Alaskan Way” passed unanimously.

Alaska Way had been proposed in 1932 by the Puget Sound Travel Directors, according to an article in the April 13 issue of The Seattle Times. (As an aside, it was also proposed in 1931 by attorney John S. Robinson as an alternate name for Aurora Avenue N and the Aurora Bridge, according to a Times article on June 19.) It was also an entry in the Seattle Maritime Association’s aforementioned naming contest, submitted by Fred E. Pauli, manager of the Alaska Division of the Washington Creamery Company, according to a Times article on April 10, 1932. Then, in 1935, after Cosmos Quay had been rejected by the city council, the Alaska Yukon Pioneers endorsed Alaska Way (The Seattle Times, March 5), followed by the Whittier Heights Improvement Club (Times, March 7) and the Junior Alaska-Yukon Pioneers (Times, July 25). When renaming became a distinct possibility once again in 1936, as discussed above, the Alaska Yukon Pioneers passed a resolution in favor of Alaska Way (Times, July 4): “…It was here that the gold rush activity actually took place… put Seattle on the map and directly made possible the magnificent improvement now about completed.”

Alaskan Way south from Bell Street
Alaskan Way looking south from the Bell Street pedestrian bridge, August 2011. The Alaskan Way Viaduct is barely visible at center; the Seattle Aquarium is at center right. Photograph by Orange Suede Sofa, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

It came down to one councilmember, apparently. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on July 7 that, the previous day, Robert H. Harlin proposed that the already-prepared ordinance renaming Railroad Avenue “Pacific Way” be amended to read “Alaskan Way” instead:

Councilman Robert H. Harlin, who offered the motion for adoption of “Alaskan Way,” said he preferred it to “Alaska Way” because it “recognizes the human element, honoring the men and women who pioneered the territory.” Although a majority of the council had informally agreed to support the name “Pacific Way,” sentiment crystallized rapidly in favor of “Alaskan Way” after Harlin’s statement.

Alaskan Way, March 2021
Alaskan Way from the Pike Place Market’s MarketFront, March 2021. Construction of the street that supposedly will not be called Elliott Way is visible at center right. The Seattle Great Wheel can be seen above the Seattle Aquarium. Photograph by Flickr user Scott Smithson, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

Today, Alaskan Way S begins at the north end of E Marginal Way S, at the entrance to the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 30, and goes 2⅓ miles north, then northwest, to Broad Street, having become Alaskan Way on crossing Yesler Way. This is the Alaskan Way most people think of.

But, as they say, wait — there’s more! The right-of-way continues for another 1¾ miles, ending at W Garfield Street under the Magnolia Bridge, at the entrance to the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 91. From the Olympic Sculpture Park, which begins at Broad Street, to Myrtle Edwards Park, the right-of-way is taken up by park land and the tracks of the BNSF Railway — successor to the Columbia & Puget Sound; the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern; and the Northern Pacific, the railroads for which Railroad Avenue was originally built. Northwest of Myrtle Edwards, it’s entirely taken up by the tracks that run alongside Centennial Park. It isn’t until W Galer Street that there’s a city street in the right-of-way again, and Alaskan Way W only goes about ⅙ of a mile northwest from there to W Garfield Street. Even less than that is signed Alaskan Way, as the city has put up a sign for Expedia Group Way W where the W Galer Street flyover “touches down.” However, even though southeast of Galer the roadway runs first on Expedia property, then Port of Seattle property, the city appears to still consider it Alaskan Way W between the Expedia campus entrance and the north end of Centennial Park — a distance of just over ⅓ of a mile.

Colorado Avenue S

This street was created in 1895 as part of the plat of Seattle’s tide lands. As Seattle expanded to the south, it became obvious that Commercial Street (1st Avenue S) would not be the westernmost street east of Elliott Bay. Fortuntately, instead of using zero or negative numbers, they went with states: the first street west of 1st was named Utah, and the next, Colorado. (Some perpendicular streets were named Alaska, Vermont, Connecticut, Texas, Massachusetts, etc. There doesn’t appear to have been any particular order.)

Colorado Avenue S begins at S Royal Brougham Way and goes ⅓ of a mile to S Massachusetts Street. It begins again on the back side of the Starbucks Center and goes ⅘ of a mile to just south of S Spokane Street, and its final segment begins just north of Diagonal Avenue S and goes ⅔ of a mile to S Dawson Street.

S Stacy Street

This street is named for Martin Van Buren Stacy (1837–1901), who, according to local historian Paul Dorpat, “brought an inherited wealth to the cash-poor West and bought Seattle land” (and land elsewhere in Western Washington as well). The Northern Pacific Railway’s Stacy Street Yard was named for the street, but was renamed the Seattle International Gateway by Burlington Northern in 1985. His death at Green River Hot Springs apparently came as a shock to many.

Martin Van Buren Stacy, from his obituary in the April 18, 1901 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Martin Van Buren Stacy, from his obituary in the April 18, 1901, Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He had died at Green River Hot Springs the previous week of “apoplexy.”

S Stacy Street begins at Airport Way S and goes ⅕ of a mile west to 6th Avenue S. There is a block-long segment between 4th Avenue S and 3rd Avenue S, and then on the other side of the former Stacy Yard a two-block–long segment from Occidental Avenue S to Utah Avenue S and the world headquarters of Starbucks.

S Horton Street

I have read that, and until recently assumed that, S Horton Street is named for Dexter Horton (1825–1904), but have come to wonder if it instead is named for Julius, his younger brother (1834–1904), or for the Horton family in general. Julius came to Seattle in 1869, bought land in South Seattle in 1871, and platted Georgetown in 1890, naming it after his son, George (1865–1927), who had recently become a doctor. (Georgetown became a city in 1904 and was annexed by Seattle in 1910.) S Horton Street doesn’t run through Georgetown — it’s around 2 miles north of there — but it does run through South Seattle. It appears to have been named in 1870, after Julius arrived in town but before he bought what is now Georgetown. I am not sure if Dexter had any special connection to South Seattle; he certainly never lived there.

Julius Horton family circa 1890
Julius Horton and family, circa 1890. Back row, left to right: Dora Estelle (Horton) Carle, Mabel Maude (Horton) Edlund, Flora Groover, Elmer Petigoe. Front row, left to right: May Bigelow Boucher, Julius Horton, Howard Dexter Horton, Anna Emily (Bigelow) Horton, Vera Horton Hudson, George Monroe Horton, and Harry Bateman.

S Horton Street begins at E Marginal Way S and goes ⅔ of a mile east to 6th Avenue S, with a brief interruption at the SODO Busway. After a block-long segment between Airport Way S and 10th Avenue S just west of Interstate 5, it resumes on Beacon Hill at 13th Avenue S, where it goes one block east. It begins again at 16th Avenue S and goes ⅖ of a mile to 23rd Avenue S, being a stairway and pathway from just east of 19th Avenue S to 20th Avenue S. Horton resumes east of Kimball Elementary School at 24th Avenue S and goes a block and a half before it ends at the Cheasty Natural Area. Besides a very short segment just west of Martin Luther King Jr. Way S, its next appearance is at 33rd Avenue S and S Walden Street. From here, it goes ½ a mile east to Lake Washington Boulevard S, being a stairway between 36th Avenue S and 37th Place S and a stairway and pathway between Cascadia Avenue S and Sierra Drive S. Between Sierra Drive S and Lake Washington Boulevard S, it is part of Landing Parkway, under the jurisdiction of the parks department.

S Lander Street

This street is named for Judge Edward Lander (1816–1907), chief justice of the territorial supreme court from 1853 to 1857. In 1855, he, along with Charles Terry, bought Carson Boren’s downtown land claim for $500. They subsequently donated two acres of land, along with Arthur Denny, who donated eight, to form the first campus of the University of Washington, which opened in 1861. The university owns the Metropolitan Tract to this day, though it moved to its present location in 1895. Lander’s name also appears on Lander Hall, a UW dormitory on NE Campus Parkway.

Edward Lander
Edward Lander

SW Lander Street begins at 59th Avenue SW in the Alki neighborhood of West Seattle, and goes ⅕ of a mile to 55th Avenue SW. It resumes just to the south at S Lander Place and goes a further ⅛ of a mile to SW Admiral Way. Picking up again at 50th Avenue SW, it makes it ½ a mile to Walnut Avenue SW before being interrupted again, as happens to so many West Seattle streets because of the varying topography. There is a final ¼-mile stretch in West Seattle from 39th Avenue SW to 36th Avenue SW, then a very short segment on Harbor Island before S Lander Street resumes in the Industrial District at Colorado Avenue S and goes ¾ of a mile east to Airport Way S. On Beacon Hill, Lander begins just west of 13th Avenue S and goes ⅔ of a mile to just past 23rd Avenue S, including the block-long stretch that is now known as S Roberto Maestas Festival Street. Lander begins again at 30th Avenue S in Mount Baker and goes a final four blocks to 34th Avenue S.

S Hanford Street

This street is named for Edward Hanford (1807–1884) and his wife, Abigail Jane Holgate (1824–1905), who left Iowa in the early 1850s to settle adjacent to Abigail’s brother, John (namesake of S Holgate Street), on what is today known as Beacon Hill but was known from then until the early 1890s as Holgate and Hanford Hill. Edward and his family were loggers, then orchardists, and unlike John Holgate, he went on to develop his donation claim.

The Hanfords’ son Clarence (1857–1920) founded, with James D. Lowman, the Lowman & Hanford Stationery and Printing Company in 1885. The firm went out of business in the 1960s, but their Pioneer Square building still, the last time I drove by, had a sign painted on it reading “Seattle’s Oldest Retail Company,” which it very well might have been when it closed. Their son Thaddeus (1847–1892) was for a time the owner of the Daily Intelligencer newspaper, predecessor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. And their son Cornelius (1849–1926), a federal judge from 1890 to 1912, was earlier a territorial legislator, Seattle city attorney, and chief justice of the Washington Supreme Court. He is the namesake of Hanford, Washington, and by extension the Hanford Site, which produced the plutonium used in the first nuclear explosion and the bombing of Nagasaki. He was also the author of Seattle and Environs, 1852-1924.

Edward Hanford
Edward Hanford

SW Hanford Street begins in West Seattle at SW Admiral Way and 59th Avenue SW and goes ¼ mile east to Schmitz Preserve Park at 56th Avenue SW. It begins again at 51st Avenue SW and goes nearly a mile east to 36th Avenue SW, becoming a stairway for the half-block east of 46th Avenue SW. After serving as little more than a driveway between SW Admiral Way and Fauntleroy Avenue SW, it next appears as S Hanford Street at E Marginal Way S, where it goes for ⅓ of a mile east to Occidental Avenue S. After a few short segments farther east in the Industrial District, Hanford begins again on Beacon Hill at 12th Avenue S and goes nearly a mile east to Rainier Avenue S, the segment between 25th Avenue S and Morse Avenue S being a stairway. It resumes a few blocks east at 30th Avenue S and finishes up ½ a mile east at Cascadia Avenue S.

S Holgate Street

This street is named for John Cornelius Holgate (1828–1868). Born in Ohio, he took the Oregon Trail west in 1847 and explored Elliott Bay and the Duwamish River by canoe in the summer of 1850. (The Seattle Times calls him “the first non-Indian of record to have done so.”) He returned to Oregon afterwards, however, and did not settle in what is now Seattle — specifically, Beacon Hill — until 1853, two years after the Denny Party landed at Alki Point. His mother, Elizabeth; brothers, Lemuel and Milton; and sister, Abigail, along with her husband, Edward Hanford (namesakes of S Hanford Street), soon followed. The Hanfords settled on the hill — known thereafter as Holgate and Hanford Hill until the late 1880s — adjacent to Holgate. (Milton was one of three whites to die in the Battle of Seattle in 1856, and was himself the cause of one of those deaths, having earlier shot Jack Drew, a deserting sailor from the USS Decatur, in a “friendly-fire” incident.)

A gold prospector, Holgate left for Idaho in 1863, and died there in 1868, the first casualty of the War Under the Mountain, a conflict between two rival gold mines in the Owyhee Desert, one of which he was part owner. According to Robert L. Deen, writing for True West magazine, there are conflicting accounts of Holgates death. The Owyhee Avalanche reported that:

Desperate fighting ensued during the charge…. John C. Holgate… one of the foremost in the advance, was shot in the head, and must have died instantaneously.

The Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman had a slightly different story:

It appears that J.C. Holgate has been killed, some say assassinated, murdered — not killed in a fight, but shot through the head without provocation.

SW Holgate Street begins in West Seattle just west of 47th Avenue SW and goes ¼ of a mile east to California Avenue SW at Palm Avenue SW. There are two more short segments on the peninsula, between 41st Avenue SW and Arch Avenue SW and between Victoria Avenue SW and Brook Avenue SW. S Holgate Street resumes at Utah Avenue S and goes ¾ of a mile east to an overpass over Interstate 5, where it becomes Beacon Avenue S. There is a one-block stretch between 12th Avenue S and 13th Avenue S on top of the hill, and then Holgate goes a mile from the Beacon Hill Playfield at 14th Avenue S to 31st Avenue S at Colman Park, the half-block east of 16th Avenue S being a stairway and the block between 28th Avenue S and 29th Avenue S being unimproved. There is finally a short stretch east of Lakeside Avenue S at 36th Avenue S that essentially serves as a private driveway; it is a shoreline street end, but one not yet accessible to the public.

S Royal Brougham Way

This street begins at Colorado Avenue S in the west, at an onramp to the northbound lanes of the State Route 99 tunnel, and goes ⅔ of a mile east to Airport Way S. Originally S Connecticut Street, it was renamed in 1979 in honor of sportswriter Royal Brougham (1894–1978), who worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper from 1910 until his death. Such a name change was formally proposed by city councilman George Benson following a suggestion by P-I columnist Emmett Watson. Originally it was to be Occidental Avenue S whose name was to be changed, then the 2nd Avenue S Extension when objections were raised. Finally S Connecticut Street was settled upon; it was thought to be particularly appropriate because he “worked so hard to see the Kingdome built… and eventually spent his last day on earth there.”

Lumen Field, built on the former Kingdome site, is on the north side of Royal Brougham between 1st Avenue S and 4th Avenue S; and T-Mobile Park is on the south side between 1st Avenue S and 3rd Avenue S.

Royal Brougham's ID card for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, 1925
Royal Brougham’s Seattle P-I staff ID card, 1925

Edgar Martinez Drive S

This street runs ¼ mile from 1st Avenue S in the west to 4th Avenue S in the east. West of 1st, it’s S Atlantic Street — its original name — and east of 4th, it’s the beginning of Interstate 90. It is part of State Route 519, a short highway that connects I-90 to Washington State Ferries’ Colman Dock.

Edgar Martínez was a member of the Seattle Mariners baseball team from 1987 to 2004. This stretch of S Atlantic Street was renamed in his honor the year he retired.

Edgar Martínez at bat, September 15, 2004, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:E_Martinez.jpg
Edgar Martínez at bat, September 15, 2004. Photographs by Galaksiafervojo, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Now — why is it Edgar Martinez Drive S instead of S Edgar Martinez Drive, since east–west streets in Seattle have their directional designators at the beginning? I asked Paul Jackson this in 2005. Jackson, who was then the Seattle Department of Transportation’s manager of traffic, signs, and markings, responded:

I appreciate your desire to see our City’s sign system remain consistent.… But ultimately, there is nothing requiring such a naming convention in the Seattle Municipal Code.… In this case, those proposing the street name change wanted to see Edgar Martínez’s name out front. Because this is only a three-block stretch of street (from 1st Avenue S to 4th Avenue S), and does not have any addresses along it, the decision was made to veer slightly from the typical naming convention. The term “drive” was agreed upon to evoke Mr. Martínez’s batting skills at the plate.

Occidental Avenue S

Occidental Avenue S, which begins at Yesler Way in Pioneer Square, is one of those Seattle streets whose names extend into the suburbs. It makes its southernmost appearance at S 197th Street in Des Moines.

It received its name in 1895 as part of the Great Renaming — it had originally been S Second Street. It once had a partner, Oriental Avenue, to the east (originally S Fourth Street), which is today 3rd Avenue S. “Oriental,” of course, means “Eastern,” as “Occidental” means “Western.” (I haven’t been able to determine just when Oriental Avenue became 3rd, but it was last mentioned in The Seattle Times on October 17, 1920.)

And why this particular pairing? The Occidental Hotel, which once overlooked the beginning of Occidental Avenue, is almost certainly the reason, but it’s not spelled out in the ordinance.