Watch your step, the tile you're standing on may be your own

Are you aware of the history you walk on traipsing through the Market?

Each one of the tiles in the Main Arcade, the North Arcade, the Economy Market and around the Market corridors represents a donation to the Market. Each name symbolizes part of the public support that helps keep this premier public space public and open.

While purchasing fruit, flowers and fish people are standing on names like Ronald Reagan, Dick Foley, DeLauranti's, The Seattle Times, etc.

People come to the Market sometimes just to see their tile or a significant name that catches their eye. Some marketeers even make up stories about them, but each ruddy brick tile underfoot represents a contribution to the upkeep of the Market and its community. They are a permanent reminder of how many people love and support this unique and historic marketplace.

The tiles were born in the first of three capital projects cleverly dreamt up by the Market Foundation, which was formed around the same time as the first capital campaign, in 1985. The goal was to repair the dreary and leaking tarmac-like corridors of the Market, as well as to help provide food, medical care, child care and housing services to low-income seniors and families living in the downtown area.

"It was thought that this project could solve some of the Market's problems and make it better," said Marlys Erickson, Market Foundation director (past and present). "The first project cost about what it raised and solved the leakage problem. People each paid $35. Seafirst Bank - what it was called then - contributed, and so did Joe Schmoe."

In the first round of the initial campaign, more than 45,400 tiles were sold, each with equal importance. There was no biding for position. Overall, the endeavor raised an estimated $1.6 million for the Market.

Erickson and others explain how well-received the idea was by the Market community. Locals don't recall any opposition to the initial plan and installation, but there was excitement and a bit of general discombobulation around the Market as the tiles were laid.

Charlie Harding, Market regular, formerly of the parrot shop, recalls how traffic in the Market arcades would get clogged up with people bending over and looking for their tile. Stopping to read one can create bottlenecks on busy days, adding to the omnipresent nostalgia of the arcade. He will demonstrate if you ask.

Passersby still stop to check out the tiles when a name catches their eye, or to find a specific one. People continue to stop unabashedly, mid-flow, to bend over and look.

The tiles have become a stop on the Market tour. People notice them serendipitously and otherwise. Harding noticed Martin Pang's for the first time, just the other day (he was a suspect in a fatal arson fire). They are a sort of window into the Seattle in the 1980s.

Several people who work in the Market mentioned how they tell tall-tales about the tiles when tourists ask. One fish monger said they tell people the tiles are made with the ashes of people who perished working in the Market. Other manufactured legends say that they are tiny graves or they are names of people who have worked at the Market over the years.

Greg Bodourian of the PDA, is part of the maintenance squad who scrubs and hoses the arcades every night. He says names on the tiles will occasionally catch his eye as he goes over them, row by row.

"I am mostly looking to see if there is any gum on the tiles," he said. "But I do know Marilyn Monroe's tile is right over there (pointing toward the south side of the bridge craft-stalls). Somebody bought it for her."

Understanding the numbered positioning of the tiles is relatively easy. They are numbered off in four-by-four, 16-tile blocks. Each section is numbered by block and position within the block. For example, to find 145-8 one would find number 145 in the margin, then locate number eight within the block, counting over four tiles to the right and one row down.

"There was no such thing as the Internet when we installed the tiles," Erickson recalls. "And records are still kept in hard copy only. There are two hard-copy books: One is in the PDA office and the other is at the Information Booth."

Within the books the tiles are listed two ways: Once by the name of who bought them and once by the inscription on the tile, exactly how it is written. For example, if the tile says "The Smith Family" it will be listed in the "T" section.

Emily Curry, PDA administrative assistant who works at the front desk, says donors frequently contact the office to inquire about their tiles

"We get emails and calls all the time," said Curry, as she re-explained the different avenues available for researching tiles.

Erickson says they do reserve the right to refuse any tile inscription that is in "poor taste," but so far there has never been any real issue. Before installation the Foundation sent each donor a letter detailing exactly how their tile will read.

The success of the 1985-86 campaign spawned the salmon and hoof-prints of the Care for the Market campaign.

This second capital campaign begun in 1994 and lasted through 1996, raising approximately $3.1 million. During this campaign donors who gave $1,000 to $9,000 were recognized with a hoof-print - the closer to Rachel, the Market's life-size piggy bank mascot, the higher the donation.

Donors who gave $10,000 to $25,000-plus had their inscriptions etched into the bronze salmon encircling the pillars west of the Information Booth. The three eels at the tops of the pillars represent donations of $100,000 or more. One of the eels recognizes the late Jeff Smith, a.k.a. The Frugal Gourmet, who was frequently spotted stealthily motoring through the Market.

Then, in 2001, came the Pigs on Parade, the Foundation's first endowment. This popular fund-raising project emulated the successful campaigning idea that began in New York City in 1998. Erickson says she still gets phone call from people asking questions about it.

"We [the PDA] were 20 years old and figured we were old enough to start an endowment," Erickson joked.

Now, a third capital campaign has begun, in effort to begin collecting the estimated $52 million currently needed to renew the Market's aging structure.

After the tourist season is over the Foundation will tile the garage sky bridge and stairs leading to Western Avenue. With this project they will replace tiles that have been damaged or lost over the years and add new ones. New ones are being sold at $250 each. Local wags explain that this is keeping up with the price of real estate in the city.

Erickson said this time the money raised will be allocated differently. Half of it goes to PDA projects, like maintenance and upkeep, and half goes to the Foundation's capital projects fund.

"The expansion of the Market Clinic is first on the list, and then the Market's child-care facility," Erickson said, "now that fund-raising for the senior center is over."

The Foundation encourages people to memorialize their businesses, loved ones or themselves with a tile and to keep this Market tradition going. Contact the Market Foundation, 206.774.5262 or, for more information or to order a tile.[[In-content Ad]]