Not having a hulking, concrete piece of infrastructure will fundamentally transform Seattle’s waterfront, and both the city and property owners along the piers are certainly taking advantage. A $668 million waterfront revitalization project is underway to spruce up the area as it opens up, including a remodeled aquarium, new pedestrian connections to a newly expanded Pike Place Market, a remodel of the Washington State Ferries facility at Colman Dock, and a new waterfront promenade.
But it’s not a return to what the waterfront was before the viaduct came in. While the absence of a double-decker freeway will be the same, the waterfront before 1950 was largely an industrial area, without the boat tours, tourist traps, and aquarium we know today. The piers were mostly factories and warehouses, and the restaurants were lunch counters to serve longshoremen, factory workers, fishermen, and others in maritime or shipping trades. Alaskan Way was called Railroad Avenue, appropriate to the tracks that still run along the waterfront.
The Seattle Municipal Archives give us a peek at this time period, from early construction in the late 1800s up until nearly the midcentury. Yesterday, we looked at the viaduct during its construction and early years, so let’s go back even further with photos of the waterfront before the viaduct even existed.