The Mutual Life Building

{Pioneer Square}

The 1891 Mutual Life building across First Avenue S. sits on the approximate location of Henry Yesler's Cookhouse, the social and commercial center of early Seattle. It combines light-colored brick with a rough red sandstone base. The area to the west has been filled in so that the shoreline is now located farther away. The original low tide line was located approximately where Western Avenue is today.

The sidewalks in front of both the Mutual Life building and the Yesler building have glass insets in the sidewalk. These skylights provide light to the "underground Seattle" open spaces beneath the sidewalks. These areaways were created after the 1889 fire when the streets were raised a full story to combat flooding. Businesses operated in the lower level, with doors and windows opening into the areaways until the sidewalks above were completed. Most areaways are now closed or used for storage, but others have been incorporated into basements or businesses.

To learn more about this building, visit the City of Seattleā€™s historical sites page.

Listen to a podcast from the Pioneer Square Walking Tour.

First Avenue and Yesler Way (3mb mp3)

Find this building on our walking tour map. (680kb pdf)

Mutual Life Building, 1893
Mutual Life Building, photo by Joe Mabel

About us

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