An old friend of mine traveled to Seattle by Amtrak in early January and I picked her up at the historic King Street Station. The station is located at the south edge of the downtown core, in between Pioneer Square and Chinatown near the Seahawks stadium.
The info on when her train would arrive kept changing from behind schedule, to ahead of schedule, and back again, so I ended up getting there an hour before her train did. Luckily I’d brought my camera along just in case, so had no trouble killing time by wandering around, snapping pics, and just sitting and enjoying the space. Though honestly, it’s difficult to do the place justice with photographs.
King Street Station was designed by the same Minnesota architectural firm that designed Grand Central in NYC, and construction was completed in 1906. The station served passengers on the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railways.
The station’s architectural style is often referred to as Railroad Italianate. It was built at a time when it was common to create lavish spaces on a grand scale. While the appearance of the brick and granite exterior is relatively modest, the interior is expansive and ornate. The coffered ceiling in the waiting room is three stories high and a second floor gallery with view balcony looks out over the space.
From the 1940s through the 1960s a series of remodels were done on the station to “modernize” it and adapt it to the economic realities of significantly decreased train ridership. Some changes made sense, such as removing the restaurant, lunch counter, and gift shop that were serving an ever dwindling number of passengers, and installing an improved baggage claim area in their place.
But some changes made during the remodels cause a person who loves old buildings to cry out in horror. A dropped ceiling of suspended plastic tiles was installed. It was ten feet lower and completely blocked the original ceiling from view. Other details below the new ceiling like plaster reliefs, marble panels, and mosaics were sheered from the walls and replaced with sheet rock. The only original features that remained visible in the waiting room were the tile floor and wall clock.
Whoever thought all that was a good idea should have been run out of town on the rails.*
Thankfully, people eventually came to their senses. Plans for restoration were made in 2003. The remodeling and restoration work was done in phases, and was finally completed in 2013. Period appropriate light fixtures, doors, and window frames were installed, the false ceiling was removed, and new plaster decorative work was added.
In the final phase seismic retrofitting was completed, an elevator was installed, and the Jackson Street plaza was finished. The new plaza now contains 36 geothermic wells that are 300 feet deep which serve to heat and cool the building.
King Street Station is on the National Register of Historic Places and the Washington Historic Register.
To make the most of your photographic opportunities here you really need an ultra wide-angle lens. My kit zoom is 27mm at its widest, and after I started taking photos I really wished that I also had my 18mm Rokinon manual focus prime lens with me. Though if you don’t have an UWA, there are plenty of details to zoom in on.
The station is open from 6 am to 11 pm seven days a week, and anyone can enter to wander around. I suggest going on a bright day without heavy dark clouds in order to get the most light to work with. It was sunny the day I was there but, even though to my eyes there seemed to be plenty of light, I was often working with a shutter speed as slow as 1/26 and ISO as high as 1250. (I was mostly using apertures of f5.6 or f8 for depth of field.)
Cleaning crews are constantly at work inside the station and the place is pristine. I think the bathrooms may be the cleanest public restrooms in existence on the planet.
The biggest difficulty about visiting King Street Station if you’re mobility impaired is lack of parking. The King Street entrance is level with no stairs, and an elevator inside takes you up to the gallery. But a large building now occupies the space that used to be the station’s parking lot. All that remains is a short strip of free spaces right across from the King Street entrance doors, and another strip along King Street itself. Only one of the spaces is reserved for handicapped parking.
It’s not unusual for all the spots to be filled. If that’s the case you’ll have to look for metered street parking or a pay lot further away and walk a few blocks. I was there on a weekday morning. I have a hunch that a weekend early morning, especially a Sunday, might be a better bet if you want to park close and go inside.
If you’re picking up or dropping off a train passenger there is a strip right next to the King Street entrance doors where you can wait in your vehicle without needing to get an actual parking space. Given that there were security guards in the area, I suspect it might be difficult to get away with leaving your car there and dashing inside for a couple minutes to look around and snap pics as your passenger arrives or departs. But they might allow it if parking is full; you could always ask.
Whether or not you’re into photography, King Street Station is worth stopping in to see if you love old buildings and are in the area. There are lots and lots of things to see and do in this part of town, including Union Station next door to the east, in keeping with the railroad theme.
Other sightseeing options in the area: Seattle waterfront, Pioneer Square, Occidental Park, Century Link Field, Safeco Field, Smith Tower, Sky View Observatory, UPS waterfall, and the International District (including the Chinese Gate, Hing Hay Park, and Kobe Terrace Park).
* The correct phrase is “run out of town on a rail” and refers to a fence rail, but I adapted it to keep with the train theme. 😉
(The first two photos are what happens when you don’t notice your white balance is all messed up until after you’ve been shooting for a while. *head smack*)