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Benjamin LukoffPSA-PBK Trustee Benjamin Lukoff
Writes Book on Seattle History

Benjamin Lukoff, a Seattle native, has worked as a writer, editor, and indexer since receiving his BA in English, magna cum laude, from the University of Washington in 1997. He was initiated into Phi Beta Kappa there as a junior in 1996.

Present at the initiation were his parents: the late Young-Soon Lukoff, clinical professor of medicine at the university, and the late Fred Lukoff, retired professor of Korean at the university, who was initiated into Phi Beta Kappa nearly 50 years earlier at the University of Pennsylvania.

In between stints at Microsoft and Amazon.com, at the latter of which he served as music editor for a number of years, Benjamin received an MA in English linguistics from University College London. He is a contributor to the online newspaper Crosscut.com and a Web editor at Seattle Children's Hospital.

In Fall 2010, Thunder Bay Press published his first book, Seattle Then and Now. (A revised edition came out in Spring 2015.) Fellow trustee Redmond Barnett and former president Nancy Blase asked him a few questions about the book.

Seattle Then and Now

Does Seattle have a history?

Certainly, though we do suffer from what Knute Berger refers to as a "civic dementia" attributable, he thinks, to our frontier traditions and the ever-declining percentage of the population that was born here. The city is young as I note in my introductory essay, The New York Times is two months older but perhaps no other American city has undergone as much transformation in as little time. And, it musn't be forgotten that the Duwamish have been living here for as many as 9,000 years. Our history surrounds us.

How did you select the photos?

A few were chosen by the publisher. As for the rest, I made a list of locations I felt a book like this simply couldn't leave out and the publisher hadn't already selected, e.g., the Pacific Science Center, the UW's Rainier Vista, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, etc. Despite those examples, many of the sites are in the old core. But I tried to include as many from the neighborhoods as possible, which I don't think tends to be done in books like this.

I then used the Web sites of the Museum of History & Industry, the UW Libraries Digital Collections, and the Seattle Municipal Archives to identify interesting and appropriate photos. Not everything in their collections has been digitized yet, but I had no trouble finding what I was looking for online.

What challenges did you encounter? What was the most difficult aspect of putting it together?

Fortunately, not too many! Initially, it was a little strange working with a photographer from the Bay Area, a publisher and editor in London, and printers in China, but with the Internet, distance really didn't matter so much, except for the eight-hour time difference dragging out online conversations longer than they might have been had we all been on the West Coast.

I'd say the most difficult aspect was finding time to put it together while holding down a full-time job, but my workplace was flexible and everything came together nicely and on time.

What was it like working with an out-of-town photographer?

I loved working with Karl Mondon. He's had years of experience, so the photos were great. He didn't know Seattle as well as he knows San Francisco, of course, but had no trouble following the directions I provided him as to where best to stand to reproduce the vintage photographs. That was one of the most intriguing aspects of the project, by the way it's one thing to say "this is a picture of the International District," but another to figure out, especially for broad shots, what the original photographers' vantage points would have to have been. 

When and why did you decide to write the book? How did you select Thunder Bay Press?

They selected me, actually. I got an e-mail in January 2010 from Frank Hopkinson, the publisher of London-based Anova Books, which produces the series for Thunder Bay. He'd found my writing online, and was interested in having me select the photos and write the captions for this edition. Of course, I couldn't refuse. It had always been my ambition to write a book, but I didn't think I'd get to do it this soon.

It's now in a second edition. What kinds of changes did you make?

The only things that have been carried over from James Madison Collins's 2000 edition besides the title and concept, of course are a few of the "then" pictures. The rest of the "then" pictures are new to this edition, as are all the "now" pictures, all the captions for both, and the introductory essay.


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