Revitalizing Our Historic Areas: Seattle's Pioneer Square

Historically, cities exist in a state of flux, organisms in constant state of gentrification and denigration. One of the most visible case studies is Detroit. Once a manufacturing mecca, the city now stands in a strained state of indecision torn between the abandoned, crumbling historic buildings and small pockets of life. The juxtaposition has left the once-great city a shell of its former self. The iterative attempts at revival of the wasteland are earnest, albeit hampered with city bankruptcy, but the effort is there.

It's this effort to salvage the historically charged cities of our country that has sparked a new interest in Seattle around the Pioneer Square area. And I couldn't be happier about the renewed life it's bringing to the community where I own a business (thanks to Marla Moore for her great contribution for this post).

Pioneer Square is the original "downtown" of Seattle, dating back to the mid 19th century. Beautiful brick and stone buildings create a strong, historical presence, testifying to the grandeur and industry of that age. Although an architectural and historical treasure of the city, many Seattleites think of Pioneer Square as a part of town you don't want to be in past sunset. Homelessness thrives with several missions in the area.

But there's a determined band of business owners bent on revitalizing Pioneer Square and restoring it to its former glory as the Seattle center for business and culture. A recent documentary by University of Washington Masters student Kari Gaynor details the history and efforts of those business owners to reclaim Pioneer Square as their own with a very insightful video.

And since its inception five years ago,Tether has been a steadfast part of that movement. Elliot Bay Books led the charge years ago, supplying a steady stream of customers and business to Pioneer Square. And even though the bookstore has since moved to Capitol Hill, its presence here allowed multiple other small businesses, like E. Smith Mercantile and Chef Matt Dillon's Bar Sajor (located in Tether's original location) to take root in the cobblestone streets.

The area is a beautiful one, with historic brick buildings facing the waterfront. Faded names are still evident on the edifices, advertising businesses from the 1800s, in a time where buildings' names were carved into the stonework on their facades. It's the rich heritage and historical aesthetic of Pioneer Square, coupled with the modern, colorful graffiti and artistic murals that make this area of Seattle truly stimulating. One can simply step outside for inspiration, and they'll find it emblazoned on the buildings and dripping down the walls. Even the back alleys are beautiful here, with unique light fixtures, flower boxes and unexpected finds (like Back Alley Bikes, a thriving cyclist store that has thwarted the reputation of alleys by establishing itself right in the middle of one). It's the inspiration that permeates the air here that makes it the right place to house a design studio, and why Tether has continued to reside in Pioneer Square. Even when Tether has required a larger space (we've moved to our third place since we took root in Pioneer Square), we just needed to cross the street to find more studio space.

The hopes of revitalizing Pioneer Square were bolstered recently with the commenced construction of Stadium Place tower, a 25-story apartment tower recently approved by the city board. This edgy glass tower promises a new influx of citizens and culture to the downtown district, and with that promise comes a renewed sense of dedication to revamping Pioneer Square's past and future. Though the new tower, designed by ZGF Architects, doesn't stick to the historical aesthetic of the surrounding brick and stone buildings, the Pioneer Square Preservation Board doesn't seem to mind. One member even praised the construction as "a fabulous segue between the old and the new in Pioneer Square." And that's what it will take to breathe renewed life into this part of the city: a carefully curated balance of old and new.

Our refusal to let this piece of the city die affirms the part of us that yearns for our history and place. The nostalgia Pioneer Square induces is a powerful factor in its preservation, and one of the reasons we're willing to brush the dirt and decay off the proud framework that still stands. Everything in our culture means more to us when it has story, from the brands we build and follow to the cities we inhabit. Pioneer Square is the birth of Seattle's story; a testament to our past, our history, our future, and to the human ability to endure.