King Street Station

King Street Station is a train station in Seattle, Washington. Located between South King and South Jackson streets and Second and Fourth Avenue South in the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle, the station is just south of downtown. Built from 1904 to 1906, It served the Great Northern Railway and Northern Pacific Railway from its grand opening on May 10, 1906, until the creation of Amtrak in 1971. The station was designed by the St. Paul, Minnesota architectural firm of Charles A. Reed and Allen H. Stem, who were later associate designers for the New York Central Railroad's Grand Central Terminal in New York City. King Street Station was Seattle's primary train terminal until the construction of the adjacent Oregon & Washington Depot, later named Union Station, in 1911. King Street Station was added to the National Register of Historic Places and the Washington Heritage Register in 1973.

Since the early 1990s the station has been in various states of repair to undo remodels done during the middle of the Twentieth Century, including the restoration of the elegant main waiting room. King Street Station was purchased by the City of Seattle in 2008 for $10 and with enough funds now in place the restoration is planned to finally be complete by 2012.

The station is served by Amtrak Cascades, Empire Builder, and Coast Starlight trains, and by Sound Transit's Sounder commuter trains. Of the eighteen Washington stations served by Amtrak, King Street Station was the busiest in Fiscal Year 2010, boarding or detraining an average of approximately 1,850 passengers daily. For the first nine months of 2006, Sounder service boarded almost 1.2 million passengers at King Street Station.


Built between 1904 and 1906 by the Great Northern Railway and Northern Pacific Railway, the station replaced an antiquated station on Railroad Avenue, today's Alaskan Way. Designed by the firm of Reed and Stem of St. Paul, Minnesota, who acted as associate architects for the design of Grand Central Terminal in New York City, the station was part of a larger project that moved the mainline away from the waterfront and into a 5,245 foot (1,590 m) tunnel under downtown. The depot's 242-foot (74 m) tower was modeled after Campanile di San Marco in Venice, Italy, making it the tallest building in Seattle at the time of its construction. This tower contained four huge mechanical clock faces built by E. Howard & Co. of Boston, Massachusetts, offering the time to each of the four cardinal directions. At the time of installation it was said to be the second largest timepiece on the Pacific Coast, second only to the Ferry Building in San Francisco, California. Later, this tower also served as a microwave tower for the Burlington Northern Railroad, the successor of both the Great Northern and Northern Pacific, which occupied the second and third floors of the station, now deserted.

Over the years, remodeling has concealed the station's original interior. The final blow occurred in 1965 when the ornate coffered ceiling of the main waiting room, and a balcony and second level arcade were hidden by a lower dropped ceiling 10 feet (3.0 m) below the original. Under the direction of Northern Pacific Architect A.C. Cayou, the waiting room was walled off and marble was removed from columns as well as ornamental plaster being sheared from the walls as high as the new ceiling. A grand staircase linking South Jackson Street with the west entrance was reduced to half its original size, and an addition housing escalators was constructed on the west elevation of the building that was not in keeping with the building's architecture. The only remaining feature left visible in the main waiting area was the terrazzo tile floor and the clock on the west wall above the restrooms.

From a practical standpoint, the station is close to downtown. However, unlike cities such as Boston, it is not near the intercity bus terminal, although the station is under a block from the International District of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. What appears to be an upper entrance is not used. The main entrance on the first floor is a small parking lot, rather than a loop.


Plans are underway to restore the entire building to its former prominence. Cosmetic renovations began in 2003. As part of these renovations the Compass Room and restrooms were refurbished, and the exterior awnings were replaced. New mahogany entry doors and wood framed windows were installed in the waiting room and Compass Room. New brass door hardware and reproduction period light fixtures and plaster decorative work were included to reproduce the former character of the station's interior.

In November, 2006, the Office of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels announced a preliminary agreement between the City of Seattle and BNSF Railway to purchase the station for $1. The Seattle City Council formalized the agreement by passing legislation in December, 2006. The deal, revised to $10, was signed March 5, 2008. The purchase by the city freed up US$19 million of state and federal funds that can be used for further restoration of the station. The city has earmarked a further US$10 million for the restoration as part of a recently passed local transportation levy.

In 2008, the clocks in the clock tower were repaired, and the old microwave antennas were removed. Repair work to the exterior continues as of June 2010. Phase two of the project began in May, 2010, when demolition work commenced on the second and third floors, previously used by Burlington Northern for division offices. Work is also underway on the baggage area, originally used as a restaurant. During June, 2010, work also began on demolition of a 1950s addition to the building that housed the escalators and of the Jackson Street Plaza. Demolition work was completed by September, 2010. A surprise development during this phase was the removal of the suspended ceiling in early July. Crews worked over several nights while the station was mostly empty removing the over 1,600 acoustic tiles and their framing. The current light fixtures and remaining suspended wires were to remain until enough funding becomes available to complete restoration. Currently the project focuses on the rebuilding of the Jackson Plaza. Thirty-six geothermic wells reaching 300 ft (91 m) into the ground were drilled to eventually heat and cool the station. A new concrete floor has been poured including seismic wall supports and space for an elevator and future ticketing and baggage areas.

In October, 2010, the King Street Station project was awarded $18.2 million from $2.4 billion in high-speed intercity passenger rail service funding announced by the U.S. Transportation Department. This funding is needed by the project in order to complete seismic regrades and the restoration of the interior. The entire project is now expected to be completed by late 2011 to early 2012.


King Street Station is a red brick masonry and steel frame building with terra cotta and cast stone ornamentation, through relatively subdued in comparison to the clock tower. The entire first floor exterior is brick-clad with granite. The building is L-shaped with the clock tower marking the main entry on the west facade. The clock tower and main entry terminate the axis of King Street in Pioneer Square. The architectural style is sometimes denoted as "Railroad Italinate" with definite Italian inspirations in the clock tower while the base shows influences of Beaux Arts.

Inside the main entry, at the base of the clock tower, is the entry hall, known as the Compass Room. The name references the navigational star compass rose design laid out in hand-cut marble tiles on the floor at its center. The Compass Room has marble wainscotting, and is lighted by a multi-globe chandelier suspended above the compass rose from an elaborate plaster rosette. Triple-globe wall sconces around the perimeter illuminate a band of inlaid green iridescent glass tile on the walls. Circular clerestory windows are trimmed in plaster relief decoration. This motif was originally repeated throughout most of the station's waiting room. While there is no known influence for the design of the interior, it resembles the ceiling of the famous Salone dei Cinquecento at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy featuring a similar coffered grid with dentils and repeating circles.

Passenger Service

Currently King St. Station has twenty-one daily train departures:

  • Nine Sounder trains south to Tacoma, Washington (weekdays only)
  • Four Sounder trains north to Everett, Washington (weekdays only)
  • Two Cascades trains north to Vancouver, BC
  • Two Cascades trains south to Portland, Oregon
  • Two Cascades trains south to Eugene, Oregon through Portland
  • One Empire Builder train east to Chicago, Illinois
  • One Coast Starlight train south to Los Angeles, California
Notable Places Nearby
  • Pioneer Square National Historic District
  • Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park
  • International District
  • Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel
  • CenturyLink Field
  • Safeco Field
  • Union Station
  • International District/Chinatown Light Rail Station
Notes and references

Building Activity

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