Seattle Now & Then: Fire Below the Market

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: The 1974 fire at the Municipal Market Building on the west side of Western Avenue did not hasten the demise of the by then half-century old addition of the Pike Place Market.  It had already been scheduled for demolition.  (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive)
THEN: The 1974 fire at the Municipal Market Building on the west side of Western Avenue did not hasten the demise of the by then half-century old addition of the Pike Place Market. It had already been scheduled for demolition. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive)
NOW: Jean Sherrard describes this as “about the easiest repeat I have taken.” Both views look north on Western Avenue towards Virginia Street.
NOW: Jean Sherrard describes this as “about the easiest repeat I have taken.” Both views look north on Western Avenue towards Virginia Street.

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.

A Seattle Times clipping from Sept. 26, 1974.
A Seattle Times clipping from Sept. 26, 1974.
Not the same fire! And earlier one and another Times clip, this from Nov. 11, 1961.
Not the same fire! And earlier one on Western Ave. –  and another Times clip, this from Nov. 11, 1961.

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 Municipal Market building can be found in this early 1930s aerial by first finding the armory building near the lower-left corner (just above the "Wn." in the photo's own caption) and moving from the armory up and to the right.  There's the show-box shaped Municipal Market Building and its bridge over Western Ave. to the long row of Market stalls on the west side of Pike Place.   Note the long gaps parallel to the bay in Railroad Avenue.  The 1934-36 seawall construction has not started.  Harborview hospital, 1930, is on the First Hill horizon.
The Municipal Market building can be found in this early 1930s aerial by first finding the armory building near the lower-left corner (just above the “Wn.” in the photo’s own caption) and moving from the armory up and to the right. There’s the show-box shaped Municipal Market Building and its bridge over Western Ave. to the long row of Market stalls on the west side of Pike Place. Note the long gaps parallel to the bay in Railroad Avenue. The 1934-36 seawall construction has not started. Harborview hospital, 1930, is on the First Hill horizon. [We recommend DOUBLE-CLICKING to enlarge.]

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.’

The Armory seen from near the entrance to the RR tunnel.
The Armory seen from near the entrance to the RR tunnel.

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,

From the Oct. 9, 1923 issue of The Times.
From the Oct. 9, 1923 issue of The Times.

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.” 

I took this roughly merged 360 degree pan from the Desimone Bridge ca. 1980, and so about five years after the razing of the Municipal Market Building. (Dorpat)
I took this roughly merged 360 degree pan from the Desimone Bridge ca. 1980, and so about five years after the razing of the Municipal Market Building. CLICK TWICE!!  (Dorpat)
The Muncipal Market Building can be found here just above the Alaskan Way Viaduct and left-of-center.  A few cars are parked on the roof.  Work on the First National Bank building, far-right, is approaching its topping off, ca. 1967-8.
The Muncipal Market Building can be found here just above the Alaskan Way Viaduct and left-of-center. A few cars are parked on the roof. Work on the First National Bank building, far-right, is approaching its topping off, ca. 1967-8.  CLICK-CLICK.

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.

A Market full-page ad from the Seattle Times for nov. 19, 1953.
A Market full-page ad from the Seattle Times for Nov. 19, 1953.

WEB EXTRAS

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.

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THEN: In this April morning record of the 1975 “Rain or Shine Public Market Paint-in,” above the artists, restoration work has begun with the gutting of the Corner Market Building.  (Photo by Frank Shaw)

THEN: In 1910, a circa date for this look north on First Avenue across Virginia Street, the two corners on the east side of the intersection were still undeveloped – except for signs.  The Terminal Sales Building, seen far right in Jean Sherrard’s repeat, did not replace the billboards that crowd the sidewalk in the “then” until 1923.  (Seattle Municipal Archive)

THEN: The Hotel York at the northwest corner of Pike Street and First Avenue supplied beds on the American Plan for travelers and rooms for traveling hucksters. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

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Left of center - or right of the left border - the Hotel York shows why it was advertized as a "scenic hotel."  This pan - courtesy of Ron Edge, again - was taken in the late 1890s so all of what shows in the way of waterfront docks are short-lived contributions from the 1890s.  This includes the Ainsworth Pier at the foot of Pike Street.  It was replace ca. 1900 with the pier we have now, the one that anchors the Waterfront Park and is home to the aquarium.
Left of center – or right of the left border – the Hotel York shows why it was advertized as a “scenic hotel.” This pan – courtesy of Ron Edge, again – was taken in the late 1890s so all of what shows in the way of waterfront docks are short-lived contributions from the 1890s. This includes the Ainsworth Pier at the foot of Pike Street. It was replace ca. 1900 with the pier we have now, the one that anchors the Waterfront Park and is home to the aquarium.  [CKICK-CLICK]
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This 1907 look north up Pike Place must be considered the market classic.  The stalls are yet to be built, so most of the commerce is done from the farmer's wagons.  The Hotel York, victim of the railroad tunnel below it, has left a hole on the right - behind the billboards.  (Courtesy, Oregon Historical Society)
This 1907 look north up Pike Place must be considered the market classic. The stalls are yet to be built, so most of the commerce is done from the farmer’s wagons. The Hotel York, victim of the railroad tunnel below it, has left a hole on the right – behind the billboards. (Courtesy, Oregon Historical Society)
First appears in Pacific on April 25, 1982.
First appears in Pacific on April 25, 1982.  CLICK-CLICK

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First appeared in Pacific, May 24, 1987.
First appeared in Pacific, May 24, 1987. CLICK-CLICK

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First appeared in Pacific, June 3, 2007.
First appeared in Pacific, June 3, 2007.
The featured photo in the insertion just above was photographed from the Standard Furniture Co. building, which can be found in the accompanying 1904-5 Sanborn map on the west side of Western Avenue, second lot north of Pike Street.  Some of the "cheap cabins' sketched north of the furniture co. building match - with some imagination - the modest dwelling showing in the featured photo between Standard Furniture and the Seamen's Institute.
The featured photo in the insertion just above was photographed from the Standard Furniture Co. building, which can be found in the accompanying 1904-5 Sanborn map on the west side of Western Avenue, second lot north of Pike Street. Some of the “cheap cabins’ sketched north of the furniture co. building match – with some imagination – the modest dwelling showing in the featured photo between Standard Furniture and the Seamen’s Institute.  CLICK-CLICK
It should look familiar.  Western Avenue, and the Pike Street pedestrian crossing, 1975. [Photo by Frank Shaw]
It should look familiar. Western Avenue, and the Pike Street pedestrian crossing, 1975. [Photo by Frank Shaw]
Pike Place to the right and Western Ave. to the left of the parkets long shelter for its stalls. The Seamen's Hall is in the shadows far left, and the typical armory profile is center-horizon.  Compare to the 1912 Baist map directly below.
Pike Place to the right and Western Ave. to the left of the parkets long shelter for its stalls. The Seamen’s Hall is in the shadows far left, and the typical armory profile is center-horizon. Compare to the 1912 Baist map directly below.   CLICK-CLICK
A detail of the Pike Place Market neighborhood lifted from the 1912 Baist Map.  Note the furniture warehouse, bottom-center, from which the look up Western showing three photos of it was captured.
A detail of the Pike Place Market neighborhood lifted from the 1912 Baist Map. Note the furniture warehouse, bottom-center, from which the look up Western showing three (and five) photos of it was captured.
A portrait of the Seamen's Institute across Western Ave. from the Market.
A portrait of the Seamen’s Institute across Western Ave. from the Market.

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1903 excavation of the bluff below Virginia Street for the north rortal of the railroad tunnel.
1903 excavation of the bluff below Virginia Street for the north rortal of the railroad tunnel.
First appeared in Pacific January 30, 2000.
First appeared in Pacific January 30, 2000.
The tunnel's north portal ca. 1904, when still a work-in-progress.
The tunnel’s north portal ca. 1904, when still a work-in-progress.
Work at the north portal, ca. 1903-4.  The tunnel workers' dormitories are lined up above the opening.  Later the Municipal Market Building would nestle on that ledge.
Work at the north portal, ca. 1903-4. The tunnel workers’ dormitories are lined up above the opening. Later the Municipal Market Building would nestle on that ledge.

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First appeared in Pacific, May 6, 1990.
First appeared in Pacific, May 6, 1990.

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clip-pliny-Pike-Place-lk-s-fm-Virginian-nowWEB

First appeared in Pacific, August 17, 2003
First appeared in Pacific, August 17, 2003

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First appeared in Pacific, Nov. 17, 1991.
First appeared in Pacific, Nov. 17, 1991.

2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Fire Below the Market”

  1. 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.

  2. 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
    Bob Messina

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