Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square

Seattle's Oldest Neighborhood

Book - 2005
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Univ of Washington Pr

This fascinating history weaves together first-person accounts, photographs, and varied cultural perspectives to shed light on the birthplace of modern Seattle. It reveals that Pioneer Square has always been a barometer of Seattle’s health and an incubator for trends that characterize the city today.

In 1852, a group of settlers who had spent the winter on Alki Beach relocated to the east side of Elliott Bay and chose the only flat area along the shoreline for the first settlement in downtown Seattle, Pioneer Square. Called Djicjila'letc, "little crossing over place," by friendly Duwamish Indians, it was near the heart of their ancient homeland. By 1853, Henry Yesler’s steam-powered sawmill was processing and exporting timber from the densely forested hillsides. Other businesses sprang up near the mill, making Seattle the region's major commercial center and a magnet for workers and entrepreneurs. The assimilation of people of diverse ethnic, cultural, and economic backgrounds continues today, as one of Pioneer Square’s defining characteristics.

After the Great Fire of 1889, Seattle rallied to build a modern city of brick and stone. Pioneer Square rose quickly from the ashes with elegant brick buildings that still give the area an architecturally harmonious feeling. The district formed the heart of the city upon the arrival of the Great Northern Railroad and during the Klondike Gold Rush. As the population exploded, city engineers scrambled to regrade steep hills and fill in tide flats to make them suitable for development.

In the early twentieth century, overcrowded Pioneer Square burst at its seams: the downtown business district moved north, industries surged south onto reclaimed tide flats, and Chinatown and Japantown spread east into what is now the International District. As Pioneer Square deteriorated, a local minister dubbed it Skid Road, applying the name of the mill logslide (now Yesler Way) to people on the skids. The term later entered the national vernacular as a synonym for urban slum.

From the late 1950s the neighborhood became a battleground between advocates of urban renewal and those who envisioned a restored district of handsome buildings, outdoor cafes, and an easy mingling of artists, merchants, and the down-and-out. Architects, gallery owners, activists, and many others recognized that Pioneer Square was not only a place of beautiful buildings, but a place of spirit as well. In 1971, the City of Seattle created the thirty-block Pioneer Square Historic District, the first designated landmark district in the city. In the ensuing decades the neighborhood, which never lost its Skid Road identity, became a vibrant center for the arts and a hub of regional transit, urban living, and professional sports.

Book News
The square's functional and architectural ups and downs have been told before--Seattle's first commercial center, the area also survived fire and rebuilding, deterioration and renewal. Editor Andrews, an author specializing in Northwest social history and preservation, and her co-authors take a slightly different tack, making the buildings and the physical area "talk" by bringing to light stories of people and events that link today's neighborhood with its colorful past. The volume is peppered with b&w photos. Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Publisher: Seattle : Pioneer Square Community Association in association with University of Washington Press, c2005
ISBN: 0295985038 (pbk. : alk. paper)
Branch Call Number: 979.7772 PIO
Characteristics: xvi, 235 p. : ill., maps ; 26 cm
Additional Contributors: Andrews, Mildred Tanner

Related Resources


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

There are no comments for this title yet.


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at KCLS

To Top