Sunday, March 13, 2005

Seattle Underground

One thing on my TODO list is to take the Seattle Underground Tour, which I knocked out this afternoon. I showed up with a few minutes to spare and got in along with 49 others on a sold-out tour.

It was quite interesting. Basically, a downtown fire in the late 1800's gave the city a chance to rebuild and fix a persistent drainage problem. Through what must have been seen as (at the time) some crazy civil engineering, retaining walls were built along various streets. The spaces between the walls were filled with dirt, paved over, and then arch-supported sidewalks were attached to buildings. The net result: street level was raised by 12 feet. Today, 3 blocks of the underground are available for tours. Of the original 30 blocks, 20 remain - I'm not sure if those 20 blocks are in too poor shape for tours.

Seattle Underground

Underground Wall

Some representative photos of the underground area. The tour moved along boardwalks, and on the other side was debris and either the retaining wall or the building facade. A few old signs lay about, along with abandoned machinery.

The tour was quite interesting, covering the colorful early history of Seattle, and of course included walking around sections of the original downtown. Some sidewalks have glass set into them, which I thought was just decorative. It turns out those are skylights to the space below! The lower areas haven't been used commercially since the early 1900's, and after that it was used as a dumping ground for earthquake rubble and junk until fairly recently.

Sidewalk Skylight

The early history of Seattle was of tension between two men: Maynard and Denny. Denny was conservative and zoned his land grant for housing, while Maynard wanted to attract business so he sold pieces of his land and allowed saloons, gambling halls, and other stores to build. The two men didn't agree on how to connect the streets of their respective sections, so that explains the odd angles of some intersections. Looking back, Maynard's willingness to let anything go was key in building the early economy of Seattle.

Pioneer Square Totem Pole

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