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Seattle Underground and the great street regarding of Pioneer Square

The final location I checked out before leaving Washington was in the Pioneer Square neighborhood; the Seattle Underground.






The Seattle Underground is a series of catacombs beneath Pioneer Square which were the original street grade.  When Denny Party arrived in what is now Seattle they attempted to establish a settlement called New York Alki on Alki Point in what is now the modern neighborhood of West Seattle.  The settlement was moved across Elliott Bay in 1852 to a low lying flat land which became the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle.

Pioneer Square was surveyed during low tides which led to various problems as the City of Seattle began to grow.  Waste plumbing was pumped into Elliott Bay via a wooden pipe system which would often back flow into the buildings during high tide.  In addition to the plumbing issues Pioneer Square was subject to frequent flooding from Elliott Bay.  The majority of original buildings in Seattle were wooden which would ultimately lead to their demise during the Great Seattle Fire of 1889.

The Great Seattle Fire burned over 30 city blocks which led to Pioneer Square largely being obliterated.  As the City of Seattle began to rebuild a decision to regrade the streets 10-30 feet higher was made to curtail flooding and the frequent plumbing back flow.  The City of Seattle used the surrounding hills east of Pioneer Square to regrade all the streets to their current level but left land owners the responsibility of regarding their own property lots.  This led to a situation where side walks and buildings had to be accessed from street level via use of ladders.  Buildings were often built with a entrance at the original street grade and a second floor entrance at the anticipated grade.  This ironically led to a situation where 17 people died falling off ladders trying to access side walks from Seattle streets whereas nobody died during the Great Seattle Fire.

Eventually the entirety of original street grade of Pioneer Square was covered by side walks which led to them to becoming the Seattle Underground.   Shops in the Seattle Underground still remained open until 1907 when the City condemned them due to concerns over Bubonic Plague.  During the 1960s there was a push to raze Pioneer Square and fill in the Seattle Underground with concrete.  The Seattle Under Tour was opened by local historian Bill Speidel in 1965 and Pioneer Square was later added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.   Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park was later created in Pioneer Square in 1976.

Today the Seattle Underground Tour is operated out of the Pioneer Building at 1st Avenue and Yesler Way.  The Pioneer Building is a six-story structure completed in 1892.







The photo below is looking east on Yesler Way.  Before Pioneer Square was regraded Yesler Way was originally a 49% grade known as Mill Street which carried the nickname of "Skid Row."  Logs would be greased up and slid down Mill Street towards the Seattle Waterfront.  The term "Skid Row" eventually became to be a commonly used term for a urban neighborhood in decline.





There are several other interesting sites aside from Yesler Way on the photo above.  From left-to-right the Pioneer Building, Columbia Center, the Sinking Ship parking garage and Smith Tower can be seen.  Smith Tower at 484 feet was completed in 1914 and was the tallest building in Seattle until the Space Needle was built, the Columbia Center is now the tallest building at 933 feet.  The parking garage known as the "Sinking Ship" was built in the 1960s as part of the initial stages of the "revitalization" plans for Pioneer Square.  Previously the Seattle Hotel which had been built in 1890 occupied the land the Sinking Ship sits on, a photo of it can be seen here.

Pioneer Square 1917

The Seattle Underground Tour goes through three repaired areas of the Underground.  The first area is located at the northeast intersection of 1st Avenue and Yesler Way.


The original ground level of what was the Northern Hotel.






Another original entrance to a building at the former street level of 1st Avenue.





Glass sky lights let in sunlight to the Underground at the corner of 1st Avenue and Yesler Way.



The remains of an entrance to a bank building along Yesler Way.






The original entrance for the Schwabacher Building.





The next annex the Underground Tour goes through is located on the south side of the junction of Yesler Way and James Street.






The floor under James Street and Yesler is starting to subside.  Apparently when Pioneer Square was being rebuilt the building foundations were on top of old lumber scrap.  As the lumber scrap began to decay some of the floors started to sink.





I can't verify if this toilet is original or a set-piece.





111 Yesler Way can be seen painted on the walls facing north from Occidental Avenue.





The original surface entrance for the Oriental House.







Facing east towards Occidental Avenue.


The third annex explored by the Underground Tour is the original entrance to the Pioneer Building.





An example of what the wooden piping in Pioneer Square would have looked like before the Great Seattle Fire.


Suffice to say the original street grade entrance of the Pioneer Building is far less ornate than the regraded entrance.  I suppose it wouldn't make sense to spend a lot of money decorating an entrance that would be buried.


Update:  I found this 1884 bird's eye map of Seattle and Pioneer Square.  Mill Street and the giant hillside are very apparent on the right hand side of the map.

1884 Seattle Map

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