It’s August, and that means family vacations, out of town visitors, BBQs, and back-to-school shopping. If you are like over 80% of Seattle residents, you will be staying in Seattle during the month of August. Perhaps you have relatives or friends visiting from other parts of the country (or world!) and that means that you will be playing tour guide. I have to say, I love it when friends come to visit our city in August because they get to see our blue skies, green hills, and the elusive views of Mt. Rainer. And while Seattle has so much to offer tourists, we have some little gems right here in our own neighborhood to explore.
This week, I’ll be investigating the Staircases of Queen Anne Hill. Of the 500 staircases in Seattle that the SDOT maintains, 121 are located on Queen Anne (that’s correct, 121!) You can read more about all 121 active staircases at Queen Anne Stairs. Queen Anne resident and local architect, Thomas Horton, became interested in all the staircases in his neighborhood, and he did some investigating. He was so taken with his research, that he has become quite a local historian and cartographer. Maps and wall art are available at Queen Anne Book Company or online at the Queen Anne Historical Society. These materials are as much art as informational, and they make great stocking stuffers or welcome gifts for visitors. With 121 staircases to consider, it’s hard to choose favorites, but our team agreed on these five—including one that seems to be haunted.
- Wilcox Wall – 8th Avenue West and Lee Street
This iconic retaining wall with stairs was designed by Walter Wilcox to hold up the steep hill at 8th Avenue West. Construction started in 1913, but the wall wasn’t completed until 1915. With 785 steps, walking the entire structure is a workout. If you are looking for a place for a photo shoot, however, this is it. The wall features beautiful arches and artistic brickwork.
- Galer Crown – Galer Street and Queen Anne Avenue
This may be the most used staircase on Queen Anne Hill, as middle schoolers use it when walking to and from school, and East Queen Anne residents use it for getting to Olympia Pizza and The 5-Spot Restaurant. Built in 1905, the staircase is steep by today’s standards, so use it to walk home and you just might burn off some of that delicious pizza that you just ate. When walking down, use the handrail, please, and look west to glimpses of Elliott Bay.
- West Boston – 2200 Block of 11th Avenue West
If you enjoy a good ghost story (and who doesn’t?), take your visitors on a little walk at sunset to the West Boston staircase (also known as No. 54). Local legend has it that in 1921, a young woman was walking down the rickety wooden staircase on West Boston Street, when it gave way and collapsed. The young woman fell to her death while she was on her way to meet up with her fiancé, a sad story indeed. But the hair-raising part of this story originated about 10 years later when the wooden staircase was replaced with sturdier stone stairs. Legend has it that another young woman (who may or may not have been on her way to meet her fiancé) was walking down the same route on the new stone staircase when she heard a ghostly voice say “Turn back…, NOW!” The young woman was quite rattled, and she did not ignore the command. Just as she reached the top of the rebuilt staircase, it too broke apart and slid down the hill. The days of treacherous stair climbs are finally over. A newer staircase in the location is solid concrete with a solid handrail, so the likelihood of future crumbles is pretty slim. However, the legend continues to warn travelers to watch their step and listen for whispered warnings at all times.
- Comstock Grand Dame – Comstock Street and 1st Avenue North
I know these stairs well, as they are a great route for residents on the top of Queen Anne to make their way down the south slope of the Hill to Bumbershoot, Folklife, or the Opera House. This lovely staircase features 3 landings, and several resting spots if you are walking up the hill. The staircase with all its twists and turns, nestled under a canopy of trees, will make you feel like you are climbing to the Swiss Family Robinson’s treehouse. Take your time, and enjoy all 85 steps.
- S2 Bye Kracke Park – Highland Drive and 5th Avenue North
This park is not to be missed. It is well maintained, offers great views of downtown Seattle and Capitol Hill, and features one of my favorite staircases for traveling to lower East Queen Anne and all the great coffee shops and restaurants there. If you want to have a picnic in the city, this is a very sweet spot, and it’s never very crowded. My kids actually found this park and introduced me to its merits about 12 years ago. It continues to be a family favorite.
So there you have it, our five favorite Queen Anne Staircases. Thank you, Thomas Horton, for making me an expert! I definitely have a greater appreciation for the stairs that I use daily. But now, it’s your turn: What are your favorite staircases and shortcuts?