Construction is coming soon on a project you won’t see a lot of…not because it’s in Australia (it’s not), but because it’s down under city streets. The work is to stabilize an areaway. Areaways are the usable areas, generally in the street right-of-way, below the sidewalk and between building foundations and the street wall; that street wall holds back the earth below the road surface and provides support for the sidewalk. Most of the 115 areaways in downtown were created when City engineers raised Pioneer Square’s streets a full story following the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. Since many buildings were already under construction then, architects provided for two “ground floors” – the lower one at the level beneath the new sidewalks. Later that lowest, underground floor was sealed over. In 2000, SDOT undertook a thorough study of the condition of the Pioneer Square areaways and, as a result, did some emergency repairs. Work has continued, refurbishing and preserving several areaways, and now is about to start at S. Washington Street and First Avenue.
The cobblestone retaining wall is in poor condition and has bulged out laterally. There is also a depression on the curb lane along the south side of Washington St. that may be a result of the lateral push. A temporary repair has been made to seal the cracks. But for the wall to continue to provide its function, a permanent restoration has to be made.