Reading Notre Dame

Vision of Notre Dame: a sketch by Victor Hugo

It has to be the worst possible reason to have a bestseller. In the wake of last week’s devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel Notre Dame de Paris – perhaps better known to English speakers as The Hunchback of Notre Dame – has climbed to the top of the charts.

One unforgettable passage in particular has grown more even more poignant. Continue reading “Reading Notre Dame”

Home for the Holidays

Have you ever wanted to explore the history behind some of Seattle’s unique bungalow homes? This month we launched a new digital collection featuring the iconic Bungalow Magazine that lets you do just that.

Bungalow Magazine was published in Seattle between 1912 and 1918 and features homes constructed in the Puget Sound region and other west coast locales. The founder and editor for the initial years was an entrepreneur named Jud Yoho. Yoho also served as the architect behind some of Bungalow’s featured designs. This magazine popularized the bungalow house form and the aesthetic of the Arts and Crafts Style as it was interpreted in the Northwest. Articles about particular houses in Seattle were regular features as well as measured drawings for inglenooks, sideboards, stools and other furniture. Some issues also include photographs taken by Webster and Stevens, a prominent local photography firm. Continue reading “Home for the Holidays”

Dancing about architecture

Photo of the Central Library courtesy of Flickr Creative CommonsThe unusual design and architecture of Seattle’s Central Library has inspired many people. Every day, throughout the day, someone can be seen taking pictures of the steel and glass building both inside and out. Photographers are found around the Fourth or Fifth Avenue entrances looking into the honeycombed windows or skyward at the jutted angles that give the building its unique shape. They are also seen wandering inside the library, taking in the intense red walls of Level 4 or capturing the plays of light created in atrium of the Betty Jane Narver Reading Room on Level 10. In a way, a photographer does a kind of dance—bending, turning and balancing in order to get the perfect shot. Their work not only depicts the physical structure of the Library, but can also serve to evoke particular sentiments and ideas. Continue reading “Dancing about architecture”

How do I love the Seattle Public Library? Let me count the ways.

Today’s guest blogger is Diana E. James, author of the newly published Shared Walls: Seattle Apartment Buildings, 1900-1939 (and co-author of one of our library’s own talented teen librarians).

How do I love Seattle Public Library? Let me count the ways.

Shared Walls: Seattle apartment buildings, 1900- 1939, by Diana E. James in the Seattle Public Library catalogWhere else would a staff-person patiently sift through a drawer of maps until the perfect one appeared: my now much-tattered 1939 Kroll Map Company’s Greater Business District of Seattle, distributed by Seattle entrepreneur Henry Broderick. The names of churches, schools, hotels, government offices, hospitals, businesses of all ilk, and apartment buildings are written in tiny letters wherever they appear. The map is much more than a bird’s-eye view of Seattle in 1939, the precise ending date for my study; it is a revealing picture of the everyday life of our city.

Image from the Baist Real Estate Atlas, 1912 edition.Where else would I have the satisfaction of lowering a 4 x 4 (well, maybe not quite that large) 1905 Baist Real Estate Atlas onto a rolling table placed there just for the purpose? And then turn the large pages until I reach a particular block within a particular neighborhood–and discover something I didn’t even know I was looking for, but which adds another nugget of information to my research.

Where else could I sit and troll my way through the actual pages of Pacific Builder & Engineer (and its various incarnations) looking for announcements of permits, architects, property sales and purchases, and, again, coming across unsought but helpful bits of news. One can also get lost in other building-related periodicals and journals, such as Hotel News of the West and Washington State Architect, just waiting to be pulled off the shelf and perused!

All these and much more (Polk Seattle City Directories! microfilm of the P.I.! Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce!) made Shared Walls possible. But it was the friendly, encouraging, ever-helpful library staff that made my research a pleasure.

Why thank you, Diana – we’re grateful to local historians like yourself for adding such interesting books to our collection. Ms. James will be appearing at the Elliott Bay Book Company on January 28 to share research tips and lead a brief walking tour of the store’s historic environs. If you can’t make Diana’s presentation, remember you can always learn more about researching your house’s history and other local history research right here at the Library.

Skyscraper Safety Before 9/11

'...of New York City Skyscrapers' by CC attribution license from nDroae on flickrThe tragic events of September 11, 2001 focused attention on the safety of skyscrapers and their vulnerability to airplane collisions. Yet the issue was by no means a new one: for more than half a century, architects, engineers, politicians, and the general public had been concerned about the possibility of a plane crashing into a New York high-rise building. Several such collisions, or near-misses, actually occurred. Fears about the fire safety of skyscrapers date back even further, to the early 1900’s. Much of this concern was chronicled in newspaper accounts: from New York Times coverage of a devastating army bomber crash into the Empire State Building in 1945, to an eerie full-page newspaper ad from 1968 speculating that a jet could collide with the (as yet unbuilt) World Trade Center, to a 1993 article in the Seattle Times contemplating the prospect of an aerial attack on the twin towers. Although the circumstances of these incidents are obviously very different, each of these articles offers important insights and historical context to events that would happen much later. Most of this material is available in our databases or on microfilm (on Level 6 of the Central Library).

1912 – New York’s chief building inspector warns of a “Skyscraper Disaster That Will Stagger Humanity

1945B-25 bomber crashes Continue reading “Skyscraper Safety Before 9/11”