William and Sarah Bell landed at Alki Point with the Denny party in 1851. The following year they settled in today's Belltown, well north of the larger Pioneer Square settlement. Growth was slowed by the steepness of Denny Hill, which sat between the Bells' property and Pioneer Square. Population pressure after the 1897 Gold Rush forced the city northward.
Denny Hill was regraded (flattened), primarily by using hydraulic jets to sluice the soil into the bay. In 1898 the first of three regrades lowered First Avenue between Pike Street and Denny Way by 17 feet. The area west of First Avenue was not regraded, and its steep slope kept it largely industrial. The second regrade, between 1908 and 1911, leveled the land between Second and Fifth avenues, from Pine to Cedar streets.
The city regraded only the streets. Building owners had to hire their own contractors, so many pinnacles of land stood for years. The final regrading phase took place between 1928 and 1930, from Fifth Avenue east to Westlake Avenue, between Virginia and Harrison streets. The Depression halted the expected development, and much of the area remains parking lots today.
First Avenue and Virginia Street (1.9mb mp3)
Second Avenue and Blanchard Street (922kb mp3)
Find this building on our walking tour map. (680kb pdf)
This site is dedicated to the history of Seattle's downtown and waterfront, especially the State Route 99 / Alaskan Way Viaduct corridor. It was developed by the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration as an educational resource and as part of a Memorandum of Agreement for Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (pdf 1mb).
Copyright 2011 Washington State Department of Transportation