Project Gallery: Making of Queer Seattle and Pioneer Square

Close-up of Julian Barr smiling among cherry blossoms

“Pioneer Square and the Making of Queer Seattle” is a public project that transforms a walking tour of the Pioneer Square neighborhood—originally created by the Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project (NWLGHMP)—into a digital project. The original tour introduced patrons to the vibrant, queer world in Pioneer Square that existed well before the 1970s. Barr translates the tour into a digital story map using ArcGIS StoryMaps and archives in the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections. For some sites on the tour, no visual material existed, and contemporary photographs of the locations had to be used.

A view of Occidental Ave S. in the historic Pioneer Square district.
A view of Occidental Ave S. in the historic Pioneer Square district. “Pioneer Square and the Making of Queer Seattle” chronicles the development of Seattle’s queer community from the 1890s to the present throughout this neighborhood. The tour acknowledges that Pioneer Square is situated on original Suquamish and Duwamish lands.


Pioneer Square in 1925
Pioneer Square in 1925. At the turn of the century, Pioneer Square was the heart of downtown Seattle, but as the city grew, the downtown core drifted north. Over time, Pioneer Square became a slum. The queer community was part of the wave of individuals who wound up calling Pioneer Square home—in fact, until the 1970s, Pioneer Square was the heart of queer Seattle.


Event flyer for the 1971 Gay Liberation Front
An event flier. Opened in 1971 b the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Community Center was one of the first non-bar spaces for members of the LGBTQ community in Seattle. It offered everything from alcohol-free dances and macramé classes to meeting spaces for political organizations such as Gay Community Social Services.


Marchers in a 1977 Pride Parade
Marchers in a Pride Parade. In 1977, Mayor Wes Uhlman declared an official “Gay Pride Week” for the first time. The Pride Parade (sometimes called the Pride Protest March) passed directly through First Avenue on its way from Occidental Park to Westlake Park. 
Patrons sit at a bar.
Patrons sit at a bar. The tour and accompanying digital map uses the word “queer” as an umbrella term that includes all people that challenge or challenged gender and sexual norms. Current research focuses heavily on white gay men during this time period, yet women, trans folks, and people of color struggled to find community among the networks that formed in Pioneer Square.


Floor plan of the South End Steam Baths (1940s-1998)
Floor plan of the South End Steam Baths (1940s-1998). The baths opened in 1889 and were modeled after the Turkish-style bathhouse. Although the baths are primarily considered spaces of sexual encounter for gay men, they were also places of social engagement as they were less prone to police raids than bars.


A dining menu from the Mocambo Restaurant and Lounge (1951-78).
A dining menu from the Mocambo Restaurant and Lounge (1951-78). The Mocambo held dual identities. During the day it was a popular restaurant for anyone in town. But at night it turned into a lounge that became popular for its drag performances. 


Black and white photograph of Nick Arthur
Nick Arthur, a prominent lesbian in the Pioneer Square scene who frequently performed as a drag king and emcee at the Garden of Allah. The Garden, a queer cabaret and bar, was popular with lesbians and possessed a clear butch/femme culture.


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Julian Barr (he/him/his)

Julian Barr is an instructional designer for South Seattle College and a doctoral candidate in Geography at the University of Washington Seattle.