Shipley On The Pergola

November 30th, 2009 @ 12:09 am by Cliffe | Sorted Historic Buildings |
Hello everyone, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving holiday and we able to cram as much food as I did. Today we’re back from vacation and I’m very happy once again to be able to feature the writing of Jonathan Shipley. If you missed his last piece on Fox Theater, click here. Today Jonathan writes on the Pioneer Square Pergola. Take it away Jonathan:
On a cold morning in the dawning days of the 21st century, a national historic landmark collapsed. It was 5:45 in the morning. The streets around Pioneer Square were quiet, dark, cold, as a man, Peter Benard, drove a US Xpress Enterprise truck. Inexperienced, he drove the 18-wheeler into a historic iron and glass pergola, destroying it. It coll apsed in a heap. The driver left unscathed and the truck didn’t have much damage at all. The pergola, the driver might have known after the reports starting leaking out about its destruction, after the TV news crews started to descend on Pioneer Square, was that it had been standing since the early days of the 20th century.

It was 1909 and Seattle was a’bustle. Workmen had just completed building the world’s largest artificial island, Harbor Island, at a stout 350 acres. In the International District, locals could see kabuki for the first time staged at the recently opened Nippon Kan Theater. The Anti-Tuberculos is League of King County is founded. The Sorrento Hotel opens, inviting guests of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. Suffragists hold a convention. John Miler is Seattle’s mayor. The Seattle Turks of the Northwestern League are winning baseball game after baseball game fielding stars like Lee Magee, Pug Bennett and Ralph Capron and, in Pioneer Square, on September 23, 1909, the “Queen Mary of the Johns” is opened ““ the nation’s most elaborately appointed underground restroom. Above the bathroom stood the pergola, used as both a stop for the Yesler and James Street Cable Car Company and as a graceful feature to the bathrooms below. The pillars in the pergola were hollow, used as ventilation for the bathrooms below.

It could accommodate 10,000 patrons a day. The underground toilets were of the highest class. “The man of travels will find nowhere in the Eastern hemisphere a sub-surface public comfort station equal in character to that which has recently been completed in the downtown district of Seattle,” noted Park Board secretary Rolland Cotterill. “In the United States there are very few that will be found equal to it.”

Indeed ““ for sub-surface public comfort stations it was unrivaled. Designed by MI T graduate Julian T. Everett, who also the architect of Seattle’s Leavington Hotel and the Pilgrim Congregational Church, and build by general contractor Thomas Flynn at a cost of $24,505.85, the bathrooms were elegant and extravagent. Underground, there were bathrooms for both men and women, both free and paid. The all included toilets, wash basins, urinals (for the men), and sinks. Both men and women could lounge in the anteroom that had oak chairs and shoeshine stands. Men could purchase cigars. The stalls were marble. The fixtures were brass. The walls were white-tiled and the floors were terrazzo. The toilets were flushed thousands of times a day, more on Sundays when the saloons closed.

And above that, the pergola sat. “The canopy is a combination of cast-iron posts with ornamental bent iron brackets, cornice and ridge line,” noted Seattle’s weekly publication Pacific Builder and Engineer. 65,000 total pounds of iron works were used in the pergola. The supporting columns weighed 500 pounds. The ventilation columns weighed 2,000 pounds. “The entire roof of the canopy,” the paper continued, “is covered with wire glass, which was installed by the Westlake Sheet Metal Works.”

The toilets were used again and again and again until World War II when they were closed and capped over. The pergola was restored in the early 1970s with a large donation from the Casey family. James Casey was one of the founders of United Parcel Service. UPS was established in Pioneer Square two years before the “Queen Mary of Johns” was opened. In 1977 the pergola, and the Tlingit totem pole nearby, were designated national landmarks. Then, in January of 2001 it was shattered to the ground. The company that caused the destruction helped pay for its restoration. That work fell to the Seidelhuber Iron and Bronze Works who used almost all the parts that had crumbled to the ground, welding pieces back together that broke apart, recasting salvaged pieces, reworking and redoing the entire structure.

The rebuild cost $3.9 million. Heidi Seidelhuber said at the reopening of the pergola in August of 2002, “The accident will have been a gift in disguise to the city if we can make the pergola survive longer because of the work we have done.” It will stand, then, in the 21st century and into the 22nd.

Jonathan Shipley
Pergola, Pioneer Square, Seattle, Washington. Photographed by Marion Dean Ross May 25, 1972. Photo courtesy University of Oregon Libraries, Architecture of Oregon & the Pacific Northwest.

18 Responses to “Shipley On The Pergola”

  1. Brycen says:

    Are there any photos of the bathrooms under the pergola?

  2. Ben Lukoff says:

    I’d love to see some. Not many people have been down there.

  3. I’m assuming that they (the toilets) are still there alongside the other parts of underground Pioneer Square. Who has jurisdiction of (and keys to) the portions of the underground that are not on Bill Seidel’s Doc Maynard’s tour? Cliffe, maybe you could wrangle a recon with your camera, and tell them you’ll need a shirpa for your tripod, so I can come too.

  4. Brycen says:

    I remember years ago talk of adding it to the underground tour. I found a small article from a decade ago. I guess it would cost too much to open it.

    It still would be great to get some photos.

    Here is the link to the story.

  5. Andy Bookwalter says:

    When I took the Underground Tour 5 or so years ago our guide hinted that access to the toilets was possible, and had been done in the past. Is it just city property? Maybe a tour could be put together as a fundraiser for historylink (or!) Someone must have an in with the city who could get us in there.

  6. Ben Lukoff says:

    It was my understanding that the building owners control access to the parts of the Underground that are essentially their basements, and that the city controls access to what’s beneath the streets and sidewalks. I would LOVE to see more of what’s down there.

  7. Seattle Greg says:

    While access to the voids under the sidewalk are usually the domain of the building owners, I believe the restrooms are city held.

    I have long wondeered after we spent some 5 million dollars on Super Porta Potties if for a lot less we could have renovated the old ones underground. In England, they restrooms often had attendents who were paid, and could garner tips for keeping them clean, tidy and stocked.

    For 5 million we could have not only renovated, but creat restroom attendant positions as a make jobs program or job entry program. Might serve well to handle the needs and the crowds.

  8. Colin says:

    you couldn’t pay me enough to protect a public toilet in downtown Seattle.

  9. Colin, we’re talking millions here. Name your price.

  10. Jonathan S says:

    So, gang, I’ve asked the city and the underground tour folks what’ll it take to open the bathrooms up again. I’ll keep you posted!

  11. Here’s a photo looking into the bathroom while they were rebuilding after the truck accident.
    Also, I actually built a 3D model of the comfort station which you can find here:
    You have to click on the “Related Content” photo gallery and go to the 6th photo.
    I have a more detailed graphic with all the info about what parts were for men and women, paid v. free, and so on. I’ll finish this up in more detail and submit it. It has all the textures and colors. I asked historylink if they wanted it and didn’t get a reply so I’m mad at them now. Hopefully VintageSeattle won’t leave me hanging. I was a news artist with the PI before they shut down and did all the research and work but it never ran in the paper, just that little bit with the above link.

  12. Brycen says:

    Thanks David for the picture and model. It answered some of the questions that I had. I would love to see your story. I am surprised that History Link didn’t get back with you.

  13. Nice post can i Translate to my Own Site

  14. Here is a better version of the graphic mentioned above.

  15. haven’t really read a blog like this quality in lonng time

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