A History of the UW in 120 Frames

I love watching things change over time.

Buildings, landscapes, street grids–everything morphs with changing technologies and cultural priorities, and time-enabled mapping can help us visualize and understand the changes that have occurred.

When I started this project for the University of Washington, we had just celebrated the centennial of the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition. John Stamets, who teaches photography at the UW College of Built Environments, had co-authored a book about the 1909 event, documenting  with maps and then-and-now photos. He had aligned a number of historical AYPE plans in Photoshop, transforming each until they all lined up with a modern map. Using this method, he was able to pinpoint the locations of the historical photographs, and take photos of the current conditions from the same location and angle.

He gave me his collection of digitized AYPE plans, which I took and georeferenced. Using the plans as a guide, I then digitized the building footprints and created links between the new geometry and the existing historical database. Once the 1909 buildings were digitized, I researched plans and maps of other eras, looking forward and back from the year of the Exposition. Where there were additions to buildings over the years, I georeferenced old construction plans that enabled me to show the evolution of the building shapes over time. Over the course of several months I was able to put together a spatial database of nearly all the UW buildings that ever existed, tied in with a rich historical database. The timeline features of ArcGIS allowed me to create a 4d map, showing any of the buildings at any specific time between 1885 and 2015.

This timeline video is a distillation of the information collected and created.

Cool things to look for:

The Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition was the single most profound influence on the layout of the University. Although most of the AYPE buildings were demolished shortly after 1909, the landscape retains much of the physical form of that event. Rainier Vista is the most obvious remnant, but the influence can also be seen in the layout of much of the central campus. The HUB Yard area had a circle with a band stand. Frosh Pond/Drumheller Fountain was larger in 1909, but was in the same location. Stevens Way is essentially the same route as the parkway in the 1909 layout. Some of the AYPE structures were put to use as institutional buildings for years or decades–the Forestry Building, at the site where the HUB now stands, was used until 1930, when its rustic timbers were deemed too rotted to save. The Washington building was used first as a library and then as the High Energy Physics Lab until demolished in 1961. Its foundation survived as a landscape element (not shown) until the construction of the Allen Library. Gradually, over the years, most of the surviving Exposition buildings were torn down. Now, only three remain.

Five years after the AYPE, the Lake Washington Ship Canal was completed, and Lake Washington dropped by eight feet.

At the end of and just after WWI, from 1917-1922, barracks stood briefly where Guggenheim Hall is now. The post-WWII (1946–mid 50s) era saw a tremendous construction boom, including the erection of temporary barracks all across the UW to house returning soldiers. Located in the center of campus, in the north campus where Dempsey Hall and Paccar Hall now stand, and especially in the eastern campus, at the site of Center for Urban Horticulture–none of the barracks remain.

The original Lander and Terry halls were built on the site that is now the Sound Transit University of Washington Station (at Husky Stadium). These were built in 1917 and demolished in 1928.

Some buildings morph over time–watch Suzzallo Library, the Art Building, the power plant, and the Applied Physics Lab.

in 1937, 15th Ave NE was widened to the east. This necessitated the construction of the retaining wall along the west edge of the UW campus. I was surprised to learn that this wall was designed by Bebb & Gould.

Watch the changes in the Southwest and West Campus. In 1937, the University’s grand boulevard to and from nowhere, Campus Parkway, was cut through what was a neighborhood of modest single-family homes, removing scores of houses. The era of urban renewal hastened the change.  Properties were condemned by the city and deeded to the University, allowing the consolidation of lots, the re-routing of streets, and the construction of most of the University-owned structures in the area. in 1962, I-5 was completed. NE Pacific Street was re-routed in the 1970’s. The UW’s suburban office-park buildings along Boat Street were completed in the 80’s and 90’s. 15th Ave NE was re-routed in the late 90’s, in between the construction of the first nasty Portage Bay Garage that cut The Ave off from the waterfront and the second nasty Portage Bay Garage addition that was ironically LEED-certified. All of these changes altered the street patterns, destroyed old neighborhoods, and cut the University District off from surrounding communities.

Some Caveats:

The building data should be pretty accurate–I spent a lot of time and did a lot of research to create it.

The original downtown Seattle campus is not included in this project.

The campus landscape, paths and roads are accurate at several points along the timeline, but they aren’t coded year-by-year as the buildings are. Really, they’re only accurate from 1895–>1930 or so. After that, the 1930 landscape stretches out to 1960, and the 2013 landscape stretches back to 1980. Between 1960 and 1980 there is a very noticeable lack of landscape.

The roads, modified from Seattle right-of-way GIS data, are approximate. Again, they aren’t coded year-by-year. I did a snapshot for about every decade starting in the 1900s.

For all layers, there will be points when two things exist in the same place at the same time. This is a result of the coarseness of the time data. For buildings, this will mean that a building was demolished and a new building was erected in the same place within a single year.

 

2 thoughts on “A History of the UW in 120 Frames

  1. Impressive work here, Jeffrey. Since I’m a bit more of an urban planning/history nerd than a map nerd (I leave the latter to the experts with fancy things like ArcGIS 10.1) I really honed in on the Portage Bay area. It never occured to me that The Ave could (and should!) go to the water. I remember trucking down there for a film studies class and wondering what was wrong with the area. I can’t remember what building now–my 3 years on campus in Mercer (meh), Terry (ugh, and I was on the smoking floor) and Hansee (awesome!) were a few years ago, alas… Thanks for the history minute!

    • fiscolex–

      Apologies for taking so long to reply…

      I’m basically an urban design/planning/map nerd with a love of history.

      The history of the Portage Bay area is pretty fascinating and in my mind, a bit scandalous. It was once a thriving blue-collar neighborhood, but in that era of urban renewal, acres upon acres of properties were condemned by the City of Seattle and basically handed over to the University. Now of course it’s all suburban-style buildings surrounded by lawns and parking lots.

      Did you know that Mercer, Terry and Lander are gone? Replaced by…Mercer, Terry and Lander. The new dorms are much better for the neighborhood, and they re-create the historic street grid.

      Were you in the Urban Planning dept here? I studied Geography at SFSU, and Landscape Architecture at UW.

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