Dark, Narrow, Scary—No more!
The transformation of the historic Pioneer Square’s Nord and Pioneer Passage alleys has created an active and engaging new public space that directly connects Pioneer Square Park, Occidental Park and the First Hill streetcar. It wasn’t always this way.
Way, way back the area was marshland. It's layers of sawdust, ship ballast and debris from burnt buildings and paving projects. It was home to brothels and speak easies, warehouses and merchants. But over time, building entrances that opened to the alleys were boarded over, windows were shuttered and businesses fortified against a public space that they feared.
The challenge was to create a design that upheld the historic district’s design standards, accommodated the many uses of urban alleys and propelled the alleys’ role as community gathering spaces capable of hosting public events. So why not turn the buildings around, literally (almost)? The Richardson Romanesque façades offered a palette of manufactured clay brick and hand carved stone. Combine those with contemporary ADA-compliant pavers to create a durable, continuous paved surface. Uncover historic doorways. The accessible aisle combines with peripheral spaces that host services and programmed events. And mixing zones make the alleys feel less like a narrow, intimidating corridor and more modulated and articulated.
Walk through the alleys today and you’ll smell the tacos served at an outdoor bar, hear a wedding party’s laughter from the alley-facing event space, feel the heat as craftspeople pull molten glass and watch mechanics fixing bikes in their back-alley shop.
The alleys reveal the power of well-designed spaces to connect place and people in vibrant new ways. The spatial, material and technical strategies developed now define a new alley language for an additional 17 alleys waiting to be transformed, available in the Pioneer Square Alleys Design Manual.