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June 2024
18min read

The strange saga of a town that bragged, burned, and bullied itself into existence—and then became one of the most civilized places on earth

I’m a newcomer to Puget Sound, but I’ve lived here long enough to know not to brag about Seattle. Blow its horn too loudly, and some joker in New York or, God forbid, San Diego will hear you and move here with his family and tell all his friends about it, and before you know it, everything you love about the place will have vanished in a tidal wave of office buildings, condos, and malls.


It’s the newcomers who enthuse about the place.

“You think New York and Boston have harbors?” they ask. “Take a peek at Elliott Bay. You think Denver’s got mountains? Why, Seattle has got not only the Cascades and the Olympics but the dormant icy immensities of Rainier and Baker. You say Minneapolis has lakes? Get a load of the parklike shores of Lake Washington or the dynamic waterfront along Lake Union.

“Why,” hoots the newcomer, “no other city in America comes close to matching Seattle’s embarrassment of riches. Mountains, lakes, Puget Sound, and the best coffee in America. What more could anyone want?”

All the lone-timers want is to be left alone.

“A nice place to visit, but don’t come live here,” grouse the lesser Seattleites, who throw the bone at cars with California plates and recently voted for a moratorium on the construction of skyscrapers.


Sunny days, when the mountains are “out,” cause longtime Seattleites excruciating anxiety. “I can’t understand it,” they’ll tell visitors, squinting with a betrayed look across the shimmering harbor at the dazzling peaks of the Olympics. “It’s usually pouring this time of year.”

All this bad-mouthing would have appalled Seattle’s founders, whose ambitions for their settlement were so exalted that they originally named it New York By and By and gave away so much real estate to attract investors that two of its most prominent landholders—David Denny and Doc Maynard—died dead broke.

Denny and his brother Arthur were the first to dream Seattle’s municipal dream. Illinois Whigs whose father was a pal of Lincoln, they were headed for Oregon when a plausible man named Brock told them about an area—though he’d never visited it himself, you understand—that by all accounts was a paradise on earth.

Disappointed by the malarial, overplatted precincts of Portland, the nineteen-year-old David Denny ventured up to the mouth of the Duwamish River and landed on a clear and sunny day at Alki Point at the southern end of Elliott Bay. After shaking hands with an imposing and benignant chieftain named Sealth, he declared the mouth of the Duwamish “fine country” fit for “one thousand settlers” and summoned the rest of the family.

Denny was not the last newcomer to be seduced by an isolated spate of sunny weather. But then the rains set in, and by the time Arthur and his seasick relatives arrived on the morning of November 13, 1851, David Denny was feverish and starving in a roofless cabin, his foot crippled by an errant ax blade and all his provisions devoured by skunks.

A nice place to visit, but don’t come live here,” grouse the hard-core, long-time Seattleites.

“When the women got into the little rowboat to go ashore at Alki, they broke down and cried, every one of them,” a fellow passenger reported, “and the rain pelted down and their sunbonnets went flip flap, flip flap, as they rowed for shore.”

Under the scrutiny of the diminutive Duwamish and Suquamish peoples, who outnumbered them two hundred to one, the Denny party built their houses on the windy point, and by February they were sufficiently settled to provide a passing brig with a load of pilings for the burgeoning port of San Francisco.

Soon the great virgin stands of coastal fir, so dense and gloomy that the first explorers described them as more black than green, began to topple along the shoreline, and everyone gravitated deeper into the crook of the bay, whose precipitous harbor depths Arthur had sounded with a clothesline and a bundle of horseshoes.


Elliott Bay appears to form such an ideal harbor, and frames the Olympic Mountains so perfectly, that it’s hard to believe that the creation of a port of such manifest beauty and utility was so implausible an act of faith.

But despite the deep water, the bay was not an obvious port in 1851. Steep clay cliffs brooded along most of its narrow beach, flanked in turn by abrupt and thickly forested hills. As the little settlement huddled on a low teardrop outcropping eventually known as Denny’s Island, visitors took to calling it New York Fat Chance.

What the dour Dennys needed to fulfill their metropolitan vision was a booster, and only a year after they arrived, they got one. When Chief Sealth’s canoe ground up on the beach one afternoon and the tall, dapper figure of Dr. David Swinson Maynard stepped ashore, Seattle acquired the antic and expansive aspect of its personality. A general practitioner with parsimonious chin whiskers and spectacles, Maynard appeared so thoroughly upstanding that the Dennys coaxed him into settling with a gift of 640 acres of land, including 300 feet of prime waterfront.

Maynard may have been the nicest man in the history of the American West. He ministered to everybody, forgave all debtors, was a trusted friend of the Indians, and became the most ardent of Seattle’s founding fathers, a born booster and gregarious host to every luckless prospector, exhausted pioneer, and soggy visionary who washed up on Seattle’s muddy shore.


It was Maynard who named the settlement after his old friend Sealth (altering it a little for the Anglo-Saxon palate). And it was Maynard who engineered Seattle’s most vital coup, bribing Henry L. Yesler to locate his steam sawmill in Seattle with a gift of prime harborfront property. The mill was the first of its kind in the sound, and as it spewed its boards and studs into the holds of San Francisco cargo ships, it put Seattle on the map. (Much of early San Francisco was built from Yesler’s lumber, whereas Seattle rests in part on dumped ballast from Telegraph Hill.)

Like the Dennys, Maynard hoped that by handing land over to various investors his remaining parcels would accrue exponentially in value. By this means Arthur Denny joylessly thrived, but David Denny lost his fortune in a streetcar line and ended as an old man living in a backwoods shack no better than his leaking digs at Alki Point.

Maynard, too, was a calamitous businessman. Distractible, alcoholic, fatally empathetic, he lost money wherever he invested it—in a blacksmith shop, salmon-packing concern, general store, hospital, law practice—right up until his death in 1873. His second wife was faithful to his memory, and her own epitaph sums up her marriage to her kindly, hapless husband: “She Did What She Could.”

On a diet of lumber, coal, canned fish, and vice, Seattle grew during the 188Os from a shaky little backwater of thirtyfive hundred people into a full-fledged city of forty-two thousand, with the third-busiest dock in the Western United States. By 1889, when Washington became the forty-second state, the downtown boasted imposing brick-front buildings, an opera house, a Chinatown, machine shops, forges, a brewery, stores, mansions, hotels, and boardinghouses.

But it was no paradise. Despite Arthur Denny’s careful platting, the city had grown haphazardly. The water system consisted merely of trestled aqueducts of leaky augured logs connected by hollow wooden spigots. Drainage was so poor that on one street a child drowned trying to float a raft across a pothole eighteen feet wide and eight feet deep.

The sewage system was a sequence of wooden boxes that ran aboveground along Cherry Street, straggled across the tidal flats, and then emptied unceremoniously into the sound. (Though fortuitous currents deposited most of Seattle’s effluent in Tacoma, it was said that you could smell Seattle long before you laid eyes on it.) Toilets were hooked up to what amounted to a closed system, and a strong incoming tide could create what the locals called reverse flushes, eruptions so powerful that the unsuspecting were sometimes lifted off their lavatory seats, a hazard some homeowners tried to rise above by installing their toilets on ten-foot platforms serviced by ladders.

But such inconveniences were only temporary, for old Seattle was just a rough sketch on flammable paper, and one dry and windy afternoon in June 1889, everything, even the box sewers, was turned to smoke and ashes.

The part of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow was played by a Swede named Back who tried to douse an ignited glue pot with a bucket of water and succeeded only in splashing flaming adhesive all across the shavings that littered the floor of his basement cabinet shop. Seattle’s wooden sidewalks acted like horizontal chimneys, sucking the flames into a roiling current alone Front Street.

What passed for Seattle’s water system could deliver only a feeble stream that evaporated into steam as a burning brand floated across to the opera house and set it ablaze. The fire department tried to run hoses down to the harbor, but the tide was out, and in the rising heat the hoses began to melt.

A bid to gentrify Seattle’s Pike Place Market was defeated, and the hustle and bustle of a fullfledged fish and vegetable market was preserved.

An adjacent block caught fire, and the splendid brick and stone facades along the east side of Front Street toppled as the fire found their timber frames. Over the next hours the fire scuttled across town, engulfing waterfront warehouses and chasing ships out into the harbor.

By the next morning 116 acres of the heart of Seattle were a ruin. As far as anyone can tell, not a single life was lost; human bones found in one block turned out to be the remains of the pickled cadaver of a Chinese immigrant awaiting shipment back to his home soil.

Even as the homeless shuffled about, begging for shelter in the residential neighborhoods that survived the devastation, people recognized that the fire had offered Seattle a second chance at living up to Doc Maynard’s expectations. Within a few days businesses, including numerous brothels, re-established themselves in tents, and the entire nation marveled at what came to be known as the Seattle Spirit.

My own favorite example was the moment when someone was shouted down for daring to suggest at a public meeting that local funds raised for the victims of the recent Johnstown Flood be diverted to relieve the ruined city. Seattleites had their pride after all. Within a few weeks they had begun to build an improved, fire-resistant reincarnation of their city.

Construction commenced a couple of months too soon, as it turned out, for the city had decided that in the interest of burying new sewer and water lines at a sufficient pitch, all the streets would have to be raised the equivalent of one story. The merchants refused to destroy their burgeoning brick and stone buildings and defiantly resumed construction; one year after the fire 130 brick buildings had arisen from the ashes.

But the city raised almost twenty-five blocks’ worth of its streets anyway. City engineers erected stone walls, some as high as thirty feet, along the curb sides, buried their pipes between them, and paved the streets a full story above the business district’s sidewalks and ground floors.

A visitor to 1890s Seattle was thus presented with the Keystone Kops spectacle of pedestrians crossing the streets by means of ramps and ladders. Droppings from horses tethered above were a lesser peril of Seattle pedestrian life, but seventeen people died as a consequence of the impasse; some falling, others crushed by the wagons and freight that occasionally toppled from the reeraded streets.


Eventually the merchants agreed to roof over the sidewalks with concrete punctuated by iron-framed skylights of magnesium glass, thus creating perhaps the first underground shopping mall in American history. Although later, during Prohibition, several brothels and speakeasies took advantage of the subterranean maze around Pioneer Squarethe walkways were officially closed in 1907. Ever since then the Romanesque buildings that arose from the ruins of the Seattle fire have passed off their second stories as ground floors, to no discernible aesthetic disadvantage. (Somewhat deranged tours of these underground walkways are now conducted daily from Pioneer Sauare. )

In the old days the streets were even steeper, so precipitous that a horse could barely pull a wagon up the grade.

But Seattle’s engineers had even bigger fish to fry. A visitor nowadays will wonder at the heartiness of the locals as they stride up the steep streets that rise from the edge of the harbor. But in the old days the streets were even steeper, so precipitous that a horse could barelv pull a wagon up the grade.

The incline of Yesler Way, lined with logs and lubricated with fish oil, had provided Henry Yesler with a natural timber chute or “Skid Road” to the door of his mill. (The Yesler Way area remains a hangout for Seattle’s vagrants—or “vags,” as they were called—and is proudly regarded by Seattleites as the original Skid Row.) But for the rest of the city, squeezed onto a rather narrow strip of land between the sound and Lake Washington, Seattle’s steepest slopes were a damned nuisance.

Between 1900 and 1910 Seattle’s population would almost triple to 237,194: the city badly needed elbowroom. The Great Northern Railway had arrived in 1893, and other rail lines quickly followed. In 1897 Seattle had become the jumping-off place for the Klondike gold rush, and the city’s merchants outfitted so many Klondike gold rushers for so many millions of dollars that Seattleites came to regard Alaska as a kind of municipal colony.

Merchants eager to “mine the miners” raised the value of level downtown frontage to two thousand dollars a foot. But only a block away, on the flanks of Denny Hill, the value of an inclined portion fetched barely a tenth as much. Eventually the property owners joined forces with a formidable Scot named Reginald Thomson to agitate for the removal of the entire 240-foot hill. Thomson, who was the city engineer, had already horrified the standpatters by digging an enormous sewer line to Lake Union and a pipeline across the foothills of the Cascades from the Cedar River.

A battle ensued over the audacity of a proposition that would displace sixty-two city blocks and cost Seattle its finest hotel, the Washington, which claimed to command the most splendid views in the country. But Seattleites had already acquired a taste for such feats, filling in the tidal flats west of Denny Island with sawdust and debris, chopping at the clay cliffs along the water, removing almost five million cubic yards from two other malignant hills. It was enough to make Rainier itself fear for its existence.


And so, around 1910, employing the new hydraulic mining methods developed in Alaska, the city sluiced Denny Hill into the harbor. Gigantic electric pumps pushed twenty million gallons a day through a twenty-four-inch stave pipe up from Lake Union to the summit, where five giant nozzles played along the slopes at a pressure of 125 pounds, enough force to carry one-ton boulders along a system of ditches and flumes lined with steel plate, out through a tunnel and down a trestle to the bay.

Some buildings, including the Washington Hotel, were simply undermined, toppled, and incinerated. Others—homes, stores, entire apartment houses—were set on cribs and lowered into position when the regrade was complete or were hauled off intact to new locations as much as a mile away. One holdout refused to budge, so the city dug around him, isolating his house on a spire of earth 150 feet high, until he tired of hauling his groceries by ladder and abandoned his house to the hoses.

The regrade proceeded in two stages, the second in 1929, which displaced six million cubic yards of earth and rock. But the cost was so high during the first stage that many property owners lost their shirts. Indeed, the area has never risen to expectations; even the Seattle World’s Fair of 1962 failed to bring it to life. Despite a lot of municipal visions, skyscrapers decline to take root in the bedrock of Denny Hill, and people still mourn the view from the Washington Hotel.

Thus Seattleites bragged, burned, and bullied their city into existence. It is hard to reconcile the singular civility of today’s metropolis, where car horns are seldom heard and jaywalking is nearly felonious, with the rough and tumble of its history.

The men—and at first they were almost all men—who trudged through the muddy streets of old Seattle metamorphosed within a single generation from sky’s-the-limit visionaries like Maynard to working stiffs whose most exalted ambition was to get a job at the docks or the mills. The workers regarded the city’s old guard as conniving skinflints, while leftover pioneers like Arthur Denny, who lived until 1899, believed that “the conflict between labor and capital” was “largely a conflict between labor and laziness.”

A lot of work was seasonal, which meant that at various times of the year a high proportion of the city’s working population was idle. Rubbing shoulders with the stranded railroad workers, grounded sailors and fishermen, laid-off lumbermen, migrant fruit pickers, devastated Indians, and disabused prospectors who gravitated toward Elliott Bay, Seattle’s workers were ripe for politics.

Today’s Seattle is known by the neutral Chamber of Commerce sobriquet of the Emerald City, but the town was once regarded as a kind of Soviet Socialist Republic, a hotbed of radicalism. Strikes were frequent; Wobblies led marches under crimson flags; whole neighborhoods gathered cheerfully for class-warfare picnics; socialists, anarchists, pacifists, and gaunt Scandinavian Utopians could draw appreciative Skid Road crowds with pipe dreams of minimum wages and eight-hour workdays.

In 1919 all of this culminated in America’s one and only general strike. Triggered by a postwar shipyard walk-off of some thirty-five thousand men, the “Seattle Revolution” proved as effective as it was aimless, “a move,” wrote Anna Louise Strong, “that will lead—No One Knows Where!” It was a giddy moment for the unions, and it shut down the city for nearly a week. But where it led was to the victories of antilabor candidates in the next election, raids on union halls, and the eventual dominance of the collaborating Teamsters, under a local enforcer named Dave Beck.

Within a few weeks of the calamity they began to build a fire-resistant reincarnation of their city.

Labor played an unfortunate role in perhaps the darkest chapter in Seattle’s history, the anti-Chinese riots of 1886 that so alarmed the nation that President Cleveland declared martial law.

Today Seattle is busy cultivating the Pacific Rim with almost unseemly assiduousness. The rest of the country howled recently when a Japanese businessman offered to buy our local baseball team, the Mariners, and anchor it forever under the marshmallow roof of the Kingdome, but Seattleites, including myself, rather piously invoked the city’s close and enduring relationship with the Orient.

In fact, it’s a relationship that has had more downs than ups, and at no fault to the Japanese and Chinese who moved here. Back in 1885 Seattle’s workingmen set a dismal standard for Asian-American relations by blaming their troubles on the local Chinese population that had limped into the city after completing the transcontinental railroad.

Impoverished, cowed, and exploitable, the Chinese had worked the proverbial jobs-no-one-else-would-do and had come to represent not only the the threat of permanently depressed wages but all the rapacious doubledealing of the bosses themselves. White workers, prodded by the Knights of Labor, formed anti-Asian leagues and declared that by November 1 every Chinese in the city must leave.

Many did, but on February 7, 1886, over the Denny brothers’ protests, those Chinese too invested in Seattle or too poor to pay their passage home were rounded up by a mob of Sinophobes and marched to the city docks to be loaded onto a designated ship. At first the mob tried to be nice about it all, assisting the Chinese with their belongings. But when it developed that there wasn’t enough room for all of them and the Home Guard began to escort the remainder back to their homes, a riot ensued, leaving one man dead and four wounded.

As the economy improved, Seattle displaced its xenophobia with an enduring respect for the riches of the East. Only a decade later tens of thousands of Seattleites would greet the Japanese immigrants on the first transpacific steamship voyage with church bells and brass bands.

All along Puget Sound Japanese families fished, lumbered, and farmed. But after the attack on Pearl Harbor they were among the first to be interned, and on their return few regained even a fraction of what they had left behind. Neither Vancouver, British Columbia, nor San Francisco treated their Asian populations any better than Seattle did. Nonetheless, it is their vast affinitive communities that are luring wealthy Hong Kong capitalists today, and not Seattle’s International District, a cultural hodgepodge that today includes Vietnamese, Koreans, Filipinos, and Thai.

I have never seen a happy hooker, not even on “Oprah” or “Donahue.” So I don’t give much credence to the fond and rollicking accounts of Seattle’s era of sin and corruption.

Nonetheless its notoriety seems to have been well deserved. In an area known as the Lava Beds flourished bordellos, casinos, and box houses, the latter consisting of a bar, a stage, and a series of box seats capacious enough to accommodate discreetly not only spectators but their hostesses—many of them Native American—whom the Coast Magazine described as wearing “stained and sweaty tights … with blondined hair and some powdered wigs … [and] winkers smutted up and blackened.”

A correspondent for McClure’s declared one of Seattle’s twenty-four-hour casinos the largest in the country. But the scale of Seattle’s vice was best demonstrated by Mayor Hi Gill, who, in 1910, granted a thoroughfare to his cronies to erect a deluxe five-hundred-room bordello in the residential neighborhood of Beacon Hill.

One madam bequeathed her entire and considerable fortune to Seattle’s schools, and for a couple of years the city’s operating budget relied heavily on a “seamstress” tax. But as respectable women, armed at last with the right to vote, began finally to outnumber Seattle’s prostitutes, Hi Gill’s “Open City” gradually closed down.

The legacy of the Lava Beds is an enduring local appetite for the seedy that saved Seattle’s jumbled Pike Place Market from demolition and gentrification and cultivates a stubborn enthusiasm for the damnedest places. For longtime Seattleites the latte stands and gourmet restaurants that delight the visitor and the mock Riviera condos that shelter the newcomers are affronts to the salmon-gutting, tar-paper soul of their city.

I once took a native Northwesterner to a favorite Pike Place Market restaurant of mine called Place Pigalle. He liked the food all right, but as we dined, he wistfully recalled the bareknuckled barrelhouse Place Pigalle had displaced.

It was great, he told me, picking at his plate of mahi-mahi. The floor was sawdust, the proprietor fined you for cussing, and the band was caged in chicken wire to protect it from flying bottles.

“You want to see the real Seattle?” the long-timers may ask you if they’re feeling especially expansive. “You want to see a piece of the real Seattle the goddamn yuppies have destroyed?”

“Sure,” you say, and they’ll lead you to sepulchral joints with special entrées from the darkest recesses of American gastronomy—deep-fried slabs of geoduck clam necks or baleful bowls of salmon-head soup —and house drinks as fierce as turpentine.

A newcomer’s wonder at the beauty of Seattle is followed by a panicky recognition of its precariousness.

It’s hard to tell exactly when Seattle was tamed. Some say it was the general strike that did it; others the Great Depression, which struck the city with particular fury, abandoning ships to rust in Lake Union and occupying the area west of the site of the Kingdome with a vast Hooverville of shacks and tents. Some blame Dave Beck, whose musclebound intrigues created a middle class of almost tedious conventionality.

But as Seattle’s arteries clog, and its real estate values go through the congested roof, today’s old-timers are more apt to long for the lean, communal days of the last great bust in the early 1970s, when massive layoffs in the aeronautics industry created such an exodus from Seattle that a wag posted a billboard by the highway reading, “Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn out the lights?”

In 1914 a young iron and lumber heir made an unsatisfactory flight across Lake Washington and decided with a friend to build his own airplanes. After decades of ups and downs, and in one of the most unlikely aeronautic climates south of the Yukon, William E. Boeing’s enterprise grew into the dominant economic entity in the region.

In fact, no other city of its size in the country is as dependent on a single company as Seattle. During World War II, military contracts raised Boeing’s work force to fifty thousand and earned the company $600 million dollars, about eight times the value of all of Seattle’s manufacturing goods in the last prewar year. After the war Boeing gambled on passenger-plane travel, in 1960 was employing fiftyeight thousand workers in the Seattle area, and by 1992 had a payroll of about $4 billion, half of every dollar paid in manufacturing.

During the 1980s Boeing accounted for approximately 40 percent of Seattle’s boom, but for every boom there has been a bust, and although Microsoft in nearby Redmond has joined with lumber and shipping to diversify King County’s economy, it is still precariously one-dimensional. Today Seattleites track Boeing’s stock as faithfully as they check the weather, and they ride an economic roller coaster of airplane orders and cancellations, hirings and layoffs.

The ferry east from my home on Bainbridge Island hands downtown Seattle to you on a silver platter. The skyline is an impressive crystal cluster of office towers crowding down to the pastel piers of the old waterfront, which the freighters have long since abandoned for the container cranes half a mile to the south.

A pale gray building called the Smith Tower is now almost negligible south of the skyline’s apogee. But it is a measure of Seattle’s accelerated ambition that upon the Smith Tower’s completion in 1914 it was the tallest building outside New York City. I suspect that Seattle’s skyline would seem even more exalted if it weren’t dwarfed not only by the flanking Cascades but by Mount Rainier, which appears occasionally through the clouds and mists like an implausible projection on a vast gray scrim. There is something inherently democratic about Seattle. Stroll along the old waterfront, bump through the crowds at Pike Place Market, sit for lunch atop the Space Needle, or duck through the canyons of the business district, and you will find that unlike the intimate landscapes of New England—the miniature vistas around which anyone, with enough money, can build a fence—Seattle’s setting is unencompassable. Even the homeless man who glimpses Rainier and Baker or scans the embarrassment of riches of the sound, the lakes, the mountains, can lay equal claim with the Angeleno yachting through the San J’fcans or the lawyer setting his precarious mansion on the slopes of the emerald shore.

The culture is not exactly downbeat; Seattleites are by and large a wholesome lot who talk a good deal about family values, the work ethic, and community. But they are the nemesis of the dressed-for-success movement. “Sensible women in socks” is how one visitor summed up the local fashion scene, and we accord the same scorn to men who wear suits to work as we once reserved for boys who carried briefcases to high school.

A lot of people move here simply to be here, and one result is perhaps the most literate and overqualified work force in the country. In Seattle I have been waited upon by a postdoctoral metallurgist at a hardware store, a published historian at a newsstand, an ex-surgeon at a tackle shop.

Now and then I can almost convince myself that I have found a second New England where people are friendly within reason but also crotchety and observant of certain mutually protective proprieties. But colliding with the local pessimism is a dotty New Age credulity. I keep finding myself at gatherings where men in lumberjack beards and flannel shirts will suddenly talk about their feelings while massaging each other’s shoulders, where women flourish crystals, prescribe therapeutic touch, or draw snippets of inspirational verse from their handbags. People talk so much about sharing, bonding, and their own energy, are so apt to tell you where they’re coming from and what they think they hear you saying that I can’t figure out why Seattleites so fear and loathe the Californian.


A newcomer’s wonder at the beauty of Seattle is quickly followed by a panicky recognition of its precariousness. At first the region’s splendors seem imperishable, but every time Seattle tops a most-livable list or draws the covetous attention of some out-of-state master planner, we are filled with dread. The rest of the country may envy us our prosperity, but all we think to do with it is fret over its consequences: higher taxes, overdevelopment, and congestion.

The longer I live here, the more I suspect that the great American scythe that began its westward cut three hundred and fifty years ago is finally reaching the end of its swing in the Great Northwest. Grandparents whose children fled east to make their fortunes now see their grandchildren fleeing back to the Northwest. But Americans who could once reasonably expect to find a refuge here from the nation’s challenges—density, scarcity, diversity—are confronting and in some cases compounding the same problems from which they fled.

Seattleites have therefore become psychologically dependent on their own cycle of boom and bust. Seattle continues to lure the young and well-to-do, but the long-timers haven’t given up all hope of recapturing the gritty, intimate haven they once knew. Huddling under the camouflage of clouds and rain, the long-timers pray that the next bust, or maybe just the next good run of lousy weather, will save them from the creeping preciousness of the nation’s attention and give them back their city, by and by.


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