The Seattle Underground Tour
The Seattle Underground Tour can provide you with a small glimpse into one of the most fascinating and unusual aspects of Seattle’s history.
So how is it that underneath one of the busiest parts of downtown Seattle there is what appears to be a deteriorating city?
Well, in 1889 a Seattle cabinetmaker accidentally knocked over and set fire to a glue pot. When he tried to extinguish the fire with water, the flammable glue (and the fire) spread. The volunteer fire department responded (without the aid of their chief who was out of town at the time) and mistakenly used too many fire hoses at once, sapping the water pressure and making all of the hoses ineffective. The result of all of these mishaps was a huge fire that demolished much of downtown Seattle.
Once the fire was out city planners realized an opportunity to remedy some of the design issues with the city. The low elevation of the city often caused problems with flooding and the most modern toilets of the time were not designed to be used below sea level. The planners decided to rebuild the city with the roads raised to the level of the second story of the buildings. New buildings were built with basements. The owners of old buildings created ornate, decorative embellishments to their second floor entrances.
For a time, pedestrians walked along the street and then down flights of stairs and ladders to the sidewalk level. Skylights were installed to temporarily light up this underground sidewalk level until it was eventually abandoned as the new city further developed at the level of the street.
Touring this curious underground world in Seattle is possible thanks to the efforts of a Seattle local named Bill Speidel. In 1965 Mr. Speidel thought that Seattleites and tourists alike would be as fascinated with this world as he was. He developed Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour complete with tours of the underground portion of the city and tall tales of Seattle’s history.
This tour exists today much like it did in Speidel’s day, though the offerings have broadened a bit so that there is now a Seattle “underworld” tour, which touches on some of the more “adult” aspects of Seattle’s history.
The Seattle Underground Tour is hugely popular, affordable and highly recommended for Seattle locals and visitors alike that are visiting Pioneer Square in Seattle.
So here are some things to keep in mind when you go on your next visit:
Dress for the weather – Though the underground sidewalks and storefronts are protected from the flooding that caused them to be abandoned, Seattle can often be a wet place and on rainy days you’ll find the usual puddles and gutters.
Be ready to walk – Wear shoes that allow you the most maneuverability. Some of the terrain can be rough and over the course of the tour you’ll climb six flights of stairs.
Bring the baby pack – The tour is definitely not stroller friendly, so unless you’ve got arms of steel, find a comfortable way to carry your little one along.While the scenery of the Seattle Underground Tour may not be spectacular, the stories you’ll hear along the way will entertain and amuse the whole family.
Back from the Seattle Underground tour.