Now you see it, now you don’t…
The Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association (NPRHA) was a gold mine of information over the years that we researched the history behind what became the Cross-Kirkland Corridor (CKC). It shares the Pacific Northwest Railroad Archive (PNRA) in Burien with other railroad historical associations. The NPRHA has extensive photo and document collections and boasts a membership of some incredibly-knowledgeable folks in virtually all facets of the old NP.
The beautiful color photo shown below, also featured on the Piccadilly area page of our Lake Washington Belt Line feature, came from the NPRHA’s George Simonson Collection. Its enticing caption read, simply, “Kirkland”–so how, you might reasonably ask, did we determine its specific location? Read on!
George was an NP employee and often captured images of NP train crews doing their daily tasks; in this case, switching some cars on a spur or siding. We knew from other color slides in his collection that George most likely took this shot in about 1957. In short, this photo featured an iconic second-generation diesel locomotive, taken at a time when color slide film was still not terribly common, so Kent and I definitely wanted to use this photo in our Lake Washington Belt Line feature. Kent enlisted Kirkland Heritage Society member Don Winters to help figure out where the image was captured on that sunny day about 62 years ago.
As background, the GP9 (General Purpose, 9th design) was a diesel electric locomotive, produced by the Electro-Motive-Division (EMD) of General Motors. EMD built about 4000 of them between 1954 and 1959. This was the locomotive that sealed the fate of steam locomotives on branch lines across North America and the NP bought 176 of them over time for just that purpose. Diesel-electric locomotives were far less costly and far more efficient to operate than their steam-driven predecessors.
Kent and Don knew that there were not that many locations in Kirkland with tracks arranged the same way as shown in the photo and with a similar background. The main Belt Line track is clearly visible to the right of the locomotive. (One can tell it’s the main track due to its substantial ballast and resulting greater elevation.) The SeDorCo siding in Feriton didn’t look correct, due to the high bank to the right of the locomotive and the lack of visible industrial buildings. The deciding factor against that location is the position of the shadows, which point to the photographer facing north or northwest; meaning the spur or siding had to be west of the main track, while the SeDorCo siding is to the east. The same goes for various sidings in the Par-Mac industrial park–and 1957 was a bit early for that location.
By process of elimination, the 2500-foot-long siding in the Piccadilly area seemed the best candidate, but was there a way to confirm these deductions? The only other clue visible in the photo was a house peeking out behind a tree at the far right. Was there any chance that house was still standing near today’s CKC?
Last winter I leashed up my dog, grabbed my camera, and headed down to the CKC where it crosses 7th Avenue, formerly known as Piccadilly Avenue. I walked up and down the old siding’s former location and saw new home after new home. Near the south end of the siding, near where it met the main track, I saw an old abandoned house, the roof peak just visible behind trees and sticker bushes, but the side visible in the shot was completely obscured by vegetation. However, I was able to compare the position of its windows and roof to what was visible in the photo and realized that had to be the house in the circa-1957 Simonson photo!
Further, the position of the house indicated that George was standing in 7th Avenue when he took his photo, which makes sense, because one of his jobs as a railroad brakeman circa 1957 was to “protect the crossing” against oncoming cars with a flag whenever the locomotive needed to move across the road.
I went back a few days later and shot a few photos of the old place and a few more from about where the photographer stood. Once I got home I brought up an aerial image of the area from 1954 in King County’s iMap tool and saw that the house’s shape, roof orientation and distance from the tracks all matched. At this point, Kent, Don, and I were pretty confident that we had pinned down the location so we added the picture to the list of images for that part of Kirkland.
Recently, Kent made a trip to the Puget Sound Regional Branch of the Washington State Archives and scanned some historic King County assessor photos of the property, which confirmed that the house I photographed in 2018 was the same house. During the visit, we also learned that the house visible in the 1954 aerial must have been brand new, because the records showed that it was built that year. What luck that this house was in place before the plane flew over that same year!
Alas, it was very fortunate that I made the time to photograph this house last year. As of this writing, as has been the trend seemingly everywhere you look in Kirkland over the past few years, the 1954 house has been demolished, replaced by a new one under construction now that is probably two to three times the square footage.
Postscript: The historic property tax records also showed that Burke & Farrar had built a small house on the lot in 1933. Sure enough, comparing the 1937 and 1954 aerial images makes this clear. The houses are at the top right of each snippet.
Further, the historic property tax records have a photo of the 1933 house too.
When examining this image, I spotted someone sitting on the side porch and what appears to be a dog peeking around the corner of the house! Shades of Google Street View, 75 years earlier…
2019-07-27 @ 11:49 PM
Fabulous detective work, gentlemen!
2021-03-07 @ 2:15 AM
Shouldn’t the photo be captioned “Looking north from 7th Avenue”?
2021-03-07 @ 8:57 AM
Rod–you are quite right! Thanks for catching this error. Fixed.