Pioneer Square Historic District

Pioneer Square Historic District (HM1BNM)

Location: Seattle, WA 98104 King County
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Country: United States of America
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N 47° 36.012', W 122° 20.003'

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[This marker is consists of seven panels and a map which deal with various aspects to the history of Pioneer Square. The panels are clustered together in Occidental Park in the heart of Seattle's Pioneer Square Historic District.]

[Panel 1]

[Click on photo #1 to view photos described in Panel 1 marker text.]
Birth of a City
On November 13, 1851, friendly Duwamish natives watched as families in the Denny Party came ashore on a windswept West Seattle beach. Edward S. Curtis staged this photo, circa 1915 of Puget Sound Indians with a portable reed shelter and a dugout canoe used for river travel. Their clothing is made of woven cedar bark and skins.

In April 1852 most of the settlers moved to the sheltered harbor across Elliott Bay, where Chief Seattle make them welcome. But when he gave away land via treaty, the Duwamish were exiled to the Suquamish Reservation. Seattle's bronze bust (James A. Wehn, 1909) tops a fountain designed for people, horses, and dogs. He seems to watch over ancestral lands that tribal members still call home.

Warriors from hostile tribes attacked Seattle in 1856. Thanks to a warning from friendly Duwamish, settlers took refuge in blockhouses. U.S. Navy troops fired howitzers from the sloop-of-war Decatur in Elliot Bay to quickly end the "Battle of Seattle." Emily Inez Denny latter painted this picture from childhood memory. The original is at the Museum of History and Industry.

It was David S. "Doc" Maynard's idea to change the name of the settlement from Duwamps to Seattle, after his friend. Generous and charming, Maynard gave away much of what is now Pioneer Square to help the city grow. He and his wife Catherine open the first hospital in their home - now the site of the Globe Building and Elliott Bay Bookstore.

Much of what is now Pioneer Square was forest and tidelands. Pioneers used sawdust from the mill for landfill around the island. The city continued to lower steep hills and fill in the tideflats for more than half a century. This composite map of Seattle's birthplace (W.D. Calvin, 1965) is published in Bill Speidel's Sons of the Profits (Seattle, 1967).

[Panel 2]
[Click on photo 2 to view photos described in panel 2 marker text.]

Urban Frontier
More than 40 New England women took Asa Mercer up on his promise of job opportunities and journeyed with him to Seattle. At a time when men outnumbered women seven to one, Mercer's real motive was to alleviate the town's "bachelor problem."

In 1886, hard economic times fueled racism. People turned against immigrant Chinese workers who became unwelcome competition for increasingly scarce jobs. At First and Main, Seattle's Home Guard formed a protective square around Chinese residents and fought back a vigilante mob with gunfire. Most of the city's 350 Chinese were forced to leave the city, but soon returned as their industrious nature and cheap labor proved essential for Seattle's economic structure.

Henry Yesler built Puget Sound's first steam-driven sawmill and launched the local economy in the early 1850s. Loggers and oxen skidded logs down Mill Street (now Yesler Way) to the mill and wharf, where workers loaded lumber onto San Francisco-bound freighters. The pioneers' first public gathering place was Yesler's cookhouse.

Henry Yesler's wife, Sarah, became president of the city's first women's suffrage association. In 1871 she hosted suffragist Susan B. Anthony, who lectured at the Brown Church. A civic activist, Sarah Yesler also served as the city's first librarian and was one of a group of women who founded Seattle Children's Home.

[Panel 3]
[Click on photo 3 to view photos described in Panel 3 marker text]
Rise Like The Phoenix
The Great Fire of June 17, 1888 demolished 30 blocks of Seattle's downtown, including the Occidental Hotel, shown below. The fires sparked the legendary Seattle spirit and incited demand for fireproof construction of brick and stone in the downtown core. "Rise like the phoenix" was a popular rallying cry as new Victorian-Romanesque buildings rose from the ashes.

By the teens, the heart of the business district was moving north. Lyman C. Smith tried unsuccessfully to draw it back to Pioneer Square by erecting his flamboyant, gleaming white Smith Tower site, which opened in 1914 as the fourth-tallest building in the world.

City engineers sluiced down steep hills, filled in tideflats, and buried the Seattle Underground, which you can tour today. The Jackson Street Regrade, shown right [photos center-right], enabled congested Chinatown and Japantown to expand onto level ground east of Pioneer Square. Newly constructed King Street Station (1906) is in the background.

Referring to the area south of Yesler Way, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer proclaimed, "Never again need this section be used for despicable purposes." But businesses quickly popped up where they had been before. The city's foremost office buildings and hotels were a stone's throw away from cheap boarding houses, brothels, and saloons.

[Panel 4]
[Click on photo 4 to view photos described in panel 4 marker text.]

Prospector & Prospects
The Gold Rush was a boon for the outdoor clothing industry, which had several factories in Pioneer Square. These members of the Ladies Garment Workers Union Local #17 wore dresses in public, but at work in the Black Bear factory, they donned company-produced Miss Black Bear overalls.

Not everyone struck it rich, but Seattle merchants, mined the miners. Cooper & Levy Pioneer Outfitters, located on the southeast corner of First and Yesler, piled supplies on the side-walk. Nearby hotels, saloons, brothels, and banks also did a lively business.

The depression broke on July 17, 1897 with the arrival of prospectors and two tons of gold. Seattle boosters billed their city as the "Gateway to the Klondike,: and railroads brought would-be millionaires from across the nation. Miners competed for passage on ships headed north. Here, a throng jams the dock to give the S.S. Queen a rousing sendoff.

James J. Hill chose Seattle as the terminus for his Great Northern Railroad. The city's first direct transcontinental line arrived at the beginning of the worldwide economic panic of 1893. When Northern Pacific went bankrupt, Hill partnered with J.P. Morgan to buy the majority of shares. Seattle was primed for commercial growth.

[Panel 5]
[Click on photo 5 to view photos described in panel 5 marker text]
Highs & Lows
Washington women won the vote in 1910. With the campaign slogan, "Ladies, get out and hustle!" Seattle's new voters bolstered the recall campaign that hustled Mayor Hiram Gill out of office. Gill had broken his promise to confine sin to the Skid Road area and instead actively promoted a wide-open town.

The ranks of the dispossessed swelled during the Great Depression of the 1930s. This shantytown, called "Hooverville" after the U.S. president, sprawled across nine acres of what is now Safeco Field. The poor sought help from missions and soup kitchens in Pioneer Square, shown here in the background.

By 1900, Seattle was becoming a major port for Asian trade. Chin Gee Hee was a labor contractor and importer whose store was at Second and Washington in the Heart of old Chinatown. The Japanese Community Center was nearby on the second floor of Masajiro Furuyan's bank.

Patriotic throngs cheered military units in the 1913 Golden Potlatch parade. Afterwards, a rioting mob vandalized Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) headquarters in Pioneer Square. The Wobblies were politically radical and opposed to capitalism and the draft.One of them was "Rebel Girl" Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who fired up crowds and lambasted authority.

[Panel 6]
[Click on photo 6 to view photos described in panel 6 marker text.]
Left Bank
The Lyric Theater was the last of the "box houses," where waitresses would double as prostitutes and performers in curtained balcony boxes. By 1900, theater with cleaned-up acts was moving north of Yesler Way to liquor-free venues. From their Seattle roots, John Considine and Alexander Pantages created two of the nation's three Vaudeville circuits.

In the mid-1960s, Richard White opened his art gallery. Early in the 1970s Walter Carr opened the Elliott Bay Book Company. Artists moved into live/work spaces for dirt-cheap rent. It was a new era of literary and artistic culture for Seattle. Today, Art Walk remains a popular event on the first Thursday of each month.

Shelly's Leg opened in 1973 as the first disco -straight or gay - in Seattle. This hugely popular venue featured fake palms and neon lights. The gay community had met in other Pioneer Square spots for decades, but this was its first "out" space.

Filipinos gather with Bantamweight Champion Speedy Dado and the Moonlight Serenaders at a club near their union hall and the cannery. In the 1930s, immigrants from the Philippines were mostly male. The club featured "taxi dancers," women of different races who would dance with anyone.

[Panel 7]
[Click on photo 7 to view photos mentioned in panel 7 marker text.]
Preservation & Loss
In 1970, the City Council passed an ordinance creating the Pioneer Square Historic District. Its restoration owes much to these five architects, posed here under the historic pergola at Pioneer Place Park: left to right Fred Bassettti, Al Bungardner, Ralph Anderson, Victor Steinbrueck, and Ibsen Nelson.

By the 1950s, the Skid Road was a neighborhood of flop house, factories, and boarded-up buildings. The area had lost many of its Japanese-American families in 1942, when the U.S. government forced them to move inland to concentration camps [photo, center-left]. Several years later, the 1949 earthquake took a heavy toll on the neighborhood's buildings and businesses.

In the early 1960s, city leaders proposed flattening Pioneer Square for a parking lot. The once-grand Seattle Hotel [photo, center-right] (shown here in the 1890s) was replace by the infamous Sinking Ship parking garage. This galvanized the preservation movement that eventually established the area as a historic district.

Following the initial investment of private property owners and developers, the city replaced this parking lot with Occidental Square Park. Designed by Ilze Jones, it was completed in 1972. At the same time, Alan Black, Richard White, and architect Ralph Anderson acquired and restored the Grand Central Building, which opens onto the park.
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 at 6:44am PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)10T E 550109 N 5272080
Decimal Degrees47.60020000, -122.33338333
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 47° 36.012', W 122° 20.003'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds47° 36' 0.72" N, 122° 20' 0.18" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)206, 425, 360, 253
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 124-148 S Main St, Seattle WA 98104, US
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