History of Belltown

Belltown is built on land originally owned by William Nathaniel Bell, whom it is also named after – even though he left Seattle in 1855. Since it is so close to Downtown, the history of Belltown is very similar to the early history and economy from the 1850s Seattle.

It once was located on Denny Hill, one of Seattle’s tallest hills. When Denny Hill was re-graded between 1897 and 1899, and was subsequently sluiced into Elliott Bay between 1902 and 1911, the land that is now Belltown appeared. Because of Denny Hill, however, Belltown was isolated from the Downtown areas of Seattle; hence the neighborhood’s lower class beginnings. In its early years, it was a low-rent, semi-industrial district.

history of belltownBelltown is home to Cottage Park, where single-family homes were built in 1916. The three remaining cottages are adjacent to the Belltown P-Patch, and are the last of 11 which used to sit on the quarter-block property. They used to house writers in residence for the Richard Hugo House program (two writers still remain), and are the last remaining wood framed residences in downtown Seattle, maintained by the City as a historic site.

The evolution of the film and movie industry strongly affected Belltown’s growth through the early 1900s. Virginia Street and Third Avenue in Belltown were home to “Film Row” around 1910, with film exchanges in the Pathe Building. Because of the flammability of film, zoning rules limited exchanges to the Belltown area alone. The neighborhood remained a central area for film exchanges and continued to be known as “Film Row” through the 1960s, even after the advent of ‘talkies’ (films with sound). Nowadays, the Jewel Box theater in the Rendezvous bar is the single remaining screening room in Belltown.

After the removal of Denny Hill, Belltown began to emerge on its own as a unique place to both live and be for recreation. Hotels, car dealerships, apartments, and warehouses filled the neighborhood – soon followed by artists and musicians looking for cheap rent. These creators then invited the establishment of cafes, galleries, studios, and clubs, bringing the environment we see today in this Seattle neighborhood.

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