History of Seattle’s underground streets

Avery Petek, Staff Writer

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A lot of people in Seattle do not know one of Seattle’s most interesting pieces of history, that there is an underground city underneath Pioneer Square.

Not an entire city, but there is an a grid of passageways underneath Pioneer Square that have been sitting underneath streets, unused for decades. The passageways were the city streets of old Seattle before the Great Seattle Fire.

For a little background knowledge, the Great Seattle Fire happened in June of 1889. The fire burned for 18 hours leaving the city devastated. The fire torched 100 acres (25 blocks) of the city’s business district and waterfront. The city began rebuilding itself almost immediately.

The fire gave Seattle a chance to start new and improve the city. The previous years there had been an abundance of flooding, so the city took what they had and decided to build on top of the lower floors that remained.

At the time everything was being rebuilt, some of the lower level businesses continued to sell stuff. To get to the bottom story, women and men alike would have to climb down a 20ft ladder and than had to climb back up with their groceries or whatever else they would buy. The streets did eventually become a cool tourist attraction. People came from local cities to roam the underground passageways.

After a few years, the city realized that the underground level wasn’t doing much good for the city, as people were falling off ladders and diseases such as the bubonic plague spread, so the city officially closed down public access to the old city streets.

They were left abandoned and were used for storage until the 1950’s when a man named Bill Speidel and his wife decided to make a change. At that point, Pioneer Square had gone into disrepair and it wasn’t a popular place to be.

The rumor of the underground city of Seattle had been floating around for years, but no one knew much about the city’s history so it was never confirmed, but Speidel had been reading all about Seattle’s history and learned that the rumors were true.

Speidel took this opportunity to create a business for his family while revamping Pioneer Square. The first tour Speidel ran in the passageways was filled and people have been going on it ever since. In fact, the tour that the Speidel family started decades ago is still running today!

If you or family members want to check out this cool part of Seattle’s history, there is not only Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour, but also another tour called Beneath the Streets. Both tours explore different parts of the underground city street and tell different parts of the history of the city.

The tours are not just random walks through underground. The old streets still have pieces of objects that were in the the businesses that ran on that level. The tour guides tell more about the history of old Seattle and how everything started in relation to the city and western Washington. The tour guides also tell the secret of the purple glass that is in the sidewalks throughout Seattle!

For more information about tour dates, cost, and general information about the tours visit the sites below:

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour- http://www.undergroundtour.com/index.html

Beneath the Streets- https://www.beneath-the-streets.com/

More information of Seattle history- https://content.lib.washington.edu/extras/seattle-fire.html