2639.A while back, a fellow Address Nerd from up Seattle way shared with me a photo of an old street blade set. I have been out of action for a tick, so I can't remember which one of you it was … please, if you read it, let me know who you were, yes? It was either you, Luke, or you, Ben, and yes, this is a tetch embarrassing.
Anywhoozle, they shared a sign with me that looked not unlike (in style, age, and patina) this set from another's flickr stream:
Of particular interest are the crossbars closing off the counters in the "e"s in the word Stevens. They have this peculiar upward slant which is decidedly nonstandard.
I went to the web pages for City of Seattle's Streets department and found no information but did find a link to an email address. I phrased the question, and sent off; an autoreply said the functionary would be on vacation for a couple of weeks, so I bided my time and awaited reply … which eventually came.
Here, now, is the wonderfully succint answer provided by Seattle Department of Transportation Manager of Traffic Field Operations, Paul Jackson, on 11 May 2011:
After viewing the photo you sent, our senior sign painter has concluded that these signs were manufactured many years ago and the technique at that time was to do each letter by hand without a standard font. Currently, we follow recommended, approved standards.
You can interpret that bit of brevity your own way, but the way I see it, since the rest of the font seems so clearly visually in harmony with the general FHWA style, I think it fair to presume that the sign painters based the font on that, but threw in that beguiling slanted crossbar on the minuscule e as a personal, "Seattlized" touch.
In short, they were freestyling.
I'm also still intrigued that, despite the assertion that they were not using a standard font, the look of the font actually seems to anticipate Clearview. It certainly resembles that, and harmonized with it, as far as I'm concerned.
And though we may never know what the visual source of the distinctive Seattle street blade look was for sure, we can be sure that it was a little dash of creativity that made it the unique look that it was.