From the Bottom to the Top

It seemed that the Emerald City hop-on-hop-off trolley tour of Seattle wasn’t running yet last week, so Erin and I set about finding alternatives. At check-in, our hotel receptionist told Erin that the Smith Building was a better deal than the Space Needle for an overhead view of the entire city. A little Googling turned up Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour, so first, we went under the sidewalks to see the original Seattle. 

The current city was built on top of old Seattle after the great fire of 1889. Some of the Victorian remnants remain connected by tunnels below today’s shops and restaurants in the original neighbourhood of Pioneer Square. Parts are dimly lit and a little damp. You have to walk single file to access the rooms with exposed brick and relics such as teller cages from a former bank and hollowed wooden poles that once served as the city’s sewer pipes. Speidel began the tour in the 1970’s in hopes of convincing city administrators to preserve the historic neighbourhood and it worked.

our tour guide stands under a mosaic of manganese glass installed on the sidewalk above to allow some light into the underground

As you walk Seattle’s sidewalks you notice hundreds of these mosaics of what look like purple glass. Up top, you’d never know what they really were. They’re skylights made of manganese, and were designed to allow light into the underground. The tour guides were funny and fast. There wasn’t a dull moment. We learned that Seattle and Tacoma have a long-standing rivalry that dates way back to Tacoma getting the railway first. For fans of Corner Gas, it’s a little like Dog River and Woolerton (spit!).

After visiting the underbelly, we went up 35 stories to the 360-degree overhead view of Seattle from the Smith Building. Smith – as in Smith-Corona and Smith and Wesson – built the tower in the early 1900s and it’s still in use today as office space. They’ve devoted parts of two floors to company history, including some colourful tales of rum-running during prohibition. There’s a radio angle, too. The wife of a mobster hosted a radio show for children where she’d read kid’s stories peppered with code for the fellas to pick up and follow for the next drop of hootch.

An old-time switchboard rigged up to play audio reenactments of rum-runner conversations

After a ride in one of the original elevators, complete with a lift operator, you’re on top of the world.

part of the Seattle harbour from overhead, including a ferry dock

An overhead view of some of the city's historic buildings. A tiny bit of the Space Needle can be seen between skyscrapers

It’s quite safe but it’s still freaky to inch the iPhone between the bars and hope to not have a Lucy moment and drop it 35 stories.

Bars enclose the balcony

Travel Tip: A CAA membership card gets you about 20% off admission.

Back at street level, we visited our friends Macy and Ross and countless other department stores and shops. As I mentioned yesterday, Seattle is built on a slope so if you go, be prepared to trundle up a few steep hills. Our calf muscles came alive and we sent Erin’s FitBit step counter into uncharted territory.

As we waited for our ferry ride back to Victoria, what should pass us by except an Emerald City trolley – the one we thought wasn’t running yet. I sent them an email but haven’t received a response. Perhaps they didn’t take kindly to a gentle suggestion that their marketing plan needs an update? Who knows. Stay tuned!

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