Farmers, Cars and a Drive-Through Farmers Market in the 1920s
Trying to drive down Pike Place 100 years ago was a difficult prospect, even more so than it is today. In the Market’s early years, farmers’ stands and wagons lined the street, so only those on foot, horseback, or perhaps driving a wagon, could make their way through the bustling street. The recent history of the future MarketFront site, on Western Avenue, begins on that street, in 1920.
As the popularity of automobiles grew, pressure increased on Market managers to keep the street clear and passable to traffic. Due to its location, the public market had become an important link between the waterfront and downtown businesses. In 1920, the City Council suggested the farmers be moved to an underground complex at Westlake.
To solve the problem and keep the farmers in the market, Market developer Frank Goodwin, and his nephew, Arthur, developed the Municipal Market building on the “water side” of Western Avenue with a connection to the main arcade via a sky bridge.
The ingenious solution kept the farmers thriving in the Market, and most likely, created the first drive-through farmers market in America.
A Fire Changes Everything
Through the decades, the Municipal Market continued to be an important part of Pike Place Market. The building was part of the Friends of the Market’s original plan for the historic district and was “saved” along with the rest of the Market historic buildings in 1971.
But in 1974, a fire caused irreparable damage to the structure. Once the damage was assessed, it was clear the Municipal Market building would have to be demolished. In the end, the extended farmers market and shopping center was turned into a surface parking lot.
Since the fire, market managers, savers and supporters have studied the site. How could the site connect again to the Market? How could the Market reclaim this important part of its past?
An Earthquake, a Viaduct and Parking in the 21st Century
For decades, plans to reconnect the former Municipal Market site to the Market were stalled—rebuilding on the site in modern times was cost prohibitive due to the active Burlington Northern train tunnel beneath the site. Other challenges were found in historic district guidelines and regulations, which weren’t in place when the original building was constructed.
In 2001, the Nisqually Quake startled Seattle and the surrounding region and brought scrutiny of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Plans to remove the Viaduct, and the subsequent loss of parking under it, gave Pike Place Market the opportunity to finally reclaim the site of the former Municipal Market.
Replacement parking funds from the WSDOT Parking Mitigation Program and the City of Seattle are making the project possible. WSDOT funds are driving the timing of the construction, as the site will provide replacement parking prior to the demolition of the Viaduct (300 spaces).
Much as the Market itself provided a link between the waterfront and downtown a century ago, the new MarketFront will provide future pedestrian access to the central waterfront development. The site will also create a dynamic link from the waterfront to the Market itself and locations downtown.
Farmers, craftspeople, buskers, artists and merchants will find new opportunity at the MarketFront, where there will be 47 new daystalls and new space for food production. Visitors and shoppers will find more elbow room on the new MarketFront plaza, where there will be 30,000-square-feet of public space with views of Puget Sound.
The MarketFront will bring the former Municipal Market site back to what it once was, a place where farmers can thrive in bringing their produce to market.