West Seattle couple Jake and Cathy Jaramillo have a self-described “geeky” fascination with Seattle’s stairways. In Queen Anne, as in numerous other Seattle neighborhoods, stairways were put in at the same time the electric streetcar, or trolley, began operating.
At the turn of the 20th century, Seattle was booming with construction and economic growth. Trolleys made it easier for people to travel between home and work, increasing their job opportunities. And how to reach your trolley in a timely fashion? That’s where the stairways came in.
The Jaramillos’ interest in the subject led to their writing a book. “Seattle Stairway Walks: An Up-and-Down Guide to City Neighborhoods,” released last fall, is the inspiration and subject for Stairway Walks Day, happening Saturday, Feb. 9, and made up of 15 guided walks across the Seattle area.
“Stairways are part of a reflection of how the neighborhoods in Seattle were developed,” said Jake Jaramillo. “And stairways were kind of the final link between the house and the job parts of the city. So a lot of times, you’ll see a stairway is a clue to where a trolley stop was.”
Many of Queen Anne’s stairways indicate where electric streetcar stops were once located along the route. Commercial developments popped up along these stops, as well as similar stops in other neighborhoods.
“You can see that those commercial developments still exist,” Jaramillo said. “It kind of gives the neighborhood its character. They’re all these distinct neighborhoods because of the way the city developed stairways and trolleys and all that. You can kind of trace where we are today from all the little links in the historical train.”
15 varied walks
Feet First, a nonprofit striving to ensure all communities in Washington state are walkable, is hosting the free Stairway Walks Day event. “Neighborhood walking ambassadors,” Feet First-trained volunteers who promote walking within their community, are leading the walks.
The Jaramillos and their publisher, The Mountaineers Books, teamed up with Feet First for the event because of their similar goals and values: They share a passion for people getting outside and exploring their surroundings.
The 15 walks have been selected from routes in the Jaramillos’ “Seattle Stairway Walks” book and go from 10 a.m. to noon. Each walk has a maximum capacity of 20 people; tickets must be reserved through Brown Paper Tickets.
The ambassadors leading the routes largely chose neighborhoods they are familiar with. They also receive individualized training from the Jaramillos.
Feet First executive director Lisa Quinn is the walking ambassador for the Golden Gardens walk. She thinks that each leader is incorporating material from the book with his or her own personal research and experiences.
“I run [Golden Gardens],” Quinn said. “That’s my run, and so I’m really familiar with that walk. But now, I’m kind of looking through the lens of how Jake and Cathy have written in the book. I’m taking pieces of what they have written and interpreting it.”
“Seattle Stairway Walks” is a guidebook rich with history about Seattle’s stairways and the neighborhoods they are located in. The Jaramillos are drawn to the differences among them.
“Queen Anne tends to be more of the historical, architectural,” Cathy Jaramillo said. “But then if you go to Dead Horse Canyon in Rainier Beach, there’s a whole different history, and it’s more of the urban nature with Dead Horse Canyon reserve. So each walk has sort of a little bit of a different twist and a different story, just like the different neighborhoods.”
The importance of exploring the city by foot is a major feature of the book. The authors believe it allows for a unique understanding of a neighborhood that one can’t get from driving through.
“When we came to Seattle 12 years ago and we started exploring the neighborhoods,” Jake Jaramillo said, “we started discovering, ‘Ah, stairways,’ everywhere we went. And it became the entrée to each neighborhood for us. We just explored the stairways, and we discovered the neighborhoods.”
Feet First executive director Quinn hopes that the event will inspire more people to discover their outer neighborhoods through stairway walking. She notes that walking ambassadors can help inspire others to walk more.
“One of the barriers to walking is that people don’t have someone to walk with,” Quinn said. “So we can create that place for people — or a friendly person or a champion of walking — making a commitment to walking. We thought that an ambassador program might inspire them to want to walk more.”
Free events such as this one are part of a growing movement to increase the number of people walking as part of their routine.
“They may not have even known that there was a stairway that passed through their neighborhood that could connect them to another neighborhood,” Quinn said, “so staircases are just a really amazing part of our built environment that we sometimes overlook. I think it’s a really great way for us to have people rethink how they get around, using the places and spaces that connect themselves to other people and other neighborhood.”
This event celebrates a distinct form of urban exploration.
“We’ve found that stairways do exert a pull on people,” Jake Jaramillo said. “It’s not just us, and maybe it’s not even most people, but enough that we get that feedback that we find really satisfying.”
For more information about “Stairway Walks Day” visit feetfirst.org/act/stairway-walks. To learn about Jake and Cathy Jaramillo’s book, visit www.seattlestairwaywalks.com/.
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