Seattle's King Street Station Gets a New Plaza

Posted on: June 30th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

Written by Ric Cochrane

Residents and travellers admiring the new plaza and seating area. (Photo: Ric Cochrane)

Last Friday, the Green Lab attended the grand opening of the new Jackson Plaza at King Street Station. Jackson Plaza’s restoration marks a major milestone for the multi-year renovation of this iconic train depot that is being restored as the transportation hub of downtown Seattle. Built between 1904 and 1906, the depot is a Seattle landmark. Its 242-foot tower was modeled after Campanile di San Marco in Venice, Italy, and it was the tallest building in Seattle at the time of its construction. Jackson Plaza was always meant to be an arrival point for the depot, but as the depot fell into disrepair, the concrete and asphalt decking of the plaza was blocked off and the steel supporting beams rusted through - not exactly the welcoming plaza it was intended to be!

Now restored to its original function as a transition from the bustle of the city and Pioneer Square, the renovated plaza is a city-wide cause for celebration. King Street Station is the anchor for the entire South Downtown area, which includes Pioneer Square, the Chinatown/International District, and the Stadium North Lot - which is being redeveloped by Daniels Development as a mixed-use community that will bring new residents and businesses to what is now a massive parking lot for CenturyLink Field and Safeco Field. Restoration of the plaza is a boon to the entire neighborhood.

It's hard to believe that this is what the "plaza" used to look like! (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

The grand opening ceremony was attended by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn (arriving, as always, by bicycle); Linda Gehrke, Deputy Regional Administrator, Federal Transit Administration; Lorne McConachie, Chair of the Pioneer Square Preservation Board; and Leslie Smith of the Alliance for Pioneer Square.

“The investment in historic King Street Station is part of Seattle’s transit future,” Mayor McGinn said. “King Street Station will feature Amtrak long distance rail, Sound Transit commuter rail and Amtrak intercity coaches, along with access to Sound Transit light rail, Metro buses and the future First Hill Streetcar, all within walking distance of several Seattle neighborhoods.”

Seeing people strolling and sitting in the new plaza, with crushed limestone under foot and a noncommittal sun teasing the assembled crowd, it’s easy to envision the plaza once again being a gathering point, a place for sad goodbyes and happy reunions, as well as a neighborhood amenity for the office tenants, residents, and tourists that fill Pioneer Square each day.

The plaza has been rebuilt to current seismic codes and has been converted into a true pedestrian zone - increasing public and green space in Pioneer Square. Buried under the plaza are 36 geothermal wells supplying heating and cooling to the first floor of King Street Station. Granite was salvaged from an old building foundation to repair the granite balustrade that flanks the plaza and form new seating benches. The plaza was deconstructed instead of demolished, allowing for 98 percent of material to be recycled.

The construction cost for this phase of the King Street Station Restoration Project was about $15 million and was financed in partnership with the above agencies and funding sources. The next major milestone is in early September with the reopening of the fully rehabilitated grand staircase linking Jackson Plaza to the track-level station entrance on King Street. The Green Lab is writing a detailed case study of the energy efficiency retrofit strategies being employed to bring the station up to a performance level 50 percent better than average buildings with similar programs – all while preserving and restoring the remarkable character of the station.

Congratulations to the City of Seattle – as well as its partners and funding agencies - for this wonderful accomplishment!

See more photos at the Seattle Department of Transportation's website.

Ric Cochrane is a Project Manager at the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Preservation Green Lab.

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One Response

  1. James Porterfield

    July 1, 2011

    Delighted to see more progress on the restoration of this urban gem. It belongs on the list of restored major city train stations, right there with Portland, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and others.