The Pioneer Building helps mark the heart of Seattle's early commercial development.
It stands on the ground where Henry Yesler established the first sawmill
of the area in 1853, thereby providing the city with its initial industrial
base. He sold the land in the late 1880s, just before the Great Seattle
Fire of 1889 turned downtown into ashes. The foundation for the new Pioneer
Building had already been excavated by the time fire swept through the
city, but the ensuing construction crunch slowed the completion of the
Pioneer Building. When it was completed in 1892, this beautiful building
of red brick and terra cotta was arguably the finest of the 60 "fireproof"
Richardsonian-Romanesque designs created by architect Elmer
H. Fisher. The Pioneer Building served as a "prestige office
address" in the 1890s, in fact, 48 different mining firms had offices
in the building during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897. During Prohibition,
the building housed "Seattle's finest speakeasy," but later,
as the city's business core moved northward, the Pioneer Building and
the adjoining neighborhood fell into decay. After languishing economically
for decades, the area experienced a renaissance in the 1970s. Part of
this rebirth, which continues presently, grew out of the neighborhood's
designation as a historic district and the financial-aid of the Federal
Historic Preservation Tax Incentives Program. In 1978, the Pioneer
Building and the adjoining Iron Pergola and Totem Pole
gained National Historic Landmark status, recognizing their significant
role in the history of Seattle.
The Pioneer Building, a National
Historic Landmark, is located across the street from Pioneer Square
at the corner of First Ave. and Yesler Way. The building is open to
the public during regular business hours.
The Pioneer Building
is highlighted in an online lesson
plan produced by Teaching with Historic Places, a National Park Service
program that offers classroom-ready lesson plans on properties listed
in the National Register. To learn more, visit the Teaching
with Historic Places home page.
Photograph by Jennifer Meisner, Seattle Urban Conservation Division