In its tile-lined floors and bustling corridors, Pike Place Market has provided a space throughout its 114-year history for farm-fresh goods, local art, community resources and more. But the Market is more than just a place to get quirky gifts or watch fish get thrown about: It holds a deep history bound to downtown Seattle — one that just 50 years ago faced a decision that almost changed the future of the Market forever.
In the 1960s, government officials and large corporations in Seattle were laying the groundwork to propel the downtown neighborhood into the future on the heels of the1962 World’s Fair. At the same time, processed foods and grocery stores were growing in popularity, and many people who could afford to move out of the downtown sphere did, leaving the neighborhood in a state of sharp economic decline and physical decay.
And Pike Place Market was not quite the shining jewel that it is today. Like everything else downtown, it badly needed repairs and consequently seemed like the perfect place to demolish in the name of modernization and urban renewal.
“Luckily, a group of urban planners at the University of Washington and local citizen advocates believed that that was not the right solution to help address what was primarily a social problem in our city,” said Patricia Gray, community relations manager at Pike Place Market Foundation.
This grassroots movement to preserve a market “full of history and stories and meaning for the people of Seattle” started a seven-year legal battle between community members (organized under the name Friends of the Market) and the big businesses in downtown that started their own counter campaign to demolish the Market, she said.
The counter campaign was ironically named “Saving the Market,” although its supporters envisioned tearing down the existing Pike Place Market to make room for luxury apartments, a hotel, a parking garage and office spaces. Where did the new Pike Place Market fit in that plan? Well, it barely did — a plan for a small re-envisioned marketplace was the only nod to its predecessor.
“These citizen advocates overcame a lot of powerful people and money in the city to convince voters that Pike Place Market was worth saving, and luckily — when it came down to election night on Nov. 2, 1971 — voters agreed that we should preserve the Market,” Gray said.
When voters saved Pike Place Market in a 59% to 41% vote in the 1971 “Let’s Keep the Market” initiative, it was the first time a historic landmark district wrote a charter that dedicated a physical place to an actual purpose. “And the purpose was that the Market will always be here for farmers, for small businesses and to support a low-income community, especially seniors living in downtown Seattle,” Gray said.
“The Market is so much more than people realize. On the surface, people fall in love with the Market because of the fish and the flowers and the amazing foods that you can get there. But if you stop and look back at what you’re witnessing, it’s a whole community of people who are like one big family at Pike Place Market, and customers become part of that family. It’s one of the few places where you get the human interaction of community in a shopping place,” she said.
To mark the 50th anniversary of saving Pike Place Market, the Market’s traditional fall festival will transform into a semicentennial celebration of the landmark 1971 initiative.
“Part of this anniversary celebration is we want to inspire people by educating them about the deep history of the Market and that it really has taken people — over the 114-year history now — to make it what it is today,” Gray said.
Find more information, including COVID-19 requirements, at: pikeplacemarket.org
Here are some events happening 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23, at Pike Place Market to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the “Let’s Keep the Market” initiative. The events are expected to take place throughout the Market, except where otherwise indicated.
“Labor of Love: Saving Pike Place Market”
This 30-minute documentary about the 1971 battle to save Pike Place Market from the wrecking ball takes place on the hour every hour (11 a.m.-4 p.m.) in Market Theatre at Unexpected Productions. The documentary is also airing on KOMO TV Nov. 7 (3:30 p.m.), Nov. 26 (9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.) and Dec. 25 (9:30 p.m.). Purchase tickets online; $12-$50. 1428 Post Alley, Seattle; pikeplacemarketfoundation.org
Augmented reality pop-up murals
Two augmented-reality murals, created by Market artists Kate Endle and Mallory Milke, are available for visitors to interact with and share on social media. Free.
Market history tours
Friends of the Market hosts a tour every hour on the hour (9 a.m.-4 p.m.) to invite visitors to learn more about the Market. Free.
Live mural painting
Market artist Rosie Ferne will create a mural with a special twist on historic images of citizens advocating for the Market 50 years ago. Free.
Head to the MarketFront Pavilion and watch farmers from Windy Acre Farm host several farm-to-table cooking demos. Free.
Leave your mark on the Market
Channel the energy of saving the Market and design your own picketing sign or Market message in the DownUnder level of Pike Place Market. Once participants have their message complete, they are invited to paste it on the free speech wall. Free.
Live music will be performed throughout the day at the Farm Truck. Enjoy music from Jeannie Rak at 11 a.m.; Greg Paul at noon; Carly Ann Calbero at 1 p.m.; Kevin Buster, Robin Kallsen and Rich Hinrichsen at 2 p.m.; and Sofia Mae and Aaron Harmonson at 3 p.m. Free.