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Started: 2019-12-15 14:37:52

Submitted: 2019-12-15 22:43:47

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator goes digging to find the site of a suspiciously-familiar residential intersection he photographed eighteen years ago

As part of my photo scrub, I ran across the pictures I took on my first visit to Seattle, with Kiesa, on Labor Day in 2001. I remembered driving to Ballard and visiting the locks. I did not remember taking this picture, of a traffic circle at a four-way intersection somewhere in Seattle.

traffic circle in seattle
traffic circle in seattle

This picture nagged at me because it looks like it belongs in Wallingford — and I didn't remember visiting Wallingford on that trip. My digital camera at the time was a point-and-shoot Nikon Coolpix 900, with a full resolution of 1280x960. I zoomed in on the obvious street sign and tried to figure out what it said. If I squinted, I could kind of make out "Densmore Ave N". Densmore Ave is a street running north-and-south through Wallingford, three blocks west of my house — so that sounded either convenient that I found the street in question, or suspicious that I was projecting names I recognized onto street signs I couldn't really read. I couldn't identify the cross street at all.

My next step was to look for traffic circles on Densmore Ave on Google Maps. I zoomed into each marked traffic circle in Street View. Of the three obvious traffic circles visible on Google Maps (at 36th, 38th, and 39th) none of them looked very much like the traffic circle in the picture.

Then I looked at the context of the picture. Just a minute later, according to the timestamp on the picture, I took a picture I identified as Asteroid Cafe, with a large rock on the roof, presumably the cafe's eponymous asteroid. Assuming I didn't time-travel, the cafe must be close to the traffic circle.

asteroid cafe in seattle
asteroid cafe in seattle

But finding Asteroid Cafe, eighteen years ago, proved easier said than done. Searching Google for it revealed my photo as the third result, which was somewhat less helpful than I was hoping for. I learned that it had moved from Wallingford to Fremont in 2006, then closed two years later in 2008 — and then I found a review from The Stranger in 2000 that gave the address on 45th Street in Wallingford. A couple of reviews mentioned the asteroid decorating the roof; and I found a Street View photo from 2011 showing the same building, without the asteroid, after the cafe moved out but before the building was redeveloped, rendering the site unrecognizable today. (The tower pictured in the background does still exist, at the top of the building on the corner of N 45th Street at Densmore Ave N.)

Street view at 1605 N 45th Street in 2011
Photo: Google Street view at Sutra at 1605 N 45th St in July 2011

The next obvious question was: where was the traffic circle? Google Maps didn't show traffic circles on Densmore Ave N on either side of N 45th Street, but they were clearly visible in the satellite photo — and when I switched to street view I recognized the intersection, at the corner of Densmore Ave N and N 44th Street. The shrub above the stairs had grown much taller, obscuring the house from the street; but it was clearly the same place. Eighteen years ago I took the original picture standing on the north side of N 44th Street, looking east across the intersection, facing the house on the south-east side of the intersection.

Street view at 4330 Densmore Ave N
Photo: Google Street view at 4330 Densmore Ave N in May 2018

This was, it turned out, a half-mile from my house. Seattle is now enjoying the gloom and dark of the dead of winter, so daylight hours have shrunk to my working hours (to the extent that the pallid light that occasionally escapes the clouds between 08:00 and 16:00 with the sun climbing a feeble 24° above the horizon at solar noon can still be considered "daylight"). It rained all day Saturday, trapping me inside the house, so it wasn't until Sunday (today) that I had the chance to leave the house (though still in a weak drizzle) to walk the half-mile across Wallingford to check out the site myself. I confirmed the sighting: standing on the north side of the street I could replicate the view, though the tree in the traffic circle had gone dormant for the squamous winter and the twin yew shrubs, still evergreen in the winter, flanking the stairs had grown large enough to envelop the path leading up from the sidewalk and shield the entire house — including the distinctive second-floor windows and the arrangement of its chimneys — from view.

Traffic circle at Densmore Ave N and N 44th St in Seattle
Traffic circle at Densmore Ave N and N 44th St in Seattle

All of this (and the purple prose explicating it, contained herein at extravagant length) left only one question: What was I doing in Wallingford on the afternoon of Labor Day 2001? My contemporaneous journal entry gave the answer: after Ballard, apparently guided by an AAA guidebook:

We headed to the U District stopped along the way at the Asteroid Cafe, complete with a large rock on the roof. It was closed, thwarting our attempts to eat lunch.

With that mystery solved, I am amused that, eighteen years ago, I dropped by Wallingford on my way though Seattle — and that I can hunt down the exact location of a random photo I took with the help of the Internet.