Building Feature: Seattle’s Pioneer Building

The Pioneer Building is located at the south end of downtown Seattle in the aptly named Pioneer Square neighborhood. Pioneer Square was once the heart of Seattle and due to the shift of downtown to the north, the neighborhood has retained a number of historic buildings. Several blocks around the Pioneer Building make up the Pioneer Square-Skid Row Historic District (listed on the National Register of Historic Places).

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The Pioneer Building, a Richarsonian Romanesque commercial building, was completed in 1892, one of a group of buildings designed by architect Elmer Fisher following the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. It sits directly adjacent to the small, triangular plaza that gives the neighborhood its name (Pioneer Square, originally Pioneer Place).

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Some historic buildings stand the test of time, but time is always evident. In the case of the Pioneer Building, this may be best seen in the changing uses of its interior and the loss of the pyramidal tower that once topped the roof above the entryway (catch a glimpse of what it once looked like in this 1900 photo and this 1917 photo).

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The preservation community took a blow this month with the demolition of the Nuclear Reactor Building, a Seattle city landmark and National Register listed building. While preservation can often be reactionary and demolition can be demoralizing, it’s important to recognize all the historic buildings that are still standing and how they contribute to their neighborhood’s sense of place and the feeling of the community. My reaction to the recent demolition was to recall an Ada Louise Huxtable quote: “And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.” Let us endeavor to prove her wrong by continuing to use and preserve gems like the Pioneer Building.

Still curious about the Pioneer Building? You can read more and see more photographs here.

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