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Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour

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608 1st Ave, Seattle, WA 98104
http://www.undergroundtour.com
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(206) 682-4646
 
A Little History:- The story of Bill Speidels Underground Tour begins in 1954. It really is the story of how Pioneer Square was saved, because the Underground Tour was the unanticipated product of this effort. By that year, Pioneer Square had fallen i...read more
A Little History:- The story of Bill Speidels Underground Tour begins in 1954. It really is the story of how Pioneer Square was saved, because the Underground Tour was the unanticipated product of this effort. By that year, Pioneer Square had fallen into such a state of disrepair few recognized it as the citys birthplace. It occurred to Bill Speidels wife, Shirley, that Bill, a publicist, could do some pro bono work for an idea that had come to interest them both. Why dont you get Pioneer Square restored? she asked him. I can do anything Shirley makes up her mind I can do, Bill Speidel later recalled. He set about learning all he could about Pioneer Square, and plotted to reverse decades of deterioration and neglect. Seattleites knew so little hometown history that the existence of passageways beneath the city was a local rumor sensible people didnt repeat. I poked around and said things to the newspapers like, Behold! and we must do something. They printed this stuff, Speidel said, prompting a letter to The Seattle Times newspaper inquiring about rumors that the ruins of early Seattle lay underneath its modern-day streets in Pioneer Square. Were there tours of the passageways? In one of its popular columns, the newspaper referred the inquiry to Speidel. We got 300 letters and a flock of telephone calls in the next two days, from people who had read the column and wanted to take a tour, Speidel said. Well, there I was with 300 people dying to take an underground tour and no underground tours to offer, he said. And they werent just 300 people who dashed off a letter and forgot about it. They were 300 people who tried to call me every day. So overwhelming was the response, he said, it was easier to find out whether there was a buried citywhich I sincerely doubtedthan to stay in the office and take all that abuse. At about the same time, Speidel was struck by a little controversy that had cropped up at City Hall. The Seattle City Council had voted tops for topless go-go dancers because 25 protest letters were sent in. I thought, what if I could get 300 letters sent in to the City Council demanding an ordinance designating Pioneer Square an historical site? Visitors on the tour could sign petitions. That would stop the ball-and-chain guys from knocking down more landmarks like the great old Seattle Hotel, at First Avenue and Yesler Way, replaced now by what is known around the neighborhood as, The Sinking Ship Garage. Speidel ultimately did find the remains of the city consumed in the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, a town founded on mostly soggy tideflats whose streets would, whenever the rains came, bloat deep enough with mud to consume dogs and small children. After the fire, which destroyed some 25 square blocks of mostly wooden buildings in the heart of Seattle, it was unanimously decided that all new construction must be of stone or brick masonry. The city also decided to rise up from the muck in which its original streets lay. It was this decision that created the Underground: The city built retaining walls, eight feet or higher, on either side of the old streets, filled in the space between the walls, and paved over the fill to effectively raise the streets, making them one story higher than the old sidewalks that still ran alongside them. Building owners, eager to capitalize on an 1890s economic boom, quickly rebuilt on the old, low, muddy ground where they had been before, unmindful of the fact that their first floor display windows and lobbies soon would become basements. Eventually, sidewalks bridged the gap between the new streets and the second story of buildings, leaving hollow tunnels (as high as 35 feet in some places) between the old and new sidewalks, and creating the passageways of todays Underground. Eight years after the fire, in 1897, the Yukon Gold Rush brought 100,000 adventurers through Seattle en route to Alaska. The resultant financial boom brought to Pioneer Square all manner of entrepreneurs, including ba
 
 

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A Little History:- The story of Bill Speidels Underground Tour begins in 1954. It really is the story of how Pioneer Square was saved, because the Underground Tour was the unanticipated product of this effort. By that year, Pioneer Square had fallen into such a state of disrepair few recognized it as the citys birthplace. It occurred to Bill Speidels wife, Shirley, that Bill, a publicist, could do some pro bono work for an idea that had come to interest them both. Why dont you get Pioneer Square restored? she asked him. I can do anything Shirley makes up her mind I can do, Bill Speidel later recalled. He set about learning all he could about Pioneer Square, and plotted to reverse decades of deterioration and neglect. Seattleites knew so little hometown history that the existence of passageways beneath the city was a local rumor sensible people didnt repeat. I poked around and said things to the newspapers like, Behold! and we must do something. They printed this stuff, Speidel said, prompting a letter to The Seattle Times newspaper inquiring about rumors that the ruins of early Seattle lay underneath its modern-day streets in Pioneer Square. Were there tours of the passageways? In one of its popular columns, the newspaper referred the inquiry to Speidel. We got 300 letters and a flock of telephone calls in the next two days, from people who had read the column and wanted to take a tour, Speidel said. Well, there I was with 300 people dying to take an underground tour and no underground tours to offer, he said. And they werent just 300 people who dashed off a letter and forgot about it. They were 300 people who tried to call me every day. So overwhelming was the response, he said, it was easier to find out whether there was a buried citywhich I sincerely doubtedthan to stay in the office and take all that abuse. At about the same time, Speidel was struck by a little controversy that had cropped up at City Hall. The Seattle City Council had voted tops for topless go-go dancers because 25 protest letters were sent in. I thought, what if I could get 300 letters sent in to the City Council demanding an ordinance designating Pioneer Square an historical site? Visitors on the tour could sign petitions. That would stop the ball-and-chain guys from knocking down more landmarks like the great old Seattle Hotel, at First Avenue and Yesler Way, replaced now by what is known around the neighborhood as, The Sinking Ship Garage. Speidel ultimately did find the remains of the city consumed in the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, a town founded on mostly soggy tideflats whose streets would, whenever the rains came, bloat deep enough with mud to consume dogs and small children. After the fire, which destroyed some 25 square blocks of mostly wooden buildings in the heart of Seattle, it was unanimously decided that all new construction must be of stone or brick masonry. The city also decided to rise up from the muck in which its original streets lay. It was this decision that created the Underground: The city built retaining walls, eight feet or higher, on either side of the old streets, filled in the space between the walls, and paved over the fill to effectively raise the streets, making them one story higher than the old sidewalks that still ran alongside them. Building owners, eager to capitalize on an 1890s economic boom, quickly rebuilt on the old, low, muddy ground where they had been before, unmindful of the fact that their first floor display windows and lobbies soon would become basements. Eventually, sidewalks bridged the gap between the new streets and the second story of buildings, leaving hollow tunnels (as high as 35 feet in some places) between the old and new sidewalks, and creating the passageways of todays Underground. Eight years after the fire, in 1897, the Yukon Gold Rush brought 100,000 adventurers through Seattle en route to Alaska. The resultant financial boom brought to Pioneer Square all manner of entrepreneurs, including ba