Lyons and Lions in Seattle

One of the most unusual building stones in Seattle is the Lyons Sandstone. I know of only one building built with it. That building is now known as the Interurban but began life as the Seattle National Bank. The new name came about sometime after 1902 when the Tacoma Interurban railway terminated in front of the building. Running from Tacoma via Green Valley and with an off shoot to Renton, the Tacoma Interurban ran from 1902 to 1928.

Lion of Lyons

Lion of Lyons

English-native John Parkinson designed the building in 1890-1892. He later moved to Los Angeles where he is much better known, especially for the Los Angeles Coliseum and City Hall. In Seattle, he also designed the Butler Block, sadly most of which was removed; the upper brick clad stories have now been replaced with a rather banal garage. At the least the handsome granite base remains.

The classic Romanesque Revival building is a delightful ediface. At the base is the local Chuckanut Sandstone, a gray sandstone. Sitting atop it is the Lyons Sandstone, quarried at the Kenmuir Quarry in Manitou Springs and shipped by rail to Seattle. I have not been able to determine why Parkinson chose the Lyons rock, though it clearly contrasts well with the Chuckanut and complements the brick that makes up the remaining part of the building. The Lyons was deposited as sand dunes during the Permian Period around 280 million years ago. Outcrops of the rock, which often appear as massive hogbacks, occur along the Front Range of Colorado, including such famous areas as Red Rocks Amphitheater and Garden of the Gods. Minute quantities of oxidized hematite (that is rusted) give the Lyons its red color.

Lyons Sandstone was the most commonly used sandstone building stone quarried in Colorado. Quarries opened in the 1870s and continued in Manitou until the 1910s, and still takes place in Lyons, where descendents own the quarries opened by their relatives in 1873.

Welcome In...pfffth.

Welcome In…pfffth.

What makes the Interurban particularly charming are the elaborate carvings. The most obvious is the lion overlooking the entrance at the corner of Occidental and Yesler. More intriguing figures are found in two additional locations. To the east on Yesler is another entrance, where you can find grotesques on the columns. (There is some debate about the origin of the term grotesque, but many trace it to paintings in Roman grottoes.) These curious faces were a commonly used architectural feature, often adding a sense to a whimsy to stately structures. Another grotesque peaks out from carved foliage on the southwestern side of the building. It’s about 20 feet above ground level.

What you looking at?

What you looking at?

These are not the only grotesques in Seattle. I know of one building that has 78 carved in its sandstone. Do you know it? There is also another curious feature on the Interurban. Do you know it?


Friday Photo

Golly ned. This photo is a place of superlatives. Deepest. Oldest. Pretty darned coldest. Most voluminous. Plus the Nerpa.

Friday Photo - November 14, 2014

Stories in Stone Interview on TV

Yesterday, mid-afternoon, I got an email asking me to be on the local NBC affiliate, KING5TV, to talk about building stone and my walks with Sidetour/Groupon. Today, I was on the show, New Day Northwest, for an interview with host Margaret Larson. I had fun. I hope she did too.

Here’s the link to the online version of the interview.

Friday Photo: Where Hills Go to Train

Okay, silly photograph today. Saw this and wondered if it was the place where hills go to learn about becoming mountains. I know it’s humor at its lowest level, but that’s what makes it fun. Here’s wishing that whatever attempts at humor you hear/see later today get better. Happy Friday.


Training for Hills

Friday Photo: The world splits apart

Another photo from past travels. This is from one of my favorite spots on Earth, where I spanned what is normally a great gap with a single short walk. It is also the place that gave the world the words thing and booth.

Any thoughts of where?

Friday Photo 10-10

Singing Rocks: Geology Songs

Few scientific disciplines lend themselves more to song than geology. The science is exciting, touches our lives daily, helps us understand the world around us, and is filled with wonderful words that lend themselves to rhyme and verse. Consider that one of the most famous bands in history sports a geologic name – The Rolling Stones. We have songs about continental drift, erosion, volcanoes, earthquakes, and dinosaurs, though some think that geology songs don’t fare well. Here’s the dialogue from Prairie Home Companion, and its infamous private eye, Guy Noir.

SS: Mr. Noir— I’m Louise. You know Brad Paisley—
GK: Yes, of course.
SS: Top star in Nashville for years — and then he suddenly comes out with an 8-CD boxed set called Rocks–
GK: Rocks.
SS: And it’s all songs about geology. Tectonic plates. Volcanoes. Geysers. Shore erosion.
GK: Interesting.
SS: Not really. A half-million copies of those CDs are in landfill in New Jersey. And now— we have to relaunch Brad as the exciting performer that he used to be before he got fascinated by soil.
GK: And what’s my job?
SS: Keep him indoors.

And, later in the broadcast.

BP: This is a volcanic hot spot in Hawaii. It’s for a TV special I’m writing a soundtrack for. I just can’t explain how the sight of red hot lava bubbling up from the ground — I just find it moving— the earth reforming itself…..continents shifting……earthquakes……I want to learn more and more about geology— have you ever read John McPhee’s book, Rising From The Plains?
GK: Yes, I’ve been reading it for ten years every night just before I fall asleep.
BP: I just find the science of geology so exciting….so fulfilling— I don’t want to sing about love anymore. I want to sing about the earth.
TR (GORE): Brad, I’m Al Gore, and I want to congratulate you on your interest in geology and earth sciences. I admire your ambition to use country music as an educational tool and I myself have written a number of songs on this subject—
SS: Mr. Vice-President, I’m sorry, but we have a show to rehearse—
TR (SINGS): Let other people hang out in bars.
I lie on the rocks and look up at the stars. (BRIDGE)

Oh, well not everyone sees the light but many do, so here’s a short list of web sites that focus on geology-themed songs. After all why do you think they call it Rock and Roll?

1. Focus on education –

2. A long list of songs that touch on geology –

3. A short fill-in-the-blank list of geologic songs –

4. Teaching geology through a couple of songs –

5. The Exploratorium and Earthquake Songs –

Any other suggestions?

Friday Rocks: K/T Boundary

My Friday Rocks photo shows the K/T boundary, aka the Cretaceous/Tertiary Boundary. I took this photograph in August 2011, when I was out in the field with the Dig School, a wonderful education program co-founded by Burke Museum paleontologists Greg Wilson and Lauren DeBey. We were about 16 miles north of Jordan, Montana. The site is known to paleontologists as Lerbekmo Hill, after geologist Jack Lerbekmo. One of the highlights of the spot is that I could place my hand on the iridium anomaly layer, the famous bed of material that helped geologists understand what happened to the dinosaurs, and many others, at the end of the Cretaceous. In addition, about ten miles away is the location where Barnum Brown found the first specimen of Tyrannosaurus rex. It’s certainly one of the niftiest spots for any geogeek to visit.

Here is another view of the location showing the different layers.

K/T Boundary

Friday Rocks: Photo in the Field

I thought I’d try something different this week, at least different for me, and post a shot from the field. This spot illustrates one of the most famous moments of time in geology. What makes this location most compelling is that it is near where some of the world’s most famous extinct beasts were found. It’s just a hundred yards or so off of dirt road. Any guesses where the shot was taken and what it shows?

Where is it? What is it?

Where is it? What is it?

Building Stone Tours

For several years I have given tours of Seattle’s building stones. Now, I am trying something new. I am offering the tours through Groupon/Sidetours. Sidetours advertises itself as “Do Something Memorable.” They offer tours with experts in a variety of locations. Mine is one of many in Seattle. Here’s more information on my walks.

The tour is available on the following dates and times.

September 13 – 10AM to Noon
October 11 – 10AM to Noon
October 17 – 10AM to Noon
October 18 – 10AM to Noon

Serendipitous Marble Vein - Three on the Third

I recently learned about this serendipitous vein in a marble slab in a downtown Seattle building. I like to think that the worker who placed this slab did it knowingly. It certainly looks that way to me. The marble is Alaskan marble, though it is not in the Smith Tower.

Number Three on the Third Floor

Close up of the number Three