Victorian Turkish Baths Picture of the Month for February 2009

Seattle: Pioneer Square:
Turkish Baths sign

Turkish baths sign: Seattle Underground
< Photo: Leonard Tancuan

These remains of a disused sign which once identified Turkish baths in the Pioneer Square area of Seattle can still be seen in what is now known as Seattle Underground.

Pioneer Square, in the oldest part of Seattle, was part of the area which was destroyed during the Great Seattle Fire in 1889. As a result, it was decided that the burnt out buildings, which were of wooden construction, could only be rebuilt in stone or brick. At the same time, because the area had previously been subject to flooding, the level of the new streets would need to be considerably raised.

But businesses could not wait for the official regulations and a future determination of the new street levels. In order to make a living, they needed to rebuild as soon as possible—even though they knew that their ground floors would soon become basements, and that the later entrances would be on the next storey up. In the meantime ladders were used so that shoppers could move from one level to another.

Once the replacement pavements were complete, businesses moved up to the new ground floor level. But some continued to use the basements of those buildings that had survived the fire, and pedestrians continued to use the lower level passages which were lit from above by hollow glass bricks set in the upper level pavements.

A passage in Seattle Underground
Photo: Steven Dutch

In 1907—two years before the Seattle World Fair—the underground areas were condemned as being a danger to health, and then left to deteriorate. But in the late 1960s, some of them—including the passage shown above—were made safe again so as to allow conducted tours of old Seattle.

Very little is known about the Turkish baths which used the illustrated sign on its fascia. Clearly it was in business soon after the reconstruction of the area began, but it is not yet known whether it moved upstairs after 1907. And while it is probably fair to assume that the baths must have existed before the fire in order to have had premises which could be rebuilt afterwards, this is not known for certain. Neither is it yet known when the baths originally opened or eventually closed.

Much further research is needed to give a more accurate picture of this establishment. But in the meantime, the sign remains to keep the memory of Seattle's Turkish baths alive.

Thank you icon

Leonard Tancuan for permission to reproduce his photo of the sign

Chris Brady for telling me about the sign, and about Seattle Underground

Steven Dutch for permission to use his photo of Seattle Underground

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Victorian Turkish Baths: their origin, development, and gradual decline

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