Pioneer Square has an unprecedented number of projects impacting the public realm: reclaiming alleys, redesigning streets and parks, fixing curbs and medians, waterfront, parking, and bike lanes. All this and more are all-in-a-day’s work for Liz Stenning, our Deputy Director. A friendly and familiar face in the neighborhood, Liz is all about ongoing improvements to our public realm from curb cuts to crosswalks.
As the oldest neighborhood in Seattle, the history of Pioneer Square extends well before the arrival of white settlers. For centuries, the Duwamish lived in villages around the bay. The little peninsula of what is now Pioneer Square was a significant seasonal village. It featured fresh water, abundant food, wood, a trail that lead east from Elliott Bay across the Cascade Mountains, and a beach on which canoes were easily pulled ashore. Over time, the engineered changes to Seattle’s shoreline disrupted ecosystems, eliminated traditional food sources, and completely reconfigured the land. The area known as Fortson Square is part of this reconfigured landscape. The codified history of Fortson Square began in 1901, when the space was dedicated to Captain Hayley Fortson of the United States Navy along with others who perished in the Spanish American War. Donald N. Sherwood, who worked as an engineer for Seattle Parks and Recreation from 1955 to 1977, collected and advocated for the preservation of historical records and documents, which provide more background information on Fortson Square’s history .
Fortson Square began to look like a park – with plants and paving around 1907. The next year, a weather station was built in the space. Twenty years later from 1928 to 1929, the landscape around Fortson Square shifted when Second Ave Extension, a new public works project, cut through Yesler Way to Jackson Street leaving the space triangular in nature. In 1968, Fortson Square saw minor public realm improvements including the addition of plants and lights. In 1999, artist Elizabeth Conner and landscape architect Cliff Willwerth of WCA Landscape Architects redesigned Fortson Square, adding a “sculptural ruin” to enliven the space.
Most recently, Fortson Square has gained a reputation of being a neglected place in Pioneer Square. However, the future of Fortson Square shines brightly. Chief Seattle Club is embarking on a vital project to redevelop the site at 108 2nd Ave Ext S. The project—ʔálʔal—will create affordable housing and a ground floor health clinic and native arts café/gallery to support the physical, spiritual and cultural needs of the native community. As the front door to this project, Fortson Square will also be recreated as a welcoming place for everyone. The Alliance for Pioneer Square is working in partnership with Chief Seattle Club on community outreach in this redesign effort. Design efforts for the new building and public space are led by Jones & Jones in coordination with SDOT.
Liz this week:
This week, Liz is excited about the Re-imagine Fortson Square project. Fortson Square serves as a gateway into Pioneer Square. Chief Seattle Club’s ʔálʔal project presents an opportunity to recreate Fortson Square into a culturally resonant place for Salish peoples. Therefore, the design inspiration for Fortson Square will represent Salish culture, including art, music, story, food, plants, and animals.
“Recent minor improvements have already been made to Fortson Square starting in September 2019 by Lance Lobuzzetta of Efflux Creations, one of the park’s neighboring businesses,” Liz says. Lance recently created a mural on the west-facing wall of Fortson Square (visible in the above photo of Liz), which will be in place until construction begins in Fortson Square. “While Lance’s work is only temporary, it is such a colorful piece that opens the door for folks to consider Fortson Square as a viable space to gather,” Liz observes.
The Re-imagine Fortson Square project is one in a series of public realm improvements planned for Pioneer Square, including east/west street pedestrian improvements, a revitalized waterfront promenade, and additions to Occidental Square Park.
The Chief Seattle Club, Jones and Jones, SDOT, and the Alliance for Pioneer Square are seeking feedback on the initial design plans for Fortson Square. Consider taking a moment to voice your feedback by taking this brief online survey pertaining to the Fortson Square future design.