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Hidden In Plain Sight: Gems at Bell Street Pier

August 24, 2022

On the north end of the Seattle central waterfront, you will find the Port of Seattle’s Pier 66. This 11-acre complex is anchored by the Bell Street Cruise Terminal, home to Norwegian Cruise Line and Oceania Cruises offering weekly sailings to Alaska during cruise season. It is also home to Bell Harbor Marina, the only downtown marina in Seattle. 

When passing Pier 66 you might have marveled at the cruise ships setting sail, or classic yachts and sailboats at anchor at the marina. Or you may have admired the view while sipping on a cocktail at Anthony’s upper deck. But there are many things on the pier that you may not have noticed, even though they are in plain sight if you know where to look.

Hidden gems 

Historic maritime markers

Seattle has been a maritime city from its creation. To honor this heritage, the Board of Public Works gave the Yukon club, a civic group working alongside the Port of Seattle, funds and space to set up 15 temporary maritime markers in 1952, the centennial of the city. They were placed mostly around Elliott Bay, marking key points of maritime history. Initially they were made of painted plywood, but after four years they were replaced by 13 by 20 inch bronze markers attached to an anchor. Each Maritime Day from 1957-1986 a new marker was dedicated, its location determined by the Propeller Club and the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society. Two of these markers can be found around Pier 66. 

Historic Plaque

Bell Street Terminal, Pier 66 historical marker

This marker celebrates the founding of the first public port in Washington State on the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Port of Seattle. Pier 66 was the former Port headquarters before it was moved to nearby Pier 69 in 1993.

Text of the plaque: "The site of the Indian camping place called Muck-Muck-Wum. In 1911 the headquarters of Washington’s first public port was established here by commissioners H.M. Chittenden, C.E. Remsberg, and Robert Bridges. This tablet was dedicated May 19, during National Maritime Week 1986 to honor the 75th anniversary of the Port of Seattle."

Historic Plaque on an anchorHistoric Plaque

Great White Fleet maritime marker

This marker, first installed at Pier 64 in 1961, now overlooks Bell Harbor Marina. It commemorates the arrival of the “Great White Fleet” in this exact location, a squadron of top-of-the-line American steam-powered battleships that stopped in Seattle on their 43,000-mile circumnavigation of the globe. President Theodore Roosevelt ordered this upgrade and circumnavigation to prove the United States Navy could quickly move from ocean to ocean. The fleet was nicknamed the “Great White Fleet” since the ships were painted a brilliant white color.  

Text of the plaque: “The U.S. Navy’s “Great White Fleet” arrived in Seattle May 23 and departed May 27, 1908 to continue their famous 46,000 mile round the world cruise. Part of the fleet anchored in Elliot Bay near this site and the crews disembarked here at the foot of Lenora and Virginia Streets – then known as Piers 9 & 10."

Other maritime markers can be found around the waterfront commemorating other Port of Seattle facilities at Fishermen’s Terminal and Terminal 91 (the marker can be found at Elliot Bay Park).

Gifts from our sister Port

Did you know that the Port of Seattle and the City of Seattle’s sister port/city is Kobe, Japan? Since 1957 Kobe has been the sister city of Seattle and since 1967 the Port of Kobe and Seattle have been sister ports. Over the past 60 years, the Seattle Kobe Sister City Association has organized dozens of exchanges and events promoting mutual understanding and lasting friendships. One such gift is the amazing sculpture Oushi Zokei – Madoka by Keizo Ushio, commemorating the 25th sister port anniversary in 1992.

decorative

You can find it if you walk up the stairs (or take the nearby elevator) from Elliott Avenue to the third level of the Bell Street Pedestrian overpass. 

Mural behind the stairs

When containerization took over the way goods were shipped in the 1960s and the Port centralized its facilities in the South end of Elliott Bay, the central waterfront was largely abandoned and fell into disuse as its traditional industrial uses moved elsewhere. By the 1980s it was clear that the central waterfront needed a facelift.

So the city and Port revitalized the central waterfront. The core of the Port’s Central Waterfront Plan was to revitalize the area while providing and protecting maritime uses. This involved consolidating ownership of the areas south of Pier 66 and renovating them into a mixed-use space with areas for cruise ship operations, a public marina, a conference center, a museum, and other maritime-related businesses.

Decorative

Part of the renovation led to the placement of the fabulous mural: Danza Del Cerchio by Ann Gardner. It was created in 1996 when the Bell Harbor complex was finished and opened to the public. It’s hidden from passersby on Elliott Avenue; you’ll find it gracing the west side of the stairs that leads to the Bell Street pedestrian overpass and rooftop terrace.

Marine Maintenance maritime motif hatches 

An animation showing the fish on display

This is a true hidden gem. Along the street side edge of the Bell Street Cruise Terminal building, starting at the Bell Street pedestrian overpass elevator, if you look on the ground you’ll find four unique, handmade, maritime-themed hatch covers. 

When Pier 66 was revitalized, part of the plan was to grow vines up sections of the building. So four areas next to the building were kept open to make room for vines. Unfortunately, the vines didn’t grow as well as it had been hoped, so they were removed. The open spaces needed to be covered so those passing by wouldn’t fall or trip, and the Port’s Marine Maintenance Division was tasked with covering them up. As part of the project, the Port’s welders embellished them with fun maritime motifs and the old Port of Seattle Logo.

Logo embellished hatch

Ship embellished hatch

Tug embellished hatch

 

Anchor embellishment

Bell Street rooftop terrace

When the Port initially built Pier 66 in 1915, the rooftop of Bell Harbor Pier was built with a public park overlooking the bay. This was the first waterfront park in the City of Seattle. In 1915 it opened with a public space including a solarium, a small pool and a kids play area. During the day, families would stop by the park leaving their children to play while parents would cross the pedestrian overpass and shop at the newly-opened Pike Place Market. Unfortunately, the park was shuttered in the late 1920s.

Fortunately, When Bell Street was redeveloped decades later, the Port commission made sure to bring back the park, so the Bell Street Rooftop Terrace was created. The terrace has some of the best views of the waterfront and is now one of the most iconic viewpoints in the city.

Historic picture of Pier 66
Roof Top Park, 1915

 

The Rooftop Terrace Park
Roof Top Terrace, 2022

Hidden from below; visible from above

The terrace is also the best place to get a view of another hidden in plain sight gem. When you look down into the plaza from the rooftop terrace, you’ll see an amazing fountain that you can’t totally appreciate unless you see it from above. The Fish Fountain was designed by Kris Snider, an architect at the firm once known as Hewitt Isley.  The fountain was inspired by Snider's five-year-old son Drew. Years later the Port dedicated the fountain to former Port Commissioner Paige Miller, who along with former Port Commissioner and Seattle Mayor Paul Schell were instrumental in revitalizing the waterfront. Additionally the Convention Center on the pier is dedicated  Commissioner Schell – The Paul Schell Center at Pier 66. 

As they say, life moves pretty fast, you might want to slow down and look around and you might be surprised what you find.

An animation showing the fish on display

Sources:

Monumental Seattle: The Stories behind the Cities’ Statues, Memorials, and Markers by Robert Spalding WSU Press, 2018

A History of the Port of Seattle by Padraic Burke, Port of Seattle, 1976

Rising Tides and Tailwinds: The Story of the Port of Seattle, 1911-2011 by Ki Oldham and Peter Blecha, University of Washington Press, 2011 

History Link: Seattle Central Waterfront, Part 9: Bell Street Pier and Vicinity  

History Link's Seattle Virtual Waterfront Walking Tour - Bell Street Pier Tour Stop

New On The Waterfront -- Bell Street Pier Offers Vibrant Array Of Attractions For Both Locals And Visitors by Mark L. Hinshaw, Seattle Times; June 23, 1996

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