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Police Museum forced to vacate Pioneer Square

By Officer Jim Ritter #4710
Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum President

The Sad News:  Since 1997, the Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum has made its home in historic Pioneer Square at the 108-year old U.S. Rubber Building, located at 317 Third Ave South.  For the past 20 years, this building has housed all of the Museum’s historic artifacts from the Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff’s Office.

When our building was constructed in 1909, it was built with the most modern materials for that Era, including brick that was manufactured in Newcastle, and enormous wooden beams to support the upper floors, each of which weigh approximately 4,000 pounds.  During its lifetime the museum’s building supported manufacturing for World Wars I & II and has survived six major earthquakes in 1909, 1939, 1946, 1949, 1965 and 2001.  The February 28th, 2001 Nisqually quake resulted in the entire brick facade of the Police Museum collapsing, nearly killing our staff person, Judy Thomson and a customer.  Following the devastating 2001 quake, engineers assured Pioneer Square businesses and residents that most of the buildings damaged were structurally sound enough to inhabit, so the museum remained.

Fast forward to the Spring of 2015, when police museum staff began noticing fractures in the sheetrock and door jambs out of alignment.  Building maintenance officials indicated the damage was possibly due to the tunnel boring machine under Pioneer Square causing ground settling.  By Fall of 2015, staff began to notice that the southern brick wall in the back of the museum had begun to bow outward slightly, and the main steam supply line that heats the museum fractured, causing a previously undetected steam leak underground that resulted in the floor under select areas of the museum to rot.  Repairs were made, but to no avail, and last week engineers were forced to permanently shut off the main steam valves, leaving the police museum with no heat for this winter.  The above safety concerns were magnified with notice that the building’s owner would be increasing monthly rents by an unsustainable 25%.

As a result of the above listed safety and financial concerns, the police museum will be forced to vacate its current location effective immediately.  There is no doubt that the museum building would not survive another major earthquake and would undoubtedly result in serious injuries, loss of life, and destroy the museum’s vast historical collections representing the SPD and KCSO that date back to the 1870’s.  The Police Museum’s mission will continue, but not in Pioneer Square.  Until a suitable replacement facility can be located, all of the museum’s historical artifacts will be stored at its off-site warehouses. 

As difficult a decision as this is, nothing is worth putting lives, or the SPD’s history at risk.

The GOOD NEWS is, for the exception of the temporary loss of our public educational facility, the Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum will continue its historic preservation efforts as it has always done for the past twenty years.  The Museum is in the final stages of completing its history book “Seattle’s Police, Frontier to the Future”, and continues to collect historical SPD artifacts for preservation purposes.

The Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum’s first priority will be to safely move all of the displays to a temperature controlled warehouses for safe storage.  Following that, re-designing, enhancing and enlarging the museum’s current website become the primary focus.  The museum will soon examine technology that can provide its website viewers with 3-D images of the police museum’s SPD artifacts, as well as providing viewers access to the police museum’s inventory control so that SPD artifacts can be easily accessed that have never previously seen on public display.  The enhanced website will also eventually allow for the ability to order museum gift shop items online, including the Museum’s upcoming history book on the SPD.   

The museum will continue its efforts in restoring its original vintage SPD patrol vehicles at its Fleet Restoration and Maintenance Facility.  As of now, the museum has 26 vintage police cars in its collection, seven of which are original SPD vehicles dating from the 1960’s to the 2000’s.  These cars include a 1963 Plymouth Savoy, 1970 Plymouth Fury, 1970 Plymouth Satellite, 1976 Dodge Dart, 1979 Dodge Aspen, 1989 Plymouth Gran Fury, and a 2001 Ford Crown Victoria. These vehicles will be continually seen by over 1 million citizens annually throughout the Pacific Northwest, all of whom have tremendous respect and admiration for our police officers.

The Police Museum has grown exponentially since 1997, and its historic collections of uniforms, documents, photographs, technology, firearms and other assorted items now fill several warehouses.  Up until now, all of these items have all been inventoried by hand, making for time-consuming delays in research requests.  Efforts are now being made to transition to a customized computer inventory system of all museum assets that will greatly enhance the police museum’s ability to perform historical research for its history book, as well as more expediently process the multitude of requests it receives each year from the family members of former SPD officers, authors and film production companies, and the vast amounts of annual media inquiries relating to the historical, cultural and technological transitions within the SPD.

The sprit and mission of the police museum will continue.  The ongoing support of the SPD membership of this organization is invaluable in ensuring these artifacts are preserved for future generations to enjoy.  I would like to personally thank all of the 900 SPD sworn, civilian and retired employees who continue to donate their hard-earned monies to support the museum’s mission and goals of educating the public about “their” police through historical preservation and community outreach.  THANK YOU SO MUCH!

I will be making periodic updates on the Police Museum’s ongoing efforts via the website at SeaMetroPoliceMuseum.org.  I would also continue to encourage anyone who has an questions on SPD history, would like to donate and/or sell historic SPD artifacts, would like information on viewing the museum’s historic fleet of police vehicles, or would like to donate to the police museum to contact me at james.ritter@seattle.gov, or contact me at 206-949-9143.