Seattle underground tour to Twin Peaks tourist

Seems like sewing was a very lucrative business in Seattle in the late 1800′s.

I’d seen Seattle from on high, it was now time to check out Seattle from below. The city’s underground tour┬áis based around the Pioneer Square area, one of the oldest districts. However, before going underground, i passed by one of the most prominent landmarks, the Smith Tower. Smith Tower, SeattleThe building which opened in 1914 certainly satisfied by need for architecture with personality. As much as I love the natural environment in my new home, I still miss the built environment of old Europe. Okay, the Smith Tower is barely out of nappies (diapers) when compared to the history that Europe offers, however, it does have a certain unique look with its tower portion extending some 12 levels above the bulk of e building. I didn’t get a chance to go inside and up the the observation deck, but I do think it would be a worthwhile visit and an alternative to the Space Needle.

Just down the hill from the Smith Tower is Pioneer Square. The area lays claim to being Seattles first neighbourhoods and seems to have been through a period of regeneration. Certainly the guide on the tour had plenty to say about the areas ‘seedier’ past, more of that later. The focal point of the square is a pergola which was home to a past street car terminus. Apparently, and I quote the tour guide, “the fanciest subterranean restroom in the country” lies beneath the square, now inaccessible due to the need to make safe the ground around it. Here’s what a 1910 article in a Seattle publication, Pacific Builder and Engineer had to say….

“The man of travels will find nowhere in the Eastern hemisphere a sub-surface public comfort station equal in character to that which has recently been completed in the downtown district of Seattle”

I can’t really add any more to that. Next stop, underground.

Back in the mid 1960′s one Bill Speidel, a local journalist turned PR guy decided that Seattle needed to retain the history it was fast losing. It seems a real case of Joni Mitchell’s ‘paved paradise‘ was being enacted as more old buildings were bought up, razed, and replaced with parking lots. Bill was a real champion for preserving and regenerating the the old downtown area and the underground tour is a result of his drive and enthusiasm. You can read lots more about how Bill’s advocacy and the underground tour on the official site. So what exactly is the underground tour? In 1889 Seattle suffered its own great fire in the downtown area and it turned out to be a great opportunity to deal with issues that the low laying land created, particularly the sewerage. Essentially humongous amounts of earth were slid down from nearby hills to raise the downtown ground level up one story. Brick buildings that remained post fire now had a new basement, and it’s these areas that form the underground tour. The tour takes 60 – 90 minutes and the time simply shot by. Walking through long disused levels of buildings below street level, listening to the guides great stories from Seattle’s past was time well spent. A fun and interesting experience. Now about the booming sewing trade. Around the time of the gold rush, Seattle had set itself up as a staging post. Prospectors that travelled through the city were offered gambling entertainment and were also able to have their ‘clothing repaired’ at one of the numerous sewing establishments. Seems like sewing was a very lucrative business in Seattle in the late 1800′s as the city’s income was bolstered by taxes on these two popular businesses.

It was time to head out of Seattle. I’d thoroughly enjoyed my short stay and will certainly return as there are still sights to see, for example, I want to take a ferry across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island.

Snoqualmie FallsBefore heading back north there was time for a small detour. I’d found out that I could be a Twin Peaks tourist really easily. Just 30 minutes out of Seattle is Snoqualmie. Cast your mind back to that 90′s, weird, wonderful and surreal TV hit, Twin Peaks. The lodge and falls that appeared in the show are actually at Snoqualmie. Curiosity had gotten the better of me and I wanted to walk in Agent Coopers footsteps.

The experience didn’t disappoint, the falls were truly awesome. The falls are high. Very high. Higher than Niagara, in fact nearly 100 feet higher than the Niagara Falls. The water that rushes over the edge seems to then hit a stage of slow motion around a third of the way down before resuming it’s fast running onslaught. The spray was phenomenal. Despite the viewing area being higher than the falls, it was like walking in to a shower of rain. I could gush on about Snoqualmie Falls for a long time. It captivated me. The elegance and gracefulness of falling water juxtaposed with the raw power at the top and bottom of the falls. It was a very special experience. The Salish Lodge is recognizable as the Great Northern from the outside but over twenty years have passed since the show and it now looks very different inside. I didn’t notice any references to the show whilst wandering the area and I guess that the areas doesn’t need Twin Peaks as pulling power, not when the falls are so spectacular.

It was time to head off and find some “damn fine coffee“.

As usual, more pics are on Flickr.

This post also appears on the Union Jack.

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