Friends of the Market, Armory

Victor Steinbrueck Park

Steinbrueck Park totem poles

Walk northwest through the MarketFront pavilion toward the two totem poles in the park. Pike Place Market went through a period of serious decline starting with the Japanese Internment of 1942. In that year, 2/3rds of the Market farmers were uprooted and sent to incarceration camps. After World War II, America went through a number of changes that seriously altered people’s shopping habits. The rise of the supermarket, proliferation of at-home refrigerators and movement to the suburbs and away from urban centers all spelled disaster for the Pike Place Market. To keep the cost of produce in the Market competitive, Richard Desimone operated Pike Place at a loss. Buildings were deteriorating, and in the 1960s the City unveiled a plan for Urban Renewal. The so-called Scheme 23 visualized a new urban landscape where the Market would be torn down in favor of a series of towers, parking and an indoor hockey arena. The Friends of the Market formed to preserve the neighborhood, and explore ways in which the historic character of the neighborhood could be saved in a conscientious and forward-thinking way. After a protracted legal battle, the Market was saved by a citizen’s initiative in 1971, although not without some losses. One of the greatest of these losses was the National Guard Armory, torn down in March 1968, which was formerly located just north of this spot where Cutter’s Crabhouse stands now.

In 1982, the .8-acre Market Park was constructed as a lid on top of a three-story parking garage, replacing a gas station that stood here. Designed by Richard Haag and Victor Steinbrueck, the park offered picnic tables, benches, grassy knolls for admiring the view, and two totem poles made of Western Red Cedar sourced from the Skagit National Forest. The poles were designed by Quinault artist Marvin Oliver and Victor Steinbrueck, and carved with the help of James Bender and installed in 1984. It was renamed after Victor Steinbrueck in 1985 after his death.

In a letter dated from 1984, Steinbrueck outlined the design: “The poles are a tribute to the cultural contribution and the heritage of our Native Americans as well as having an urban design and civic amenities association with the Pioneer Square totem pole … The poles are not legendary as is often intended with such work, but may have symbolism with varied interpretations. The four main figures on the Haida pole, from bottom to top are Bear, Killer Whale or Blackfish, Human, and Raven. Only red and black paint stain colors are used in combination with the expressed natural cedar. The symbolism may be thought of as related to the City of Seattle, or to the Pike Place Public Market, or both. One interpretation of the symbolism is that Bear represents strength and power, Killer Whale or Blackfish is for good luck and abundance from the sea and nature, Human holding the Potlatch Copper is Prosperity while Raven at the top brings light and Hope to Seattle and the Market and all of us. There are several small figures intertwined with the main elements. Bear is holding a Hawk which may signify Vigilance and Watchfulness perhaps in relation to our own Powers. Next at the top of Bear is Little raven possibly representing Luminous Energy in relation to Bear’s Strength and for the good luck an abundance of the Killer Whale. Killer Whale as a figurative Blow Hole face or mask and Messenger is a Little Human with Feathers between the whale tail fins which suggests communication within our communities, or between people and Nature; the Salish Women’s Spinning Whorl held by Raven may symbolize the contribution of Native Americans through the combination of work and art, especially recognizing the work of women in our society.

The Market Farmers Pole with its twin eight-foot-high figures is related to the Pike Place Public Market as a monument and acknowledgement of gratitude to the farm omen and men who toil to bring the agricultural riches of our region to the people of Seattle. The farmer woman and the farmer man, as the most important element of the Market, are wearing “Honored Farmers – 1984” badges similar to those presented by the Friends of the Market to the old-time farmers in 1984 who had been in the Market for many years.”

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