When Ruth & I visited the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park last spring (“Seattle Documents the Klondike Gold Rush” blog, 7-3-16), we learned about a special walking tour of Pioneer Square that would occur on July 17. We met Chris, the man who would conduct it, were impressed with his expertise, and returned for it. It was fantastic.
Early in the tour, Chris took us to the King Street Station. Constructed in 1906 by the same firm that built New York’s Grand Central Terminal, it’s clock tower, an enduring Seattle landmark, was inspired by the tower on the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy. Lions are it most distinctive decorations. It was the tallest structure in this city when it was built by the Great Northern Railway. A 4-phase, $56 million station restoration ended in 2013. Nearby are Century Link Field, and current construction projects near it are changing the appearance of the oldest part of Seattle. Just this week 40% of Weyerhaeuser’s 700 employees reported for work in its new 7-story corporate headquarters at 200 Occidental Street in Pioneer Square. The move from Federal Way, where Weyerhaeuser has been for 45 years, will be completed by the end of this moth.
We learned on the walk, however, that Pioneer Square has retained a lot of its historic character. About 35 buildings remain from the Gold Rush Era, but they look a bit different now because of earthquakes and a fire. Seattle’s nickname could be Earthquake City because there are 3 types of them possible here. There were larger than 6.0 city shakers in 1909, 1939, 1946, 1949, 1965, and 2001. The original Cadillac Hotel was almost destroyed in that last one, and, since it no pediments are allowed on buildings. Seattle’s Great Fire occurred in 1889 and 25 blocks were destroyed.
When the city was rebuilt, big changes happened. I learned from Chris that buildings collapse outward in a fire, that fire resistant bricks became the rage during Seattle’s reconstruction, and that Richardson Revival architecture, which was very popular in this era, was used in many new buildings. The level of Pioneer Square was raised 40 feet and a new seawall was built. First floors became basements and created a very popular future tourist attraction–a beneath the streets tour of old Seattle. So many different types of trees were planted, including pollution-reducing London plane trees and gingkoes, that a tree walk of The Square has become a regular feature.
After the fire and its rebuilding, Seattle was ready for railroads and gold. Two railroads in particular brought people here to board ships headed for the Klondike. Gold fever commenced in 1897. Thanks to Canadian Mounted Police demands, Seattle became the major outfitter for about 100,000 people on their way to Alaska. Their story is compellingly told in the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park now on Pioneer Square’s 2nd Avenue on the Cadillac Hotel’s first floor.
We learned about another contemporary project affecting this area on the walk. It involves Big Bertha, a tunneling machine and the biggest drill ever made. The Alaska Way Viaduct seen from Pioneer Square was sinking, so Bertha was brought in to help tear it down. Bertha has been controversial, delays have occurred, a grease and glue fire has affected progress, etc.