Organizational History

The Alliance for Pioneer Square was launched in June 2010 to lead the implementation of the most recent neighborhood plan: Pioneer Square 2015. Since then, the capabilities of Alliance volunteers, board, and staff have been demonstrated through accomplishing significant progress towards our stated goals. Relationships with neighborhood stakeholders, elected officials, and state and city staff have deepened and broadened. Pioneer Square is increasingly represented at negotiation tables and in policy conversations that impact the neighborhood. The work of The Alliance has brought credibility to the neighborhood and to itself as the neighborhood organization.

Neighborhood History

Seattle’s Pioneer Square Historical District encompasses the birthplace of modern Seattle. Although Seattle’s first permanent settlers landed elsewhere, Pioneer Square can lay claim to being the city’s “first neighborhood.” Most members of a party led by Arthur Denny relocated from West Seattle’s Alki beach to present-day Pioneer Square in the spring of 1852 and set about creating a modern city.

Did You Know…

The Smith Tower, built in 1914, is the oldest skyscraper in Seattle. It was also the tallest building west of the Mississippi River until the Kansas City Power & Light Building was completed in 1931.

The area south of Yesler Way was claimed by David “Doc” Maynard, a physician and merchant who relocated to Seattle from Olympia at the urging of Chief Seattle. Maynard returned the favor by convincing Seattle’s settlers to rename the village, first called “Duwamps,” in the Chief’s honor.  Arthur Denny, Carson Boren, and William Bell staked claims on the ridges to the north and east, but later disagreed with their neighbor over the new town’s street grid. At the time, there was little level (or dry) land on which to build the new city. The area bounded by today’s Yesler Way and Main Street and 2nd Avenue and Alaskan Way was a low peninsula, originally called Piner’s Point, nearly surrounded by tide flats on the south and east, and bounded by steep ridges to the north.

Seattle’s early success was guaranteed when Henry Yesler chose the village as the site of Puget Sound’s first steam-powered lumber mill (in exchange for generous chunks of land). He built his mill on a pier at the foot of today’s Yesler Way, once nicknamed “Skid Road.”

Following the Klondike Gold Rush, the central business district expanded north of Yesler Way, while landfills and regrades permitted railroad and industrial development south of Pioneer Square.  The District began a slow decline during World War I and became better known as a derelict and decadent “Skid Road.”The village prospered despite a Native American attack in 1856 and various economic downturns. By 1889, Seattle was the state’s largest city, with 40,000 residents. Then, on June 6, the wood-framed downtown burned to the ground. The city quickly rebuilt — with brick and stone — and most of these buildings survive in Pioneer Square. Most of the Square’s buildings were erected within a decade of the disastrous Great Fire of June 6, 1889.

Preservationists rallied in the 1960s to save the area’s exquisite ensemble of Victorian and Edwardian Era architecture from demolition. Plans for Pioneer Square’s “urban renewal” sparked Seattle’s historic preservation movement, and a 30-acre local historic preservation district was set aside for protection in May 1969. Restoration and public improvements followed, and the first giant sports arena (the now demolished Kingdome) opened in 1976.

Today, Pioneer Square is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is protected by both federal and local historic preservation districts. The core of the Pioneer Square Historic Preservation District lies between Cherry Street to the north, 2nd Avenue to the east, Alaskan Way to the West, and S King Street to the south. The Pioneer Square District now houses innovative high-tech, design, and architectural firms as well as a myriad of independent retailers. Over the last 40 years, Pioneer Square has become the most prominent address for Seattle’s artists and art galleries. After more than 150 years of ups and downs, Pioneer Square remains largely intact as one of the nation’s best-preserved Victorian Era downtown districts and as Seattle’s first – and liveliest – neighborhood.

Portions produced by www.HistoryLink.org for the City of Seattle, Office of Economic Development, Tourism Division.