Pier 70 (Seattle)

  • By Rita Cipalla
  • Posted 9/01/2022
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 22537
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Seattle's Pier 70 was built in 1902, but was called Pier 14 until May 1, 1944, when a plan to standardize the names of Seattle wharves and piers was implemented. Built along Railroad Avenue (Alaskan Way) at the foot of Broad Street, Pier 14 was the first large pier at the northern end of the central waterfront. It was built by Elton E. Ainsworth and Arthur G. Dunn, childhood friends from New York who founded one of the largest cannery and fishing operations in the Northwest at the turn of the twentieth century. In the 1920s and 1930s, Pier 14 was a busy port of call for steamship companies and goods arriving from around the world; the U.S. Coast Guard used it for training operations after World War II. In the early 1970s, the pier underwent a major renovation in an effort to move away from warehousing and shipping and attract more restaurants and shops. The popular MTV reality show, Real World Seattle, set up home there in 1998, followed by a second remodel in 1999. In 2022, Pier 70 housed a restaurant, café, pub, and assorted offices.fices.

Built for Salmon Packing

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Seattle's waterfront was central to the city's growth. Many of its piers and docks were owned or named after the railroads, steamship companies, or private businesses that needed waterfront access. Pier 14 was built in 1902 by Elton E. Ainsworth (1862-1914) and Arthur G. Dunn (1861-1945) to accommodate their growing cannery business. The wooden pier, measuring 570 feet by 175 feet and located near the foot of Broad Street across Railroad Avenue (renamed Alaskan Way in 1936), was the first large pier to be constructed at the north end of the central waterfront.

Elton Ainsworth moved to Seattle in 1888 from New York and convinced his friend Arthur Dunn to join him. In 1889 the pair founded the Seattle Fish Company, a fish processing and trading company known for its Pacific Coast halibut. The businessmen were said to be the first to ship halibut outside the Northwest, carefully packing the fish in sawdust and ice for transit. In 1893 they built a warehouse at the foot of Seneca Street to accommodate a second business, the storage of feed and grain.

By 1896 the two had taken their business to the next level, and that year they built Pier 8 (renamed Pier 59 in 1994, now home to the Seattle Aquarium) and "constructed two of the finest canneries in the Northwest, one at Blaine and another at Seattle" ("Sudden Death of E. E. Ainsworth"). Considered state-of-the-art at the time, the "salmon canning plants were noted for their modern equipment, sanitary conditions, and extremely efficient management. Their products were sent all over the country" ("Dunn Gardens"). In 1899 cannery workers at both the Blaine and Seattle locations packed 94,500 cases of fish, and by 1901 the canneries were so successful that the men decided to sell their retail fish business.

In 1902, in addition to constructing Pier 14, Ainsworth and Dunn built a second warehouse across Railroad Avenue that stored the tin needed to make the cans for packing salmon. This building (2801 Elliott Avenue) would house The Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant from 1970-2016. 

Boyhood Friends

Ainsworth and Dunn were childhood friends who grew up in Cape Vincent in upstate New York, a small town along the St. Lawrence River. Both men knew something about fishing before they moved to the Northwest. Ainsworth learned about the fishing business from his father, William. After a brief stint in Detroit working at the Robinson Brothers' Lumber Company, he moved to Seattle in 1888 and convinced Dunn to join him later that year. Dunn's résumé included a job with a company that sold fresh and frozen fish caught around the Great Lakes area. 

In little more than a decade, the hardworking and energetic Ainsworth had become a prominent and successful salmon packer, "one of the best-known business men in Seattle" ("Sudden Death of E. E. Ainsworth"). At the age of 51, he suffered an attack of acute indigestion at his home. On December 7, 1914, he was admitted to the hospital, where he died the next day following surgery. More than 300 business associates and friends attended his funeral at the family residence at 1308 Minor Avenue, where mourners praised his integrity and civic spirit. Floral tributes filled four cars. The Employers' Association of Washington convened a special session to pass a resolution acknowledging Ainsworth's contributions to the community. An enthusiastic golfer, Ainsworth had been named president of the Seattle Golf Club just three weeks before his death. He left behind a wife and a 5-year-old daughter, Helen.

Dunn was also a golf enthusiast and a charter member of the Seattle Golf Club. In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, he was an avid gardener. In 1914, Dunn purchased 10 acres in Seattle's Broadview neighborhood to use as a family summer retreat. He hired the Olmsted Brothers' landscape-architecture firm to design the estate. The local architectural firm of Bebb and Gould designed a grey shingled house on the property in 1915 for the family's use. During World War I, Dunn assisted the U.S. Food Administration, created in 1917 and headed by future president Herbert Hoover (1874-1964). The agency's original mission was to convince Americans to change their eating habits so there would be enough food for the armed forces. Dunn died at the age of 83 in 1945, survived by two daughters and three sons. 

Dodwell & Company

The Ainsworth & Dunn company eventually consolidated cannery operations at the plant in Blaine, but retained ownership of Pier 14, which was leased to different shipping concerns over the years, including the Puget Sound Wharf and Warehouse Company (1905) and the American and Hawaiian Steamship Company (1912). The pier was rebuilt in 1914, becoming "the largest and finest ocean steamship pier in Puget Sound" ("Dodwell Company Takes Over Pier 4"), and in July 1914 had a new tenant, Dodwell & Co. Dodwell was the agent for the powerful Blue Funnel Line, a British-owned shipping company founded in 1866 and known for naming its ships after heroes of Greek mythology, Cyclops, Ajax, and Bellerophon, to name a few.

When Pier 14 became the North Pacific terminus of the Blue Funnel Line, Seattle was abuzz with the economic potential. Dodwell was expected to bring in an "enormous increase in trade. Gain in freight handled through this port will amount to 60,000 tons inward and 25,000 outward" ("Liner Titan Due Here Tomorrow"). Pier 14 soon became known as the Dodwell Dock.

The first of the Blue Funnel ships, Titan, arrived at Pier 14 on July 8, 1914, carrying about $1.5 million worth of silk, in addition to "6,000 measurement tons of European merchandise and the usual shipments of hemp, matting, tea, curios, peanuts and porcelains from the Orient" ("Liner Titan Due Here Tomorrow"). That same day, the first Blue Funnel vessel to be loaded at the Dodwell dock, Ixion, left for ports in the Far East and England, carrying "2,000 tons of flour, 200 tons of scrap tin, 800 tons of box shooks, 1,500,000 feet of lumber, nine 50-ton logs, 30,000 cases of canned salmon, 500 tons of hay, 30 automobiles, and an unusually large shipment of sawmill, electrical and agricultural machinery" ("Liner Titan Due Here Tomorrow").  

In the fall of 1914, Dodwell renovated its shipping offices at the pier, ensuring that company manager George A. Heyburn and his staff were comfortably ensconced "with every modern improvement, including even electric heat ... The new offices in Pier 14 are finished in white and gold oak, the rooms being separated by glass partitions. The illuminating system has been worked out so that at night light comes from all directions. The suite includes a special office for the customs inspectors. Manager Heyburn's private office is a spacious affair, equipped with everything to be found in the headquarters of an uptown commercial house" ("New Offices for Dodwell Staff").

Arson on the Pier

On October 28, 1915, a spectacular fire began on the second floor of the Pier 14 warehouse and caused an estimated $1.1 million in damages, with about 90 percent attributed to the freight stored inside the building. Items destroyed or badly damaged included 5,000 bales of hemp, 17,000 chests of tea, 11,000 sacks of brewers' rice, 90,000 cases of salmon, 4,000 bales of cotton, and 750 tons of paper from the Powell River Paper Company in British Columbia. A huge shipment of silk fabric totaling $1.3 million had been unloaded earlier in the day and placed on an outbound ship; otherwise the loss would have been doubled. Damage to the pier itself was estimated at about $100,000.

Thousands of people gathered to watch the flames, severely hampering firefighting efforts. "Overhead bridges, the roofs of buildings in the vicinity and the nearby hillsides were black were spectators" ("$1,100,000 Loss ..."). Streetcar service in the vicinity was halted and passenger trains were delayed. "There came a puff as of a gasoline flare, flames shooting through the roof at the front end and then seeming to spread sidewards along the roof. Above this was a cloud of jet black smoke that shot up to a height of from 800 to 1,000 feet and then appeared to droop back on the flare, seeming completely to blanket it. A twenty-mile wind fanned the flames and despite the efforts of the firemen with sixteen lines of hose working from the landside and the fireboat, which had rushed to the scene, it seemed for a time that the entire structure was doomed" ("$1,100,000 Loss ...").

It was the third mysterious fire at Pier 14 in just 60 hours; the first two were extinguished before they got out of hand. Within days, investigators linked all three fires to a larger plot to foil the shipment of munitions to Russia for use during World War I. Citing "the existence of an alien arson and dynamite gang, [investigators pointed out that] ... an invisible effort is being made to prevent shipments from Seattle to Vladivostok, Russia ... That the Pacific Coast, as well as the Atlantic, is included in the monster plan for hampering shipping, wholesale destruction of cargoes, piers and vessels, regardless of possible loss of human life is the declaration made last evening by a noted investigator for the East who is participating in the chase of the conspirators whose work caused the enormous loss at Pier 14" ("Officers Sure of Existence ...").

While the warehouse and pier were undergoing repairs, Blue Funnel moved its shipping operations farther north to Smith Cove, but the temporary location was far from ideal. "Officers of the Blue Funnel Line's vessels are impatient to return to Pier 14, as they are cut off more or less from the social life of the city at the Smith Cove pier. At the latter terminal it is necessary to walk nearly half a mile to get a street car" ("Blue Funnel to Return ..."). The pier was back to full operations by May 1, 1916. In 1926, Dodwell moved its operations to Pier 40.

In the 1930s, Pier 14 was a busy port, welcoming ships and goods from around the world, including Buenos Aires, Argentina; Hamburg, Germany; Gothenburg, Sweden; and Yokohama, Japan. Shipping companies using the pier included the German Hamburg American Line, Cascade Lines, and several others.

Pier 14 Renamed Pier 70

As part of a citywide plan to create a more standardized system that could accommodate future expansion, many of the docks and piers along Seattle's central waterfront were renumbered on May 1, 1944. "It's no surprise that the new numbering system came during World War II, when the waterfront was booming again after the Great Depression, and tons of military supplies and thousands of soldiers and sailors were moving through Seattle. Newspaper accounts from the time indicate that the military -- who essentially controlled the harbor during the war -- saw the need to make the pier system easier to navigate and also had the authority to make the change with a minimum of public process. Those same newspaper accounts say that the move was approved by business owners, railroads, and most steamship operators, though Alaska Steamship Company objected to the renumbering of their piers -- Pier 1 and Pier 2 -- to the far less important sounding Pier 50 and Pier 51" ("All Over the Map ...").

The project was overseen by the Puget Sound Ports Traffic Control Committee, comprising representatives from the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, Port of Seattle Commission, terminal companies, steamship lines, and railroad companies. "Ultimately terminals in West Seattle and on Harbor Island received numbers below 24, while terminals along the Duwamish above Harbor Island have numbers greater than 100" (McClary). As part of the renaming process, Pier 14 became Pier 70.

During World War II, the pier was leased by the Washington State Liquor Control Board and used as a liquor warehouse. The U.S. Coast Guard leased the wharf from 1946-1954 for training operations. The location allowed visiting naval vessels to tie up along the north end. After 1954, the pier was used primarily for warehousing.

From Warehouse to Retail Space

In 1970 a major renovation project to transform Pier 70 "from a warehouse into a people place" was announced ("More Shops to Open ..."). The pier was still owned and operated by Ainsworth & Dunn, with Edward P. Dunn, son of the original owner, acting as property manager. Helen Ainsworth Culliton, Ainsworth's daughter, also had a financial interest in the business. In an interview with The Seattle Times in 1970, Dunn outlined the problems the families faced in operating the pier solely as warehouse space. "We can't operate it successfully this way any longer because of higher taxes and competition from new warehouse space. But we don't feel it should be destroyed either, if the space is useful" ("Pier 70 to be Transformed ...").  

The first phase of the renovation began in the fall of 1970 and accommodated Pier 1 Imports, a home-goods retailer that leased 15,000 square feet of space. By summer 1971 a tavern and chowder house had opened on the north end and a restaurant was on the Elliott Bay side, with more than a dozen retail shops in between. "To make Pier 70 distinctive from the start, it was decided the tenants should be the kind not normally found in local shopping centers. Thus far, the shopkeepers are young, most on their first business venture. And they've been successful" ("An Inviting Place ..."). The final phase of the project, begun in early 1972, added more office space. The entire structure measured 480 feet by 120 feet, and the renovation cost $1.3 million.

During the remodel, the architectural firm of Haradar, Mebust & Schorr chose to keep some of the pier's historic elements intact, reusing existing windows and the heavy wooden support timbers. "Columns are being sandblasted and will be left natural. Reclaimed cedar is being utilized where possible on the interior. The 16-foot-high ceilings are being retained" ("Pier 70 to be Transformed ..."). New wiring, plumbing, and a sprinkler system were installed. The pier would still accommodate small-boat moorage on the south side, with space for larger ships on the north end.    

Despite the publicity surrounding the renovation, Pier 70 did not catch on as a retail location, perhaps because it was too far from the city center and there was a shortage of nearby residential areas. "There was then no waterfront trolley, no sculpture garden, and next door, no new Port of Seattle, now next door. By now [2009] both the Belltown and Seattle Center neighborhoods above the pier are piling high with condos, and the waterfront foot of Broad is quite lively" ("Pier 70 from the Bay").

In 1978, Edward Dunn and Helen Culliton sold the pier, along with the brick building housing The Old Spaghetti Factory, to a group of West Coast investors for $4 million. Foot traffic continued to decline, and by the 1990s several tenants had moved out. Seafirst Bank foreclosed on the property in 1990, and it was purchased by Triad Development in 1995, which undertook a major overhaul of the historic structure. Following renovations, the building was leased to a variety of tenants, including a party-and-event-planning company, a Cajun restaurant, and a sales office for a British telecommunications firm. Two cruise-ship companies docked at Pier 70 -- Spirit Cruises and Yacht Ship Cruise Line Inc., which offered catamaran cruises around Western Washington and British Columbia.

Real World Seattle

In 1998, Pier 70 became the set of Real World Seattle, the seventh season of MTV's hit reality show, The Real World, which recorded the everyday interactions of a diverse group of strangers living in close proximity. Filmed in cities around the country, the Seattle segment was the first filmed in the Northwest. It premiered on June 16, 1998, and ran for 20 episodes. The set inside the building included several bedrooms and a billiard room, gym, rock-climbing wall, spa, kitchen, living room, and confessional room where the Real World residents bared their souls to the camera. To install a residence on the pier, even a temporary one, required a special permit. The TV producers were able to get Pier 70 declared a 24-hour film set, versus a residence, and the project moved forward.

The filming delayed a planned remodel of the pier by six months, until mid-1999. In May 2000, a restaurant called the Waterfront Seafood Grill (changed to Aqua by El Gaucho in 2011) moved in, along with a pub, coffee shop, offices, and on-site gym. In June 2000, Go2Net, an Internet start-up company, rented space for 200 workers for about a year until the firm decided to consolidate operations at its Bellevue headquarters.

Aided by the waterfront streetcar, which operated from 1982 to 2005, Pier 70 and its surrounding area began attracting more tourists and foot traffic, which increased when Olympic Sculpture Park, an outdoor sculpture museum operated by the Seattle Art Museum, opened in January 2007. North of the pier is the waterfront Myrtle Edwards Park, which offers bike and pedestrian paths on the shore of Elliott Bay.


HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Dunn Gardens" (by Cassandra Tate), "Seattle Docks and Piers are Given New Designations on May 1, 1944" (by Daryl C. McClary), "Seattle Central Waterfront, Part 10" (by Paul Dorpat), www.historylink.org (accessed August 3, 2022); Feliks Banel, "All Over the Map: When the Numbers Came Up for the Seattle Waterfront," April 30, 2021, KIRO News Radio website accessed August 10, 2022 (https://mynorthwest.com/2856252/all-over-the-map-when-numbers-came-up-for-seattle-waterfront/); Josh Lyle, "Seattle's Old Spaghetti Factory Closing in December," KING-5 TV, October 26, 2016, king5.com F2 website accessed August 10, 2022 (https://www.king5.com/article/news/local/seattles-old-spaghetti-factory-closing-in-december/281-341793595); "Liner Titan Due Here Tomorrow," The Seattle Times, July 7, 1914, p. 16; "New Offices for Dodwell Staff," Ibid., October 25, 1914, p. 14; "Sudden Death of E. E. Ainsworth," Ibid., December 9, 1914, p. 4; "Dodwell Company Takes Over Pier 4," Ibid., January 31, 1915, p. 22; "Officers Sure of Existence of Arson Ring," Ibid., October 31, 1915, p. 5; "$1,100,000 Loss in Incendiary Pier Blaze," Ibid., October 29, 1915, p. 1; "Blue Funnel to Return to No. 14," Ibid., April 17, 1916, p. 14; Polly Lane, "Pier 70 To Be Transformed into Shops, Restaurants," Ibid., September 6, 1970, p. A-16; "More Shops to Open on Pier 70," Ibid., December 5, 1971, p. D-3; J. Wright Hotchkiss, "An Inviting Place to Browse," Ibid., August 13, 1972, Pictorial p. 2; "Pier 70 Sold to Investment Group," Ibid., August 27, 1978, p. M-3; Barbara Schechter, "Pier 70 Set for a Face Lift After Several Years of Decline," Ibid., November 2, 1995; Paul Dorpat, "Seattle's Pier 70 Turns from Trade to Retail," Ibid., July 26, 2009 (www.seattletimes.com); "Business Associates at Ainsworth Funeral," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 11, 1914, p. 2; "Men Board Ships as Strike Ends," Ibid., February 5, 1937, p. 1; "Death Claims Arthur G. Dunn," Ibid., October 14, 1945, p. 35; Jessica Voelker, "The Waterfront Seafood Grill's New Name," Seattle Met magazine, September 29, 2011, seattlemet.com website accessed August 10, 2022 (https://www.seattlemet.com/eat-and-drink/2011/09/the-waterfront-seafood-grills-new-name-aqua-by-el-gaucho-september-2011); Paul Dorpat, "Pier 70 from the Bay," Seattle Now & Then, July 25, 2009, pauldorpat.com website accessed August 10, 2020 (https://pauldorpat.com/2009/07/25/seattle-now-then-pier-70-from-the-bay/); "Summary for 2821 Alaskan Way," Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Historical Sites website accessed August 5, 2022 (https://web6.seattle.gov/DPD/HistoricalSite/QueryResult.aspx?ID=1165553302); "Central Waterfront Piers," City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board website accessed August 5, 2022 (http://www.seattle.gov/documents/Departments/Neighborhoods/HistoricPreservation/Landmarks/ RelatedDocuments/piers-waterfront-designation.pdf); "Context Statement: The Central Waterfront," November 2006, City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods website accessed August 8, 2022 (https://www.seattle.gov/documents/Departments/Neighborhoods/HistoricPreservation/ HistoricResourcesSurvey/context-waterfront.pdf); "Dunn Gardens," December 15, 1994, National Park Service website report accessed August 9, 2022 (https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/a516f047-45ef-4c34-8c2b-3da86cc3d1db); "Celebrating 20 Years," September 19, 2020, El Gaucho Restaurant website accessed August 10, 2022 (https://elgaucho.com/stories/celebrating-20-years-the-enduring-elegance-of-aqua-by-el-gaucho/); "Pier," realworldhouses website accessed August 10, 2022 (http://www.realworldhouses.com/realworld7.html).

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