When I moved to Seattle in 1984, I landed my first job in the Pacific Northwest — as live-in staff at Sacred Heart Shelter on Queen Anne. The job paid little, but that didn’t matter a whole lot to me, because I’d fallen head over heels in love.
From the first moment I laid eyes on it, I was in love with Pike Place Market: the iconic red neon sign and clock face, the fishy smell that wafted up from the vendors tossing their wares and calling out like carnival barkers, the cobblestone streets, the palpable sense of history and, behind it all, the staggering, enduring Salish Sea.
More than any other space in the city, the Market was — and still is — a magnetic creative commons, a microcosm of the city where a diverse cross-section of humanity finds community, and where on even the thinnest of dimes, you can still wander among artisans, artists and activists and soak up music from buskers. Among that diverse sea of humanity was — and is — the city’s homeless, among them Indigenous people who have struggled through waves of removal to keep a foothold on their ancestral lands. For decades at least, the Market has been a space where homeless and low-income people were welcome, where they could congregate, check out the art — or practice their own — and rest without being criminalized, harassed and swept out.
But that rich tradition is now under threat from the plan to demolish the historic Hahn Building at First and Pike streets and replace it with a 14-story hotel. The Hahn, which dates back to the 1880s, is also home to the Green Tortoise Hostel that, at $35 a night, is a precious resource for low-income travelers.
The good news is that on Jan. 20, a group called “Save the Market Entrance” filed an appeal to stop the construction based on a host of anticipated adverse impacts the Design Review Board failed to consider, including increased traffic and parking congestion and safety threats for pedestrians and bicyclists. The appeal notes that the Hahn “has recently been nominated for a landmark designation” and the proposed building is an “out of scale, modern, glass tower” that “will destroy this culturally important intersection in Seattle,” diminishing “the cultural experience for millions of visitors who come to Pike Place Market every year.”
Thousands of letters and emails have been submitted in defense of the Hahn and the Market — many of them love letters — by people who cannot fathom sacrificing the architecture of the Market to yet another sterile high rise. The 14-story hotel would, moreover, privatize a good section of the view of the Sound, offering it as the exclusive purview of the hotel’s paying customers. The hotel, with its well-heeled clientele, would no doubt also come with private security guards who, with guidance from the developers and owners, would have their own ideas about how the Market should be policed, who belongs and who needs to move along.
The hotel fundamentally endangers the identity of the Market as a space where people of all socioeconomic backgrounds can mingle and feel welcome.
Joe Martin, co-founder of the Pike Market Medical Clinic and a frequent Real Change contributor, feels strongly about preserving the Hahn. Martin adamantly supports the fight to preserve the Showbox, which was recently awarded landmark status, while believing the Hahn is especially significant because it’s a residence. Martin observed, “First Avenue was part of the historic Skid Road community that dates back a century. The Hahn is a vestige — it’s a part of that character, that history.”
Like it or not, connection to that history and to the diverse people who find community at the marketplace against a blue backdrop of the Sound is what continues to draw millions of tourists to the city annually.
In the 1960s, as The Seattle Times has reported, Professor Victor Steinbrueck helped mobilize a grassroots campaign to preserve the Market when it was similarly under assault by developers.
They did it then, and we can do it now. Keep the pressure on. Call the mayor and City Council and tell them to vote to broaden the landmark designation beyond the Showbox to the Hahn. While you’re at it, why not take a few minutes to contact Marketview Place Associates and Stellar Holdings and tell them what you think of their plans to pave — and privatize — paradise? If you love the Market, now’s the time to show it.
Desiree Hellegers is an associate professor with the Collective for Social and Environmental Justice at Washington State University Vancouver. She recently completed a play, “The Eye of the Needle,” based on her book “No Room of Her Own: Women’s Stories of Homelessness, Life, Death and Resistance” about Seattle’s WHEEL/Women in Black vigils and death on the street.
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