Time Travel in Seattle, Underground Tour
Time travel is not just an idea in Seattle. You can actually trace back 100 years by traveling to the famous underground city.
A group of people are walking along a dark, musty underground path, relying on dim lights. They are taking steps cautiously, trying to avoid broken telephone pieces and deserted wagons blocking the road. A person who filmed such images with a wide-angle spectrum camera said it was as if the scene had been taken from a thriller movie, for some reason. It all took place during the Underground Tour in Seattle.
The Great Seattle Fire
It was a fine day in Seattle on June 6, 1889. With the humidity staying low and temperature a little over 20℃, the air couldn’t be crisper. At 2:15 pm, however,  a spark caused by an overturned pot of glue in a carpentry shop near 1st Avenue single-handedly turned Seattle into a burning inferno. People who were in the building quickly evacuated the place, but the once finest weather provided the optimal condition to spread the blaze. When firefighters arrived at the scene about 30 minutes later, the situation was already out of control. Buildings in downtown Seattle, which was a growing center of the lumber industry, were burned down to bare bones.
The water supply system of Seattle at that time was operated by Spring Hill Water Supply Corporation, a private company, and fire hydrants were scarcely located in the affected area. Making it worse, the low water pressure made it a challenge to draw water from nearby areas. The fire continued till 3am the next day, and was witnessed in neighboring cities. Almost all 30 blocks in the downtown area were completely incinerated. Over 1 million rodents were estimated to have been killed. Human casualties were kept at the minimum level, luckily. Nevertheless, thousands of people lost their homes and over 5,000 lost their jobs as well.

Heyday After Restoration
The Great Seattle Fire destroyed downtown Seattle entirely, but people of Seattle used the opportunity to rebuild their city. On June 7 some 600 entrepreneurs based in Seattle got together to discuss  solutions in the aftermath of the fire. The city’s restoration committee began addressing the issues Seattle had been faced with. For example, Seattle was located on a coastal hillside which could be greatly affected by tides. The city’s plumbing system needed to be overhauled as citizens often had to experience sewer flooding at high tide.
Being the region’s sawmill center, Seattle had a lot of wooden structures. However, the Great Fire led to the new mandate that would require the use of brick as the new building material in the area affected by the incident. The road conditions were not too great to begin with because Seattle was situated on a higher ground. By turning the ground floors of the burned-down properties into underground spaces, the streets were elevated by an average 6.7m to form the flatter ground of the present day. In just three months after the fire broke out, a more capable fire department was established. The water supply and sewage system was overhauled. Wooden pipes were replaced with metal ones, while more fire hydrants were installed.

After the Great Fire, Seattle became an outpost for the new gold rush that had begun with the discovery of gold in Yukon, Alaska in 1897. Approximately 70,000-100,000 explorers flocked to Pioneer Square in the center of Seattle. The city quickly regained energy and liveliness. The Yukon effect was not all positive. The city center attracted adult entertainment businesses, which drove wealthy residents out to a residential district in uptown Seattle for a better living environment.
The old downtown featured split-level building structures. After the Great Fire, the city was rebuilt on an elevated ground, but the old ground levels still remained under the bustling city, keeping the burnt marks from the past close to the original appearance. Back then, Seattlites would use the basement as storage space or even living quarters. After the gold rush to Alaska ended and rich people relocated to uptown, the underground space became decrepit and deserted.
Seattle continued to grow and transform. With World War II, it became a major munitions city in the Pacific region. Then, it became a technology center with the headquarters of IT giants such as Microsoft and Amazon relocating there. The underground gradually disappeared from the minds of people.

Revived by Bill and Shirley Speidel
In the 1950s’ U.S. where the economy was booming, the owners of old downtown Seattle buildings sought financial gains riding the wind of urban redevelopment. It was, however, stopped by the City Council which adopted a new ordinance preserving historic sites. Bill and Shirley Speidels played central roles in keeping the history of Seattle alive. Bill, who was born in Seattle, had been a columnist for 10 years after graduating from a university. In 1946, he started his own business at Pioneer Square. Bill and Shirley, who admired the old Seattle vibe, wanted to revive the giant corridor lying under the square. The corridor presented scenes from the bygone era of Seattle.

Bill wrote a column for on the topic of opening up the underground city for tour programs, drawing much public attention, including over 300 letters and phone calls in two days’ time. Bill and Shirley, along with 300 volunteers, submitted a petition to the City of Seattle about restoring the underground. They eventually received the green light for their plan of restoration and introduction of a tour program. In 1965, the Junior Chamber of Commerce launched ‘Know Your Seattle Day’ and suggested that the Speidels conduct the tour for a day at a dollar a person. The first tour was attended by 500 people. A time travel back to the early, burgeoning days of Seattle had a historic significance and a high potential to become a successful tourist item.
That’s how the city’s ‘Underground Tour’ came about. The program’s popularity grew day after day, perhaps naturally since it was becoming an older past as time went by. In 1988, Bill died of a stroke at age 76, but ‘Underground Tour’ continued on. It is now one of the must-see travel destinations of Seattle. Its visitors come from all over the world.

Experiencing Fun Historic Tour
You can attend the tour by booking a ticket on the website or at Pioneer Place Park. The 75-minute walking tour departs from Doc Maynard’s Public House, a residence of one of the founders of Seattle. The tour guide gives you a 20-minute rundown on the history of Seattle in its beginning days, blending in humor here and there. Now you enter the town that only partially remains. From the ground level to the underground, you get a chance to survey the style of living in the 1900s. About the time when Korea was going through a turmoil between the Joseon Dynasty and Daehan Jeguk, Americans were using the modern flush toilet system. Some parts of the tunnel have thick glass ceilings, letting the sunlight in through to the underground. The glass ceilings(streets on the other side) are what’s left of the restoration after the Great Fire. They were designed to maximize natural light during the regrade.
There are lights installed for the tour program, but parts of the tunnel that are still dark cause a spooky sensation. Viewing authentic vintage tables, chairs, typewriters, and sewing machines, you soon reach the gift shop.
It’s now time to come out of the past and return to the present. You have probably been waiting for this moment to rest your legs tired from walking up and down the underground stairs, at your cozy, 21st-century hotel room. LOTTE HOTEL SEATTLE is right in the vicinity.

Underground Tour
 9:00-19:00(April-September) / 10:00-18:00(October-March)

Where to Stay in Seattle: LOTTE HOTEL SEATTLE
Opened in September 2020, LOTTE HOTEL SEATTLE is located in the 44-story building on 5th Avenue in Seattle’s Midtown. The building’s glassy façade mirrors sunlight and the surrounding area. Creative designs with a modern flair in 189 rooms and suites were inspired by the beautiful natural landscape of Seattle. The hotel stands close to some of the major tourist destinations of the city, such as Space Needle, Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market. LOTTE HOTEL SEATTLE is an emerging landmark of the city, perfect for both business travelers and tourists.

Address 809 5th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104
Phone +1-206-800-8110
June 2022 Editor:Lee Youngju
Writer:Yi Joonghan

Where to stay?

  • June 2022
  • Editor: Lee Youngju
    Writer: Yi Joonghan
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