Apparently we CAN have nice things.
Apparently we CAN have nice things. Olson Kundig — Occidental Park Pavilion

The best cities are like wild animals, capricious and beautiful, dangerous, incapable of ever fully being known. The wild animal that is Seattle has been in a state of partial hibernation for the last year-and-a-bit, but now, like a finicky hedgehog greeting the spring, we’re finally starting to awaken, one artery and limb and organ at a time.

Among the Seattle organs coming back to life is Pioneer Square, the historic blob bounded generally by the waterfront on one side, by the rail along 4th Ave on the other, and by the awkward-angled street grids of Cherry Street and King Street at the north and south. (Please argue in the comments about how incorrect those boundaries are; that’s great for our pageviews.)

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After I wrote about the Metropole redevelopment last week, neighborhood reps got in touch to let me know that there’s lots more happening in their neck of the woods: Streets transformed into pedestrian promenades, new businesses opening (an axe-throwing bar?!?!), and a pleasant park pavilion that will replace staffers’ former workspace, which was, and this is not a joke, a disused elevator shaft infested with rats.

This past year’s been a challenge, says Chris Woodward, Business Development Director for the Alliance for Pioneer Square. Because Pioneer Square has so many high-traffic streets, they were a bit more limited than other neighborhoods when it came to creating outdoor pedestrian opportunities.

Still, they managed to implement a few improvements, many of which are likely to stay. Occidental Mall has a large parking area that Woodward describes as “a necessary evil” for businesses that need cargo unloaded. But parking cuts off at 11 a.m., and neighboring businesses are now taking full advantage of the street, expanding seating out into an area once claimed by cars. “I think that’ll be in place for a while,” Woodward says.

Nearby, Pioneer Square D&E — a restaurant and bar — created an outdoor seating area on 2nd Ave, which is absurdly wide and is in dire need of a narrowing and restrictions on car traffic. For now, they have to schlep the entire thing inside every night and rebuild it in the morning, which is ridiculous — the city should just let them make it permanent, especially with all the development and growth about to hit the neighborhood.

“The viaduct came down in 2019, that was the first domino in a lot of development,” Woodward says. Not only are the businesses by the viaduct about to get a lot more light and space and foot traffic, but there’s a ton of construction that’s already in the works or about to begin.

For example, the Chief Seattle Club is building mixed-use affordable housing at 108 2nd Ave Extension South, and the very exciting RailSpur Project is close to revitalizing three buildings and creating some lovely alley hangouts. (All of these buildings will have stories in the single-digits, which is too small, but current zoning places limits on Pioneer Square’s possible growth. That’s a topic for another post, and also an invitation to argue more in the comments.)

Also slated to open: A new wine-tasting room (the fourth for the neighborhood); and FlannelJax’s, an axe-throwing place, which is not my cup of tea!!! But people seem to like them, and it does fit the PNW theme.

And one of the nicest upgrades to the neighborhood is already visible — a handsome pavilion in Occidental Square Park, where park ambassadors can work. (Their former space was an unheated elevator shaft that workers sometimes shared with small rodent visitors, Woodward says. This seems better.)

The pavilion will get an official unveiling in a few weeks — possibly June — and the Downtown Seattle Association will arrange shows and entertainment in the park throughout the summer. There will also be space for buskers (sorry, Sidewalk Outside of Dick’s, you’ve got competition now), and a play area for kids.

And looking to the future, Woodward says, there’s likely to be a resumption of group activities like historical walks — possibly hosted in a partnership with Historylink.org.

Personally, I’d like to see more historical markers of the neighborhood’s former gay bars. Before Capitol Hill was the gayborhood, Seattle would crowd into queer watering holes like Shelly’s Leg, the Double Header, the Casino, The People’s Theater, Madame Lou’s brothel, the Stage Door Tavern, The Garden of Allah, The Mocambo, and The South End Steam Baths.

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Their footprints are almost completely invisible today, unless you know where to look.

Chicago has The Legacy Walk, a series of highly visible markers that pay tribute to queer icons. San Francisco has the Rainbow Honor Walk. Why don’t we have anything like this yet?