UW Press issues a history of Pioneer Square

A new release from the University of Washington Press, "Pioneer Square: Seattle's Oldest Neighborhood," should appeal to local history buffs.

The trove of vintage photographs includes an image of the 1953 construction mess as the Alaskan Way Viaduct was being built - maybe an image of the future in reverse someday.

The book's authorship is various. Mildred Tanner Andrews, an award-winning writer specializing in Northwest social history and historic preservation, edited the volume. Leonard Garfield, executive director of the Museum of History and Industry, wrote the introduction. There are three writers: Karen Murr Link, historic preservationist and author; Marc Blackburn, a park ranger with the National Park Service; and Dana Cox, long-time tour guide and historian with Pioneer Square's Underground Tour.

The result of such a group project makes one long for the vigorous prose and storytelling prowess of a Murray Morgan, but ultimately, that may be an unfair expectation. The book certainly succeeds in what it sets out to do: Document and illustrate Pioneer Square's past and give us a renewed appreciation for what once was the heart of the city.

For if Alki was Seattle's Plymouth Rock, the flats of Pioneer Square was the venue of this city's real beginnings.

Revisiting Pioneer Square's past, too, comes at an especially propitious time, when its nightlife is drawing the police and the press. Many Seattlelites, except for sporting events, have abandoned the venerable neighborhood to the tourists.

When's the last time a long-time Seattleite sat under the pergola with a cup of coffee (or went up the Space Needle, for that matter)?

Anyone happening upon the neighborhood from the Yesler heights, for instance, looking down on Pioneer Square's brick bones outlined against the blue harbor and distant Olympics can't help but be stunned by its beauty and charm and historical veracity - a feeling of, "Yes, that's how it was."

There's a wide cast of characters between the 256 pages: from Joe Hill, Rutherford B. Hayes and Houdini to Linda Farris and Greg Kucera.

And there are details like this that speak volumes: "Although the war revitalized the railroads, it had a devastating impact on some of their most dedicated employees. Union Station replaced its Japanese-American redcaps with African Americans; King Street station replaced them with Filipinos, who wore large badges reading "Filipino."

The authors have done their homework.

"Pioneer Square: Seattle's Oldest Neighborhood." University of Washington Press, 2005. 256 pages, 125 illustrations, $29.95 paper.

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