Seattle almost lost its “Big City” status to neighbouring Tacoma in the late 1870’s, when the Northern Pacific Railroad announced plans to build the terminus there. By 1883, a connector to the Tacoma line re-established Seattle primacy in the region and the city’s boom and bust economy took root. 1,000 people per month moved into the region, diversifying the economy, the population and the culture.
Though distinct multi-ethnic communities have blurred in the 20th and 21st centuries, a visit to Seattle’s neighbourhoods remains the best way to understand local culture. Ballard, founded by Scandinavian fishermen, was the last town to join Seattle, in 1907. The boats, including those made famous by “The Deadliest Catch” hit reality series, still file home through the Ballard Locks at the end of the Alaska fishing and crabbing seasons. Modern Ballard has recently become Seattle’s hottest neighbourhood, and cobblestoned Old Ballard Avenue now teems with boutiques, restaurants and bars where marine supply stores once stood.
The adjacent Fremont neighbourhood, self-described “Center of the Universe”, remains a go-to locale for funky boutiques, music venues and curios, while plenty of endemic Northwest culture can be discovered at Zoo Tunes at Woodland Park Zoo, which features a great roster of international musicians who perform in a meadow beside the penguins. Capitol Hill Block Party provides a major stage for the next “Death Cab for Cutie” or Macklemore, to name just two local acts who’ve gone global, and Bumbershoot remains one of the largest arts festivals in America, with over 2,500 performers playing during the three-day event.