Getting the Down-low on Seattle

In only a couple of days we head off on our riding adventure so rather than packing heaps more in while we are in Seattle we are just doing a couple of things and relaxing so we are ready for the next leg.

Beneath the Streets – Deb found this tour on one of the guide maps that looked interesting and we are so glad that we went along.

In 1889 a fire started in a factory that through a perfect storm saw most of downtown Seattle destroyed, so prior to rebuilding the city they decided to reshape their city’s topography by levelling out some of the hills and filling in the lower areas. The plan would take over ten years to complete and involved using water canons on the surrounding mountains and fill in the lower streets by means of a controlled landslide.

As the business district couldn’t wait for the topography reshaping all buildings downtown had to be built to at least two levels with the knowledge that the lower floor would effectively become a basement after the realignment of the sidewalk was completed. Every block had large retaining walks constructed around them and over them so after the sidewalk was raised every block effectively had an underground sidewalk around their whole block.

In the following picture you see the exterior wall of the house on your left and the retaining wall on the right. Where I am taking this photo is the underground sidewalk. Extraordinary.!

As you would imagine these underground sidewalks would have been dark so they created skylights – which to the uninitiated you’d never know what they were. The skylights come in all sorts of different designs and from above just look like patterned pavement art

Skylight in the sidewalk

Skylight from underneath

Deb lit only by the skylight

These spaces have and are being used for all sorts of purposes over the years (both legal and questionable) however given that these are below ground they can have problems with moisture, ventalation, and vermin. However there are still a number of these areas still being used including the following underground comedy club which has lots of famous names on the wall – probably should have photographed that.

It is quite staggering to think about the scale of this job. Not only because it was done in the late 1800s but the amount of work negotiating with everyone to get it done. I couldn’t imagine trying to do this today.

Glen’s rating – must see

7 thoughts on “Getting the Down-low on Seattle

  1. So glad you enjoyed this Seattle experience – you did a very good job of explaining the underground sidewalks! It has been said that Seattle is the most “re-engineered” city, as from earliest days the white settlers would just not leave the terrain alone! They were constantly leveling, filling in and etc. There is a book about it called Too High and Too Steep by author David B. Williams: And on my blog about Seattle history, I have an article about the naming of the downtown streets which is one of the most common inquiries that I receive:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s