How to fill the hole in Pioneer Square's heart?

Elliott Bay Book Co. has moved, but the historic space it vacated is waiting for a new tenant with bright ideas. Adaptability and inspiration have kept Pioneer Square, and the Globe Building, going for over a century.
The Globe Building, from the S. Main Street side

The Globe Building, from the S. Main Street side Joe Mabel/via Wikimedia Commons

The old Elliott Bay Book Co. interior.

The old Elliott Bay Book Co. interior. Flickr

I haven't been in the new Elliott Bay Book Co. on Capitol Hill yet, but the buzz is good. I have, however, visited a place in the Elliott Bay saga that's quite fascinating: the now vacated bookstore space in Pioneer Square.

For decades, Elliott Bay has been a cornerstone of the Pioneer Square revival, and a national treasure. When the national Main Street program staff was in Seattle recently, they said one of the first things they would do here, as everywhere they work, is make a list of the six or seven key retailers the neighborhood would need to keep.

Elliott Bay would have been number one on everyone's list, a shop popular with locals and tourists, a symbol of the city's proud status as one of America's most literate towns. But Elliott Bay has left the Square, and one bright spot for those who remain is that the store's departure highlighted the need to get the Square back on track, even without its signature tenant.

In the old Elliott Bay store, there are no throngs of customers, no buzz of new energy. The Elliott Bay Cafe remains open downstairs and will supply grub to the new Pike-Pine shop, but the vast bookstore space we knew is empty, and bigger than it seemed. The bookshelves are a kind of wooden skeleton inside the vast interior of the historic Globe Building, but most of the life has left the leviathan. The familiar front book counter remains, stripped of the lively, intelligent staffers. As you wander under the familiar brick archways you can ponder the ephemeral nature of bookstores: A gloomy Romantic might see it as a kind of "Ozymandias" for the life of the mind, "boundless and bare." It feels a bit like an old barn, albeit a rambling one.

More hopeful sorts see potential. Pioneer Square's pioneer revivalists, the shopkeepers and architects and preservationists who saved the Square from decay in the '60 and '70s, homesteaded it through tough times. And the Globe Building now offers the same potential it offered then: for someone to step forward and make something of it. Last week, a co-owner of the former Elliott Bay space, Grant Jones, invited some folks to take a look at newly emptied space and brainstorm.

A couple of things to keep in mind. One is that the Globe Building is an amazing building (actually two buildings, joined together years ago), attractive and solid, and it anchors one of the key corners in the Square, First and Main. Before it was built in 1891, the trees on it were cut and turned into lumber by Henry Yesler's Skid Road mill, the wood that built the new Seattle. Once cleared, it was the site of the city's first hospital, run by the legendary David "Doc" Maynard. It was also the place where our namesake Chief Seattle sat for his portrait. How much deeper can Seattle roots go?

Built as a commercial building after the great fire it has housed a saloon, a hotel (The Globe), a drug company, a gold mining company, a 1920s bootlegging operation (that once blew up) and a quilt factory. The terms "seamstress" used to be euphemism for Pioneer Square prostitute, but the quilting company really did employ people who sewed, and Jones says the upper floods are reinforced because of the heavy machines they used.

Today it's office space. The architect, by the way, was a descendant of Daniel Boone. So the Globe (originally called the Marshall-Walker Building) is a survivor, as the Square's historic building have had to be, and an adaptable one.

Walking through it with a sharp-eyed group, the big spaces and high ceilings are striking. Without books, the volume of the building seems to offer potential. It could house something grand. Like what? A gallery for large sculptures and paintings? A smallish concert space? A place for theater groups? A venue for special events, exhibits and gatherings? But the Globe is also two joined buildings and there are lots of interior rooms.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Apr 29, 8:32 a.m. Inappropriate

I like the smaller food/flower market idea. Barring that, maybe REI could open up a boutique store that would harken back to the old Capitol Hill store.

meks

Posted Thu, Apr 29, 8:36 a.m. Inappropriate

While I'd prefer an annex to the Elliot Bay Bookstore, the timing is right for a unique cultural facility in a retail location that is well suited to this vacant space.

No matter which AWV solution one subscribes to, one thing they all have in common is the massive funding of prehistoric and historic archaeological surveys now being conducted in the AWV impacted areas. Ten's of thousands of artifact will be itemized and documented from paleotological periods, prehistoric native settlements and historic archaeological periods such as the first white settlments and the 1889 Seattle fire. It has been recommended that a sampling of these artifacts with intreprative displays and lectures should be put on exhibit in Pioneer square.

That is what needs to fill this pivotal recently vacated space. It would be a major economic generator for the District as a destination facility.

The building owners need to contact the State Historic Preservation Officer, Allyson Brooks, WSDOT, Mayor and the FHWA to begin the discussion of how to accomodate the exibition, spacial layouts, lenght and rental fees conditions of a long term lease. Perhaps Historic Seattle could play a role in facilitating this arrangement.

If accomplished, this facility could provide the public (local and general tourism) with a unique peak into the many-layered periods of the space we presently refer to as Pioneer Square. It will put in context the complete evolution of this key location. After all, it was a good location for the native peoples, excellent site and port for the white settlers and the beginning of the Northwest's greatest city.

And if that wasn't significant enough, it is fair to say that through this mile-long strip of waterfront came the masses of settlers of Washington State and Alaska. From shipping, immigration, gold diggers, Northewest joining with the United States and reaching out to the pacific community, this exibition, with it's actual artifacts, can tell this special story.

So, what are we waiting for? Get on the phone, e-mail, twitter, blog or whatever. Let's not this opportunity slip away.The funds are there to make this happen....soon! All that is needed is the all the players getting together and making it happen.

Do the right thing!

Arthur M. Skolnik FAIA

Posted Thu, Apr 29, 9:01 a.m. Inappropriate

Spurn generic success...embrace unique failure?

How about a Whole Foods/Larry's or even Trader Joe's to generate some real traffic into the area on the part of citizens who are looking for something basic and harmless--like groceries--rather than booze, broads, and narrow, niche-y things like once-a-month art, stroll-through sports events, and all the rest of current Pioneer Square's diversity?

With condo and rental occupancy a bit slow right now, maybe not an ideal time to implant a core services business, but one thing I notice on the south end of downtown is the absence of a major grocery store...

I share the deep nostalgia, but the area's quirkiness has both sustained it (at a certain scale, and among a certain clientele) and restrained it, too...

Nice piece, Knute--Reader's Pick!

Seneca

Posted Thu, Apr 29, 10:10 a.m. Inappropriate

A nice history, and a textbook-perfect "making lemonade from lemons" pitch to rally the troops. The likelihood of a deep-pocketed entrepreneur stepping forward in this economy seems unlikely, so the community facility option is probably the best approach. And with Art Skolnik in your corner, how can you miss?

woofer

Posted Thu, Apr 29, 10:25 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks, Knute. I agree with Seneca, a grocery store would be smart. Anything but a warren of small shops. I've always felt the idea of an off-street mini-mall of shops to be a dubious proposition. I feel the same way about pocket neighborhoods, where a dozen or so houses face their own small open space. The gallery of shops, like the pocket neighborhood, can't help but be an enclave. Frankly, I feel this way about full-sized downtown shopping malls. The city itself -- the STREET -- is the mall. I know that Pike Place Market is an example of a vibrant shopping enclave that works, but it is also connected to a street along its length; and though on balance it works, it does suffer in certain respects for being an enclave. Perhaps if Seattle had the density and street life of, say, Istanbul it could support warrens of shops, but this simply isn't the case, certainly not in the Pioneer Square neighborhood.

Sea Wolf

Posted Thu, Apr 29, 10:29 a.m. Inappropriate

I think Art makes a great point, whether for the Elliott Bay space or somewhere else. The public spends millions on historical research and archaeology for public projects, and more of the data and artifacts uncovered need to reach the general public. His is absolutely right that Pioneer Square offers a great opportunity to showcase urban archaeology.

Posted Thu, Apr 29, 5:45 p.m. Inappropriate

The idea of a small food mart -- something along the lines of Philadelphia's Reading Market, Toronto's St. Lawrence Market, or Boston's Quincy Market -- would be great ... if Pike Place Market didn't already exist.

Posted Sun, May 2, 7:57 p.m. Inappropriate

I like the urban archaeology idea as well, but is Pioneer Square the best place for it? It makes most sense from a historical perspective, but if it's aimed at residents and not tourists, I do wonder. There are a number of Seattle neighborhoods I tend to avoid if I can for sheer unwillingness to engage in the frustrating search for parking, and Pioneer Square is one of them. (Capitol Hill, incidentally, is another.)

This proposed exhbition space would dovetail nicely with the Underground tour, but if it were to be a destination for residents, I'm not so sure. It would be nice to have the artifacts displayed close to their original location, but …

Now, the idea of something like Reading Terminal Market (not really so small) is an intriguing one. But are there enough residents nearby who aren't being served by Chinatown? I can't imagine driving into the area to shop for produce.

Here we see my bias as a driver, though. Perhaps once light rail makes it up here to Roosevelt I will think of everything differently, if I'm still here that is!

Posted Wed, May 5, 11:18 p.m. Inappropriate

I so wish it would house a new publication with a real newsroom. I'd work there ...

Posted Tue, May 11, 6:48 p.m. Inappropriate

I think there is an obvious solution...return it as a bookstore. There is another great book retailer in our area...3rd place books in Lake Forest Park. We should encourage them to expand into the Square. It is a natural fit. Would love to see it.

chbeba

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