we wrapped up our time on the waterfront with a stop at Victor Steinbrueck Park to have a sit and (for some) to enjoy the beverages procured from the first-ever Starbucks. since the weather was fantastic, the relatively small park was packed with people lounging about on the grass.
the park, located in a wedge of land on top of the bluff next to the Pike Place Market, came under the jurisdiction of the city in 1968 after fire damaged the Washington National Guard Armory that stood on the site. at the time, debate raged about the future of the Pike Place Market and surrounding spaces — developers wanted to tear it down in favor of the aforementioned high-rise with hotel, apartments, hockey arena, etc. proponents of preserving the Market succeeded in saving both the market and partially-destroyed armory over the road. the city transferred oversight to the Parks Department in 1970, which landscaped the area and named it “Market Park” in 1982.
Victor Steinbrueck, a local architect, was instrumental in in the Pike Place preservation but, apparently, the city didn’t feel it appropriate to honor him during his life by naming the park after him. upon his death in 1985, however, they renamed the park on the site of the armory (which he’d championed to preserve as well, though unsuccessfully). the park hosts two cedar totem poles, designed by Steinbrueck.
in addition to the tourists that stop by for views of Elliott Bay on their way to or from the sites along Pike Place, the park attracts an assortment of less-than-savory characters as well. the view is just as good if you’re homeless, addicted to an illicit substance, mentally unstable, or in need of performing an odd, repetitive dance to the tune of a busker’s guitar. there was a guy doing just that right in front of where we sat down — he had long black and gray hair and was wearing a leather vest, performing something reminiscent of what you’d see at a pow wow, repeating the same motions in four directions and moving out of the way of large groups of people trying to get through the park.
along with the Space Needle, the Pike Place Market is one of the most memorable landmarks in Seattle. running since 1907, it’s one of the longest continually-running public markets in the United States. while we were there I saw a smattering of young info-pushers promoting the “your community market” dimension, trying to shift local perception of who uses the market and why you should use it as your local fruit, veg, and fish market.
prior to the establishment of the Pike Place Market, an outdoor public market operated nearby and at which produce was sold primarily via wholesalers rather than farmers themselves. the additional middlemen — necessitated by the time demanded by farming and which precluded spending time selling in an urban public market — resulted in unsavory business practices and sometimes shocking price irregularities (sometimes farmers couldn’t make a profit on the produce they sold to middlemen; between 1906 and 1907 the price of onions went from $0.10 per pound to $1.00 per pound). in advance of the opening day of the newly-established public market, thugs for the wholesalers reportedly went around to farms closest to the city and bought up produce or intimidated farmers, warning them against participating.
despite threats, about 10 farmers and over 50 customers showed up the ribbon cutting and, ceremony concluded, the customers climbed over one another and began buying produce of carts faster than the farmers could keep up tallying sales. by noon all the produce had gone, into the hands of paying customers. the first covered market building opened in November of 1907 and by 1911 demand for stalls resulted forced a doubling in the number available. with the growth came complaints from farmers, who felt the rent and accessibility were unreasonable and inconvenient, respectively, though little action from the market owners. farmers proposed a $150,000 ballot initiative, at which locals balked, while the mayor counter-proposed a more modest $25,000 market improvement initiative that voters supported. the nearby property owners (the Goodwins) continued with their own plans to improve on their holdings and ended up expanding the market five stories down the bluff face of Western Avenue. this expansion held restaurants, bakeries, butchers, a creamery, and all manner of shops. on our visit more than a few of the lower storefronts stood empty; one pair of spaces had an art gallery and attached studio in which the artist was working as we passed. in another there was just an easel with a partially-finished painting though no obvious signs of ongoing work.
over the decades, various attempts to change or update the market have met limited success. in 1920 the city worked to move farmer stalls off the street because of complaints about traffic flow (which makes sense — all the stalls are inside now and the traffic on Pike Place as we visited was still pretty terrible; distracted and wandering tourist-pedestrians don’t help the mix, I’m sure). in 1963 the city proposed demolishing the market in favor of a new building to house a hotel, apartment complex, hockey arena, parking garage, and offices. thankfully, supporters of the market banded together to get it named as an historic preservation area and returned to public control. in the 1980s cuts to government funding of public assistance programs threatened projects run by the market’s development authority, such as a free medical clinic, senior center, and food bank; to preserve these projects the authority established a fundraising arm that ran successful capital campaigns, including one to pay for tiling the floor of the top-floor arcade (to prevent water leaking down and causing damage lower levels) by selling tiles stenciled with donor names for $35 a piece. over the course of more than two years some 45,000 tiles were placed.