Still more classic places and things are going away from our once-sleepy city, as it loses more and more pieces of its built heritage to an urban building boom the likes of which Seattle hasn’t seen in nearly a century.
I’ll start this journey with a street feature almost everyone in the city has seen and even used but to which few might have given much thought. The bus stop “island” on Pine Street between Third and Fourth avenues is one of the last standing relics from downtown’s once-prominent streetcar lines. Those long, track-bound vehicles generally ran in the middle of four-lane streets and, of course, couldn’t pull over to the curve to add or subtract from their passenger loads.
Riders got on and off the streetcars from raised concrete islands placed one lane away from the curb (sometimes dodging car traffic to get there).
Most of those islands were removed in the 1940s, when the streetcars were scrapped and the tracks were dug up. But the island on Pine remained, for riders on buses and rubber-tired “trackless trolleys” at what remained Seattle’s highest-volume transit intersection — until now.
The island bus stop is now permanently closed. By July, pile drivers will clear it away. The space will be turned into a truck-loading zone and a permanent parking spot for police vehicles. It’s part of a major project to completely revamp the bus zones along Third Avenue and adjacent streets.
When the work’s all done, the city promises the area will be more convenient and attractive to residents, commuters, and shoppers alike. But it’ll be without a remnant of a time when public transit was a far more central aspect of city life.
Even before Seattle’s streetcar network was changed to buses, “motor coaches” had been carrying people within and between cities. And in Seattle, intercity bus trips had begun at the Central Stage Terminal on Stewart Street. Greyhound took it over, along with some of the regional bus lines that stopped there, by 1939.
The station was in constant use (sometimes 24/7). Untold thousands of passengers passed through its lobby (which, like that of the King Street railway station, had been sadly “modernized” in the 1960s).
That ended last summer. Developers bought up the entire block, intending to build another of those big, new luxury hotels. They haven’t started yet (there’s a shortage of construction cranes and crews here these days).
Greyhound could have moved in with Amtrak at the now-restored King Street Station but, instead, remodeled a small building near Safeco Field. (It’s near the Link light rail line, but good luck trying to get a cab from there on game days.)
The old Greyhound station, especially before its remodel, was a passenger palace near the city’s heart.
The new station seems like almost an afterthought to Seattle’s transportation network.
Some landmarks don’t have to be (completely) removed to lose their original character. The Rainier Square block is the biggest surviving relic of what was Washington’s second-biggest bank.
The project was originally announced in the early 1970s as Commerce House, the new headquarters of the National Bank of Commerce. Before it was finished, the bank’s name was changed to Rainier Bank, and the project became Rainier Square.
It replaced the stoic, block-long White-Henry-Stuart building with a slender office tower atop an odd-looking but functional pedestal. The tower was set above a block of street-level storefronts, which, in turn, led into an underground passageway to the convention center.
Rainier Bank disappeared during the first wave of out-of-state bank takeovers in the late 1980s. But Rainier Square remained, and even grew with a second-floor atrium (home to the Rock Bottom brewpub).
Now, developers plan to raze the block’s low-rise northern half for a second tower, bulkier than and almost twice as tall as the first, with a staggered base that will look vaguely like a high-heel boot.
The original Rainier Square tower, one of the finest products of Seattle’s ‘70s high-rise boom, will remain. But its clean, modern lines will be dwarfed by its overwhelming new neighbor.
CLARK HUMPHREY is the author of “Walking Seattle” and “Vanishing Seattle.” He also writes a blog at miscmedia.com. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.