We have a once in a generation opportunity to preserve an important part of our city’s history. A group of us are launching a campaign to restore two of Seattle’s historic Benson Trolleys and bring them back to the streets of Seattle to operate on the future Center City streetcar line.
Running from the Chinatown-International District, through Pioneer Square, past the Pike Place Market and on to MOHAI, these vintage trolleys will connect the fabric of our historic neighborhoods and sites with an authentic historic experience that is increasingly hard to find in our city. In this time of record growth and change, it's more important than ever to connect to our City's history and cultural past.
Seattle’s connection to streetcars is runs deep through the fabric of the city and is largely the reason we have such a rich and diverse network of neighborhood business districts like Capitol Hill, Fremont, Ballard, Columbia City and West Seattle. Trolleys took Seattleites to and from these places from the turn of the Century through the 1930s, when the trolleys were squeezed out by the automotive industry, which favored buses.
Seattle also enjoyed a streetcar renaissance in the early 1980s with the arrival of the historic Benson Trolleys, which the City introduced to the waterfront and eventually Pioneer Square and the Chinatown-International District. The Benson Trolleys are W-2 class streetcars that were built in Australia where they ran on streets of Melbourne in regular revenue service from the 1920’s through the 1970’s and are still used for special occasions.
In the 1980’s five cars were brought to Seattle by an enthusiastic city councilmember- George Benson - to promote Seattle’s renovated waterfront. The streetcars subsequently operated along Seattle’s Waterfront for twenty-three years carrying visitors and Seattleites along the waterfront and into downtown. Unfortunately, the development of Seattle’s sculpture garden required the demolition of the trolleys’ maintenance facility.
The trolleys were subsequently mothballed in SODO for a decade. When St. Louis made overtures to purchase all five cars in 2015, a group of civic leaders stepped in to preserve two of them for Seattle, to restore them to working order and re-integrate them into the streetcar network that the City is building through downtown Seattle.
Our immediate challenge is the engineering. Bringing these vintage trolleys back to the streets of Seattle is completely possible—other cities like San Francisco and New Orleans have had great success with their vintage fleets--but the devil is in the engineering details. Our first step is to get down to the brass tacks of how such an integration would be designed, which is why we need to engage an engineer to evaluate how these cars will be powered on the new streetcar line and the means by which the voltages in the existing overhead catenary systems can be reduced sufficiently to provide power to the vintage cars.
This work is a critical first phase stage of design to determine the feasibility of the project and would cost somewhere around $50,000--$28,000 of which we need to raise in this Kickstarter campaign. Our goal is to have these cars running on the new line when it opens and if we are successful in this fundraising campaign, and the engineering feasibility study is successful, we would leverage this engineering work to immediately begin a second phase of the project. This second phase will include further fundraising for the physical restoration of the trolleys with their original dual-side loading, updated power systems as well as testing their existing systems, like the air brakes.
Time is of the essence. The Center City Connector is under construction today. In order to align our engineering with the design of the City's new streetcar line, we need to raise this money now and begin work right away. This effort will really come in two phases, engineering then restoration and testing. The initial fundraising in phase one will provide critical support for the evaluation of restoration and integration feasibility and options.
Once we have cost estimates and options for restoration, a second fund raising effort will be launched to support the necessary work on the cars. Restoration of the vintage cars should be finished in early 2020 to coincide with the completion of the City’s streetcar line on 1st Avenue. Our primary goal is to return these trolleys to the streets of Seattle. However, we see a time when the public will insist on the acquisition of additional vintage streetcars to run on what will then be an extended streetcar system connecting MOHAI with the University of Washington and a southward extension past the sports venues.
George Benson was an enthusiastic Seattle booster with a passion for transportation. After a successful career as a pharmacist on Capitol Hill, George ran for City Council and won in his second campaign. As a council member, he chaired the City Council's Transportation Committee for eight years and also served as Council President. Determined to support the city’s waterfront, he orchestrated a complex revival of streetcars in Seattle, bringing a series of vintage trolleys to Seattle from Melbourne Australia.
George also served on the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Committee and was a strong supporter of transit in general and Metro Transit’s expansion. Learn more about George Benson on our campaign website.
When St Louis came shopping for Seattle’s vintage streetcar fleet in 2015, a group of civic leaders decided we could not afford to let this living history of our city slip away. This group, under the leadership of Tom Gibbs founded the Friends of the Benson Trolleys, a 501c3, to successfully advocate for saving two of the vintage Benson trolleys with the vision that they should be placed in service connecting the Chinatown-International District, Pioneer Square, the Market and MOHAI.
A streetcar enthusiast since childhood, Tom was a strong supporter of George Benson’s original efforts to create the Waterfront Trolley line in the 1970s. Tom led an effort in the mid-2000s to re-activate the line after it was closed-down but the plans for the new waterfront park didn’t provide for a streetcar line. Tom wants to preserve the legacy George Benson left for us, although, Tom has a few legacies of his own. He led the creation of Metro Transit in the early 1970s and managed Metro’s restoration of Lake Washington and the clean-up of Elliot Bay and our Puget Sound beaches in the 60’s. As a founding member of the Public Facilities District’s Board, was also instrumental in the design and construction of SAFECO Field in the late 90’s.
Tomio led Uwajimaya, Seattle's premiere Asian grocery store for over four decades in Seattle's Chinatown-International District. Born in Tacoma in 1936, Tomio was interned with his family at a young age during World War II at Tule Lake, California. Tomio graduated from the University of Washington with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. He worked briefly for Boeing before returning to the family business after the passing of his father in 1962. Tomio grew Uwajimaya from a “ma and pa” Japanese grocery store into a regional leader in retailing Asian foods and culture. In 1992, Tomio was named Nisei of the Biennium by the National Japanese American Citizens League. In 2005, Tomio received an award from the Emperor of Japan for his contributions to Japan and USA relations. Tomio is an active business leader. He has served as a Director on the Boards of Seafirst National Bank (Bank of America), Puget Sound Energy, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Japan America Society and other organizations promoting business and international relations. Currently, Tomio is owner/publisher of a Japanese language newspaper in Seattle. Tomio lives in Seattle with his wife, Jenny Li Moriguchi. He has two children and four grandchildren.
Frank is a former CEO and chairman of the Boeing Company. The son of a sporting goods merchant, Frank graduated from Boise High School in 1949 and the University of Idaho in 1954 with a Bachelor of Laws degree. Following a commission and service in the U.S. Army from 1954-56, he attended the Harvard Business School where he received an MBA in 1958 and then joined Boeing. Beginning in 1973, he served in the Nixon & Ford administrations at the Department of Defense, and returned to Boeing in January 1977 as a vice president. He served as CEO from 1986-96, and stepped down as chairman in 1997. While serving on the board of directors for Chevron, a new double-hulled supertanker was named in his honor in November 1998. Frank was later inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 2004. Today, Frank is part of the Seattle Mariners ownership group and is a member on the team's board of directors.
Born and raised in Denver, John rode his first streetcar at the age of 6 months. His father spent his career working for the Denver Tramway, where John would later intern while he the University of Southern Colorado to study history and pre-law. John went on to have a 40-year career as a machinist locomotive engineer with Burlington Northern. The last decade of his tenure was spent running Sounder commuter trains here in the Pacific Northwest. John is a lifelong rail enthusiast and has also served as an engineman and machinery technician with US Coast Guard.
Lisa is the Chief Operating Officer of the Alliance for Pioneer Square. A Nebraska native, some of her earliest memories are counting the BNSF cars as they carried coal through the Midwest. She enjoys riding historic rail cars on various travels throughout the US and abroad, and looks forward to the opportunity to provide that experience right here in Seattle. Prior to moving to the PNW, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. In 2014, Lisa graduated with her MBA at the University of Washington Michael G. Foster School of Business.
Ben has spent the last eight years running Seattle's historic Pike Place Market. As the Executive Director, he managed the completion of the $74 million Pike Place MarketFront expansion and oversees day-to-day operations of the 9-acre Pike Place Market including building maintenance and preservation, commercial leasing, residential, farm and craft programs, marketing, and facilities and security. Ben has more than 17 years of experience with nonprofit and private business, education and the arts. Prior to the Pike Place Market he served as Executive Director of the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corporation for eight years providing day-to-day oversight of the Santa Monica Pier’s operations, capital projects, marketing, events, maintenance, and diverse tenants. Ben is a graduate of the University of Washington and has a passion vintage bicycles and Seattle history.
Don leads economic development and center city transportation planning efforts for the Downtown Seattle Association. Don has been a rail enthusiast since childhood, when he used to build elaborate train sets with his brother. The great-great grandson of one of Seattle's first rail contractors, Don developed his appreciation for restoring vehicles and history at a young age, spending time with his uncle in North Seattle working on classic cars. Don graduated from Whitman College and later studied urban planning and public administration in New York at Columbia University. Returning to Seattle, Don served as the Executive Director of the Chinatown-ID Business Improvement Area for five years, where he met his fellow board members and first became passionate about restoring the Benson cars.
Risks and challenges
Time is of the essence. We are hoping to develop the engineering specs along with the City in order to integrate these cars into the future center city line.
While these cars are safe and dry in storage, if we do not hit our goal of raising $28,000, we will not be able to proceed with the engineering that is needed to adapt these cars to Seattle’s 21st Century Streetcar system. In that event, these cars would likely be sold to one of the many cities where vintage streetcar lines are being revived.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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