Step Right Up to Luxury


Much has been written about the new Four Seasons hotel-condo rising 21 stories above First Avenue. Residential prices range from $2-10 million and beyond. (If you have to ask, you can't afford.) Among the few prominent buyers whose names have been disclosed are art patrons/philanthropists Virginia and Bagley Wright. The First Avenue side of the building, designed by local-international firm NBBJ, is a disaster, an affront to pedestrians that only an idiot could admire. None of which will much bother the guests in 149 hotel rooms or buyers in 36 planned units. We below are little people, poor people, and have no right to complain.

But what's happening down below on Western? Something we like, with photos after the jump...


(That's the new 1521 Second Ave. condo with crane attached, the older 98 Union condo in the middle, and Four Seasons at right of staircase)

Down below, along the Western Avenue route we plebeians take in summer to the market (to avoid tourist-choked First), a strange sight has been jutting down from the cliff-end of Union Street. At first we through the diagonal structure was some kind of construction chute, especially since Post Alley has been closed for months for the many contractors and trucks working on the Four Seasons. But the concrete forms were recently removed to reveal a new staircase.


(The new staircase jutting down from First to Western)

Wait a minute, didn't there used to be an old, boxy, M.C. Escher-like staircase down from Union St. to Post Alley? Yes, but it's closed now to the public, and is being used only by hard-hatted, key-bearing contractors (and possibly future condo buyers).


(The old stairs, presently closed, looking up from Post Alley)

Contractors on the scene tell me the new staircase will be open to the public, not just multi-millionaires, to more readily access Western Ave. and the waterfront beyond. They also implied the old staircase to Post Alley would be reopened to pedestrians.


(Looking down the new Four Seasons stairs to Western)

Great, we're all in favor of access. The city, and certain property owners, don't always do such a wonderful job welcoming the great unwashed masses onto public property we pay for with our taxes. In particular, the waterfront piers (as Mark D. Fefer and I have previously written) have been problematic in delivering, or maintaining, the public right-of way. As I often walk and pedal along the waterfront, I regularly watch baffled tourists searching for street signs that would point them up staircases to the Pike Place Market and First Avenue. Driving on Alaskan, too, street signs are either missing or too small to be legible. The whole Alaskan Way-slash-Viaduct strip seems to in a period of steep neglect while we wait for a viaduct solution and/or earthquake to resolve things. (This is why no one seems able to admit that the old trolley tracks need to be yanked; and why cars in search of parking so often careen through the designated bike-pedestrian trail east of Alaskan.)

So I applaud NBBJ for designing and delivering what I presume will be 24-hour public access on its swanky new stairs. (City confirmation is pending.) Neither that firm, nor the Four Seasons owners and guests, are to blame for the squalor below. You can actually keep descending from Western to the water via some rickety, rusting metal stairs on Union that are slotted between the Seattle Steam Plant and the old antiques mart, but the prospect is hardly inviting.


(Looking north up Post Alley from the Harbor Steps; soon the alley should reopen from Madison St. to the market)

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