King Street Station, 2014
King Street Station main waiting room
King Street Station in the 1970s
James J. Hill, Original Owner of King Street Station
Balcony that looks over the main waiting area at King Street Station, 1907
Backstory and Context
In 1901, James Hill purchased the cash-poor Northern Pacific that owned the railroads two years after the Seattle Fire. James Hill was from Canada just west of Toronto, and had grown up watching the canadian railroad flourish. By the time he was an adult he saw the great potential of expanding the railroad system. After seeing the Northern Pacifc railroad file for bankruptcy, Hill saw an opportunity to build his own railway from st. paul to Seattle. Thus, in 1901, James Hill purchased the cash-poor Northern Pacific that owned the railroads in hopes of expanding train transportation.
Hill knew he needed to expand the stations due to the influx of people coming to Seattle, so he purchased a plot of land for development that began construction in 1904. After two years of construction, the King Station opened on May 10, 1906. Hill constructed this station in hopes of supporting both the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railways. Being able to house both railways, meant that they would be able to cover more than 8,000 miles. The new station was designed by architects Charles Reed and Allen Stem, who also designed the New York Grand Central Station.
The King Street Station was immediately known for its iconic 242-foot clock tower that held a 14 foot-wide clock face made by Boston's E. Howard and Co. The clock was modeled after Piazza San Marco in Venice, and until the Smith Tower was built it was the tallest building that looked over Seattle. In addition to the much admired tower, passengers also appreciated the waiting area in the new station because of its grand, three-story ceiling along with a second floor gallery to look over the crowd. The station also had beautiful Corinthian columns, white marble columns accented with glass mosaic tiles, and a colossal bronze chandelier.
This once busy station, began to slow and the station fell into disrepair. Tiles were cracked and light fixtures were replaced with fluorescent lights. Fortunately, the station remained a priority for the city and the city ended up purchasing the station for $10 in 2008. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), then, devised a plan for restoration. SDOT ended up collecting $56 million from multiple sources, one being $16.7 million from the Federal Transit Administration. The repair and restoration was designed by a Portland firm ZGF Architects. After the much needed restoration, the station opened back to the public on April 24, 2013. They made large improvements including a new steel skeleton, polished terrazzo floors, new marble panels, and a huge chandelier.
Today, the station remains a transit hub for Seattle and houses many private events such as weddings and dances. It consists of ten tracks, four platforms, and a pedestrian bridge connecting Sounder commuter trains with Amtrak services and special event trains. Since the King street Station got on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, the station remains to have a bright future under their protection.
Huygen, Meg van . King Street Station was Seattle’s long-awaited link to the rest of the nation, Curbed Seattle. July 19th 2019. Accessed April 13th 2020. https://seattle.curbed.com/2019/7/19/20701392/king-street-station-building-architecture-history.
King Street Station, AmericanRails.com. Accessed April 13th 2020. https://www.american-rails.com/king.html.
Zimbabwe, Sam . King Street Station, Seattle.gov. Accessed April 13th 2020. http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/projects-and-programs/programs/transit-program/king-street-station.