Westlake Streetcar

Westlake Avenue and Denny Way

South Lake Union Streetcar, Westlake Avenue and Denny Way, Seattle, Photo by Robert Scheuerman (CC BY-SA 3.0)
South Lake Union Streetcar, Westlake Avenue and Denny Way, Seattle, August 13, 2019, HistoryLink photo by David Koch
South Lake Union Discovery Center, Seattle, August 13, 2019, HistoryLink photo by David Koch
Seattle Electric Railway Co. trolley with motormen, Seattle, ca. 1890, Courtesy MOHAI (SHS7701)
Westlake and Denny Way, March 23, 1915, Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives (604)
Looking north, Westlake Avenue and Denny Way, Seattle, March 3, 1936, Courtesy Paul Dorpat

Built in 2007, the South Lake Union trolley follows the historic route of the Seattle Electric Railway and Power Company’s streetcar, which began operating on October 19, 1890, on what was then known as Rollin Street and is now Westlake Avenue. The Seattle City Council had sought to address an expanding city by approving a new streetcar line between downtown and south Lake Union. The provisional franchise would be awarded to the first company to establish service on one of the eight authorized routes. Employing 100 men and nine plows, Luther Griffith’s company needed just five days to lay its tracks along the abandoned route of Seattle’s first railroad, owned by the Seattle Coal & Transportation Company.

To reach the SC&TC train, the coal would had been excavated on the east side of Lake Washington, barged up the lake, transported across the isthmus now bisected by the Montlake Cut to Lake Union, and scowed to the south end of the lake. The train then carried the coal along the east side of Denny Hill to Pike Street, where the tracks turned west to a tram that dropped the coal down to a coal bunker on Elliott Bay.

Griffith’s line eventually extended over a planked trestle along Lake Union’s western shore through Fremont to Ballard. It was joined in 1891 by David Denny’s streetcar, which ran on the east side of the lake. In 1905, the city started work on a new link north from downtown. It would be a diagonal road running from Fourth Avenue and Pike Street to the former Rollin Street, which had been renamed Westlake Avenue in 1895. Using fill from a variety of locations, the city connected the old and new Westlakes by 1908.

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