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Thomas P. Blum, bridge inspector and artist

July 11, 1932 was a cool Monday.

Juanita was quiet. The day’s temperatures would not hit over 65 degrees and the throngs of Seattleites crossing the lake by ferry on hot days, seeking relief and summer fun at Juanita and Shady beaches, would be dissuaded by the cooler temperatures. Only a few die-hards were left, along with the weather gamblers who had, in advance, booked for days (or weeks) at the little red-and-white Juanita vacation cabins, Kivias Auto Camp, or any of the several other operations.

Thirty-eight-year-old King County bridge inspector, engineer Thomas Patrick Blum, stepped out of his car and onto the gravel of King County’s Harvey S. Jordan Road (today’s NE 124th Street), a stone’s throw west of today’s 100th Avenue NE. Blum was born in Colorado but came to Seattle with his family as a youngster and grew up in Wallingford, where he attended Lincoln High School. He served in the U. S. Navy as an ensign in the Engineer Corps during WWI before taking a position with the County.   

To Blum’s right, on the south side of the road, was a thickly wooded, second growth, mostly undeveloped 1914 plat called Juanita Lake Washington Tracts, once a part of Seattle pioneer Mary Terry’s 160-acre summer ranch, purchased in the early 1870’s from its teenage homesteader, logger Henry Goldmyer. Mary was the widow of Charles Terry and the wealthiest woman in Seattle in the 1860’s, as well as the person who named Juanita. (Read more about the Terry family.)

To Blum’s left, Juanita Creek came snaking through the pasture and stumps of Stephen Niblock’s 160-acre homestead claim; by 1932 it was parceled up, much of it belonging to a family named Tronsrud, whose patriarch, Anton, came to the U. S. from Norway in 1880 and bought that part of Niblock’s place for his dairy cows. A man by the name of Francis A. Brown bought a small piece of land from Tronsrud and his little orchard is visible in the left background, at the northwest corner of today’s NE 124th Street and 100th Avenue NE.

Blum leveled his 116-film-spool Kodak camera at the little wooden bridge over Juanita Creek and opened the shutter for about 1/60th of a second—just enough to let in a little 2 ½ by 4 ¼-inch rectangle of light that would freeze this place at that moment in time. The image you see here was just a routine photo taken by a nondescript county engineer, an image destined to be paper-clipped into a county road file and looked at by almost no one over the next eight decades.

Make no mistake, Blum was an artist. He took a series of photos of King County bridges between 1932 and 1934 and, as the County grossly understates, “Blum often composed his photographs in a way that gave them what he considered to be some aesthetic, dramatic, or human interest.” Blum passed in 1942, never reaching 50 years of age and likely remembered by few, except for local history geeks like me who admire his body of work and to whom we are quite grateful.

I stumbled across Blum’s image during a routine trip to the King County Archive, back in 2014, when I was supposed to be researching something else. (The great thing about unmedicated adult ADD is that you escape the limitations of focus, so the minute a new squirrel crosses your path you can quickly pivot and concentrate a blast of brain power on that new distraction.) The faded print was loose in a bridge file and my only clue was faintly penciled on the image’s back: “Single span frame bridge with crib bulkheads, 3/4 mi. N. of Juanita”.

Given the description, the span had to be crossing Juanita Creek—there were no other possibilities I could think of. The distance mentioned from the lakeshore and the configuration of the two roads and their crossing, today’s 124th Street and 100th Avenue NE, were the most likely possibility.

To confirm this only required a glance at a 1937 aerial of the intersection. I pulled that up and there it was, bingo! Brown’s little orchard relative to Juanita Creek was unmistakable.

A few days ago, I recreated Blum’s shot as best I could. The road is now about double the width, but I believe I was pretty close to where he stood to capture his shot, 87 years to the day before I captured my “now” version, last Thursday, July 11, 2019.

So, thanks, Tom. Seventy-seven years after you left this world there are still a few of us who really appreciate your work–and your art.

Blum’s February 2, 1942 obituary in the Seattle Times. (courtesy Newsbank)
Tom Blum’s view in 1932. Harvey S. Jordan Road ended at the house and phone pole in the distance but continued under the name Steeve’s Road (aka King County Road #94)—today’s NE 124th Street. (courtesy King County Archive)
2019 recreation of Blum’s view from 1932. (courtesy Matt McCauley)
This snippet of a land parcel map land owners in the vicinity of Blum’s photo. (courtesy King County Road Services Map Vault)
View from the air, 1937. The orchard on the Francis Brown property in relation to Juanita Creek and the roads were the clues identifying the exact location of Blum’s 1932 image. (courtesy KCRS Map Vault)
The surrounding area, from the hand-drawn “Juanita—Remember When Map”, created by the late Ruth Nelson in the early 1970’s. Ruth was a retired Juanita Elementary School teacher whose childhood home was the property later developed into today’s Rite Aid and Goodwill at the northwest corner of NE 132nd Street and 100th Avenue NE. (courtesy Ruth Nelson)
Blum is interred at Evergreen-Washelli Cemetery in Seattle. (courtesy Matt McCauley)