The Pike Place Market began in 1907 as a guerilla action by farmers against the middlemen who handled and profited from selling their produce. When Seattleites came to buy goods right off the farmers' wagons–before there were stalls, buskers, bars and neon clocks–a new era in shopping and social protest was born. The Market wasn't a place so much as an act of rebellion, one that has morphed and grown, flourished and declined, but still persists after a century. Efforts to replace the Market with something else have cropped up throughout its history. Some segment of Seattle has always seen it as disposable, like yesterday's lettuce. In 1971, as Seattleites prepared to vote on the future of the Market–the city wanted to "urban renew" it into a giant parking garage–a frustrated group that included some Pike Place vendors placed an ad in The Seattle Times to complain about the historic preservation meddlers: "We've been analyzed, scrutinized and idolized by every hippie, do-gooder, and dilettante who has needed a small project to earn a Market merit badge. We're sick of it." The citizens of Seattle were sick of it too. But instead of voting to stop the meddling, they voted to save the Market from the bulldozers. The job of preservation, especially of a living thing like the Market, is never finished. Battles over Pike Place have continued. Its tenants are often fractious and feuding. In the 1980s a New York investment group got control of the Market for a few years and threatened foreclosure when a tax shelter disappeared. But locals rallied and repelled the move (and the group was bought out in 1991). Undoubtedly, someday it will need to be "saved" again from new challenges. For example, the Market used to be unique; now farmers' markets thrive throughout the city, and people can subscribe to various Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs that deliver farm-fresh produce. The Market also faces competition from retailers like Costco and Whole Foods that serve downtown residents. And there are the pressures of gentrification and aging infrastructure. Like a survivor, though, the Market has found ways to adapt. When I was a young teen and took the bus from Mount Baker to downtown to buy fruits and vegetables for my mom, it was my own act of rebellion, not against the big supermarkets that were invading our neighborhood, but against being safe in the family nest. My trips to the Market in the days before it was "saved" were some of my first experiences of "real" Seattle. Pike Place could be a scary place, a Dickensian landscape of strange people, stinking taverns and public bathrooms that were no-fly zones–dangerous places to unzip. It reeked of baked goods, rotten produce, spices, fresh fish, urine and beer. It is more sanitized now, more for the tourists, more showbiz. The fishmongers who throw salmon put on international business seminars where tossing a fish is a metaphor for teamwork. And kids want to be photographed with Rachel the Pig. The Market of old, with its drunks, hookers and druggies was not a kid-friendly venue, and the only business seminars were likely run by pickpockets or dope dealers. Despite the sanitizing, the Market still teems with life. Popular and populist, it is more crowded now, but safer and saner. It offers daycare and social services. It's still a place where stuff happens, still on the edge of unruly, still an incubator of entrepreneurs and ideas. It's the place where Starbucks was born, after all. Preservation wasn't easy 30-plus years ago; it's even harder now. Seattle is in a boom cycle, a period of rapid and dramatic growth, especially downtown. The loan shops and strip joints of Skid Road have nearly all been replaced by fancy hotels, high-rises and an expanded art museum. The citizenry, many of them new to town, seems less in love with icons of the past. But the Market's survival reminds us of an important distinction. Like the Market, Seattle is not a thing to be saved, but a living being to be cared for. Historic structures may come and go, but they only last if they have relevance. In modern terms, it's the software, not the hardware, that counts most. So saving Seattle's soul and preserving quality of life are things worth fighting for. Subjective, yes. But if it weren't for their passionate belief in such subjective realities by the hippies, do-gooders and dilettantes, the city we know and love might have vanished long ago. Editor's note: Knute Berger will participate in a panel discussion about the future of the Pike Place Market with Alice Shorett, Peter Steinbrueck, Shelly Yapp, and Suzanne Hittman at the Seattle Public Library, Aug. 9 at 6:30 p.m. The occasion is the Pike Place Market centennial publication of Soul of the City by Alice Shorett and Murray Morgan by the University of Washington Press.