Located in the vibrant multicultural community of Rainier Valley is the historic neighborhood of Columbia City, less than 15 minutes south of downtown Seattle by car and 30 minutes by Metro bus or Link light rail.
It is one of Seattle’s eight historic districts. The historic designation preserves the small town atmosphere of Columbia City and her turn-of-the-century roots as a mill and railroad town. The history is preserved in the buildings, churches, apartments, and houses that make up the unique character of this south Seattle neighborhood.
About Columbia City
Columbia City maintains its identity as a distinct and historic part of Seattle.
At the southern entrance of the historic district at Rainier Avenue South and South Alaska Streets is Columbia City’s “village green”. The corner is anchored by the local branch of the Seattle Public Library, built with a donation from Andrew Carnegie.
The Seattle, Renton, and Southern Railway stretched the seven miles from Seattle to Columbia City in 1890, establishing a profitable two-way freight business. Columbia City shipped surplus lumber to a Seattle that was rebuilding after the 1889 fire. Columbia City needed the finished goods Seattle could provide. Much of Columbia City’s lumber, as well as goods from Seattle, went into its own buildings and lakeshore summer residences.
Columbia City’s growth increased when C. D. Hillman used the railway to hasten real estate sales. Columbia City originally incorporated in January 1893. From 1900 to 1907, Seattle and the surrounding areas grew rapidly and brought good economic times to Columbia City. Many new buildings were built along Rainier Avenue South, most of which still stand. In 1907, Columbia City was annexed to Seattle.
With money donated by Andrew Carnegie, the branch public library was built in 1914, above a ravine deeded to the City in 1892 as a park. Although the ravine’s creek now flows through sewer lines, the park remains as Columbia City’s “village green”.
As the forests around Columbia City fell under the loggers’ axes, the people of Columbia City made plans to drain Wetmore Slough and make the town into a seaport as part of the 1917 Lake Washington Ship Canal development farther north. The port never developed, and the slough was filled by 1920. In 1936, the railway was removed from the center of Rainier Avenue South.
In 1978, Columbia City was designated one of the Seattle’s landmark districts, to preserve the area’s unique character. The same year, it was also designated a National Register Historic District, although the boundaries are slightly different. The walkable neighborhood offers award-winning restaurants and local eateries, performance halls, historic movie theater, curated clothing stores, unique retail shops, art, and farmers market along the streets in summer offering fresh, local produce and other foods.
BeatWalk music festival
Since 1995, Columbia City BeatWalk has hosted South Seattle’s summer music festival. The informal event includes bands at multiple venues and on the sidewalks of the historic neighborhood. Hosted by neighborhood businesses, the lineup always features a diverse array of first-rate, local musicians.
- Beatwalk takes place through summer and into fall, every 2nd Sunday from June through September.
BeatWalk brings together music lovers for a fun, safe night out on the town, providing incredible live music, interesting venues, and plenty of fun. Beatwalkers can expect to enjoy everything from live jazz and indie pop to rhythm and blues. Many Beatwalkers can also be found dancing. This is an all ages, family-friendly event.