Seattle Time Travelers
By Jean Godden
Paul Dorpat, the man who calls himself "a tourist in my own town," has been portraying Seattle for decades. For the last 37 years, he's been using his photo-historic know-how to create the "Now & Then" newspaper column that appears weekly in Seattle Times' Pacific Northwest magazine.
Over those years, Dorpat has published three "Now & Then" books. But now he and his business partner Jean Sherrard have outdone themselves. They have just unveiled "Now & Then: The Historic Hundred." The hardcover anthology showcases 100 vintage photographs, paired with new and matching full-color "now" photos taken by Sherrard. It's a coffee-table-sized compendium, a look back at looking back.
The introduction by Clay Eals, the book's editor, describes Dorpat's background. He also tells us how Sherrard, a teacher, actor and videographer, began working with Dorpat a dozen years ago, taking "now" pictures from the same perspective as the originals. Sherrard observes that Seattle is unique in that "no other city in the United States has experienced the enduring impact of such a weekly newspaper column." That column has made time-travelers of us all.
Paging through the new volume’s images, you can view the city as a dynamic, fast changing panorama. Some changes have enhanced the landscape, others not so much. As Paul cautions, elevating an old scene does not always make it more treasured than its current counterpart. He admits, "I don't mind some things being torn down."
Paul and Jean oversaw the difficult task of winnowing the 1,800 "Now & Then" subjects down to an historic 100. Their goal was to pick the most interesting and representative views, highlighting Seattle's native roots and earliest days. The lineup starts off with the city's earliest surviving photo, E. A. Clark's picture of Henry and Sara Yesler standing on their front porch at First and James.
Further along we see a picture of the city's oldest surviving structure: a plain but cozy Alki home, assumed to have been built for city founder Dr. David S. Maynard. The frame building, it's roofline unchanged, was moved from its original location on Alki to a site on 64th Avenue Southwest.
No matter whether one is a native or newcomer to Seattle, there are many "Now & Then" stories that surprise. For example, early-day images show a bustling community that grew from acreage first called Farmdale and then was known as Gilman Park. That was before the boomtown's 2000 residents decided that their incorporated town -- second largest in the county -- should be called Ballard.
Equally compelling is the "then" photo taken Jan. 22, 1942, when West Seattle's marine-themed Admiral Theater first opened. That picture is matched with the "now" shot showing a joyful turnout at the movie theater after the West Seattle Historical Society won its battle to secure landmark protection.
The debut of Paul and Jean's book, along with Sasquatch Book's new publication, "Seattleness: A Cultural Atlas," shows that publishers believe readers are hungry to know more about the changing character of the city. When surveying "Now and Then," Seattle chocolatier Fran Bigelow commented that this book "makes us think about the future of our precious city."
Fran's remark brings us to a concern about the future. Paul, who just celebrated his 80th birthday, has a list of what he might yet achieve. His foremost aims are completion of an online biography of Ivar Hagland (the iconic restaurateur) and preservation and cataloging of Paul's enormous archive. He yearns to secure that vast archive so citizens will have access to everything in it, including his "Now & Then" columns, free of charge. What a pity it would be to lose the images that show us where we've been and what we have now become.