Comfort Station, Down Under

Level 3, top of cattle ramp

Walk down the stairs and out to the plaza near the Pike Place Market Senior Center and look up at the windows and the back side of the ‘Public market Center’ sign.

In 1908, the city was abuzz with preparations for the following year’s Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition. One major investment in the Market was construction of the city’s first modern ‘comfort station’, along with a scenic plaza looking out over Elliot Bay. This were to be additional comfort stations in Pioneer Place Park and at Westlake and Virginia. The Market’s comfort station was located just below Pike Place, accessible via Post Alley from below or from above by the simple pipe rail stairwell that remains in place to this day. The comfort station was constructed by the local firm Josenhans & Allan at a cost of $12,000 and must have been an extravagance in the otherwise-utilitarian Market neighborhood at the time. With separate men’s and women’s entrances (the men’s was in Post Alley), the station had terrazzo floors, 32 fixtures, and free soap and towels. Its elaborate ventilation system was tastefully topped with a Corinthian capital that doubled as a seven-ball light fixture, still in use today. The scenic plaza at the top of the ramp was gradually covered over the late 1930’s and in 1986 the Pike Place Market Foundation installed Rachel within the former plaza area.

Head back to toward the building and enter at the western-most doorway. We will now briefly explore the Down Under. In 1912, farmers were getting fed up with the difficult logistics of bringing their carts up from the waterfront, and made their desire for a new market below the existing buildings known. While this measure failed, it led to new efforts to improve public routes to the market. The trellis-style skybridge at the foot of Flower Row was one part of that project. Simultaneously, a system of ramps was constructed within the lower levels of the Leland Building to provide inclined access to the stalls and shops on the Market Level.

This is the last remaining segment of the original ramp system devised by the Goodwins. This ramp was designed using a highly-durable end-grain method, where the planks were laid tightly next to each other. This same style of ramping was used in many of the auto shops and garages in Capitol Hill and Pioneer Square.

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