So why does Seattle have an underground? Well it all started in 1889 with the “Great Fire” that destroyed about 31 blocks in the business district. After the fire the city began to rebuilt, but this time with stone buildings instead of the previous wood buildings. The theory was that another fire was likely and the stone would prevent the fire from causing such destruction again.
The business district also sat on tide flats which helped encouraged the decision to raise the streets. The regrade averaged between 12 feet (3.65 m) to 30 feet (9.14 m). This meant that the the streets were now raised about a story above the businesses’ first floor. The old sidewalks, at ground level, or what was once ground level were left behind. They were closed over, thus creating the underground passages.
While walking around Pioneer Square you may have noticed the amethyst glass embedded into the sidewalks. They are skylights to the underground, funneling light to the former sidewalks.
My friend Meg and I decided to take the Underground Tour during our visit to Seattle. There are two tour types offered, The Underground Tour that is suitable for the children 6 and over and The Underworld Tour that discusses the seedy underbelly of the underground world. We took the PG version of the tour, not that we’re prudes or 6 years old. In fact I think both of us would have enjoyed learning about the Red Light district and the stories about people you wouldn’t bring home to your parents. The Underworld tour is only offered at night and did not fit in to our schedule – so maybe next time!
The tour started out at in the Doc Maynard’s Public House. Meg and I both grabbed a drink before the tour, which I highly recommend skipping if you have a small bladder. The tour lasts 75 minutes and I was sweating bullets by the end of the tour because I needed to use the restroom by the time the tour was over!
The tour consists of an above ground and underground tour of the area. Obviously the underground is more interesting as you can see the above ground attractions all the time. The tour lead us around a few passageways while we learned the history of Seattle including an interesting tidbit about how the term “Skid Row” came about.
In the late 1860s Seattle was a timber town. Timber mills were built around what is now the Pioneer Square area. As the timber was cut down, a hillside was created to form a skid road for the logs to be sent down. Although the hillside provided a function for the logs it also created a barrier between the affluent members of society and the “rift-raft”. At the end of Skid Road you would have found the red light district, gambling halls, taverns as well as a rougher crowd of people. And all this time I thought it was just Sebastian Bach’s band from the 1980’s… and now I have “18 And Life” stuck in my head.
The tour was led around the narrow tunnels, about 3 blocks, where the guide provided humorous anecdotes about the happenings during the late 1880’s in Seattle. Ruminates of furniture, signs and other assorted building materials were scattered about, painting a picture for us of how life was once lived.
The tour concluded back at the gift shop in typical consumerism fashion. The tour was full of interesting facts and solidified my want to return for the Underworld tour. The Underworld tour apparently tours different spots and of course contains crass stories that is always enjoyable to hear that side of history. Tickets can be purchased online and are recommended purchasing before arriving as tours can sometimes sell out. The Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour office is located in Pioneer Square at 608 First Ave.