Story from the Sole: A City of Stairways

Cathy and Jake Jaramillo, Feet First Neighborhood Walking Ambassadors, are well acquainted with the many public stairways of our city. The Jaramillo’s blog, which documented their stairway and neighborhood treks one post at a time became the material for a book: Seattle Stairway Walks, the only guidebook to stairway walks in Seattle.

Story from the Sole: A City of Stairways

To the chagrin of some and the delight of others, Seattle is a very hilly city. Successfully traversing these hills on foot requires some architectural intervention, often in the form of sizable staircases that can be seen snaking up Seattle’s many daunting slopes. Cathy and Jake Jaramillo, Feet First Neighborhood Walking Ambassadors, are well acquainted with the many public stairways of our city.

By Leah Wyatt

Prior to their move to Seattle twelve years ago, the couple explored Los Angeles via its stairways, with the help of Adah Bakalinsky’s Stairway Walks in Los Angeles, a guidebook owned by Cathy’s parents. According to Jake, the family’s explorations took on a meaningful emotional component, allowing him to bond with his in-laws via shared adventures and discoveries.

After relocating to Seattle, the Jaramillos sought to explore their new surroundings, noting Seattle’s natural beauty and distinctive neighborhoods. The couple recalls happening upon a large staircase while traveling down 15th Avenue en route to Ballard, which kicked off a five hour long exploration of the Queen Anne neighborhood, igniting their interest in discovering Seattle via its many stairways.

As Cathy and Jake conquered other sets of stairs throughout Seattle, including the Wheeler Stairway on Queen Anne, the Ferdinand Stairway in Lakewood/Seward Park, and others, the couple thought about creating a guide to Seattle’s many stairways to share their experiences with others. Stairway guides to several other cities across the U.S. had been published; however, Seattle’s many stairway walks had not been formally documented.

The Jaramillo’s blog came first, in which Cathy and Jake documented their stairway and neighborhood treks one post at a time. These posts became the material for a book: Seattle Stairway Walks, the only guidebook to stairway walks in Seattle.

The stairway walks depicted in the guide aren’t just focused on sets of stairs; the walks provide readers the opportunity to explore Seattle’s neighborhoods, as well as Bellevue, Burien, Mercer Island and other communities. Says Jake, “Stairways are scenic byways into neighborhoods.” Some of the walks traverse through parks, while others highlight local art or architecture.

As well as an immersion in Seattle neighborhoods, stairway walks immerse the walker in history, which is detailed in the Jaramillo’s guide. Following the Great Seattle Fire, which destroyed Seattle’s central business district on June 6, 1889, Seattle saw a period of reconstruction and growth. Electric trolley lines moved people from the newly built neighborhoods that housed them to their places of employment, and stairways linked people from their homes to the trolley lines, acting as the final transit leg of a typical Seattleite’s working day. As buses became the dominant mass transportation mode during the 1940’s, Seattle’s trolley lines were torn down, and the concrete slabs once wedged between trolley rails were used to refurbish Seattle stairways, remaining in place today. As Jake says, Seattle staircases provide “a doorway into some of the major historical events that created the city.”

The Jarmillos’ commitment to exploring Seattle on foot extends beyond their guide. As Feet First Neighborhood Walking Ambassadors, the Jaramillos have helped spearhead February 9th’s Feet First’s Stairway Walks Day event, during which Feet First Neighborhood Walking Ambassadors will lead 15 simultaneous staircase walks in the Seattle, Bellevue, Mercer Island and Burien to celebrate local stairways and championing walking as a way to explore them.

Story from the Sole is a monthly feature. Read another Story from the Sole and send ideas of individuals that you would like to see profiled in the future!