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Seattle's King Street Station, built in 1906 and recently restored, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Reed and Stem firm's design of the brick, stone, and terra cotta building with a four-sided clock tower was inspired by the campanile of Venice, Italy in the Piazza de San Marco [3]. Originally, the building served the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railroads, but is now part of the Amtrak rail and Sound Transit commuter intermodal system, with commercial spaces for lease [1; 2].


  • King Street Station (image from the City of Seattle)
  • The restored main waiting room (image from Seattle Transit Blog)
  • Restored station interior (image from Wikimedia Commons)
  • The station in 1972 (image from the National Register of Historic Places)

Seattle's King Street Station, built in 1906 and recently restored, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Reed and Stem firm's design of the brick, stone, and terra cotta building with a four-sided clock tower was inspired by the campanile of Venice, Italy in the Piazza de San Marco [3]. Originally, the building served the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railroads, but is now part of the Amtrak rail and Sound Transit commuter intermodal system, with commercial spaces for lease [1; 2].

History of King Street Station

As Northern Pacific Railroad's transcontinental line approached completion in the 1880s, it was already becoming evident that the earlier decision to end the line at Tacoma rather than Seattle had been a mistake—one Seattle had already realized and attempted to rectify by opening its own branch lines including the Seattle & Walla Railroad. By the 1890s, much of Northern Pacific's business had shifted to Seattle [2; 3]. Railroad Avenue (present-day Alaskan Way) opened along the Elliott Bay shore in 1887, only to suffer through Seattle's 1889 Great Fire [2]. Canadian immigrant James J. Hill (1838-1916), owner of  the Great Northern Railway (known previously as the St. Paul, Minnesota & Manitoba Railway Company or the St. Paul & Pacific), became the first builder of a transcontinental line without government aid when he extended his line to Seattle in 1893—the same year the nationwide financial panic struck and bankrupted Northern Pacific [2; 3]. The two companies shared a wood-framed terminal called Union Depot along Railroad Avenue until Hill bought control of the Northern Pacific three years later, though it retained its own president, Charles Mellen (1852-1927). Plans for a new station and complex on filled tide flats away from the waterfront were announced in 1902, and the St. Paul, Minnesota architectural firm of Reed & Stem commissioned the following year [2]. The Railroad Italianate brick, stone, and terra cotta building with a four-sided clock tower was inspired by the campanile of Venice, Italy in the Piazza de San Marco [2; 3]. Built by the Chicago firm of Johnson & Company, the station's name was debated throughout its construction; suggestions included Union Depot, Seattle Depot, Northern Depot, and finally King Street Station [2]. The L-shaped station was opened in May of 1906, its four-faced clock tower the tallest structure in Seattle at the time and its interior elegance much lauded [1; 2]. With ornamental plaster ceilings, chandeliers, white marble columnns, and terrazzo floors including a compass pattern mosaic at the entrance, the King Street Station was built to impress [2].

Like many other rail stations, the King Street Station declined as air travel increased over the course of the twentieth century. The clock and building were not maintained, and attempts to modernize the station only detracted from its original elegance as the floors and ceiling were covered over with acoustical tile, windows boarded over, the waiting room partitioned, the marble and mosaic walls covered with plastic laminate, and the lighting replaced with fluorescent bulbs [1; 2]. By the 1990s, the building was owned by the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF), with leases to Amtrak and the Sound Transit commuter rail service. The process of renovation began, but not until the City of Seattle purchased the station from BNSF in 2008 was the full-scale restoration designed [2]. What had been covered up in the 1960s—the floors, decorative plasterwork, and windows—were uncovered and restored, the clock repaired, new platforms and light fixtures installed, electrical systems upgraded and "green" features installed, the doors and marble panels refurbished, and new baggage and ticket offices added. The restored main waiting room was re-opened in April of 2013 [1].

1. Amtrak. "Seattle, WA (SEA)." Amtrak Presents: Great American Stations. Accessed August 30, 2016. http://www.greatamericanstations.com/Stations/SEA. 2. Caldbick, John. "King Street Station (Seattle)." History Link: The Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History. October 17, 2015. Accessed August 30, 2016. http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=11124. 3. Corley, Margaret A. "King Street Station." National Parks Service, National Register of Historic Places. July, 1969. Accessed August 1, 2016. http://focus.nps.gov/GetAsset?assetID=60e5a559-67e1-458d-87b3-b7e637deb94a.