For a half century, the Municipal Market Building sat at the northwest corner of the Pike Place Market. Perhaps you do not remember it, although the shoe-box shaped structure with its crenelated roof somewhat resembled a fort. Here the effect is made sensational with a fire and enveloping smoke. The alarm was rung mid-afternoon on Wednesday, September 25, 1974. The fire was started by a cutting torch used with abandon by a lone worker salvaging steel tracks in the by then condemned and abandoned building.
The Municipal Market Building was constructed on the west side of Western Avenue in the 1920s as a way to keep the market in the market. We explain. Combined traffic from north and south, Elliott and Western Avenues, respectively, reached Pike Place at Virginia Street. Already crowded with farmers’ stalls, the Market’s namesake Pike Place was increasingly used as a short cut to and from the business district. In this protracted battle between farmers and motorists, the city’s traffic engineers wanted to move the market to another uptown site, but Kitsap and King County farmers and their customers protested. They wanted it to stay on the scenic bluff.
The political balance was tipped in favor of Pike Place, in part because of the addition of the Municipal Market Building. Parking on the roof enlarged its service, and the lot was reached directly from Pike Place over Western Avenue via the Desimone Bridge, seen here (at the top) in both the ‘now’ and ‘then.’
This mid-20s addition to the Market was given its modest military design to compliment the fortress-like Washington State National Guard Armory (1909-1968), its neighbor to the north across Virginia Street. In a Seattle Times advertisement from October 9,
1923, the new Municipal Market was not ‘up in arms’ but umbrellas, “a thousand or two” of them. Seattle’s street railway was holding a “Going, Going, Gone” auction for six months worth of unclaimed items left on the trolleys. Also in its first decade, visitors were lured over the Desimone Bridge with vaudeville performances staged in the Municipal Market Building. A 1946 feature in The Times noted “the eternal rummage sales in the Municipal Building.”
What the fire of 1974 could not consume, which was most of it, demolition crews soon took. The site was then groomed for parking – steep parking. After forty years of oil-stained pavement, the Public Market is now enlivened with new visions for the old Municipal Market space. It will be joined with land freed by the razing of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Some of Seattle’s usual progressive choices will be involved in the about three-fourths of an acre development, including a promenade or walkway to the waterfront, more market shops, more senior housing, a new public plaza on top and more covered parking below.
Anything to add, boys? Jean we figure it is about time now for you to wake-up in London, perhaps in that charming little Youth Hostel two blocks of three above the north bank of the Thames and two or three blocks more to St. Paul’s – if memory serves me from 2005. Ron has put up directly below a few of our by now usual suspect, past features from the neighborhood around the Pike Place Market. For the space below those links, I’ll find a few more distant features and scan their clips.
2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Fire Below the Market”
When I first started coming to The Market, the bridge stub was uncovered and the Municipal Market was gone, so I had always wondered what that bridge was supposed to go to.
The name of that bridge is, of course, the Joe Desimone Bridge, and the way I have heard all the Market folks pronounce it casually as the
“DE-zuh-moan” bridge. But after the waterfront design effort began,
various lead officials started saying “day-see-MOE-nay” bridge, which is the correct Italian pronunciation. I suspect long after Joe Desimone passed on, that when people in later years saw his name printed somewhere they pronounced it with the first syllable stressed