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Pioneer Square Station-the Pioneering Spirit

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Downloadable station map [.PDF 853kb] with art locations noted.

Pioneer Square Station

Pioneer Square Station's distinctive arched ceiling is quite a contrast from the sharp, square lines of University Street Station. It looks a bit like a cross between a cathedral and a turn-of-the-century train station.

Architect Jerry McDevitt designed the station with lead artist Kate Ericson. Under Third Avenue between Cherry Street and Yesler Way, Pioneer Square Station is perched on the edge of the historic Pioneer Square District and within a block of major government buildings. The station design uses many of the arched forms and materials from the surrounding neighborhood.

Rock around the clock

Pioneer Square Station has north and south mezzanines, similar to University Street Station. Looking at the edge of the mezzanines from the station platform, you can see two artifact clocks created by artists Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler. The clocks symbolically (and literally) build on the past and the present.

north clock south clock The north mezzanine clock is made of materials used to build the tunnel and stations-polished marble and granite, steel I-beams, electrical wire, galvanized pipes and metals. The clock numbers are hand tools used by workers who built the tunnel. The south mezzanine clock is made of materials found while the tunnel was being built-old cobblestones, cast-iron pipe, rough granite and brick.

The large bronze-colored grilles in the station ceiling are air supply ducts, and the white circles on the ceiling are sound baffling devices.

ariel view of tunnel station

Chief Sealth & Doc Maynard silhouette Quotations by two of Seattle's most famous pioneers are etched into the stair risers leading out of the northeast entrance on Third Avenue near James Street. In the first quotation, Chief Sealth asks the poignant question, "Why are you not afraid?" to which David "Doc" Maynard replies, "Look at the reason why." The quotations are in the entrance next to the site of the former Seattle Public Safety Building.

Chief Sealth's quotation is from a speech made in the summer of 1850 when he welcomed a party of American explorers, ending his speech asking, "We wonder why the Boston men should wander so far away from their home and come among so many Indians. Why are you not afraid?" Maynard's quotation is from a letter dated Jan. 1, 1854, written to his son explaining the benefits of living in Seattle.

granite wall granite wall The northwest exit in the Lyon Building on James Street near Third contains the words of Seattle activist Minnie Parkhurst written to pacifist Lousie Oliverean on April 3, 1918. Oliverean was in prison awaiting trial for sedition during World War I. Parkhurst's words are framed by rough-hewn granite walls and twisted girders created by sculptor Brian Goldbloom. The massive struts span the entrance and tilt out from the wall-arranged as if they are in motion.

The final bit of art to note at the Lyon Building entrance is the steel gates created by metal designer Jim Garrett.

steel gate steel gate

Big wheel no longer turning

On the south station mezzanine, you'll discover a large, metal flywheel. Metro contractors discovered the wheel while restoring Third Avenue after tunnel construction. It was in a concrete vault left over from part of Seattle's cable-car system that ran up Yesler Way at the turn of the century. The 11-foot-diameter cast-iron wheel-called a terminal sheave-stopped turning Aug. 9, 1940. It had been used to reverse the direction of the cable running the cable car up and down Yesler Way. A display next to the wheel gives details about the wheel and the cable-car system.

flywheel front flywheel side flywheel and display

The urban canyon

ceramic mural ceramic mural The southwest entrance to the station-in Prefontaine Park--is one of the most impressive in the system. An 8- by 50-foot ceramic mural designed and fabricated by artist Laura Sindell winds up the south wall of the entrance to Yesler Way and between Second and Third avenues. Sindell's work includes figures from a Salish Indian basket design and a marine architect's drawings of a dugout canoe. The design also incorporates an 1800s-vintage quilt pattern.

The quotation on the steps leading out of the entrance is by Seattle pioneer Arthur Denny from his 1888 book, Pioneer Days on Puget Sound. The quotation gives you a clue about what direction you are facing as you rise out of the station.

Standing guard at the top of the stairs (and peeking in from the surrounding grillwork) are distinctive human figures on a steel entrance gate. The figures were created by artist Garth Edwards. The artist's words best describe the work:

people gate

"I was thinking about the carved stone patrons and saints at the main doors of those big European cathedrals. One bus driver said, 'That's just what they look like lined up waiting for my bus.' So here they are, a cross between patron saints and curious commuters welcoming you to underground mass transit."

Working under the railroad

The S-shaped part of the tunnel between Pioneer Square and International District/Chinatown stations runs through the deepest point in the system, near South Main Street and Fifth Avenue South. It's the only point where the tunnel passes below sea level.

Interestingly, the tunnel also passes a mere four feet below the Burlington Northern Railroad tunnel-an active train thoroughfare passing under the city. The tunnel contractor stabilized the vintage tunnel, built in 1905, by injecting a chemical grout. This process created a solid concrete-like column between the transit and railroad tunnels.


Downloadable station map [.PDF 853kb] with art locations noted.

Updated: Dec. 14, 2007