Friday, September 18, 2009

Underground Seattle

After my niece's wedding, the insurance man flew back home Sunday afternoon so he could work while I spent some time with my brother and sister-in-law.
My brother Joe and I decided to take an afternoon and do something we each had wanted to do for years...take an 'Underground Seattle' tour. Having grown up in Seattle we were interested in the history. My brother now lives in Lynnwood (a north suburb of Seattle) and rarely visits the city due to way too much traffic. We bravely tackled the freeway, and found a parking spot right on the old Seattle waterfront under the Alaskan Way Viaduct...just like old times. After walking just a few blocks we arrived at Pioneer Square, our destination spot. We paused to admire the Smith Tower, newly refurbished. This building was opened on July 4, 1914 and has 42 floors. At the time it was the 4th tallest building in the world, and it remained the tallest building west of the Mississippi for 50 years. It has survived three earthquakes. Of special interest to us however is the story that our Uncle George climbed the steel frame during construction to the top because of a 'dare'. Quite a feat!
Pioneer Square is constructed on the original mud flats of Puget Sound harbor. This was the early settlement and center of town for Seattle, known originally as Pioneer Place. A large fire leveled the whole area in 1889, and Seattle rebuilt on the site, but fixed several of it's earlier problems by regrading and building 'higher'.
Seattle hosted the Alaska Yukon Exposition (World's Fair) in 1909, and the above Victorian Pergola was constructed at Pioneer Square to welcome incoming dignitaries.
This is one of the buildings that was constructed after the fire...and reflects the architecture of the area, Romanesque. It is a really beautiful building, and is right next door to where we started our tour.
We found out that upon rebuilding Seattle, the city fathers decided to regrade the streets and raise them several feet. The building owners however objected to the cost of raising their buildings, so for a while a very strange situation existed. The doors into the buildings, along with the sidewalks, were much lower than the streets. Ladders on each street corner were used to climb up and down from street to store. It was a very unsafe situation, so ultimately the store owners agreed to have the streets and sidewalks level to their 2nd stories. The original bottom floor of each building was abandoned, and doors were built into the 2nd stories (now first stories). As it stands today, each building owns the old first level and each has done different things with that. Some have opened them up as basements for retail use, and one is used for a library. Most have just remained shut, but our tour has permission to enter three of these old first stories and that is what they mean by the 'Seattle Underground'. I am only including a few photos here, as they did not turn out that well. But I did think maybe my grandsons would enjoy seeing just a little of these old buildings.

Here is an original bathroom left untouched.

Natural light is provided by these skylights. These small panes of glass were installed in the sidewalks and are still in use today. If you look close you can see people walking on the glass. The glass then had a lot of magnesium in it, so the glass turned purple in the sun and looks beautiful both from the bottom and from the top when you are walking on it.

There was a bank building here originally. The men from the Alaska Gold Rush would come here to deposit their gold or cash. They needed to have a safe place to put it at all hours, so the bank had an outside vault deposit. It is marked here...
and shown here. They would open the bottom of this and put their gold or cash inside. Very wild west!
There was a real problem with Seattle's early water/sewer system. It was above ground in wooden pipes and the tides coming in and going out interfered with it. It just worked with gravity going downhill...but? Anyway, here is a sign from the original company, and then....

one of the wooden 'pipes' below that. I'm sorry that it turned out so blurry...but it is really interesting to see one of the original wooden 'pipes'. A lot of things were just thrown down into these newly formed basements, and a lot of old garbage is still around down there.

This is where we ended our tour, and the man in the blue print shirt was our very entertaining guide. Joe and I were both glad we did it, and we found out much more about the founding and building of Seattle than we knew before.


Anonymous said...

Really nice Jennie. I enjoyed my trip :-) Kathy

Peter Jones said...

Fascinating. It took me a while to get to this, but I finally read it and it was so interesting. I'm glad you were able to take some pictures of what you saw. I'll show the boys soon. Thanks mom.