Fremont’s Elephants

Even though elephants are only native to Africa and Asia, elephants appear in art, literature and cultural references worldwide.

The Elephant Store in Seattle, far right, as photographed in 1878 by Peterson Studio.

Perhaps the earliest elephant-reference in Seattle was in the 1870s.  In this 1878 photo, we see the Elephant Store on First Avenue at the southeast corner of Columbia Street.  We don’t know exactly why it was called the Elephant Store.  In his commentary on this photo, Seattle historian Paul Dorpat speculated that “presumably both the bargains and the selection were oversized.”

The Fremont neighborhood of Seattle is well-known for its art installations such as Lenin, the Troll and the Interurban statue.  There currently is no elephant-art-motif in Fremont, but historically Fremont has had its own connections to elephant lore:  an elephant named Wide Awake who lived at the nearby Woodland Park Zoo, and an elephant art piece created in Fremont which is displayed as a store’s sign at 8808 Aurora Avenue North.

Seattle’s zoo history

Woodland Park Railway in 1890

Woodland Park Zoo began as a menagerie on the estate of Guy C. Phinney.

Phinney worked with the developers of the Fremont neighborhood to establish a streetcar line from Fremont to the grounds of his estate, where he charged admission to the menagerie.  Phinney also platted nearby property to sell lots for home-building.  A streetcar line leading to picnic grounds, with adjacent development site, was one of the strategies used for real estate sales in Seattle’s booming years after 1889.

The name of Pearl Avenue in Fremont was changed to Woodland Park Avenue to indicate the route of the streetcar line to the zoo and its picnic grounds.

Guy Phinney died in 1893 and it took several years for the property to be acquired by the City of Seattle and to begin development as a zoo.

Wide Awake the elephant at the zoo

Woodland Park Zoo’s first elephant was named Wide Awake, purchased from a carnival in 1921.  The purchase price of $3,122 was raised in a campaign sponsored by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper with a special appeal to children in a “penny drive.”  The elephant, formerly named Cleopatra, was about seven years old and was renamed Wide Awake after a children’s club program emphasizing activity and civic service.

Elephant contribution card

On June 25, 1921 a parade was organized to bring Wide Awake to her new home at Woodland Park Zoo.  The parade began at Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle and went north on Second Avenue, then along Westlake Avenue to Fremont.

In recognition of the Fremont children who had contributed the most money for the purchase of Wide Awake, the elephant parade stopped at the door of the Fremont Drug Company and the children of the neighborhood were introduced to Wide Awake.

Children of the Fremont neighborhood crowded around to see Wide Awake the elephant on her parade day, June 25, 1921.  Photo courtesy of the Lough family.

An elephant in tile and terrazzo

Braida house, 3408 Woodland Park Ave N.

In the early 1900s Italian immigrant Giovanni (John) Braida and his family moved from San Francisco to Seattle where they believed that Seattle’s vigorous economy would provide more work opportunities.  Braida was an artisan specializing in marble, mosaic, terrazzo and tile.

In 1915 the Braidas purchased a house at 3408 Woodland Park Avenue in the Fremont neighborhood.  John Braida had the house raised so that the original house became the family’s second-floor living quarters.  A marble-working workshop was built on the ground level.  The property included the northern half of the block where the Braida family had a garden and outbuildings including a garage.

Since 1946 Braida’s elephant has been at 8808 Aurora Avenue North, for the Aurora Flower Shop and now Aurora Rents. Photo by Valarie.

John Braida began to specialize more and more in mosaic and concrete garden ornaments, which he could display in the garden of his house on Woodland Park Avenue.  For many years streetcar riders enjoyed going past this “concrete zoo” with its life-size animals, including an elephant with a howdah (seat) on its back.

In 1946 John Braida’s son Hector sold the garden-art elephant to the Aurora Flower Shop, 8808 Aurora Avenue North (now the site of Aurora Rents).  The flower shop owner used the elephant as part of a slogan for people to remember significant events with flowers because “an elephant never forgets” anniversaries, birthdays, Mother’s Day, etc.  A readerboard for the flower shop displayed the names of the places that flowers had been sent, such as “Yesterday we sent flowers to Ypsilanti, Michigan,” which was to remind people to remember loved ones far and wide, by sending flowers.

In March 2009 the Aurora elephant, now under the ownership of the Aurora Rents store, was removed, restored, and reinstalled.  While it was on the ground two Braida grandsons, Gil and Theodore, got a chance to see their elephant close-up for the first time since their childhood in the Braida house on Woodland Park Avenue in Fremont.

Although we refer to it as the “Aurora Avenue elephant,” the Braida family proudly remembers the elephant’s origins in their Fremont home.

The elephant touches down.

In March 2009 the Aurora Elephant was lowered by a crane and taken away for cleaning and for restoration of the tile work. Braida grandsons were present.  Photo by Valarie.

Sources:

“Elephant in Parade,” Seattle Daily Times, June 25, 1921, page 2.

Front Street Now and Then,” PaulDorpat.com, May 11, 2011.

Elephant “talking storybook” key at Woodland Park Zoo, to turn on a recording of commentary at each zoo exhibit.

HistoryLink Essays on elephants and the zoo:

“Woodland Park Zoo,” HistoryLink Essay #1481 by Walt Crowley, 1999.  The story of the zoo’s first elephant, Wide Awake, is contained in this article.  Wide Awake lived to be 54 years old and died at the zoo in 1967.

“Woodland Park Railway begins running in 1890,” HistoryLink Essay #3285 by Greg Lange, 2001.

“Queenie the elephant causes pandemonium,” HistoryLink Essay #7652 by Alan J. Stein, 2006.

“Tusko the elephant rampages through Sedro-Woolley,” HistoryLink Essay #5270 by J. Kingston Pierce, 2003.

It has been said that the Elephant Super Car Wash sign, on Battery Street near the Space Needle, is the most-photographed elephant in Seattle today.

“Asian elephant Chai gives birth to baby at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo on November 3, 2000,” HistoryLink Essay #2784 by Priscilla Long, 2000.

Lough family photos courtesy of George Elliott Lough, Fremont historical collection.

Seattle Historical Sites, 3408 Woodland Park Avenue North.  This list of historically-significant Fremont buildings was compiled via a survey of all residential structures in Fremont in 2009, in which I (Valarie) participated as one of the volunteers.

 

About Wedgwood in Seattle History

Valarie is a volunteer writer of neighborhood history in Seattle.
This entry was posted in Fremont neighborhood in Seattle and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Fremont’s Elephants

  1. Lee says:

    Surprising that one elephant could make such an eye opener in the area. Then again, Wide Awake was wide awake for 54 years. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  2. I’m chuckling because I can tell that you read all the way through my source list! Very studious of you!

  3. What a little gem here, this is. Fine essay, Valarie. I’ve always been curious about the backstory of Braida’s elephant and now I know about it and more.

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