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Grand Opening of King Street Station’s Jackson Plaza

The Jackson Street Plaza has been transformed into a new public pedestrian plaza.

King Street Station's Jackson Plaza - after


King Street Station's Jackson Plaza - before

On Friday, June 24th, Mayor Mike McGinn held a ceremony, accompanied by Linda Gehrke, deputy regional administrator, Region 10, Federal Transit Administration; Lorne McConachie, chair, Pioneer Square Preservation Board; Leslie Smith, Alliance for Pioneer Square; and the Ballard Sedentary Sousa Band. The mayor’s ribbon cutting marked the newly renovated plaza’s opening to the public.


Dating back to 1852, Pioneer Square was Seattle’s original downtown.  With late nineteenth century brick and stone buildings, it is one of the nation’s best surviving collections of Romanesque Revival style urban architecture.

King Street Station opened to the public in May 1906.  Reed and Stem, the architectural firm responsible for New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, designed this station.  The clock tower was modeled after the San Marco bell tower in Venice, Italy.  In 1973 the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Photo courtesy of Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI)

To help trains better compete with air travel, the railways “modernized” the structure in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  They stripped off the column and wall marble, boarded up windows, and replaced the wood-and-glass doors with metal ones.  Most infamously, the railways used a dropped ceiling to cover the 34-foot-high plaster ceiling.  The dropped ceiling cut off use of the second-floor balcony, a place where carolers once stood to serenade passengers.

The plaza was originally used as a carriage drop-off area for passengers.  Later it was turned into an asphalt parking lot for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway. When the City of Seattle bought the station from BNSF, it was in poor condition due to a lack of maintenance and water intrusion.  The space below the plaza was used as warehouse space for Amtrak and was damp, moldy and dark.  Amtrak had even housed some offices there in the past.

Construction was completed in May 2011 after one year of construction.  The entire plaza was removed though the perimeter walls were left in place due to preservation requirements.  (The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and all significant facades will be preserved in place.)  The plaza structure was re-built to current seismic codes, and has been converted from a parking lot to a pedestrian area, increasing public space and green space in this historic neighborhood. We have incorporated several sustainable elements in constructing the plaza:

  • Energy efficiency –  36 geowells supplying heating and cooling to the first floor of building are buried under the plaza
  • Material reuse – Granite salvaged from an old building foundation was used to repair the granite balustrade that flank both sides of the plaza and form new seating benches
  • Material recycled – The plaza was deconstructed instead of demolished, allowing for 98 percent of material to be recycled

The construction cost for the phase of the King Street Station Restoration, which includes Jackson Plaza (Phase 2A), is around $15 million.  It was financed in partnership with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), the Bridging the Gap Levy and the Washington State Historic Society.  This phase also includes the rehabilitation of the grand stairs and the canopies, the addition of a new elevator, and the installation of new mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection systems.

The grand stairs will be reopened in September after all repair work is complete.  Visitors to the station and the public will be able to use them to access the lower station entrance or other parts of Pioneer Square. The new Jackson Plaza station entrance and the new elevator will be opened to the public after the completion of the seismic retrofit phase which is projected to end in December 2012.

The station will serve as one of three intermodal hubs in downtown Seattle, together with the Westlake Hub and the Coleman Ferry Dock.  King Street Station will feature Amtrak long distance rail, Sound Transit commuter rail, and Amtrak intercity buses, along with convenient access to Link Light rail, Metro buses and the future First Hill Streetcar.

Video of the event can be watched here: