Corner Market at Pike Place, ca. 1915, Courtesy MOHAI (1983.10.10020)
Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), Seattle, August 13, 2019, HistoryLink photo by David Koch

Market to MOHAI

by David B. Williams

The Pike Place Market and the Museum of History and Industry are two landmark institutions in Seattle. Between them lies one of the city’s most altered landscapes, where over a period of 33 years, workers removed about 11 million cubic yards of earth and regraded Denny Hill from a double-humped hill to a flat cityscape ready to become Seattle’s new business district. Relatively undeveloped, at least compared to Seattle’s retail and business district to the south, this area, which includes parts of Belltown, the Denny Regrade, and South Lake Union, has experienced rapid change in the past 15 years.

The goal of this walk is to share some of the history of this landscape, which the Duwamish people have called home for thousands of years. They took advantage of the terrain, using a ravine as a transportation corridor between the water and a village site to the east. The first settlers to stake a claim were the family of William and Sarah Bell, who had arrived in 1851. They left in 1856 but returned in 1870. (The street names come from their daughters Virginia and Olive, and her husband Stewart.)

During the early 1900s, the area’s proximity to Seattle’s business district made it a good location for establishments such as stables and benevolent institution for seamen. Despite the optimism of the regraders, relatively few businesses — film distributors, car dealers, residential hotels, and motels — took advantage of the cleared land until the 1990s and the dotcom boom. And, then Amazon made South Lake Union its headquarters beginning in the 2010s.

As has happened across Seattle, particularly those areas close to downtown, many of the buildings and structures have been destroyed or heavily altered. This walk shares some of those locations, including taking a few dives deep into the past, and tries to keep alive those stories, which helped shape the neighborhood and city.

Tour Stops

1

Pike Place Market

Pike Street and Pike Place

Our tour begins at the entrance to Pike Place Market and heads north along Pike Place. In the early 1900s, the many Chinese, Filipino, German, Italian, and Japanese who farmed Rainier Valley, and the Duwamish, Black, and White River valleys...

2

Caring for Mariners (Seamen’s Institute)

Pike Place and Pine Street

To the west of here, below Pike Place Market, is Western Avenue. At what is now 1901 Western, there used to be a several-story tall wooden building. You can see the location from the Market’s north arcade. For many decades...

3

Union Stables

2200 Western Avenue

In December 1904, city officials spent the day at 2nd Avenue and Pike Street counting traffic. They observed 14 automobiles and 3,945 horse-drawn vehicles. Where did all of those horses live? In 1905, 20 livery, sale, and boarding stables were...

4

BabáqWab

Bell Street and Western Avenue

When the first non-Native settlers arrived here in 1851, they found a narrow ravine running down to the water at what is now Bell Street. Archaeologists speculate that it could have provided access to a prairie to the east, known...

5

Bell Street

Bell Street corridor and Park

Long a popular transportation corridor, Bell Street began to be transformed in 2009 with the creation of Bell Street Park. The four-block corridor would become a shared community space via the addition of plantings and traffic bulbs. Somewhat successful, the...

6

The Regrade

3rd Avenue and Bell Street

For this stop, you need to look to the south and imagine that The Cornelius (the 10-story brick building, one block south on 3rd Avenue) is a 100-foot-high mound of dirt. If you had stood here in May 1910, you...

7

Trianon Ballroom

3rd Avenue and Wall Street

The low tan structure on the northwest corner of 3rd and Wall is our next stop. For many Seattleites, one of the most fun places in the city was located two blocks north of Bell Street: The Trianon Ballroom. The...

8

Franklin Apartments

2302 4th Avenue

In 1917, local architect B. Dudley Stuart published a map titled Seattle’s Coming Retail and Apartment-House District. It centered on the fourth regrade of Denny Hill. Despite the hope that businesses would move into the lowered and leveled land, it...

9

Sacred Heart Church Convent

6th Avenue between Bell and Battery

Two catholic churches have stood at this location. Neither had happy final days. The first Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart celebrated its first Mass on Christmas Day 1889. Built of brick in Gothic style, the building burned beyond redemption...

10

Denny Park

Denny Park

Like many expanding young cities, early day Seattle needed a place to bury its dead. Initially, this was a bit haphazard but in 1864, settlers David and Louisa Denny donated part of their property for Seattle’s first official cemetery. Not...

This corner is an arbitrary location for a look at Seattle’s topography. Geologically, Seattle is a relatively young city, with topography shaped during the last ice age. Around 17,600 years ago a tongue of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet known as...

12

Westlake roadway and streetcars

Westlake streetcars

Backed by people such as Arthur Denny and Thomas Burke, Frank Osgood opened Seattle’s first streetcar in September 1884. It was horse-powered (hence the nickname hayburners), cost a nickel per ride, and ran along 2nd Avenue. Three years later, the...

Another arbitrary stopping point as we walk down Westlake toward Lake Union. Although Seattle is often thought of a town that prospered in part because of timber, it also benefited from coal deposits on the east side of Lake Washington....

If you had arrived at this location in the 1850s, the landscape would obviously look little like it does today. An early survey noted “low wet and Brushy Banks and fallen trees extend into the water. Timber around the Lake,...

15

Naval Reserve Armory (MOHAI)

860 Terry Avenue N

Initially planned and designed in 1937, the Naval Reserve Armory opened on July 4, 1942. The city of Seattle Landmarks nomination notes the building’s curious combination of Art Deco, which emphasized verticality and geometric motifs, and Moderne, which favored horizontal...

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