Seattle was first settled in 1851 on a mud flat. As the town grew, the problem of sewage waste reared its smelly and ugly head. Waste from the homes on the hill above the settlement regularly washed down into it. With the invention of the flush toilet, the waste was concentrated in a wooden sewer, but at high tide, the flow to the flush toilets reversed…not pleasant then, but the stuff of many jokes on the tour.
Fortunately, much of the city burned on June 6, 1887. The town’s inhabitants were eager to rebuild and started doing so immediately, but the city had other ideas. After eight years of spewing toilets, it might be possible to solve the problem by raising the level of the city and running new sewer lines. The city built walls around city blocks so that the first floor of the rebuilt and surviving buildings was now the basement. For some time, to cross a street, it was necessary to leave the building, climb up a ladder to reach street level, walk across the street and descend another ladder to get to the main entrance of the building there. There were all kinds of accidents until new sidewalks were built over the old sunken sidewalks; they were supported by brick arches and a number still today feature a form of glass sky-lighting to illuminate the old walkways below.
There isn’t much to see on the tour as you visit the old walks around three different basement groups. The delight of the tour is the discussion of Seattle’s history. The guide staff seems to be made up of frustrated and in-between-jobs actors and they give a good , and comedic, performance. We learn that in this busy little town there were once 2000 seamstresses and very few sewing machines. A tax would be applied to them that would supply most of the early city’s tax income. A city built on the backs of the taxpayers? There were just so many stories.
The tour price was $14 adult (2007) and although our initial group seemed huge, it was broken down into four groups of 45 with separate guides. It was all well done, but there was limited visual impact.
Results 1-10of 11 Reviews
Riverview, New Brunswick
June 12, 2007
From journal Jewel of the Northwest
January 9, 2007
From journal Seattle in a Week
Lake Forest, California
October 22, 2006
From journal Seattle
New York, New York
October 11, 2006
From journal Visiting Seattle Without Going Up the Space Needle
January 31, 2006
Seattle has an underground? That’s what I thought when I saw the ad for this quirky tour. I soon found out that the first floors of many of Seattle’s building are underground because the buildings and roads were built below sea level. They kept having (obvious) problems with sewage and water flooding the streets, so after a fire destroyed the settlement in the late 1880s, they raised the streets, leaving some bottom level floors of the buildings underground. It's definitely a tourist activity, but you get a good bit of history about Seattle with a dose of humor and a different perspective. Bill Speidel wrote the book “Sons of the Profits,” which is said to be the basis for the tour, which started in the 1980s. It’s his humor that is infused throughout the tour, mostly poking fun at the mentality at the people who settled the area. Many of the tour guides are local actors supplementing their incomes.
It is dusty in the underground; this isn’t a museum. The underground is condemned and you can only go there through this tour. There’s quite a bit of walking/standing, so wear comfortable shoes. Some of the stairways leading to the underground are steep and there are some close quarters, but as someone who is claustrophobic, I didn’t have a problem at all. The tour ends in Rogue’s Gallery, where there are displays and, of course, a gift shop. You can only get to the gift shop by taking the tour. The Underground Tour is located on Occidental Square in the Pioneer Square area, which is the oldest part of Seattle. Tickets are $11 for adults, $9 for seniors and students, and $5 for children. The tour doesn’t take reservations, so it’s suggested that you arrive 30 minutes early to secure your spot. On a Friday at 11am there was a pretty good group assembled. Don’t underestimate the popularity of this tour. Private tours are available by request. To get there from the downtown area, head down to Alaskan Way (the last street before you get to the water) and find the trolley. Or just walk and enjoy the scenery.
From journal Vacation in Seattle
March 23, 2005
From journal Living Large in Seattle
September 21, 2004
While delving into some of the early politics, our inital guide talked about the main reason Seattle has an underground - if you guessed that the citizens desired an indoor mall to avoid getting wet, you'd be close to the right motive. Some of the underground has been (and is still) used for commerce. However, the real reason was a simple matter of wanting indoor plumbing that worked efficiently. My fifth grader son was doubled over in practical hysterics as we were told stories of how Thomas A. Crapper, the man who invented the early toilet, hadn't considered how the changing tides in Seattle might make things flush up at certain times of the day.
After the tour intro, our big group was split into three small groups, and we were escorted into separate sections of the tour's underground, so things never got too crowded. Our guide was Rick, and we enjoyed his entire presentation. While the underground itself isn't really a lot to see, his telling of the history brought the place to life for us.
While not for young kids, I would highly suggest this tour for the whole family. However, if you have a hard time navigating stairs, you might have to skip it. There aren't any elevators.
Bottom line? A perfect blend of history and entertainment.
From journal Skimming Seattle
The tour starts in a building, and then you go down with your guide to a place beneath the streets. We heard about how this used to be the original Seattle. I liked seeing a real bank vault, no longer in use, of course. I liked how our guide made up jokes and banged the doors to scare off any rats we might otherwise have seen. The guide said you should try to avoid wearing open-toed shoes if you go on this tour because the tour's "pets" might think your toes are food for them to eat!!! I was kind of disappointed we didn't see any vermin, but my mom was happy we didn't. I don't think it really matters if you wear open-toed shoes, but you do have to go up and down a bunch of steps.
If you have kids with you, I suggest going on this tour. I am ten years old, and I thought the whole thing was interesting. I laughed and laughed, but I even learned a few things. I wish my teachers would take some lessons from the tour guides!
A little under two hours, this is a good activity for the whole family.
From journal Underground in Seattle
by Harry Potter
October 24, 2002
Our guide, Jo, led us across the street and opened a door numbered 115 and we descended down under the sidewalks. The 15 foot ceilings and ample space and light kept us from feeling claustrophic. The tour encompasses 3 of the 12 blocks currently accessible underground. There used to be 33 accessible blocks underground but now stores are using some of them for retail space. This underground world came about after a fire started when a pot of glue overboiled on June 6, 1889 and the city needed to be rebuilt higher.
Jo did a good job of keeping our attention and making us laugh and occasionally even blinking in astonishment at her stories. In one room where light shown in from the grates in the sidewalk above, she told us to yell loudly, to see if anyone above ground would notice us down below. Several of the underground areas have signs on the walls indicating buildings that used to be there. The bank even had signs for where the tellers cage and vault used to be located. You'll know you're at the end of the tour when you come to a room with a pole full of the numbered stickers worn by visitors on the tour. After this room is a room with photos and short biographies about historical figures of that time and of course, the exit is through the gift shop.
Tour times vary by month, so check Underground Tour for scheduled tours.
From journal Soaking Up Seattle
Leeds, United Kingdom
June 19, 2002
The tour takes you through the basements of bars, speakeasies, brothels and Starbucks, a perfect cross section of how Seattle developed, accompanied at each stage by historical photographs showing the way the city looked a hundred years ago.
Walking around Pioneer Square will never feel the same again.
From journal Summer in Seattle