A Historic Resource Study for the Seattle Unit of the
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

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Historic Resources in the Modern Era
"Today we need not regret that the commercial center moved on, leaving the area to stagnate. This lack of interest and investment insured that a remarkable stand of urbanistically compatible buildings from the end of the nineteenth century would remain. Streetscapes like that from Pioneer Square south along First Avenue are rare in a modern metropolis forced to reuse the same downtown area over and over."

- Sally Woodbridge and Roger Montgomery,
A Guide to Architecture in Washington State, 1980

Pioneer Square: Seattle's First Commercial District

When the Klondike Gold Rush began in 1897, the area now called "Pioneer Square" was a thriving commercial district. A variety of businesses served the stampeders, including outfitting, hardware, and grocery stores. Today, most of Seattle's historic resources associated with the Klondike Gold Rush are located within this commercial district, extending from Columbia Street south to King Street and from Third Avenue west to Alaskan Way S. In 1970, this 52-acre area was listed in the National Register of Historic Places (National Register). In 1978, the boundaries of the district were expanded to 88 acres, and an additional three acres along the district's southwest end were added in 1987. [1] The district's three National Register nominations are included in the Appendix. After Pioneer Square was listed in the National Register, the City of Seattle established its own preservation district to facilitate management at the local level.

Buildings within the Pioneer Square Historic District date from three periods between the years 1889-1916. The first period, lasting from 1889 to 1899, represents the city's redevelopment after the fire. In the following period, which lasted from 1900 to 1910, Pioneer Square experienced tremendous growth and underwent significant development projects including regrading and filling in the tide flats. Just prior to World War I, the district experienced a final surge of construction. [2] After the war, Seattle's retail district moved north of Pioneer Square along First and Second avenues.

Over the years, this shift resulted in the abandonment of Pioneer Square. Buildings in Pioneer Square that once hummed with commercial activity were left vacant or used for storage.

In 1966, an "urban renewal" project proposed by a local planning group known as the Central Association threatened the area. Under the Central Association's plan, buildings in Pioneer Square would have been replaced by modern parking garages. [3] However, as architectural historians Sally Woodbridge and Roger Montgomery explained, "streetscapes like that from Pioneer Square south along First Avenue are rare in a modern metropolis forced to reuse the same downtown area over and over." [4] Recognizing the importance of this intact historic district, preservationists, led by the non-profit Allied Arts of Seattle, worked to raise awareness of Pioneer Square's historic and architectural significance. As a result of these efforts, Pioneer Square became the city's first National Register district in 1970. [5] Historic designation revitalized Pioneer Square by attracting the attention of private developers interested in rehabilitating buildings; businesses seeking commercial space; and individuals interested in the area's stores and colorful history.

In 1976, as Pioneer Square regained its foothold as an important commercial center, Congress established the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, which included a Seattle Unit, in the district. A copy of the statute that created the Park is included in the Appendix. Today, the Park's interpretive exhibits and tours of Pioneer Square allow visitors to envision Seattle during the gold-rush years of the late 1890s.

Pioneer Square: Seattle's First Commercial District
Seattle's Gold-Rush Era Properties Located Outside the Pioneer Square Historic District

Chapter: Introduction | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | Table of Contents

Last Updated: 18-Feb-2003