Pacific Northwest | June 15, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineJune 15, 2003seattletimes.com home
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ON FITNESS
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NOW & THEN
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY PAUL DORPAT

Street of Stairs
 
 Photo
COURTESY OF THE MUSEUM OF HISTORY & INDUSTRY
PAUL DORPAT
Part of the Madore Building appears on the right of both views that look west on the Pike Street Hill Climb from Western Avenue. The stairs shown on the left of the 1948 historical view are a vestige of the first wooden stairs built in the 1890s from the waterfront up Pike Street to the future site of the public market. For much of the early 20th century, the pedestrian trestle on the right was a spectacular alternative to the ground-level steps.
THE PIKE STREET Hill Climb we are familiar with is a quarter-century old. On Jan. 17, 1977, Mayor Wes Uhlman joined Paul Schell, then director of Seattle's Department of Community Development, to help break ground for the $745,000 project linking the Pike Place Market and the waterfront. But there is a heritage of hill climbs on Pike Street that far precedes the newer grand stairway. In this older view, shot in 1948, we see two of them side-by-side.

The ground-level walkway will be familiar to many. It is part of the "vernacular" stairway to the Market that preceded the modern designer hill climb. For most of the first half of the 20th century, the trestle above it was an impressive promenade that extended from the Market to the water side of Alaskan Way. Like the lesser trestles along the waterfront, this grand one was built to allow pedestrians to avoid the dangerous traffic on Railroad Avenue (Alaskan Way).

Built around 1912, the Pike Street trestle would, if it survived today, insert very neatly into the exhibits of the waterfront aquarium. During the mid-1930s the part of the trestle above Alaskan Way was temporarily removed during construction of the concrete seawall north of Madison Street (the one that now needs to be replaced). The construction of the Alaskan Way Viaduct in the early 1950s passed directly through the path of the pedestrian trestle and much else.

The very first "hill climb" connected the Pike Street Coal Wharf with a narrow-gauge coal railway on Pike Street. When completed in 1872 this combined incline, wharf and bunkers was easily the largest structure in Seattle. But in six years it was abandoned when the coal from Newcastle found a more direct route to the waterfront.

Paul Dorpat specializes in historical photography and has published several books on early Seattle.

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