Waterfront Park

1401 Alaskan Way

Waterfront Park during remodeling, Seattle, HistoryLink photo by David Koch
Union Street Pier, Central Waterfront Committee Strategic Plan, Seattle, 2012, Courtesy Waterfront Seattle
Union Street Pier conceptual rendering
Seattle Aquarium and Waterfront Park, Seattle, June 22, 2001, Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives (172307)
Waterfront Fountain, Waterfront Park, Seattle, May 13, 2005, Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives (150203)
Waterfront Park opening day ceremonies, Seattle, October 25, 1974, Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives (195371)
Waterfront Park under construction, Seattle, June 26, 1974, Courtesy Seattle Public Library (spl_shp_40529)
Central Waterfront Park model, 1970, Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives (76065)
Central Waterfront Park design for Forward Thrust, Seattle, 1970, Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives (76067)
SS Miike Maru, Elliott Bay, Seattle, August 31, 1918, Courtesy Seattle Public Library (spl_shp_21624)
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Waterfront Park

Pier 58 served as the landing point for two significant ships that visited Seattle’s port. In 1896, the NYK Line’s Miike Maru inaugurated the first scheduled service between Asia and the United States from the pier. This trade relationship between Asia and Seattle continues to be a key element of the city’s (and state’s) economy. The next year, the SS Portland landed with a “ton of gold” and launched the Klondike Gold Rush, which would transform Seattle. The population of the city boomed (growing from about 43,000 in 1890 to more than 237,000 by 1910) as gold-seekers (and those who outfitted and entertained them) streamed into the city.

After decades of efforts to develop a waterfront park that would provide recreational space and access to the water and views amidst the working waterfront, funding became available in 1968, when voters passed the Forward Thrust public works bond measures. After a contentious and robust public process, San Francisco-based George T. Rockrise and Associates laid out the concept for the park and its role in the redevelopment of the waterfront in “The Seattle Central Waterfront: A Study for is Future Comprehensive Development.” A Seattle architecture firm, The Bumgardner Partnership, designed the park to meet the goals laid out in the report, with ample public access to the views across the water and design elements and materials that echoed the site’s history as a working pier. It opened in 1974.

Waterfront Park was part of a larger effort to transform the waterfront into a tourist destination and to revitalize the central business district. Rallies, memorials, festivals, and maritime events have taken place in the park. It has also been home to Salmon Homecoming celebrations that are held each fall to celebrate the salmon’s return to spawn. The events feature educational programs for students, pow wows with dancing competitions, salmon bakes, canoe-welcoming ceremonies, and other activities to help introduce the larger community to Native cultural traditions.

The new Waterfront Park plan, part of the larger waterfront redevelopment that is underway, includes a new triangular pier, public art, open space for events, seating, and views across the water. One of the public art installations will be three welcome figures, collectively titled Family, to be created by artist Qwalsius Shaun Peterson (b. 1975) of the Puyallup Tribe. Peterson wrote about his work, “Seattle is named after our Coast Salish Chief, and in honor of that I hope that my work will demonstrate that Native art is not static, our people are part of this land and its history, but more importantly we are part of the present.”

Once Alaskan Way has been shifted to the former Alaskan Way Viaduct alignment, the park area will extend inland to a widened park promenade. Nearby, the new overlook walk will provide a new route up the hill to the Pike Place Market and the promenade will connect Waterfront Park users with Pioneer Square to the south and the Pier 62 Park to the north.

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