Lost and Found: Seattle’s Hidden History

Our fearless editorial director gives you the inside scoop on our July issue.

By Rachel Hart June 13, 2011


This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of Seattle magazine.

Like migratory birds making a stop on their way to warmer climes, flocks of visitors crowd the sidewalks of Pioneer Square this time of year, waiting their turn to step into the belly of Seattle on the Underground Tour and explore the cavernous, below-sea-level depths where relics of our city’s past lie.

Touristy as it may be, the Underground Tour is a deliciously cheeky slice of Seattle’s hidden history that really should be on every Seattleite’s bucket list. Less obvious, though, are the many historical landmarks we walk, bike or drive by every day that blend into the background, each with its own story to tell. Take the random assembly of pillars guarding the Pike/Pine corridor—haven’t you wondered what the story is behind those structures?

Gas Works Park, with its hulking, rusty pipework, is perhaps our city’s biggest, most visible reminder of yesteryear. But did you know that West Seattle—near where Salty’s is located today—used to be home to a Coney Island–style boardwalk/amusement park, complete with Ferris wheel? All that’s left of it are piling stumps only visible at low tide. It’s these barely noticeable urban relics—the vestigial tails of our city’s past—that have been piquing our curiosity lately, and you can read all about them in this issue.

If I were ever to have one crazy wish granted, it would be to travel through time. I would be in hog heaven back in the 1950s watching an evening of Esther Williams-style synchronized swimming at the Aqua Theater that used to occupy the south shore of Green Lake. And whenever I stop in at the Panama Hotel Tea and Coffee House in the International District, I take a humbling peek through its floor window and into the basement which contains the suitcases, books and other belongings that were left behind by Japanese residents who were sent to internment camps.

Relics of our past are all around us. My favorite is lost in time: Queen Anne’s Counterbalance and the old street cars from the late 1800s/early 1900s—proof that at some point, Seattle had a vision for rail transportation. It’s one of my dreams for this city; I still contend that if there can be a subway in and under Rome, why can’t there be one here?

Now that the Viaduct will be coming down, it’s weird to think that a major transportation artery will be history for future generations. (If you are as confused as we were about exactly where in the process we are with this, be sure to follow managing editor Kristen Russell’s Viaduct for Dummies series at Seattlemag.com)

Also in this issue, dining editor Allison Austin Scheff spent some time island hopping in Puget Sound to cover a few exciting recent restaurant openings, starting with the revamp of a Lummi Island restaurant helmed by a young chef who is the former sous chef of a Copenhagen restaurant named Best Restaurant in the World (page 60). It’s the perfect time to hop on a ferry—before they become relics, too.

P.S. If you had unlimited funds, what one single thing would you do to improve our city? Your answer can correct a problem, rectify a missed opportunity or create an new vision for our city. It can be as realistic (or as unrealistic!) as you’d like. Send us your Big Idea and it may become part of an upcoming story in print or online.



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