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Benaroya Hall’s Garden of Remembrance.
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Downtown Seattle is full of private-public spaces

Try these spots for secret little coffee breaks

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Benaroya Hall’s Garden of Remembrance.
| Shutterstock

If you’re impressed (or worried) by Seattle’s very rapidly expanding skyline, you might be interested to know that, although it’s ramped up lately, buildings of this scale have only been cropping up since the 1960s. The development boom led to 1963’s Monson Plan, which aimed to revitalize downtown Seattle following two decades of post-World War II urban decay.

The deal was that skyscrapers were allowed to be built as long they it provided some kind of public benefit. In these cases, a “public benefit” meant some kind of park or outdoor space that’s open to visitors, whether it be on the grounds surrounding the building or contained secretly within it.

Today there are at least 44 privately owned public open spaces—known as POPSes or POPOSes—sprinkled all around the city of Seattle. but mostly downtown. Office workers and tourists alike are invited to eat lunch, work, read a book, or otherwise just hang out during the building’s hours of operation. Several other cities worldwide have these too, including but not limited to New York, Auckland, San Francisco, Toronto, and Seoul.

The idea behind these spaces wasn’t, of course, for them to be secrets—they were intended to be used and enjoyed, of course. But largely, it wasn’t until 2009, when Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata launched a campaign to get the word out, that they showed up again on folks’ radar. After dredging up old city documents, Licata managed to collate every POPS into a checklist and sent it to the City of Seattle’s planning department, along with the task of adding plaques to each that announce their availability to the public.

Although they’re located on private property, each POPS offers the same rights to its occupants as a public park would, such as free speech and freedom of assembly. (This issue was in the news back in 2011 surrounding the Occupy Wall Street protests, which largely took place in a POPS: New York’s gigantic Zuccotti Park.)

Here in Seattle, many of our POPSes are downtown, but they’ve been spreading across the map—some of the newer UW dorm buildings have private-public plazas and mid-block connectors, such as Elm Hall and Alder Hall on Campus Parkway, as well as a teeny pocket park at Epiphany School in Madrona.

All this said, some POPS are definitely sexier than others. Some of the more quotidian ones that you might know already are the “hillside terrace” with the concrete steps along University on the south side of the Seattle Art Museum (where the Hammering Man is), the dinky little nugget of seating outside of—but not exclusive to!—the Starbucks just across from the Westin Hotel on Fifth and Stewart, or the gum-stained plaza above the International District transit stop at Fifth Avenue South and Jackson Street. But other POPSes are positively thrilling to discover, like finding a $20 bill on the sidewalk. Here are a few of our favorites.

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Fourth and Madison Building

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The crown jewel among our city’s POPS is easily the seventh-floor open-air garden at the Fourth and Madison Building, formerly known as the IDX Tower. The whole thing is just a big concrete slab with a grassy rectangle platform in the middle, but it’s still an absolute urban oasis with killer, up-close vistas of the Smith Tower and the Central Library and peekaboo views of Elliott Bay. It wraps around three sides of the dang building and offers seating and free Wi-Fi.

Benaroya Hall

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Benaroya’s grand Boeing Company Gallery, replete with cathedral ceilings and not one, but two glass Chihuly chandeliers, is open on weekdays, whether there’s a performance that day or not. It’s currently home to fancypants chain Honor Coffee & Tea and upscale barbecue joint David & Co. Benaroya Hall touts another POPS as well: the outdoor Garden of Remembrance along Second Avenue, commemorating veterans with names etched into a granite wall and a water cascade.

Columbia Center

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The Sky View Observatory on Columbia Tower’s 73rd floor is great and all, but it’ll run you $14.75. The building has a public atrium on the ground floor too, but the view ain’t much to write home about. Your best bet is the open-to-the-public Sky Lobby on floor 40, sandwiched between a conference center and a hidden Starbucks. Have yourself a beverage and enjoy the sprawling almost-panorama.

Crowne Plaza Hotel

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Just to the south of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, up a short staircase on Seventh Avenue, there’s a clandestine little walled-in courtyard with greenery, seating, and often giant chess. People try to throw private parties here sometimes, but it’s a totally public space, so don’t let anyone tell you different.

Honorable non-public-space mention: Russell Investments Center

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Plenty of people know that the Russell Investments Center on Second and University has a spectacular 17th-floor outdoor garden with landscaped little paths and unparalleled views of the bay, but what most don’t know is that it’s not actually a public space; it’s supposed to be reserved for people who work in the building. That said, it’s easy enough to confuse with a public space that it’s not unusual for it to be treated as such. Maybe find yourself a buddy who works in the building and see if they’ll be your chaperone, because if you haven’t, you gotta check this place out.

A post shared by Terry Shelton (@shelton3170) on

Fourth and Madison Building

The crown jewel among our city’s POPS is easily the seventh-floor open-air garden at the Fourth and Madison Building, formerly known as the IDX Tower. The whole thing is just a big concrete slab with a grassy rectangle platform in the middle, but it’s still an absolute urban oasis with killer, up-close vistas of the Smith Tower and the Central Library and peekaboo views of Elliott Bay. It wraps around three sides of the dang building and offers seating and free Wi-Fi.

Benaroya Hall

Benaroya’s grand Boeing Company Gallery, replete with cathedral ceilings and not one, but two glass Chihuly chandeliers, is open on weekdays, whether there’s a performance that day or not. It’s currently home to fancypants chain Honor Coffee & Tea and upscale barbecue joint David & Co. Benaroya Hall touts another POPS as well: the outdoor Garden of Remembrance along Second Avenue, commemorating veterans with names etched into a granite wall and a water cascade.

Columbia Center

The Sky View Observatory on Columbia Tower’s 73rd floor is great and all, but it’ll run you $14.75. The building has a public atrium on the ground floor too, but the view ain’t much to write home about. Your best bet is the open-to-the-public Sky Lobby on floor 40, sandwiched between a conference center and a hidden Starbucks. Have yourself a beverage and enjoy the sprawling almost-panorama.

Crowne Plaza Hotel

Just to the south of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, up a short staircase on Seventh Avenue, there’s a clandestine little walled-in courtyard with greenery, seating, and often giant chess. People try to throw private parties here sometimes, but it’s a totally public space, so don’t let anyone tell you different.

Honorable non-public-space mention: Russell Investments Center

Plenty of people know that the Russell Investments Center on Second and University has a spectacular 17th-floor outdoor garden with landscaped little paths and unparalleled views of the bay, but what most don’t know is that it’s not actually a public space; it’s supposed to be reserved for people who work in the building. That said, it’s easy enough to confuse with a public space that it’s not unusual for it to be treated as such. Maybe find yourself a buddy who works in the building and see if they’ll be your chaperone, because if you haven’t, you gotta check this place out.

A post shared by Terry Shelton (@shelton3170) on