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September 01, 2009  |  It was 30 years ago today ...  |  3435 hit(s)

Today—September 1, 2009—is the 30th anniversary of my arrival in Seattle. I moved to Seattle from Denver in 1979 to go to graduate school at UW. I hadn't ever been within a thousand miles of the place; the closest I'd ever been to Seattle was San Francisco. It's worked out, tho, apparently—I'm still here. :-)

30 years is a long time. I'm still not a native, but I get a kind of indirect nativeness by virtue of having two kids who are from here. I personally did not graduate from a Seattle high school, for example, but my kids graduated from the storied Garfield High, which makes me almost like being from here.

I arrived on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, which was poor planning in some senses. For example, I wasn't able to check into the department at school that was expecting me, or even go and look for housing. But I had a place to stay, courtesy of a relative of a friend of my mother's, and it was Bumbershoot weekend, so I had a hospitable introduction to my new home.

Seattle was a different city when I moved here. It was smaller, for one. (Altho most of the growth since then has been in the suburbs.) Some of the institutions that put Seattle on the map—Microsoft, Starbucks, grunge—had yet to become famous. In those days, it really was still Jet City. The city expansion of the 50s and 60s (including I-5) had engendered a backlash of opposition that we feel even today in endless dithering about how to improve the urban infrastructure, and the city limped along for decades with roads and mass transit that had been designed for a fraction of the population. (We're catching up ... the story of Seattle while I've lived here is its gradual acceptance that it's a big city.)

People have moved here from all over and the essential Seattleite character has been diluted slightly, but Seattle is still the capital of the Northwest, and the outdoorsy, environmental, bookish, vaguely Scandinavian ethos of the city still manifests itself.

I spent a few minutes thinking about Seattle changes since 1979. Here's a list I came up with—I'm sure there's plenty more I'm not remembering. Leave me a comment if you can think of more.

  • The population of Seattle was 494,000. (Today it's 609,0002022: 741,000. The greater Seattle area, including the Tacoma corridor and the Eastside, is more like 3 million2022: 4.1 million.)

  • The tallest building in Seattle was the (then) Seafirst Building—"The box the Space Needle came in." (That building is now Safeco Plaza, and the tallest building is the Columbia Tower.)
  • Mount Saint Helens had not blown up.
  • The Kingdome was 3 years old. (Demolished in 2000, not even completely paid off, to make way for Qwest Century Link Lumen Field.)
  • The Seattle Mariners had played their first game 2 years earlier. (Sick's Stadium, home of the minor-league Seattle Pilots, had been torn down only in 1979.)
  • The Seattle Seahawks had played their first game 3 years earlier.
  • The Seattle Supersonics had won the NBA championship the year before. (They have not won it since and, of course, they are no longer in Seattle.)
  • Bumbershoot and NW Folklife were 8 years old.
  • The Pike Place Market had been saved from redevelopment 8 years earlier.
  • The Seattle Art Museum was in Volunteer Park.
  • SIFF was three years old.
  • Kenny G had not recorded his first solo album.
  • I-90 had a single bridge, 4 lanes total.
  • I-90 and I-5 had not yet been connected as freeways.
  • The old West Seattle bridge had been rammed and was stuck open.
  • Starbucks sold only beans (not yet beverages) from its store in the Pike Place Market. That store still exists. [1]
  • Nordstrom had stores only in Washington, Alaska, and California.
  • Microsoft had moved to Bellevue (from Albuquerque) in January.

  • Boeing was HQ'd in Seattle, as it had been since its founding. (No longer, tho.)
  • KING-FM still belonged to King Broadcasting.

The following did not yet exist:

  • West Seattle Bridge
  • Columbia Tower
  • WAMU Tower1201 Third Avenue
  • Fremont Troll
  • Benaroya Hall
  • McCaw Hall
  • EMPMoPop
  • Amazon
  • Safeco FieldT-Mobile Park
  • Qwest Century Link Lumen Field
  • Boeing 757, 767, 777, 787
  • Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains
  • Bite of Seattle
  • MTV, Fox Broadcasting
  • "Cheers", "Magnum PI", "Star Trek TNG", "MacGyver", "Blackadder"
  • "Breakfast Club", "Risky Business", "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Rambo", "Airplane", "The Blues Brothers", "Friday the 13th", "E.T.", "Ghostbusters"
  • Cell phones
  • CDs
  • PCs[2]
  • The internet

[1] The logo lady, as you can see, still had her mer-boobs.

[2] In the form we know them now. Obviously Microsoft was selling software for some type of PC.

Jim   01 Sep 09 - 5:31 PM

"vaguely Scandinavian ethos" -- love it!

JaAG   01 Sep 09 - 8:22 PM

Coming from the mid-west, I feel like I met my first Asian in Seattle. Heck, in small town Iowa we didn't even see blacks. To me Seattle is a bright exotic that teases one with good coffee, straight-ahead jazz, and lovely TV anchor ladies.

Although I came here in '85, I don't feel like a native and probably never will. Does one ever get used to the sight of Mt. Rainier on a clear day, the orange sunrise over Lake Samm, or the naked cyclists in Fremont?

Thanks for this piece Mike, done masterfully of course. It's a nice walk down memory lane.