Seattle City Council votes for urban renewal of Pike Place Market on June 17, 1969.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 6/04/1999
  • Essay 1244
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On June 17, 1969, the Seattle City Council votes unanimously for urban renewal of the Pike Place Public Market and nearby buildings. All but a small portion of the Market was to be demolished for new garages, offices and, residential towers.

In 1963, the Central Association (later the Downtown Seattle Association) unveiled a plan to raze the Pike Place Public Market's nest of buildings and alleys and replace them with terraced garages and high-rise office and apartment buildings. By 1964, the "Pike Plaza Redevelopment Project" was integrated into Seattle's first application for federal Urban Renewal funds.

City Councilmember Wing Luke (1925-1965) quietly urged attorney Robert Ashley, architect Victor Steinbrueck (1911-1985), and other leaders of Allied Arts of Seattle to organize a public effort to take over the market before the bulldozers shifted into high gear.

Friends in Need

In September 1964, Ashley and Steinbrueck invited 60 sympathizers to a champagne breakfast at Lowell's Cafe in the Market to defend what architect Fred Bassetti called "an honest place in a phony time." The new group called itself "Friends of the Market" and sold books, buttons, and shopping bags to raise funds.

The support of influential friends such as Mark Tobey stayed the wrecking ball temporarily. The City's 1968 demolition of the nearby National Guard Armory on Western Avenue fed fears that the Market was next. Anxieties were not calmed when Mayor Dorm Braman (1901-1980) denounced the Market as "a decadent, somnolent firetrap."

Obstruction or Progress?

The City scaled back its urban renewal ambitions, but from the Friends' point of view, the concessions were trivial. Steinbrueck persuaded Washington's new Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, created by the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, to approve a 17-acre Pike Place Market Historic District that would block use of federal funds for demolition. Under pressure, the advisory council later shrank the District to 1.7 acres. In May 1971, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development gave the green light for urban renewal.

Retail Politics

The Friends then took to the streets with an initiative to create a seven-acre preservation zone, administered by a Market Historical Commission with broad powers for preserving not only the Market's physical structure but also its social and economic character. In three weeks, they collected 25,000 signatures to qualify the initiative for the November 2, 1971, ballot.

Mayor Wes Uhlman (b. 1935) and the city council offered an alternative for a smaller historic district and weaker enforcement, and this gained the support of some prominent Market merchants, such as deli owner Pete De Laurenti, who feared that the Market would stagnate without federal aid.

The campaign became a war between competing Market "saviors," but the voters sided with the Friends by 76,369 to 53,264. The City would ultimately invest more than $50 million, including federal Urban Renewal and Block Grant funds, to restore the Market.


Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (Seattle; University of Washington Press, 1995), 271, and National Trust Guide: Seattle (New York: John Wiley & Sons/Preservation Press, 1995), pp. 77-85. Updated August 16, 2006.

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