Seattle's Sodo neighborhood is the subject of a fact-filled photo-history.

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‘Tideflats to Tomorrow: The History of Seattle’s SoDo’

by Dan Raley

Fairgreens, 138 pp., $29.95


Out of the ooze it rose — and back into the ooze it may well sink again.

As most locals know, Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood is built on tidal flats and fill that slosh around alarmingly whenever there’s an earthquake. Still, its seismic vulnerability and semi-amphibious nature haven’t stopped the area from playing key roles as the city’s industrial core, its port, its Hooverville during the Great Depression and, lately, its sports mecca.

Now it’s the subject of a the handsome photo-essay that Dan Raley, a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer writer, has put together.

The book touches on all aspects of the neighborhood’s history and character, from its earliest form as “protruding mounds and ridges of silt and sediment” that vanished at high tide to its contemporary incarnation as home to nightclubs, art galleries and coffee-retailer headquarters.

Raley includes profiles of the companies — Star Machinery/Star Rentals, Rainier Brewery, Sears & Roebuck and others — that have flourished in different eras in the neighborhood. And he uncovers factoids that reveal how much Sodo has shaped the fabric of other parts of our city. Millworking outfit O.B. Williams, for instance, supplied the 3,000 panels that line the beautiful interior of Benaroya Hall.

The name for the neighborhood was coined by journalist Peter Miller in 1979, although it took a long time to catch on. These days, Sodo — originally shorthand for “south of the Dome,” referring to the now-demolished Kingdome — stands for “south of downtown.”

Of all the phases in the neighborhood’s history, its eight-year stint as our local “Hooverville” may be the most interesting. Here the down and out lived in “waterfront homes”: shacks squeezed between what is now East Marginal Way and Elliott Bay.

“It was a hodgepodge of cardboard, corrugated stuff and whatever anybody could find or steal,” says Warren Cochrane, who used to ride past it on his way to work. “There was a certain amount of violence.”

And yet, Raley tells us, a sense of community developed within it. “Some residents grew vegetables and flowers around their residences,” he writes. “A local business provided … a large radio and speaker to keep everyone entertained.”

Where did all the fill come from that made tidal flats into something resembling solid land?

Well, those are Seattle’s whittled-down hills — regraded early in the last century — that were dumped there. But the solidity is an illusion.

The shakable soil goes down 95 feet in some places before it hits bedrock. During the 2001 earthquake, the First Avenue South premises of Peat Belting “slipped” 7 feet downward. And a few blocks away, the basement of Pacific Coast Feather still fills with saltwater at high tide.

Michael Upchurch: