Although it is now known as a neighborhood full of trendy restaurants, boutiques, and nightclubs, several decades ago the classy neighborhood of Belltown was much different. In fact, it was once a low-rent, semi-industrial district. Over the past few decades, the area has transformed into the most densely populated neighborhood in Seattle. In fact, over the last ten years, wealthy citizens have flocked to Belltown real estate, causing first class restaurants and trendy clubs to follow. Belltown once sat on one of the tallest hills in Seattle, Denny Hill. A large construction project in the early decades of the twentieth century transformed the hill into what is now generally flat terrain. Reginald Heber Thompson became Seattle's city engineer in 1892. He did a lot for the city, designing the town's first modern sewers and a establishing a water system that remains the largest in the region to this day. However, roads and boulevards were his true calling, more specifically straight and level roads. Therefore, Denny Hill did not sit well with the motivated engineer. The hill rose north of Pine Street between 2nd and 5th avenues, descending gradually across the land claimed by William Bell. However, William Bell left Seattle in 1855, and had little to do with his namesake land claim.
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Due to the location of the hill, Belltown was confined to a somewhat small area. In fact, the hill largely isolated it from the downtown districts to the south. Once the hill was removed, an extremely large and difficult project, especially in those days, businesses slowly began to fill the Regrade. The cheap land attracted hotels, apartments, warehouses, and car dealerships. The vacant land was filled with "jewel box" auditoriums in which theatre owners from throughout the Northwest could preview new releases. The next major step was taken in the 1970's after the city approved new zoning to encourage the construction of a high-rise residential district. Many artists and musicians decided to take advantage of the low rent area to establish what would soon be a mini-Soho of studios, cafes, galleries, and clubs. In the early 1980's, Martin Selig decided to launch a boom of office construction in the area. The condo craze and popular real estate market of the Reagan years promoted more construction, nearly bankrupting developers. Now, the area is the perfect mixture of upscale living and bohemian elements. The area of Belltown has come a long way, and is now one of the most sought after areas to live in downtown Seattle.