The History of Seattle Buried Underground

Published: August 25th 2018
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Downtown Seattle and Interstate 5Downtown Seattle and Interstate 5Downtown Seattle and Interstate 5

A nice picture, but probably not worth being murdered for.
I thought I would have another early start and try for another photo of the Seattle skyline, this time from a bridge to the south east of the city. The walk there was straight forward but I had not realised what kind of area it would take me through. At five in the morning, the area south of Downtown was absolutely awful - full of rough sleepers, rubbish everywhere and a number of people wandering around for no apparent reason. With the possible exception of the Blue Line in Los Angeles (see Enjoying The Blue Line Experience) and one time in Bangkok (see An Incident in Bangkok), I had never felt more at risk. It was one of those times when you wonder if it is better to carry on in hope that it gets better or turn around and walk back through it all again. I carried on and it did get better. The view was excellent and the smog even seemed to have cleared slightly.

I went a different way back to our hotel, but I had still never been so relieved to reach the Downtown area, all full of middle class people in their smart clothes heading to work with Starbucks in their hands.
Underground TourUnderground TourUnderground Tour

The underground old shell of a building.
One thing that I realised is that I have not seen any police in Seattle, literally not one. Compare that to New York, where the police are everywhere.

I so wish I had been able to drive, but the car is locked in a garage overnight that does not open until 7.00am. And by the way, that is costing us $35 a night.

Whilst the smog seems have cleared quite well, the weather was overcast and cold. Not that it mattered today as we had been recommended an underground tour so my wife and I decided that we would go and check that out. It was in a place called Pioneer Square, which is not far from where I had been several hours earlier. It was still pretty bad, but no where near as bad as it had been earlier, although there was now a particularly bad stench of weed (bad even by Seattle standards).

The underground tour was basically a lesson in the history of Seattle. It originated around a sawmill in the Pioneer Square area in the 1850s, however back then it seemed a very strange choice to locate a new city as the ground
The Smith TowerThe Smith TowerThe Smith Tower

The 42 floor former world’s highest building outside of New York.
was marshy and unstable and the tidal flow meant that there was a bit of a sewage problem, which in turn meant that there was a bit of a rats problem. Trying to stabilise it with saw dust didn’t help, but it did help to spread a massive fire in 1889. The fire seems to have been widely regarded as a good thing (no one was killed) and when the city was rebuilt the roads and footpaths (sidewalks) were raised above the ground. This also meant that the lower floors of all the buildings became basements, hence an underground tour.

Some other interesting facts:

• People were prone to falling off the raised footpaths / sidewalks, often falling up to three floors below. Apparently their deaths were classed as “unintentional suicides”.
• Given the prospector status of the city, there was only one woman for every ten men. Many were referred to as seamstresses, although none of them had a sewing machine. A “sewing tax” was introduced to help fund the rebuilding of the city. Apparently such funding is a key part of the development of many cities, but is never talked about.
• During prohibition in the 1920s, the
Smith Tower ViewSmith Tower ViewSmith Tower View

Downtown Seattle from the Smith Tower observatory and you can see down a street to the Space Needle if you stand in the right place.
underground levels were predominantly used for storing illicit alcohol.
• The city is named after an Native American called, obviously, Chief Seattle.
• The underground tour itself was started to help fund a campaign to stop a redevelopment of the Pioneer Square area to ensure that it kept its original character.

Also In the Pioneer Square area is the Smith Tower. This 42 floor tower opened in 1914 and, at the time, it was the tallest building in the world outside of New York. It has a lot of character, including the original lifts (elevators), which until recently were still manually controlled. At the top is a bar with loads of the original character, but is also not very busy, so it is a relaxing and sophisticated place to have a drink.

The view is excellent, although it is not as high as the Space Needle. But then then neither of them are as high as the Columbia Center, which also has an observation deck. Given that there are also the views from the 174 foot Seattle Great wheel, there are actually four options to overlook Seattle. We decided that two out of four was probably enough.

The Gum WallThe Gum WallThe Gum Wall

The wall of chewing gum near the Market Center.
relaxed in our hotel room and watched the news on TV for a while. There was no option to watch any news coverage of what was going on in the rest of the world so we watched CNN for a while. I didn’t realise how polite and professional the BBC is. CNN had an hour long interview with Kelly Anne Conway, Counsel to the President. It was nothing but arguing, bickering and talking over each other. I’m no fan of Trump, but no one learned a thing from that exchange.

We walked out in the evening and went via something known as the Gum Wall. The clue is in the name - a wall where, for some unknown reason, everyone sticks their chewing gum. The smell made me wretch.


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