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King Street Station Restoration Dedication Ceremony ~ April 24th, 2013

by Elizabeth Guenzler

King Street Station in Seattle, Washington underwent a $50 million restoration and renovation from 2008 to 2013. In my numerous visits to the station during this time, I had seen its progress and marvelled at what the station used to look like. Its re-dedication ceremony was an event that I was not going to miss.

King Station History

King Street station, located on Jackson Street between 3rd and 4th Streets, is a brick and granite three-storey building with a twelve-storey clock tower. The ground floor, accessed from King Street, is clad in granite. The walls of the second and third floors, as well as the clock tower, are faced in pressed brick with decorative terra cotta elements such as cornices and window lintels. The interior boasts a grand waiting room with ornamental plaster ceilings and fluted Corinthian columns. Bronze chandeliers and wall sconces provide illumination for the passengers inside the station. The terrazzo floor has inlaid square mosaic tiles which creates a compass-shaped pattern at the station entrance and other rectangular patterns throughout the rest of the areas.

Opened on May 10th, 1906, it served as a union station for the Great Northern Railway and Northern Pacific Railway, both owned by James J. Hill. The station was designed by Reed and Stem (the architectural firm who designed New York City's Grand Central Station) and incorporated elements from various architectural styles with the San Marco bell tower in Venice, Italy, servinc as the model for the building's clock tower. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. While much of the exterior of King Street Station remained intact since its construction, parts of the interior were substantially altered in a series of renovations in the 1940s, 50s and 60s and others suffered neglect. After the end of World War II, as passenger rail travel began to decline across the United States, steps were taken to gradually modernize King Street Station. The ticket counters, once located directly to the east of the compass room, were expanded outward into the waiting room. In the late 1940s a set of "electric stairs" and a new side entrance to the second floor railroad offices were built over the open stairwell to Jackson Street, narrowing them by half. Over the next two decades, as train ridership and the station's number of employees dwindled, the station was further remodelled to reduce maintenance and heating costs. In the late 1950s the station's original high-back benches, made of yellow oak, were replaced by modern chrome and plastic seats. The final blow to the station's character occurred in late 1967 when, under the direction of Northern Pacific architect A.C. Cayou, a new drop ceiling of plastic and metal was installed in the waiting room ten feet below the original, concealing the hand-carved coffered ceiling to just below the balcony and second level arcade. Hundreds of holes had to be punched through the plaster to attach the ceiling's support wires to the steel frame of the building. The new ceiling held new fluorescent lights and heat lamps, replacing the original brass chandeliers and sconces. Below the new ceiling, plaster reliefs, marble panels, glass tile mosaics and other original fixtures were sheared from the walls and replaced with sheet rock and Formica paneling. The dedicated women's waiting room at the southwest corner of the building was converted into employee offices; its own architectural details suffering the same damage. The only original remaining features left visible in the main waiting area were the terrazzo tile floor and the clock on the west wall above the restrooms.

Despite the attempted modernization, the station continued to deteriorate. Following the creation of Amtrak in 1971 to take over the money-losing passenger service from the railroad companies, hundreds of routes were eliminated and service across the country was cut in half. Amtrak consolidated all of its Seattle service at King Street Station, resulting in the closure of Union Station, which formerly served Union Pacific (the Milwaukee Road had moved out a decade earlier). To further cut costs the station's restaurant, lunch counter and gift shop were immediately closed and vending machines installed. Eventually even the escalators stopped running and without the funds or passenger volume to justify repairing them, were permanently walled off.

Restoration and Renovations

Plans to restore the entire building to its former prominence, including cosmetic renovations to both the station interior and exterior, began in 2003. As part of these renovations the Compass Room and restrooms were refurbished and the exterior awnings were replaced. New mahogany entry doors and wood-framed windows were installed in the waiting room and Compass Room. New brass door hardware and reproduction period light fixtures and plaster decorative work were included to reproduce the former character of the station's interior. Then in February 2008, the City of Seattle purchased the landmark building from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company with the goal of bringing back the grandeur of America's Gilded Age. The restoration of King Street Station ensured that it remains a critical transportation hub and gateway into Seattle for the next hundred years.

The five-year restoration process had the following goals: to restore the building's historic character and grandeur, to upgrade facilities to meet present and future needs of rail and transit users, to enhance passenger safety and security, to promote sustainable design with a LEED building certification and to support efforts to transform the station into a modern transit hub. The scope of work was to replace existing roof with original terra cotta tile roof, repair lighting and remove microwave dish on clock tower, fix the four tower clocks to make them operational, restore interior finishes and exterior building facade, remove suspended tiles from lobby to restore original ornate ceiling and complete seismic and structural upgrades. This comprehensive and complex restoration process was funded by contributions from city, state and federal governments as well as non-profit organizations. The voter-approved Bridging the Gap levy provided $10 million to the project. Funds from the Federal Transit Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Washington State Historical Society, the South Downtown Foundation and 4Culture contributed $40 million to the project.

Slide shows and more in-depth information can be found on the City of Seattle's King Street Station Project website at More Details

The Event

Part of the exterior upper level of the staiton as I walked around this magnificent building.

A view of the clock tower.

The new lamp standard in the Jackson Street plaza.

There were flower baskets hanging underneath the portico of the Jackson Street plaza.

The mural on the side of the station where a small parking area is located.

Timeline and diagram of King Street Station's restoration -- Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.

A view into the entrance of the station.

The restored staircase leading up to Jackson Street - electric no more!

The Compass Room.

Ground level view of the waiting room.

A newly-installed clock on the wall and the vintage lights.

The upper level, while restored, was empty at the time but historic photographs had been placed in the openings on one side.

The incredible restored ceiling that was brought back to its glory.

A close-up of the ceiling detail.

The ceiling and upper portion of the station.

A view across the second level.

Looking across the station from the upper level.

The waiting room as seen from the upper level. Wooden benches were also here.

Restoration photographs of the Main Waiting Room.

The restored waiting room in all its grandeur; one of the photographs on display to show 'before, during and after' progress.

Members of the Ballard Sedentary Souza Band play at the opening ceremony.

Mayor Mike McGinn speaking to the assembled.

Tom Rasmussen, Chairman of the City Transportation Committee, takes his turn at the podium.

Kevin Thompson, Associate Administrator for Communications with the Federal Railroad Administration was next.

Ryan Hestor, Trevina Wang, Tom Rasmussen and Kevin Thompson throw the switch to turn on the chandelier.

The lit chandelier.

Underneath the balcony after the event.

The celebratory cake before it was cut into many pieces and enjoyed by all in attendance.

One last view of the station, this leading into the Amtrak ticket office.

The restoration of this station and its return to its former splendour, together with seismic retrofitting and other safety mesures, has turned the building back to something the City of Seattle, and its citizens, can be proud of. I always enjoy going to this station now, whether I am departing, arriving or passing through.