Admiring Urban Beauty with David B. Williams
When people take just a few steps into David B. Williams’ Seattle, they’re amazed at the history hiding in plain sight. Sandstone dragons and terra cotta walruses peer down from handsome buildings downtown, to the delight of visitors and the surprise of locals. Williams is the author of the book Seattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City, which reveals architectural wonders and secret nooks and crannies in 17 walking tours ranging from 1 to 7 miles long. This naturalist and former national park ranger, with a background in geology, delights in showing people cool stuff they might otherwise miss in his hometown of Seattle.
How did you get interested in walking the city and delving into the history of buildings?
I have been walking in Seattle for most of my life, and to me there is no better way to get to know the city than on foot. You move at just the right pace to notice details, to be able to pause and look carefully, and to interact with people and the landscape.
What is your favorite building in Seattle?
One of my favorites is the art deco Seattle Tower (1218 Third Ave.). Built out of brick, which was a big business in early Seattle because of great beds of clay deposited during the last ice age, the building has a stunning lobby with wonderful stone and one of my favorite maps of the world.
Where can one find some of the whimsical creatures that decorate many grand old buildings downtown?
There are mermaids, dolphins, and fantastic fish on the former Crystal Pool Natatorium (2033 Second Ave.); massive heads of Native Americans high atop the Cobb Building (1301 Fourth Ave.); and famous terra cotta walruses, 27 of which adorn the Arctic Building (700 Third Ave.; above). Because many of these figures are high up on the buildings, I recommend that people bring binoculars to see the exquisite details.
Is there a below-the-radar walk in which even a native Seattleite could make a few discoveries?
Probably the most unusual is the Delridge–Pigeon Point walk, which takes people to a West Seattle neighborhood that most don’t visit. The 4.4-mile hike starts along Longfellow Creek (S.W. Yancy St. and 28th Ave. S.W.). Two surprising gardens, both at South Seattle College, are highlights.