Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tale of Two Towers

Port Townsend, today. Leland Weiss, in a recent blog article, "The Other Way out of Town " got me wondering about the status of the King Street Station renovation taking place in Seattle.

One can only wonder if the post card bears the wrong caption? Well, it is not wrong. As first conceived by James J. Hill, the proposed new station at King Street, would bear the name "Union Depot." This to identify the "union" between the Great Northern and Northern Pacific, which Hill had purchased in 1901. And thus it remained so named for 5 years.

Union Depot would also be the southern portal for a new 5,141 foot tunnel under the City of Seattle, to by-pass increasing congestion along the waterfront.

With the opening of the Union Pacific - Milwaukee Road joint venture, just across the street, named the Oregon and Washington Station, the traveling public got confused. So the Union Depot became the King Street Station and the Union Pacific Oregon and Washington Station was simply renamed Union Station, in 1911.

From what I've read on the 'net, some history savvy conductors are referring to King Street by it's original name, causing consternation amongst passengers!

The struggling Northern Pacific finally got into Tacoma, their chosen western terminus, in 1883. After several false starts, the NP finally managed the 30 or so miles from Tacoma, arriving in Seattle on June 17, 1884. NP's facilities were rugged in the beginning, and took a disastrous turn when most rail facilities were destroyed in the Great Seattle Fire of 1889.

The photo above identifies the "Ladies Waiting Room." There is a portly woman in the upper right, facing into the room. This would be Mrs. S.E. Stine, of the Seattle YWCA. She bears the officially recognized title of "Depot Matron."

It was the duty of Mrs. Stine to "keep and eye on young women at the Depot, to cleanse the moral atmosphere both in and around the Depot, and to warn young women about the various dangers of the big city, in particular, prostitution." She also steered new arrivals to jobs and safe housing. [from "Class and Gender Politics in Progressive Era Seattle," John C. Putman, 2008]

The Great Northern Railroad descended on Seattle from the north, with a line running down the beach of Puget Sound from Vancouver, B.C., joining the Chicago line at Everett, thence south into Seattle. GN's first transcontinental train into Seattle arrived on January 8, 1893.

So now, Seattle was hosting two transcontinental railroads, with spartan facilities for passengers. Long story short, Great Northern's Hill bought out Northern Pacific in 1901, and an arrangement was made between the two entities for a jointly funded edifice at Fourth Avenue and King Street.

The architectural firm of Reed and Stem was commissioned to design the Station. Construction began January 1, 1905. Ticket offices of the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railways were moved the night of May 9, 1906 to Union Depot.

The Hill Tunnel and Union Depot were opened simultaneously. The Hill tunnel is a separate story altogether! Rail traffic began entering the city through a 5,141 foot tunnel, by-passing the congested Seattle waterfront, terminating at the station, beginning at 4 a.m. May 10th., 1906.

And what a grand structure she was, with her prominent 245-foot clock tower, a replica of St. Marks Bell tower in Venice, with four 14-foot diameter clocks on the cardinal faces of the tower. The tallest structure in Seattle!

Architects Charles Reed and Allen Stem designed New York's Grand Central Station, completed in 1913. They also designed:

  • Northern Pacific Depot, Livingston, Montana, 1902
  • Northern Pacific - Great Northern Union Depot, Seattle, 1906
  • Northern Pacific Depot, Ellensburg, Washington, 1910
  • Northern Pacific Union Station, Tacoma, Washington, 1911
I really had no reason to visit the station as a young man. But soon after that Big Merger, despite Burlington Northern's pronouncement that "major changes were not anticipated," major changes took place.

In the years following the Big Merger, the downhill slide began:

In an effort to "modernize" a station built in the Italian classic architectural, galvanized wires were attached to the beautifully sculpted ceiling, from which a lowered false ceiling was suspended.

Fiberglass and metal seats replaced the classic high backed wooden benches. In short, everything about the classical interior was either hidden or removed.

There are no records indicating what day, or night, each clock stopped. But the hands recorded the time: North clock stopped at 6:20:55. East clock stopped at 5:20:47. South clock stopped at 11:05:55. West side clock stopped at 11:05:55.

The original terra cotta roof, which never leaked, was replaced with an "easy maintenance" roof, which did leak.

As a final disgrace to classic architecture, in 1969, an array of gray fiberglass, microwave dish antennae were bolted to the Tower, with hideous results.

So much for the Big Merger, and "post modern" updates. Architects Charles Reed and Allen Stem must have rolled over in their respective graves. It was embarrassing to the residents of Seattle to witness the demise of the grand old station, once the biggest and most beautiful structure in Seattle, second only to the Smith Tower.

By the early 2000's, the rundown molested building, with ghastly microwave dishes hanging obscenely from the clock tower, was in danger of being torn down.

Word was passing around town that BNSF was contemplating the unthinkable. But on March 6, 2008, the City of Seattle purchased the structure for $10. Furthermore, much to the credit of the City, a goal was established to restore the building as Reed and Stem envisioned it, through various funding sources, including
  • Federal Transit Administration (FTA) - $2.88 million
  • Sound Transit - $4.1 million
  • Surface Transportation Program (STP) Enhancement - $5.74 million
  • Amtrak - $2.5 million
  • State Appropriation - includes Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) - $3.6 million
  • South Downtown (SODO) Foundation - $250,000
  • City of Seattle Department of Transportation - $10.0 million
  • Federal High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Grant (HSIPR) - $18.2 million
Total Funding in Place: $47.27 (USD) million. This graphic details all the interior and exterior work required for the restoration to be successful:

The building had been so thoroughly violated, it took a while to figure out where to start and what needed to be accomplished.

Of immediate concern, replacing the leaking roof with original terra cotta tile that did not leak, repair clock lighting, and remove the microwave dish on clock tower.

October 21, 2008. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) today finished removing the large antenna mast from the clock tower of King Street Station. As part of the restoration of the historic terminal, the department took down the 45-foot tall mast and two nine-foot wide microwave dishes over two days. Once used for railroad communications, the 1960's era equipment had long marred the beauty of the 245-foot clock tower.

The City of Seattle has created a great outreach website for citizens, where progress reports are regularly posted.

And the clocks were restarted in October of 2008, quite a story in it own right!

What a proud moment for the City of Seattle when this renovation is complete. Moreover, the King Street Station Tower can proudly share the Seattle skyline with its neighbor, the 42-story Smith Tower, which replaced the King Street Tower as Seattle's tallest structure, and fourth tallest in the USA, in 1914!

Photo Credits include Leland Weiss, Seattle Dept of Transportation, and University of Washington Digital Collections.

1 Comments - Click here:

Anonymous said...

Found memory taking the NP Empire Builder to Deer Lodge, Montana from Seattle in June1970... Before Amtrak and the Feds Screwin it up!

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