A collision of clues in one packed photo

Cars and drivers clutter an urban intersection at Olive Street and Terry Avenue, likely in the late 1920s.

LONG AGO, before The Seattle Times first encouraged me, in late 1981, to submit these “Now & Then” features, I came upon this street scene while gently thumbing through a stack of vintage Seattle photographs. It is from the late 1920s, I believe.

I was stirred by the unnamed photographer’s composition. Was it the church on the left, or the classy Schoenfelds’ Standard Furniture billboard beside it, that was first intended for recording? Or the four motorcars that reached the intersection about the same time? Did the photographer sacrifice the church’s steeple and dip the camera to record the cars in the intersection of Olive Way and Terry Avenue?

Perhaps this is less a dance than a tableau of vehicles pausing for something or someone to unclog the jam they have created. The man in the dark overcoat at the photo’s center is standing very near the right-front fender of the small coupe that is clearly prevented from continuing on Terry by the classy sedan on the left. We suspect that the latter is waiting to turn left onto Terry.

Meanwhile, another sedan at the far right, on Olive Way, waits for the coupe to get out of the way. Note the two stop signs: one, bottom right, and the other diagonally across the intersection. Clearly, the right to cross here belongs to the vehicles traveling east and west on Olive Street.

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Both the man in the overcoat and the driver in the coupe (with his elbow hanging out his rolled-down window), it seems, have their eyes on the driver of the big sedan. Perhaps the two pedestrians crossing Terry Street, on the left, are walking briskly to escape any developing collision. Everyone involved might have been comforted by what is written on the door of the…

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