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About Seattle

Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located in the U.S. state of Washington between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, about 96 miles (155 km) south of the United States–Canadian border in King County, of which it is the county seat.

Destination Guides > North America > USA > Pacific Northwest > Washington > Seattle

Skyline of City of Seattle

Seattle was first settled by Europeans on November 14, 1851, by Arthur A. Denny and his crew, which would subsequently become known as the Denny party. Early settlements in the area were called New York, Alki and Duwamps; in 1853 at the suggestion of Doc Maynard the main settlement was named Seattle, after Sealth, chief two local tribes. As of 2006, the city had an estimated population of 582,454[1] and an estimated metropolitan area population of approximately 3.3 million[2]. Seattle is the hub for the Greater Puget Sound region. Its official nickname is the Emerald City, the result of a contest by a civic-minded association in the early 1980s to designate a pleasant nickname for the city;[3] the name alludes to the lush evergreen trees in the surrounding area. It is also referred to informally as the Gateway to Alaska, Queen City, and Jet City, due to the local influence of Boeing. (Seattle-area band Queensrÿche also wrote a song called "Jet City Woman".) Seattle residents are known as Seattleites.

Seattle is often regarded as the birthplace of grunge music, and has a reputation for heavy coffee consumption; coffee companies founded in Seattle include Starbucks, Seattle's Best Coffee, and Tully's. There are also many successful independent artisanal espresso roasters and cafes. Seattle was the site of the 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization, and the attendant demonstrations by anti-globalization activists. Researchers at Central Connecticut State University ranked Seattle the most literate city in America in 2005.[4] Moreover, a United States Census Bureau survey showed that Seattle has the highest percentage of college graduates of any major U.S. city.[5]A survey done by Sperling's Bestplaces listed Seattle as the number 1 video game city in the US. Based on per capita income, Seattle ranks 36th of 522 studied areas in the state of Washington.

Major events

Visitors to Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill can see the Space Needle, the Downtown Seattle skyline, and Mount Rainier (to the right).
Visitors to Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill can see the Space Needle, the Downtown Seattle skyline, and Mount Rainier (to the right).

Major events in Seattle's history include the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, which destroyed the central business district (but took no lives);[13] the Klondike gold rush, which made Seattle a major transportation center; the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909, which is largely responsible for the layout of the University of Washington campus;[14] the Seattle General Strike of 1919, the first general strike in the country;[15] the 1962 Century 21 Exposition, a World's Fair;[16] the 1990 Goodwill Games;[17] the APEC leaders conference in 1993, and the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999, marked by street protests and a series of riots.[18] The Major League Baseball All-star game was held at Safeco Field in Seattle during the 2001 season.

On February 28, 2001, a state of emergency was declared after the Nisqually Earthquake, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake, rocked the region. Damage was minor, however in areas such as Pioneer Square (built on fill dirt) damage was considerably more severe; nevertheless the event served as a reminder that the coastal Pacific Northwest — and the area around the Seattle Fault, in particular — is under threat of an earthquake.[19]

Seattle suffered its worst mass-killing since the 1983 Wah Mee massacre when a 28-year-old man named Kyle Aaron Huff committed the Capitol Hill massacre on March 25, 2006, followed later that year by an attempted spree killing by Naveed Afzal Haq that left one dead at the Jewish Federation building in July. Both were unusual, given that Seattle is relatively safe for a city its size. Its murder rate peaked in 1994 with 69 homicides. In 2004, Seattle's murder rate hit a 40-year low with 24 homicides. Seattle's crime rate has seen an increase in 2006, as have the crime rates in Tacoma and Lakewood, Washington.

In December 2006, the Hanukkah Eve Wind Storm brought very heavy rain and disrupted power to much of the city.

Economic history

Seattle has a history of boom and bust cycles historically common in cities of its size. Seattle has been sent into precipitous decline by the aftermaths of its worst periods as a company town, but has typically used those periods to successfully rebuild infrastructure.[20]

The Seattle Central Library, designed by Rem Koolhaas, is the result of a public vote on the "Libraries for All" bond measure approved by Seattle voters on November 3, 1998.
The Seattle Central Library, designed by Rem Koolhaas, is the result of a public vote on the "Libraries for All" bond measure approved by Seattle voters on November 3, 1998.

The first such boom, covering the early years of the city, was fueled by the lumber industry. (It was during this period that the road now known as Yesler Way was nicknamed "Skid Road"[21] after the timber skidding down the street to Henry Yesler's sawmill. The term later entered the wider American vocabulary as Skid Row.) This boom was followed by the construction of an Olmsted-designed park system.

The second and largest boom was the direct result of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896, which ended the national depression that had begun with the Panic of 1893. On July 14, 1897, the S.S. Portland docked with its famed "ton of gold", and Seattle became the main transport and supply point for those heading north. The boom lasted well into the early part of the 20th century and funded the start-up of many new companies and products. In 1907, 19-year-old James E. Casey founded the American Messenger Company (which later became UPS) in Seattle with $100 borrowed from a friend. Other Seattle companies founded during this time period include Nordstrom and Eddie Bauer.[22]

Downtown Seattle facing the Monorail station.
Downtown Seattle facing the Monorail station.

Next came the shipbuilding boom in the early part of the 20th century, followed by the unused city development plan of Virgil Bogue. Seattle was the major point of departure during World War II for troops heading to the North Pacific, and Boeing manufactured many of the war's bombers.

After the war, the local economy dipped but rose again with the expansion of Boeing, fueled by the growth of the commercial aviation industry.[23] When this particular cycle went into a major downturn in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many left the area to look for work elsewhere, and two local real estate agents put up a billboard reading "Will the last person leaving Seattle — Turn out the lights."[24][25]

Seattle remained the corporate headquarters of Boeing until 2001, when the company announced a desire to separate its headquarters from its major production facilities. Following a bidding war among a number of major cities, Boeing moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago. The Seattle area is still home to Boeing's Renton narrow-body plant (where the 707, 720, 727, and 757 were assembled, and the 737 is assembled today), and Everett wide-body plant (assembly plant for the 747, 767, 777 and the upcoming 787 Dreamliner); and BECU, formerly the Boeing Employees Credit Union.

Technology companies, including Microsoft, Google, Amazon.com, RealNetworks, McCaw Cellular (now AT&T Wireless), VoiceStream (now T-Mobile USA), and biomedical corporations such as Philips, Boston Scientific, ZymoGenetics and Amgen, found homes in Seattle and its suburbs. Even locally-headquartered coffee company Starbucks held investments in numerous Internet and software interests. This success brought an influx of new citizens[verification needed] and saw Seattle's real estate become some of the most expensive in the country,[verification needed] along with that of San Francisco, New York City, and Los Angeles. Many of these companies remain relatively strong, but the frenzied dot-com boom years ended in early 2001

Climate

Downtown Seattle is bounded by Elliott Bay and the Alaskan Way Viaduct (lower left) and I-5 (from upper left to lower right)
Downtown Seattle is bounded by Elliott Bay and the Alaskan Way Viaduct (lower left) and I-5 (from upper left to lower right)

Seattle has a mild climate that is usually classified as Marine west coast (Cfb).[33] However, due to its wet-winter dry-summer pattern, it shows some characteristics of a Mediterranean climate (Csb), and is sometimes classified this way.[34] Temperature extremes are moderated by adjacent Puget Sound and Lake Washington as well as the more distant Pacific Ocean. The region is partially protected from Pacific storms by the Olympic Mountains and from Arctic air by the Cascade Range. Despite being on the margin of the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, the city of Seattle has a reputation for frequent rain.[35] In reality, the so-called "rainy city" receives an unremarkable 37.1 inches (94.2 cm) of precipitation a year,[36] which is much less precipitation than New York City, Atlanta, and Houston and most cities of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Seattle's worldwide reputation for rain derives from the fact that it is cloudy (not rainy) an average of 226 days per year (vs. 132 in New York City). Most of the precipitation falls as drizzle or light rain, with downpours happening only occasionally. The spring, late fall, and winter are filled with days when it does not rain but looks as if it may because of cloudy, overcast skies. As for temperature, winters are cool and wet with average lows around 35–40 °F (2–4 °C) on winter nights. Colder weather can occur at times, but seldom lasts more than a few days. Summers are dry and warm, with average daytime highs around 73–76 °F (22.2–24.4 °C). Hotter weather can also occur, but usually only during a few days of the summer. Seattle's hottest official recorded temperature was 100 °F (38 °C) on July 20, 1994; the coldest recorded temperature was 0 °F (-18 °C) on January 31, 1950.[36]

To the west 80 miles (130 km), the Hoh Rain Forest, in Olympic National Park on the western flank of the Olympic Mountains, receives an annual average rainfall of 142 inches (361 cm), and the state capital, Olympia, south of the rain shadow, receives an annual average rainfall of 52 inches (132 cm). Snowfall is infrequent, especially at lower altitudes and near the coast, and is usually light and fleeting, lasting only a few days. Average annual snowfall, as measured at Sea-Tac Airport, is 13 inches (33 cm).[37] On January 13, 1880, Seattle's record for snowfall was set at 49 inches (124 cm).[38] Sunnier and drier "California weather" typically dominates from mid-July to mid-September. An average of 0.8 inches (2.0 cm) of rain falls in July and an average of 1.0 inches (2.5 cm) falls in August. Although the summer climate in the Seattle area is considerably drier and less humid than areas with humid continental climates, a slight dampness can be occasionally felt, usually when temperatures reach above 80 °F. This dampness is typically more noticeable during the evening when the temperatures have dropped. Because of this, Seattle does experience occasional summer thunderstorms.[39]

Seattle on a sunny afternoon.
Seattle on a sunny afternoon.

The Puget Sound Convergence Zone is an important feature of Seattle's weather. In the convergence zone, air arriving in the area from the north meets air flowing in from the south. Both streams of air originate over the Pacific Ocean; airflow is split by the Olympic Mountains to Seattle's west, then reunited by the Cascade Mountains to the east. When the air currents meet, they are forced upward, resulting in convection.[40]

Thunderstorms caused by this activity can occur north and south of town, but Seattle itself rarely receives worse weather than occasional thunder and ice pellet showers. Thunderstorms in the Cascades sometimes produce frequent lightning, which makes for a brilliant light show for those in town.

An exception to Seattle's dampness often occurs in El Niño years, when the marine weather systems track as far south as California and little precipitation falls in the Puget Sound area. Since the region's water comes from mountain snowpacks during the drier summer months, El Niño winters can not only produce substandard skiing but can result in water rationing and a shortage of hydro-electric power the following summer.

Landmarks

The Pike Place Market
The Pike Place Market
Seattle Center as seen from Kerry Park
Seattle Center as seen from Kerry Park

The Space Needle is Seattle's most recognizable landmark, having been featured in the logo of the television show Frasier and the backgrounds of the television series Grey's Anatomy, not to mention several films. "The Needle" dates from the 1962 Century 21 Exposition. Contrary to popular belief, the Space Needle is neither the tallest structure in Seattle nor is it in Downtown. This misconception results from the Space Needle often being photographed from Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill, where it is closer to the viewer than are the downtown skyscrapers. The fairgrounds surrounding the Needle have been converted into Seattle Center, which remains the site of many local civic and cultural events, such as Bumbershoot, Folklife, and the Bite of Seattle. Seattle Center shares a combination of roles within the city, ranging from a public fair grounds to a civic center, though recent economic losses have called its viability and future into question. The Seattle Center Monorail runs from Seattle Center to Westlake Center, a downtown shopping mall: a distance of a little over a mile.

Other notable Seattle landmarks include the Smith Tower, Pike Place Market (where Howard Dean and Vanna White both caught fish from the very famous fish throwing tradition), the Fremont Troll, the Experience Music Project (which is at Seattle Center), the new Seattle Central Library, the Washington Mutual Tower, Broadway, a street made famous by the Sir Mix-A-Lot song Posse On Broadway, and the Columbia Center, which is the fourth tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi River and the seventeenth tallest in the nation. (On June 16 2004, the 9/11 Commission reported that the original plan for the September 11, 2001 attacks included the Columbia Center as one of ten targeted buildings.)[45]

Starbucks Coffee has been at Pike Place Market since the coffee company was founded there in 1971. The first store is still operating a block south of its original location.[46]

Downtown Seattle at night

Seattle has been known as a significant center for regional performing arts for many years. The century-old Seattle Symphony Orchestra is among the world's most recorded orchestras[47] and performs primarily at Benaroya Hall. The Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet, which perform at McCaw Hall (which opened 2003 on the site of the former Seattle Opera House at Seattle Center), are comparably distinguished, with the Opera being particularly known for its performances of the works of Richard Wagner and the PNB School (founded in 1974) ranking as one of the top three ballet training institutions in the United States.[48] The Seattle Youth Symphony is the largest symphonic youth organization in the United States, and among the most distinguished.

The historic 5th Avenue Theatre, built in 1926, has continued to stage Broadway quality musical shows featuring both local talent and international stars. In addition, Seattle has about twenty other live theatre venues, a slim majority of them being associated with fringe theatre. It has a strong local scene for poetry slams and other performance poetry, and several venues that routinely present public lectures or readings. The largest of these is Seattle's 900-seat, Romanesque Revival Town Hall on First Hill.

Seattle is often thought of as the home of grunge rock due to it generating artists like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Green River, and Mudhoney, all of whom reached vast audiences in the early 1990s. The city is also home to such varied musicians as avant-garde jazz musicians Bill Frisell and Wayne Horvitz, rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot, smooth jazz saxophonist Kenny G, heavy metal band Nevermore, industrial rockers KMFDM, and such poppier rock bands as Aiden, Goodness and the Presidents of the United States of America. Such musicians as Jimi Hendrix, Duff McKagan, Nikki Sixx, and Quincy Jones spent their formative years in Seattle. Ann and Nancy Wilson of the band Heart, often attributed to Seattle, were actually from neighboring Bellevue, as were progressive metal band Queensrÿche.

Since the grunge era, the Seattle area has hosted a diverse and influential alternative music scene. The Seattle-based record label Sub Pop—the first to sign Nirvana—has signed such non-grunge bands as Murder City Devils, Sunny Day Real Estate, Skinny Puppy and The Postal Service. Other Seattle-area bands of note in this period include Death Cab for Cutie (Bellingham), Foo Fighters, Modest Mouse (Issaquah), Alicia Dara, MXPX (Bremerton), and Sleater-Kinney (Olympia).

Earlier Seattle-based popular music acts include the collegiate folk group The Brothers Four; The Wailers, a 1960s garage band; The Ventures, an instrumental rock band; the Allies and the Heaters (later "the Heats"), 1980s teen-pop bands; from that same era, the more sophisticated pop of the short-lived Visible Targets and the still-performing Young Fresh Fellows and Posies; and the pop-punk of The Fastbacks and the outright punk of the Fartz (later Ten Minute Warning), The Gits, and Seven Year Bitch.

Seattleites have also collaborated with innovative, experimental musicians from around the world, while the city has hosted their performances. French composer Jean-Jacques Perrey, who pioneered electronica in the 1960s, has worked with Seattle native Dana Countryman, best known for his work with the 1980s Seattle pop/humour group the Amazing Pink Things. Perrey performed the tracks resulting from his work with Countryman at his first American show, in Seattle in 2006.

Spoken word and poetry are also staples of the Seattle arts scene, paralleling the explosion of the independent music scene during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Seattle's performance poetry scene blossomed with the importation of the poetry slam from Chicago (its origin) by transplant Paul Granert. This and the proliferation of weekly readings, open mics, and poetry-friendly club venues like the Weathered Wall, the OK Hotel, and the Ditto Tavern (all now defunct), allowed spoken-word/performance poetry to take off in a big way. The Seattle Poetry Slam is the city's longest running weekly show. Seattle annually sends a team of slammers to the National Poetry Slam and considers itself the home of some of the most talented performance poets in the world: Buddy Wakefield, two-time Individual World Poetry Slam Champ; Anis Mojgani, two-time National Poetry Slam Champ; and Christa Bell, 2005 National Poetry Slam Finalist. Seattle also hosted the 2001 national Poetry Slam Tournament. The Seattle Poetry Festival (launched first as the Poetry Circus in 1997) has featured local, regional, national, and international names in poetry such as Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, Ted Jones, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ishmael Reed, Sekou Sundiata, and many others. Regionally famed poets like Bart Baxter, Tess Gallagher, and Rebecca Brown have also been featured at the Poetry Festival, as well as numerous other events such as the world-famous Bumbershoot Arts Festival.

Tourism

Seattle waterfront as seen from deck of cruise ship
Seattle waterfront as seen from deck of cruise ship

Among Seattle's best-known annual cultural events and fairs are the 24-day Seattle International Film Festival, Northwest Folklife over the Memorial Day weekend, numerous Seafair events throughout July and August (ranging from a Bon Odori celebration to hydroplane races), and the Bite of Seattle. Bumbershoot, over the Labor Day weekend, Capitol Hill Block Party [1], and Endfest (held every year by 107.7 The End [2]) provide Seattleites with much-anticipated alternative and independent music concerts. All are typically attended by over 100,000 people annually, as are Hempfest and two separate Independence Day celebrations.

Several dozen Seattle neighborhoods have one or more annual street fairs, and many have an annual parade or foot race. The largest of the street fairs feature hundreds of craft and food booths and multiple stages with live entertainment, and draw more than 100,000 people over the course of a weekend; the smallest are strictly neighborhood affairs with a few dozen craft and food booths, barely distinguishable from more prominent neighborhoods' weekly farmers' markets.

Green Lake Park, popular among runners, contains a 2.8 mile (4.5 km) trail circling the lake.
Green Lake Park, popular among runners, contains a 2.8 mile (4.5 km) trail circling the lake.

Other significant events include numerous Native American powwows, a Greek Festival hosted by St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Montlake, and numerous ethnic festivals associated with Festal at Seattle Center.

As in most large cities, there are numerous other annual events of more limited interest, ranging from book fairs; the premier anime convention in the Pacific Northwest, Sakura-Con; one of the largest gaming conventions in North America, Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), and specialized film festivals, such as the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, to a two-day, 9,000-rider Seattle-to-Portland bicycle ride and a Gay Pride parade and festival. In the past, the Gay Pride parade and festival have been centred on Capitol Hill. Since 2006, festivities have been held city-wide, and the parade has followed a route in Downtown to the Seattle Center amusement park.[49]

Prominent Seattle buildings circa 1893
Prominent Seattle buildings circa 1893

The Henry Art Gallery opened in 1927, making it the first museum in Washington. The main Seattle Art Museum opened in 1933 which has finished a major renovation and reopened in 2007. Art collections are also housed at the Frye Art Museum and the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

Regional history collections are at the Loghouse Museum in Alki, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, the Museum of History and Industry and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. Industry-specific collections are housed at the Center for Wooden Boats, the Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum, and the Museum of Flight. Regional ethnic collections include the Nordic Heritage Museum and the Wing Luke Asian Museum.

 

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