The North Arcade at the Market has been in place for more than 100 years.
WE WILL BEGIN this little slice of Market history — the pie-shaped part squeezed between Western Avenue, on the left, and Pike Place, on the right — by imagining a clutter of shacks and sheds that were homes for the poor squatters who built them, beginning in the depressing years that followed the economic panic of 1893. Soon after three-block-long Pike Place was cut through that neighborhood of cribs and shanties, the Seattle City Council chose it as home for a public market.
That was in 1907, or roughly 13 years before Webster and Stevens, the photographic studio that was long associated with The Seattle Times, recorded this look north along the gracefully flexing line of the Market’s North Arcade. Originally Pike Place was intended and graded not to sell produce, but rather to connect Western Avenue with First Avenue at an easier grade than the shorter, but much steeper, climb that survives on Virginia Street.
A growing battery of motivated motorists discovered this friendly grade and became so habituated to its advantages that there followed a nearly quarter-century encounter on Pike Place between produce and internal combustion. Traffic from the waterfront came this way as much to reach the new retail district beyond the Market as to make deliveries along Pike Place. And the 300 yards of Pike Place also was used by barreling motorists to bypass the narrow business district and its increasingly congested avenues.
Work on the North Arcade began beside Pike Place soon after the Market opened, and was completed a few yards short of Virginia in 1911. As is obvious in both our “now” and our “then,” the width of this wedge-shaped block between Western Avenue and Pike Place narrows as it approaches Virginia Street, where those intending to head south must still negotiate a hairpin turn onto Western.
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To the left, in its afternoon shadow, stands the turreted Seamen’s Home, which was built in 1910 and survived into the early 1970s. At the photo’s center, or just beyond the far end of the North Arcade, the Armory marks the horizon with its roofline crenelations. Dedicated in 1909, it was razed to some protests in 1968. On the right, some of the signs above the shops on the east side of Pike Place reveal how this place — originally designed for the direct meeting of farmers and home cooks — accommodates what are apparently like-minded alliances, such as the Green Lake Farmers Association; the Washington Farmers Association; and the Family Shoe Market, “A Cut Price Shoe Store for Workers.”
Beneath its roof, the North Arcade’s nearly 600-foot-long run today shelters the busker-serenaded day stalls filled by farmers, craftspeople and merchants. Regardless of their prices, they collectively continue to make Pike Place Market a place that, during the Friends of the Market’s long struggle to save it a half-century ago, Seattle architect Fred Bassetti famously and lovingly described as “an honest place in a phony time.”