Pergola implosion

Landmark's collapse also sends other plans down the toilet.

"It's not Pioneer Square without our pergola," wrote one sufferer. "I would gladly pay more taxes to repair it," penned another. "Would Paris restore the Eiffel Tower?" asked Anita of Seattle. "You bet!"

What brings forth such civic sorrow and outrage, written in ledgers placed in businesses around Pioneer Square? Why, the graceful, historic pergola at First and Yesler, of course. Or what's left of it, anyway.

Nicked by the left rear tire of a semi truck that ran onto the sidewalk early last week, the 1909 pergola's westernmost cast iron standard snapped off and began a cascading, section-by-section collapse. In seconds, the iron-and-glass, 60-foot-long canopy, the logo of Pioneer Square, was turned into the most emotional pile of rubble hereabouts since the Kingdome implosion.

"I caught myself bawling in my first interview about it," says Dana Cox, resident historian for Bill Speidel's Underground Tour, which thrives on the history, mostly buried, of Seattle and the square. Cox glances out his storefront window a few steps from the pergola site, surveying the jagged ruins. "I can barely stand to look at it."

The tour operation launched the public write-in by setting out ledgers in its offices as a place for mourners to comment. At the other corners of First and Yesler, ledgers were also set out at Starbucks, Tully's, and the Magic Mouse toy store.

"The books are filling up fast," says Cox, who will send along the messages to Mayor Paul Schell. If the pergola is rebuildable, the truck driver's company, US Xpress, says its insurance should cover the estimated $1 million cost.

But as the city weighs its options, it has delayed the tour's $150,000 proposal to reopen the pergola's once-grand subterranean public restroom, circa 1909 to 1943. "They told me [Tuesday] that it has been put on hold indefinitely," Cox says. "That's two big blows in two days."

Now accessible only from two manhole entries, the underground restroom was once one of the city's most popular stops. With its marble tile, terrazzo floor, shoe-shine and concession stands, and public attendants, the men's and women's rooms (each with free and pay toilet stalls) recorded 800 flushes per weekday in the early 1910s, says Cox. "It was 1,200 on Sunday," he says, guessing it had something to do with saloons being closed that day.

The tour proposes to create new stairwell entries and spruce up the spacious high-ceiling grotto. But as a functioning restroom, it's indeed history. "It would be for looks only," says Cox.

Should both the pergola and restroom resurrections come to pass, the Underground Tour guides can resume using one of their best lines, Cox hopes.

The toppled light standards of the pergola once also functioned as restroom ventilators. Each standard has a small extraction fan in its base, through which the toilet air would rise.

"We liked to tell visitors," says Cox, "that the lights back then were gas powered."

 
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