Situated in the state of Washington, a 100 miles from the Canadian border, lies a major port city of US – Seattle. The mystics of the Queen city are something of historic importance. A look at the history of Seattle’s underground city would leave you intrigued too, I’m sure.
The Seattle we know today didn’t exist until the 6th of June, 1889. The modern day Pioneer Square was a void of nothingness before 1889. What was the magnanimous event that turned the pre existing void to what it is today? Was it a magnanimous event or a traumatic disaster?
The underground city life
Before we go into the deep, let’s know a bit of the pre 1889 Seattle. It used to lie 12-30 feet below the present Seattle. The swampy mud land was inhabited by the Native American tribes of Duwamish and Suquamish. The town of Seattle started evolving around the Pioneer Street, located exactly where it is today. From here, the city began growing as a series of upward rising streets and at the base of this hill was a low lying marshland. Due to tides, this area used to flood twice a day. The sewage lines located by the corner of the water front streets were not spared this flood and this meant that people going to the loo had to be careful or else they could be blown off their seats during a tidal wave. The visit to the water front was now regulated according to the tidal time table and the toilets were built on the first floor. Even the single leveled houses had their toilets on pedestals.
Slowly, Seattle started organizing better. The high crime rates started dropping and by early 1890’s the city was a leading one, courtesy the womenfolk and their hard work. The numerous wooden house dwellers started involving in trades.
The Great Fire
On one fine day when the fire chief was out of town, June 6th, 1889, a cabinet maker spilt glue over gasoline fire. It is needless to describe the after events – the glue catching fire, spreading around, majority of the city made of wood, the volunteer fire workers though being helpful but not as efficient…it was a matter of some 12 hours after which 120 acres of Seattle city was transformed to ashes. Courthouse, churches, service buildings – all were burnt to the foundation. Everything came to a screeching halt as the people found their properties in ruins and mind you, there was just one case of casualty if we talk about the human population – no harm to them!
However, the people of Seattle were not the ones habitual of fretting. They were rather relieved that the fire had eased one of their troubles; the rodent population had been reduced to vestiges by the fire. The civilians got their hats on and picked themselves up. Hey decided to rebuild rather than relocate. In this combustion, they saw an opportunity to rebuild their precious city according to their liking.
Second chances are rare, they say. It’s important to make note of how you use the second chance given to you and Seattlers proved pretty good in making the better of the one given to them. Amongst the various measures taken, wooden buildings were banned and stone and brick was introduced. To rid themselves of the tide problem, they started building on higher platforms. Downtown was leveled. Some roads were raised by as much as 22 feet. All business moved to the upper floor. Decoration downstairs was reduced whereas gaiety increased on the upper floor. People had to climb up the stairs to visit shops. Even to cross roads, they had to climb up and down staircases. With the lightning of glass prisms in the underground city, the people of Seattle started living a new life. It was a beginning after a disastrous end.
Soon, the threat of more rodents led to the flight of the underground city to the over ground one. People moved their residences upstairs. Buildings in the underground were used as warehouses and coops of nefarious activities.
Eventually, people forgot about it and it lay abandoned. The new generation new little about it and cared even less due to their ‘race the time’ schedules.
Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour
And then came into play Bill Speidel, the famous savior of the Pioneer Square, a columnist with the Seattle Times by profession. It was the year 1954 when the city’s birthplace had fallen to such a case of disrepair that few gave it its rightful respects. Shirley, Bill’s wife, suggested he should get it restored and that’s where the saga of Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour begins.
During his activism, he, unanticipated by nature of course, chanced upon some old shops elevated after the fire. He paid a certain amount to various store owners as rent and inspected the elements closely. It was a matter of great struggle with the Seattle City Council before the underground city was first recognized as of historic importance. Having the support of over 100000 people, Bill moved on with a petition and got 20 blocks of the Pioneer Square as Historic District. He opened up an Underground Tour and on the first day took about 500 enthusiastic customers around.
The 1960’s were when the Seattle Central Association, a under oath enemy of historic preservation, tore down buildings to make parking lots for the automobile reign. The pioneer street would surely been under attack if it had retained its state of disrepair. But the plate of ‘Historic district’ encouraged the banker’s enough to kick in cash funds for development of the area. The preservation of the Pioneer Square was underway! Today they it’s known as one of the oldest neighborhoods and it’s hard to imagine how under cherished the place once was.
Over the years, the buildings have been smartened up to make them visually attractive. Bill Speidel took his customers on a tour that had the underground charm and was in every way ‘under the ground’, countering the situation today due to the city Council’s concern and claims of it being unsafe. That’s the time the underground city was unveiled in the real sense to the people.
The subversive city was affirmed dangerous years ago, but parts of it are open for tour conductors. The tours include visits to old bank vaults, toilets, furniture, wooden beams and all along with mice and mustiness. Tours are popular amongst tourists and locals alike. In 2004 adults only Underground Tours were organized incorporation talks about prostitution, the opium trade and other immoral deeds. Tales about ghosts are not uncommon, rather the people who question the existence of phantoms in the said district are regarded as under informed, naïve idiots!
Seattle, a really intriguing place with Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks lying alongside an intricately unintentional ‘Underground’, today is known as one of the big boys and is counted along with New York and San Francisco. The Rainy City has its own store of old worldism and theology to offer. Leaving you speechless is not its intention, but so was the case with the creation of the city below and old habits are hard to rid…