Saturday, October 23, 2010

115 "area ways" below the streets of Pioneer Square

After school the girls like to play in front of the building for a while.  
It's our "porch"and on sunny days it is a fun place to hang out.  
Naomi showing her latest breakdancing moves on the sidewalk.  Note the little glass squares.
Typically we get out the bikes, chalk and a few toys and hang for awhile.  Today we had the giant poly pocket airplane out.  We use the colored chalk to draw flowers in and around the checkerboard of glass squares.    

The glass squares are skylights.  There is a lower level that we call the "Area Ways."  After the huge fire of 1889, Seattle was rebuilt.  The city decided that the new buildings and sidewalks should be raised 10 to 40 feet higher to make space for modern plumbing and to get folks up out of the mud.  This solved the waterfront neighborhood's drainage problems.  
Slippery mud played an important role in the history of Pioneer Square as it was the viscosity of the street clay that made it possible to slide logs down Skid Row  to the docks for exporting.  The term Skid Row (now Yesler Way) originated in Seattle and was an important part of its livelihood. 

There are 115 "area ways" below the sidewalks in Pioneer Square.  They were originally passageways and stores from before the fire stayed open on the lower level.  But over time, businesses moved up and in 1907 the area ways were condemned by the city for fear of pneumonic plague.  

They are usable spaces, as after the Nisqually earthquake in February of 2001, they were repaired and updated a bit.  You can take the Underground tour and wander through them.  You'll see the remains of gambling halls and speakeasies...even opium dens. 

Today businesses use the bright spaces for storage.  When I was building-out the Smith Tower Penthouse, I went down into them and found pieces of Chinese antiques, thick white marble slabs with blue veins running across them and rows upon rows of little enamel sinks.  I used the marble for the kitchen counter and the antiques for doors and various built-in supports.

Purse and wings and we are ready to go visit our friends in the neighborhood.  

Sometimes my friends ask me if we miss having a backyard.  Of course we do!  A chicken coop would be fun but we don't have a place for it.  Nor do we have a spot for a swing set or jungle gym.  That said, Simone and Naomi seem to find lots of things to climb on (EVERWHERE!) and we make do by growing a surprisingly prolific potted vegetable garden on the office rooftop.  When we want to run around or cycle, we head to the Olympic Sculpture Park, Myrtle Edwards, Seattle Center or Occidental Square.