In Seattle Walks, David B. Williams weaves together the history, natural history, and architecture of Seattle to paint a complex, nuanced, and fascinating story. He shows us Seattle in a new light and gives us an appreciation of how the city has changed over time, how the past has influenced the present, and how nature is all around us—even in our urban landscape. With Williams as your knowledgeable and entertaining guide, encounter a new way to experience Seattle. Here Williams shows us some of his favorite hidden spots and surprising views of the city. Do you know them all?
Learn more about Washington’s urban history and celebrate the publication of Seattle Walks at these events:
April 30 at 4 p.m., Eagle Harbor Books, Bainbridge Island, WA
May 21 at 4 p.m., Village Books, Bellingham, WA
Scroll down to the bottom of the post to enter for a chance to win a free copy of the book (US residents only).
Discovery Park Terra-Cotta Figure – This is one of three terra-cotta figures, all of which came from the White-Henry-Stuart Block, which was destroyed in 1978 for the Rainier Tower. This one is in Discovery Park (Walk 9). Native American heads of the same design can also be seen on the Cobb Building downtown (1301 4th Avenue; Walk 5). With their feather headdresses, these figures are not based on local Native Americans, though they were made by a local craftsman, Victor Schneider, who worked at the Denny-Renton Clay and Coal Company. Schneider also created the terra-cotta triptych on the Seattle Times Building.
$15 million sundial – This small sundial is on the southeast corner of the house built by Samuel Hill, a lawyer and railroad executive who moved to Seattle in 1901 (E Highland Drive and Harvard Avenue E; Walk 13). Hill began work on his Capitol Hill home in 1908. The quote on the dial is from Rowland Hazard, a woolen manufacturer and friend of Hill’s from Rhode Island, who had a sundial on his house. The former Samuel Hill house is now on sale for $15 million.
Great Seattle Fire Plaque – One of several panels in Westlake Plaza created by school kids. The panels, based on geographic and historic questions and answers, are oriented in three rows each consisting of four question tiles and one answer tile. In case you don’t know the date, the answer is on a nearby panel (Walk 4).
Waah! – Located on the Interurban Building (167 Yesler Way), the carved figure was done by an unknown artist for an unknown reason (Walk 5). Perhaps it was a colleague or the carver was simply having fun. Walking Seattle’s downtown core reveals a vast urban safari of carved and molded creatures in stone and terra-cotta.
Octopus’ Garden – Artist Lezlie Jane designed several parks along Beach Drive SW, just south of Alki Point (Walk 17). This piece and a 32-foot-long tiled wall nearby highlight the nearshore wildlife in Puget Sound. The Constellation Park and Marine Reserve is also the best public place in the city to learn about the constellations visible from Seattle.
Seattle Skyline View from Dr. Jose Rizal Park – One of the surprising views from north Beacon Hill toward Seattle (Walk 14). The small green space became park property in 1971. Three years later members of the local Filipino community, part of which centered on Beacon Hill, worked with city local government to name the park in honor of Dr. Jose Rizal, a Filipino social reformer, ophthalmologist, poet, and novelist who was executed in 1896 by the Spanish colonial authorities in Manila when he was 35 years old. If you want the best views, come in winter when the park’s forest of red alders and bigleaf maples have dropped their leaves.
Last Bluff in Downtown Seattle – When settlers first arrived in Seattle, most of the shoreline surrounding Elliott Bay was high bluffs of sediment. This bluff is the last one remaining in the downtown area (2000 Alaskan Way at Lenora Street; Walk 1). If you imagine yourself here in 1850, just before the European settlers arrived, you would have been standing on the shoreline. Another way to consider this landscape is to realize that most of the land west of the fence did not exist in 1850. It is all made land, created primarily by the building of Seattle’s original seawall and the filling in of the area behind it with sediment.
Fremont Bridge – The view from Streissguth Gardens on west Capitol Hill (10th Avenue E and E Blaine Street; Walk 13). Started by the Streissguth family, the garden is now owned by the city.
View over Puget Sound – The hill with the brick building atop it on Alki Point exists because it is consists of a layer of 23- to 28-million-year-old sandstone, known as the Blakely Formation, that resisted erosion during the last ice age 16,400 years ago (55th Avenue SW and SW Charlestown Streets; Walk 17). Imagine standing here during the last movement of the Seattle Fault about 1,100 years ago, when the ground rose 20 feet. Prior to the earthquake, the mound would have been a seastack rising directly out of the water. Perhaps at very low tide, you could have walked across a beach to it. After the uplift though, the mound and its sandy surroundings would have been thrust up above the high-tide line to their present position.
David B. Williams is a freelance writer focused on the intersection of people and the natural world. His most recent book was Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography, which won the 2016 Virginia Marie Folkins Award, given by the Association of King County Historical Organizations to an outstanding historical publication. Other books include Stories in Stone: Travels Through Urban Geology and The Seattle Street-Smart Naturalist: Field Notes from the City. Williams is coauthor of Waterway: The Story of Seattle’s Locks and Ship Canal. He lives in Seattle and continues to explore and travel through the city by foot and by bike.