ArchitectureBellevue Real EstateBellevue, WAExploring the EastsideJust for FunLocal news and information February 7, 2011

You've Been to Downtown Bellevue, But Have You Really Seen Downtown Bellevue?

Do you think of downtown Bellevue as a drive-through from the highway to the mall? I bet most Eastsiders zoom along NE 8th to the mall. Most have probably never walked around downtown Bellevue.   This should not come as a surprise, since downtown Bellevue was designed to accommodate a car culture.

I’ve lived on Seattle’s eastside, near downtown Bellevue for 25 years.  I’ve been all over downtown Bellevue.  I’ve watched it change dramatically from a handful of tall buildings to a city dominated by buildings, some over 40 stories tall.

Downtown Bellevue

Bellevue skyline

I frequent shops, restaurants, the Art Museum, Meydenbauer Center, and the mall in Bellevue.  I know downtown Bellevue pretty well.

But I, too, had never just walked around downtown just for the sake of walking.  Bellevue is a great place to walk around and explore. It’s made an amazing transformation from a car centric downtown to a place to live, a destination place, and a great place to walk.

I did that just this past weekend.  I walked from the Bellevue Square mall over to the Bravern as part of the Seattle Architecture Foundation’s Bellevue 2.0 tour.

I know a lot about Bellevue’s history and real estate, but I learned a few more tidbits from the two great guides, John Hotta and Eli Lemanski.  The tour began at the mall on the second floor of Macy’s in the women’s jeans department.  (Kind of fitting for Bellevue, since the mall has always represented downtown.)

Bellevue Mall

Bellevue Square

It started as an outdoor shopping mall (bet you didn’t know that) was enclosed, expanded, and became one of the top 20 malls in the country.    The granddaddy of all arts fairs takes place in the parking garage of said mall. The art fair is a true winner.  The caliber of art is far above most art fairs, even if it’s in the mall garage.

From the second floor perch in Macy’s there’s a great view of the downtown skyline.  The Bellevue Art Museum is right across the street from the mall as is Lincoln Towers with its Westin.  Bellevue Place is just down the street.

You can also see some of the newer “kids on the block,” Washington Square, Bellevue Towers,

Downtown Bellevue Living

Bellevue Towers

and the City Center Plaza from the big window.   A walkway begins right across from the mall and can take you almost across downtown, which we ultimately did.

One of the most creative new buildings is the Elements complex. Not only is the exterior fascinating,

Element Building in Downtown Bellevue

Bellevue's Elements Building

if you have a chance to step inside the lobby, it’s quite interesting.

The tour is great in the sense that you are out seeing the city, but wisely takes advantage of many indoor sites for long conversations.  We got to see the view from Lincoln Tower and the City Center building.  Of course, it was pretty foggy out, so the stellar views of Lake Washington, Seattle, and Mt. Rainier were all behind the fog.

Fog in Bellevue

Foggy Highway 405 in Bellevue

Lots of great questions were answered by the guides and many of the participants, including me, added their share of information regarding downtown Bellevue.

Here are some of the questions that will be answered if you take this tour:

  • Where did the bricks come that were used to construct the Bellevue Library?
  • What country is planning a consulate in Bellevue?
  • What architectural firms were active in downtown Bellevue development?
  • Who are Bellevue’s 3 biggest employers?
  • What’s going to be built north of the Hyatt?
  • Who was Meydenbauer?
  • What was the first hi-rise in downtown Bellevue?
  • What’s the difference between curtain walls and window walls in skyscrapers? (This one was graciously answered by one of the participants, so that may not come up on your tour)
  • Whose wood sculptures can be found decorating some of the buildings and plazas in downtown Bellevue?  (one of my contributions, so it may or may not come up on your tour.
  • Where was the first Bellevue Art Museum?

You’ll have to take the tour to find out the answer to these questions. The tour is fun, engaging and a nice thing to do on a Saturday morning.  Let’s hope the day you take the tour you get to see some of the stellar views available from downtown Bellevue.