Fire! At the Municipal Market Building (at Pike Place), 1974
The Public Market is now enlivened with new visions for the old Municipal Market Building space.
Special to The Seattle Times
FOR A HALF-CENTURY, the Municipal Market Building sat at the northwest corner of Pike Place Market. The shoebox-shaped structure with its crenelated roof resembled a fort. Here the effect is made sensational with a fire and enveloping smoke, on Sept. 25, 1974. The fire was started by a cutting torch used with abandon by a lone worker salvaging steel tracks in the condemned and abandoned building.
The building was constructed on the west side of Western Avenue in the 1920s as a way to keep the Market in the Market. At the time, traffic from north and south, on Elliott and Western avenues, reached Pike Place at Virginia Street. Already crowded with farmers stalls, Pike Place — which ran parallel to Western, to the east — was increasingly used as a shortcut to and from the business district. In a protracted battle between farmers and motorists, the city’s traffic engineers wanted to move the Market to an uptown site, but farmers and their customers protested. They wanted it to stay on the scenic bluff.
The political balance tipped in favor of keeping the Market at Pike Place, in part because of the addition of the Municipal Market Building. Parking on the roof enlarged its service, and the lot was reached directly from Pike Place over Western Avenue via the Desimone Bridge, seen here in both photos.
This mid-1920s addition to the Market was given its modest military design to complement the fortresslike Washington State National Guard Armory (1909-1968), its neighbor to the north across Virginia Street. In its first decade, visitors were lured over the Desimone Bridge with vaudeville performances staged in the Municipal Market Building. A 1946 feature in The Seattle Times noted “the eternal rummage sales in the Municipal Building.”
What the fire of 1974 could not consume, demolition crews soon took. The site was groomed for parking — steep parking. After 40 years of oil-stained pavement, the Public Market now is enlivened with new visions for the old Municipal Market space. The area will be joined with land freed by the razing of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The development will include a promenade to the waterfront, more Market shops, more senior housing, a new public plaza on top and more covered parking below.
Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard’s blog at pauldorpat.com.