Changes to Seattle Walks – Walk 3: Stories in Stone

One of the challenges of writing book of walks in Seattle is that the city changes. Buildings go up. Buildings get taken down. Roads are closed. Paths change. I have been pretty lucky in the walks I chose, except for one. One of the buildings (the base of the Rainier Tower) that I discuss in Walk 3 – Stories in Stone was torn down. Below is the fix for that walk, which we were able to incorporate in the third printing of the book.

Update map for Walk 3 - Stories in Stone
Updated map for Walk 3 – Stories in Stone, Seattle Walks

The change begins on Page 42 with the directions to Stop 4 and continues to stop Page 44 and the directions to Stop 6. Directions are in Bold.

Walk two blocks east to Fourth Avenue, turn right, walk four blocks south on the east side of the street, and cross Marion Street to the brick Rainier Club (810 Fourth Avenue). Turn left to look at the retaining wall that stairsteps up Marion.

(4) The cream-colored stone atop the brick walls of the Rainier Club is the Salem Limestone, quarried near Bedford, Indiana. It became popular following the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, when the fair’s White City helped make white the color for buildings. As far as I have been able to determine, the Salem is the only stone used in all 50 states, including structures such as the Empire State Building (amazingly, the hole where the stone was quarried still exists as no other stone has come out of it), the Pentagon, and more than 750 post offices. (The Salem also plays a central role in the movie Breaking Away.)

Deposition of the Salem occurred 300 to 330 million years ago in a shallow, clear, tropical sea, when what we think of the Midwest looked like the Bahamas. The warm waters supported a diverse range of swimming, crawling, and bottom-dwelling invertebrates. After dying their bodies collected in a watery cemetery on the sea floor, eventually solidifying into a 40-to-100-foot-thick stone menagerie. This matrix of corpses formed a limestone that cuts cleanly and evenly in all directions.

To see some of these fossils, look at the limestone blocks atop the retaining wall. The most common recognizable fossils are 1/8- to 1/3-inch-wide discs of crinoids, a relative of starfish and sand dollars that resemble plants with a root-like base, a flexible stem made of stacked discs, and a flower-like body. Another common fossil is from a colonial animal known as a bryozoan, which looks a bit like Rice Chex cereal. Wave action from long ago tides broke up most of the shells from the animals that plied the sea but careful investigation also reveals brachiopods, which look like clam shells, and ice-cone shaped corals.

Continue east on Marion one block to Fifth Avenue, turn right and walk to the F5 Tower (801 Fifth Avenue) at the end of the block.

(5) Like Rome, Seattle was built on seven hills. Both cities also share a building stone: a type of limestone known as travertine. Coincidentally, most of the travertine used in Seattle came from quarries in Tivoli, about 20 miles east of Rome. These quarries provided stone for the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Colonnade,in Rome, as well as the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the best known travertine-clad building in this country. All of the rock from the quarries formed less than 200,000 years ago with a peak around 80,000 years ago, making this some of the youngest stone in the building trade.

Unlike the Salem Limestone at the previous stop on the walk, travertine does not form in the sea. Instead, it precipitates from calcite-rich water expelled from springs or in caves. A modern example is Yellowstone National Park’s Mammoth Hot Springs where hot water rises through cracks and emerges in pools. When this occurs, the calcite in the water settles and accumulates layer upon layer. It can occur so quickly that a half-inch-thick bed can form in a single year, as opposed to marine-deposited limestone, which takes thousands of years to deposit an inch of calcite.

The stone panels in front of you are the bedding planes, or the area where the calcite accumulated. Small honeycombs cover many panels. The holes were once gas bubbles, which were coated so quickly in calcite that they turned to stone. If you look at the side, or edge, of the panels, you can see bedding planes.

Builders used travertine indoors and outdoors in Seattle, though no other building uses this style of bedding plane panels. All others use panels cut perpindicular to the bedding; these panels look a bit like layered Swiss cheese. You can see this type of panel clearly on the walk to the next stop, at the Pacific Building (720 Third Avenue). In other structures, like the Washington Federal Savings building (425 Pike Street), workers filled in the holes in the bedding. This is for preventative maintenance. In a colder location, such as Boston, water seeps into the cracks, freezes, expands and breaks the rock. Seattle’s moderate winter climate, however, has little effect on the travertine.

Turn right on Columbia Street, cross to the south side, and walk west to Third Avenue (location of Pacific Building). Turn left on Third and walk south to Cherry Street, turn right, or west and continue one block to Second Avenue. Turn left at Second and stay on the east side until you reach the Smith Tower (502-508 Second Avenue) at Yesler Way.

Lions and Tigers and Walruses, Oh my!

Do you ever have the feeling that you are being watched when you stroll through downtown streets? You are probably right. Hundreds of eyes peer out from buildings tracking your actions. These observers are neither human nor electronic. Instead, a host of animals watches you. A tour of any urban core reveals a veritable Noah’s Ark’s worth of carved and molded animals stalking your every step. Since I live in Seattle, I will share some of the beasts gracing our buildings.

The Times Square building (414 Stewart) is a good place to begin a downtown wildlife safari. Built in 1916, during the height of popularity for endowing buildings with animals, the wedge shaped structure sports 61 lion’s heads and 18 eagles. You might not notice them at first glance since none are lower than the fifth story. Keep in mind that this high elevation placement of wildlife typifies many structures.

Because of their symbolism as powerful, victorious, and noble animals, lions and eagles dominate the architectural menagerie. Six massive eagles stare out from the uppermost corners of the Washington Athletic Club and another half dozen with their wings outspread grace the Eagles Auditorium. If you look carefully, you can find more lions in Seattle than on the plains of Nigeria. Sixty feline heads loom out of the Seaboard Building (Fourth and Pike) while a parking garage at 1915 Second Avenue has a lion in profile. You can even see lions toting fruit at 1221 Second Avenue and find a zoological conundrum with a pride of lion reigning 14 stories up on the Alaska Building (Second and Cherry), which was Seattle’s first steel-framed skyscraper.

Animal ornamentation peaked between 1890 and 1940 in the heyday of terra cotta cladding in Seattle. Following Seattle’s Great Fire of 1889, architects turned to terra cotta as a cheap, light-weight, fireproof medium. In addition, because terra cotta was a molded clay block or brick, animals could be mass produced easily. Only four companies dominated the local industry and many downtown beasts probably originated from the same mold.

Architects often used animals to relay information about the building’s use. Over 20 dolphins adorn architect B. Marcus Priteca’s historic Crystal Swimming Pool (now the Crystal Pool skyscraper) at Second and Lenora, while a horse head protrudes out of what was the Pike Place Market Livery Stable (2200 Western Ave.)

And, of course, the best known of these motifs is found at Third and Cherry, where a phalanx of walrus heads decorate the Arctic Building, built in 1916 by Seattle’s first round of instantly rich folk to provide a suitable locale to banter about tales of the north. (I have been told that the original walrus heads displayed ivory tusks and that city officials removed them after the 1949 earthquake when one fell. I have never been able to verify this and hoped that in sharing this story someone might reply with additional information.) The tusks were remodeled after that quake. The most recent renovation, in 1997, returned the walruses to their original splendor, with terra cotta tusks.

Other animals found downtown include a metal bison, wolf, and bighorn sheep on planters at the base of the west side of what was the WaMu tower. Two goats and one cougar, as well as a pair of sheep and lions watch you enter the old Federal Building. Priteca also decorated the Coliseum Theater (Fifth and Pine) with 47 bull heads, festooned in bucolic splendor with pomegranates and grapes.

The old Chamber of Commerce building (215 Columbia St.), constructed in 1924, houses Seattle’s most diverse collection of real and mythical beasts. Two pelicans, a duck, and the ubiquitous eagle along with a gazelle, deer, bears, dolphins, and rams share space with two griffins and two hippocamps, a mythical beast with the forelegs of a horse and the tail of a dolphin. Poseidon and his wife supposedly rode these sea horses. In regard to the griffins, supposedly back in the day, a few folks called Seattle the Venice of America. Why anybody thought that, I haven’t a clue, but griffins are the symbol of Venice.

This structure was one of the final Seattle buildings elaborately embellished with wildlife. By the late 1930s, Modernism’s stark, brutish, unornamented surfaces had replaced the ornate style of terra cotta. Now, animals on Seattle buildings are only found in relict preserves. Happy hunting, no matter where you live.