Antique Shopping in Pioneer Square

November 18, 2014 by  

pioneer-squareMy mother came to stay recently, and knowing that she really loved ‘antiquing’ I wondered where best to take her.  Surely Seattle’s oldest neighborhood would have antique shops?  So off we went to explore Pioneer Square, and we sure got more than we bargained for!

We left behind the hustle and bustle of city life, and decided we’d really try to see Pioneer Square as it should be, as close to its 19th century origins as possible.  We started off with a ride in a horse drawn buggy, and the sound of the horse’s hooves on the street took us back to what the square must have been like with the sounds and smells of Victorian life rattling around, trapped between the imposing architecture. We were shown the Tlingit totem pole, told about the great fire of 1889, and were dropped off under the old pergola which has provided shelter to streetcar passengers since 1905.  As we walked under the intricate iron work and glass panels, I remarked that this is what it must be like to be in a birdcage.
We’d forgotten all about the antique shops, since we were walking right through Seattle’s history. There’s no evidence of the great fire here, except for a possibly coincidental but very fitting memorial to fallen firefighters, made of life size bronze statues of firefighters in action.  We sat on the square, sipping very modern lattés.  We marveled at the totem poles, which now seemed out of place in the city, but which somehow brought a sense of peace and tranquility.

Suitably refreshed, we set off to find some antiques.  Right on the square, down a few steps, looked like a promising shop.  What a surprise met us when we ventured inside!  It wasn’t a shop at all, but a great underground network of niches and cubbyholes, each one full of Victorian and art deco wonders, and some with treasures from the forties, fifties, and sixties.  They should have maps at the entrance; the caverns went on forever, going up and down levels and through crumbling brick doorways.  The deeper we got, the more the air began to smell of the unique combination of damp and old things that I remember from my great-grandmother’s.

As we travelled through the maze, we picked up treasure after treasure, some things really just junk, but striking either our nostalgia or curiosity enough to make us want to take them home.  Mixed among our trinkets, we also bought Native American crafts, pioneer woodwork, and Victorian silver.  I was beginning to wish we’d brought provisions, because I was sure we’d never find our way out.  I thought we should maybe start to lay a trail to find our way back when one of the antique dealers sensed our concern – and hunger – and directed us to Doc Maynard’s Public House, named for one of the area’s original mid-nineteenth century settlers.

We emerged from the deep into a restored Victorian-era pub, and the barman (a character from the past himself) informed us we had actually travelled through Seattle’s famous ‘Underground’. There are guided tours available, but we felt we had already experienced that adventure.  We did get a pass to visit the Rogue’s Gallery though, something of a pioneer museum, where the whole adventure began to make sense. Here we learned more of how Pioneer Square came to be, and interestingly, that here was the origin of the term ‘skid row’, although I thought Pioneer Square deserved a more respectful title.  Here horses and oxen dragged or ‘skidded’ logs down to the original sawmill that was the Square’s first industry.

As we stepped back out into the street, laden with a mix of plastic and paper bags full of all of our new found heirlooms, we decided to reserve the elegant galleries and antique dealers of the above-ground Grand Central Arcade and Occidental Walk for just window-shopping.  For us, antiquing is about getting close to history, and nowhere in Seattle can you do that better than in the Underground!

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