We’re thrilled to be located in one the most enviable spots in all of Seattle: the Waterfront! Thanks to the likes of Big Bertha, and the city’s mission to revitalize the waterfront, this area is currently experiencing an incredible renaissance! It’s quite exciting to experience all the new changes and updates first hand. Yes, the Waterfront has changed quite a bit in recent years and at Cyrene we’re happy to be a part of this new era, but let’s be honest, the Waterfront never really stopped being the heart of Seattle. Some of the city’s finest institutions are located here, it’s home to some of the most iconic Seattle experiences and imagery, and it’s the center point of much of Seattle’s rich history. It’s impossible to talk about the history of Seattle without mentioning the role the Waterfront has played in the city’s development.

Now it’s the site of Cyrene Apartments, one of the newest additions to the area! At Cyrene, it’s our mission to share the experience of the Seattle Waterfront with as many as possible. But before we do that, we thought it appropriate to give you a quick breakdown of the history of the Seattle Waterfront in hopes that you’ll see what it is that makes this modern era particularly special.

Seattle’s Waterfront in the 2nd half of the 19th century

There is documented evidence of activity on the Seattle Waterfront long before the settlement that became the city of Seattle was ever established. It was the site of several Duwamish Tribe longhouses in the 1850’s. Chief Seattle’s daughter, known as Princess Angeline lived on the central waterfront until she died in 1896

Seattle’s Waterfront in the 2nd half of the 19th century

(Yesler and Crawford Wharves, 1882)

Henry Yesler, a prominent Seattle entrepreneur during the City’s infancy, established the first steam-powered saw mill on the Waterfront in 1852, which stimulated a lot of economic activity in the area. The Mill and it’s accompanying wharf were some of the most prominent structures on the Waterfront for decades until they were obliterated in the Great Seattle Fire of 1889.
The Great Seattle fire is an incredibly historic event in and of itself. Nearly 25 blocks of Seattle’s central business district, which included a significant portion of the Waterfront and Pioneer square, burnt to the ground. The ensuing damage prompted many Seattleites to quickly rebuild, and their efforts helped shape the Waterfront and the Seattle we know today.

The Waterfront’s Rise to Prominence

1897 was a big year for the Waterfront! Thanks to Reginald Thompson, the City’s Civil Engineer who’s credited for much of Seattle’s rebuilding that occurred after the Great Fire, the Waterfront received what’s since become known as the ‘Gold Rush’ layout that year.

The Lily Bogardus Warehouse now Pier 48 1900 seattle wa

(The Lily Bogardus Warehouse, now Pier 48, 1900)

More importantly however, was the arrival of the steamship Portland into Seattle’s harbor that also occurred in 1897. Having traveled from Alaska with a reported ‘Ton of Gold’, Portland’s arrival effectively kicked off the Klondike Gold Rush, establishing Seattle as the gateway to Alaska. This influx of would-be prospectors pulled Seattle out of the major recession following the Great Fire and initiated a period of growth that would last decades.

Colman Dock, the Cyrene Steamboat, and the HeyDay of Seattle’s Waterfront

Colman Dock, one of the most important piers on the Seattle Waterfront, originally burned in with the Great Seattle Fire, but was quickly rebuilt. Today, it’s known as pier 52, and if you’re planning on taking any of the Washington State Ferries, that’s where you disembark.

Interestingly, Colman Dock was originally responsible for our namesake here at Cyrene Apartments. We get our name for the Steamboat Cyrene, which was built in Colman Dock’s Boat yard sometime around 1891. The ship, which was in operation from its flagship year until 1912, and it’s still known as one of the most iconic symbols of the history of the Seattle Waterfront.

(Cyrene, 1909) Seattle WA

(Cyrene, 1909)

In 1904, the Great Northern Railway completed the tunnel beneath downtown Seattle, which removed many trains from the surface of the waterfront, and King Street Station and Union Street station were each completed in the following five years.

1907 saw the establishment of Pike Place Market when farmers who were fed up with the high markups charged by wholesalers began selling their produce there.

The 1910’s and 20’s are probably the most agreed upon ‘heyday’ of the Seattle Waterfront. Thanks to World War 1 and increased trade with Japan in and around that time, the waterfront and Seattle as a whole became one of the North America’s most active and important ports.

The Waterfront’s Decline

Though Seattle certainly felt the effects of the Great Depression, development on Seattle’s Waterfront never halted. By the time of World War II, many of the updates in shipping and quayside technology (including the use of forklifts) had rendered the “Gold Rush” period of the pier’s design completely obsolete, although Seattle continued to thrive as a whole.

A Shipbuilding boom and it’s ensuing workers poured into Seattle in a similar fashion as those that had done so during the gold rush of the late 1890’s. Additionally, Boeing aircraft becomes one of the cornerstones of the war effort on the homefront.

Although many new Waterfront renewal designs were submitted, none took hold, and by the 1950s, the Waterfront was no longer an important aspect of Seattle’s trade and shipping operations. Plus, with the completion of the Alaskan Way Viaduct in 1953, there was now both a physical and visual distinction between the Waterfront and the Downtown area, which further drove industry out of the area.

The 1960s, Onward

With much of the shipping and industry that was once associated with Seattle’s Waterfront moving elsewhere, Seattle’s Waterfront started to be considered for it’s importance as a tourist destination. Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe and Ivar’s Clams (both of which were established year’s prior) became some of the most popular Waterfront attractions in the early 60’s.

(Colman Dock, 1962) Seattle WA

(Colman Dock, 1962)

1962 was another big year for Seattle as a whole. The Century 21 World’s Fair ran for 6 months in town that year, bringing along with it 10 million visitors. The Space Needle, the Monorail, and the Pacific Science Center are all remnants of the World’s Fair that year.

The Current State of Seattle’s Waterfront

Since the 1960’s the Waterfront has served as tourist hub for the city, offering both visitors and longtime residents fun new experiences. If you’re interested in some of the fun to be had on Seattle’s Waterfront, read our recent blog about the Top Seattle Waterfront activities.

2001 was an interesting year; the Nisqually Earthquake hit that year, revealing that the Viaduct was altogether structurally unsound, and that the Elliott Bay Seawall was in a very poor state. It has taken awhile since then, but now the Seawall is being rebuilt and the Viaduct is being torn down and replaced by a substreet tunnel that’s currently being bored by Big Bertha. If you’ve followed Seattle news at recently, you’ve likely heard about Big Bertha, the massive drill that’s cranking away underneath Seattle, and all the lengthy delays that have ensued. But it takes time to overhaul one of the city’s main thoroughfares, and at Cyrene, we know that once the viaduct is officially gone, the city will be better for it, so we can be patient.

(Olympic Sculpture Park) Seattle WA

(Olympic Sculpture Park)

A lot is currently happening in the area. Thanks to the Waterfront Seattle program, Seattle’s waterfront is currently undergoing a very real transformation. Capitalizing on the on the opportunity created by the removal of the viaduct, and the replacement of the Seawall, the Waterfront Seattle program is aiming to entirely transform the area for the benefit of the public. The waterfront will span from Pioneer Square to Belltown and bring with it twenty new acres of improved public space, along with improved connections between the city center and Elliott Bay. There will also be updates on crucial utility infrastructure and new surface streets to accommodate all modes of travel.

The Waterfront Seattle Program

(Proposed Waterfront Plan, courtesy of The Waterfront Seattle Program)

The Waterfront Seattle program is currently working on many interesting projects in the Waterfront – if you’re curious about what they’re up to, make sure to check out their website.

The revitalization of the Waterfront is extremely promising for the area but also for Seattle in general. There’s been a lot of talk about Cyrene’s place in the new waterfront, and we like to think that we’re emblematic of the possibilities that the Seattle Waterfront holds for the future of the city.

That’s why we chose the name Cyrene – it’s a name that harkens back to Seattle’s rich history, and we want to carry that legacy forward into the future by sharing the magic of this particular corner of the Emerald City with as many as possible.

If you’re interested in joining the community at Cyrene and experiencing the best of what Seattle’s Waterfront has to offer, get in touch today!