Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings
Dates: constructed 1889-1891
6 stories, total floor area: 89,355 sq. ft.
SInce its completion in 1892, the Pioneer Building has occupied the metaphorical and literal heart of Seattle's first central business district, Pioneer Square. Henry L. Yesler, a Maryland-born pioneer traveled from OH in 1851 to CA during the Gold Rush. He spent small amounts of time in CA and Portland, OR, before he resettled in Seattle in 10/1852. Upon his arrival, Yesler staked a claim to 320-acres in what is now Seattle's First Hill neighborhood and also obtained a strategic strip of land, 500-feet wide, from two earlier settlers, Dr. David Swinson Maynard (1808-1873) and Carson Boren (1824-1912). On the western periphery of this donated land strip, on the waterfront, Yesler completed a sawmill in 1853, the city's most important early business, that became the hamlet's social and political heart during the 1850s. Logs cut on Yesler's densely-wooded, 320-acre property were skidded down the strip between Boren's and Maynard's properties down to the mill. This path became known variously as "Skid Road," "Mill Street," and, ultimately, "Yesler Way." After the fire of 1889, Yesler sought to maximize the commercial income from the mill's former site, and he commissioned the charismatic architect, Elmer H. Fisher, to design him an eclectic, six-floor office tower with a central atrium. The Pioneer Building had retail spaces on its first floor and basement and a basement storage area. Offices occupied the upper five stories and accounted for about 80% of the building's gross square footage.
The Pioneer Building was erected on the site of Henry Yesler's Sawmill (1853), the most important commercial enterprise of Seattle's earliest days. Erected for pioneer land owner Henry L. Yesler (1810-1892) at the end of his life, this landmark's history intertwined with that of the Klondike Gold Rush; between 1897 (a year after gold was first discovered in the Yukon's Rabbit Creek) and 1908, the Pioneer Building accommodated 48 different mining companies. The Pioneer Building's architect, Elmer H. Fisher (1844-c. 1905), designed a high proportion of the buildings in Pioneer Square after the fire of 1889; Fisher left Seattle following the Recession of 1893 to try his luck in Los Angeles, CA. (He may also have gotten gold fever and struck out for the Yukon, c. 1898.) Yesler's estate spent approximately $275,000 to erect the Pioneer Building.
The Pioneer Building remained at the center of the Pioneer Square central business district for the first two decades of its existence. By 1910, banking and retail centers began moving north and this process was accelerated during the building boom of the 1920s. During Prohibition, the Pioneer Building contained "Seattle's finest speakeasy" according to the National Park Service. (See National Park Service, "Pioneer Building," accessed 02/24/2016.) By the 1930s, decay began to set in over Pioneer Square, as little capital was available to renovate and maintain now 40-year-old buildings. Benign neglect continued through the 1940s and 1950s.
Beginning in the late 1950s, popular support for the rehabilitation of the Pioneer Square area began to coalesce. A Downtown Parks Committee in 11/1958 asked the City of Seattle's Planning Commission to issue a report on the neighborhood; this report of 08/1959 made it clear that the area was largely unoccupied, unhealthful, unsafe and economically stagnant. Seattle's planning commission was influenced by the renaissance of San Francisco's Jackson Square area, in which low-rise, load-bearing masonry buildings, most dating from the late 19th century, had been preserved; in the 1950s, Jackson Square became a pedestrian area popular for its art galleries, professional offices and upscale shops. Jackson Square, however, was a smaller-scale neighborhood, and easier to rehabilitate. In the 1960s, the pro-business group, the Central Association, eyed the site as a location for parking garages. In the early 1970s, the Pioneer Building was again threatened with demolition; during the summer of 1972, Mel Kaufman and Tim Morgan purchased a 50% share of the building with then-owner, Jack Butnick. They announced renovation plans. Lacking funds, they sold the Pioneer Building to a investment group headed by Norman Volotin, who commissioned architect Ralph Anderson to renovate and upgrade the landmark. By 1980, Pioneer Square had seen significant renovation activity, with the Pioneer Building at its heart.
Since 2001, the Pioneer Building has had three owners: In 2001, Richard and Dorothy Sikora signed a quit-claim deed on the the property to 600 Pioneer LLC, a WA corporation formed on 11/08/2000. This group sold it to Boca Raton, FL-based Sun Capital Corporation on 01/09/2014 for $12,343,658. This investment trust renamed its ownership subsidiary the Eagle Wealth Pioneer LLP and sold the historic office building to Pioneer Building Level Office LLC on 12/22/2015 for $20,500,000. Level Office was a Chicago-based real estate company focused on providing flexible office spaces for small businesses. According to the King County Assessor in 2016, the Pioneer Building and its 12,769-square-foot (0.29-acre) lot had a taxable value of $11,417,000, $2,553,800 for the land and $8,863,200 for the building.
When historic preservation became a hot topic in Seattle, WA, c. 1970, the Pioneer Building was one of the key monuments preservationists aimed to save. It was included in the Pioneer Square-Skid Road Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. The Pioneer Building, along with the Pioneer Square Pergola and the Pioneer Square Totem Pole, were also included in the very select list of National Historic Landmarks, 05/05/1977. Construction drawings of the Pioneer Building available: Floor plans, elevations, sections, details; medium: ink on linen, paper; Number of sheets: 104; location: University of Washington, Department of Special Collections, M193 folder; ID #73;
A 7.1-magnitude earthquake on 04/13/1949 damaged the square tower that capped the facade's central bay, and it was removed.
Seattle architect Ralph D. Anderson (1924-2010), who rehabilitated so many commercial buildings in this area, carried out renovations between c. 1973-1975. Many interior alterations have occurred to the Pioneer Building over the years.