It's almost an American birthright: the lure of the open road, the siren song of travel, the sheer visceral excitement of a road trip. In fact, the glamor is overrated. Highways are crowded and gas is expensive. Bus stations long ago became a dumping ground for the down and out. Airports teem with long lines and short-tempered travelers.
Trains, once the most elegant form of travel, have fallen victim to erratic schedules and outdated equipment, not to mention decaying terminals in many cities. For a long while, Seattle has been one of them. Had you been sitting on a torn plastic-leather seat in the once-grand waiting room of the King Street Station a few short years ago — stale air, fluorescent lights, a dingy low ceiling, grimy floors, metal gates barring the restrooms — you could easily imagine Charon coming through the flickering gloom to take you across the Styx.
And yet, King Street Station was once among the finest in the land. It was built shortly after the turn of the 20th century, in the heyday of rail travel, and went into service in 1906 as a terminal for the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific railroads. (Union Station, across 5th Avenue to the east, would follow five years later.)
The station's 245-foot clock tower was modeled on the Campanile standing in the Piazza San Marco in Venice. San Marco's tower is 324 feet, same as the Daniels & Fisher tower in Denver, same as Brisbane City Hall. Until the construction of the Smith Tower in 1914, it was the tallest structure in Seattle.