Earlier this year, still New To Seattle, I posted my first survey of the monuments and other public art that help to define Seattle. I highlighted a bunch–with commentary, of course. It’s time for another round–with commentary, of course.
But first I have to get and hold your attention. The permanent installation to the right should do just that.
“The Wall of Death”–yes, that’s the name right on it–is a giant orange ring atop a dozen or so giant metal spikes. Fortunately for the cheery image-makers at Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, it sits somewhat out of sight under the University Bridge (which carries Eastlake Avenue E. over the Lake Washington Ship Canal) along the Burke-Gilman Trail. So it’s seen mainly by joggers, bicyclists, workers in a few buildings, University of Washington students out for a stroll and really morbid, determined tourists. It was erected–believe it or not, with government funding–in 1993 by the father-and-son team of Mowry Baden and Colin Baden. By one account, the orange ring commemorates an old daredevil circus stunt of a speeding motorcyclist using centrifugal force to drive around the inside of a similar object.
Ready for some more?
The Plymouth Rock of Seattle is the Denny Monument, which sits along the West Seattle waterfront at Alki Avenue SW near 64th Avenue SW. The granite pylon commemorates the spot on Alki Point where, on November 13, 1851, a 22-person party of gringos–most of them children–led by Arthur Denny of Illinois arrived to begin the process of dispossessing Chief Seattle and his fellow Indians of their land and building the city bearing his name. If you believe the gossip, the old chief was waiting on shore to greet them. The next spring, the Denny party relocated across Elliott Bay to where Seattle’s Pioneer Square is today, and the rest, as they say, is history. The monument was built a half-century later in 1905. Attending its dedication were three of the actual settlers: a Denny, a Boren and a Low.
In Seattle, that Indian-to-gringo displacement thing is largely ignored or forgotten. But not everywhere. Hard by the Washington State Convention Center at 800 Convention Place sits the Seattle George Monument. In this case Seattle means the chief, not the city named for him. George means Washington, not the state named for him. The 1989 aluminum installation by Buster Simpson consists of a profile of Chief Seattle, a lot of growing vines and a giant scythe that moves with the wind to trim the vines into the famous profile of Washington. The not-so-subtle idea is to highlight the transformation of control away from the Indians and toward the United States. This is one of the most clever pieces of public art I have ever seen.
If Seattle has its own Plymouth Rock, why not its own Statue of Liberty as well? A much-smaller replica of the somewhat more famous one in New York Harbor was built near the Denny Monument in 1952. It was a gift from Reginald H. Parsons, a Seattle financier who hailed from New York, and the local Boy Scouts council. It may or may not be a coincidence that Alki Point, where the Seattle statue is, was once named New York Alki Point. The Seattle statue became a focus of grief and remembrance in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. But otherwise, I would say, the Seattle version is considered more a local curiosity than anything else. For those around Seattle, at least it’s a lot cheaper to visit than the 126-year-old original by Frederic Bartholdi.
Long before Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon.com and Costco, the Seattle economy was based on extraction of natural resources. Like fish. Fishing is still a component, albeit diminished, of the Seattle scene. And a hazardous one, too. Ergo the Fishermen’s Memorial, located at Fishermen’s Terminal, 3919 18th Avenue W. on the north edge of the Magnolia neighborhood. It was fashioned by Ronald Petty and erected in 1988. The bronze and stone aggregate monument overlooking the fishing port honors the nearly 700 Seattle-area fishermen who have died pursuing their calling since 1900. The names of the dead or missing-at-sea-and-presumed dead-and-resume are inscribed at the bottom. An annual memorial service is held there each May.
That’s serious. For a lighter image, there’s Hat N Boots, billed as the world’s largest hat and boot depiction. It sits sits in Oxbow Park, 6430 Corson Avenue S., in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. Since the hat is 44 feet wide and the boots (yes, there are two of them) are 22 feet wide, I’m not inclined to argue with this claim. Hat N Boots originally was part of a Texaco gas station that opened in 1954 and which quickly became the state’s biggest in terms of gallons pumped. Fashioned by commercial artist Lewis Nasmyth, the boots housed the bathrooms. Changing traffic patterns, including the construction of Interstate 5, eventually closed the station. For a neighborhood that had grown to love them, in 2003, the city of Seattle moved the roadside attractions to the park four blocks away.
In a similar spirit of whimsy is the outdoor sculpture “Waiting for the Interurban,” N. 34th Street near Fremont Avenue N. just north of the Fremont Bridge in Seattle’s quirky and named-after-a-war-criminal Fremont neighborhood. Put up in 1979, the cast aluminum sculpture by Richard Beyer depicts six people and a human-faced dog all waiting under a shelter for the streetcar that once plied Fremont Avenue but is long gone. (Part of the joke is that the figures are waiting on N. 34th Street, which the Interurban never served, anyway.) The statute, the artistic merits of which have been hotly debated, has been called “interactive” because of the propensity of locals to dress the objects for seasonal or political reasons.
In the magnificant Magnuson Park, NE 65th Street and Sand Point Way NE, on the edge of Lake Washington sits “From Swords Into Plowshares.” In 1998 University of Washington professor John T. Young took actual fins from decommissioned nuclear submarines and sunk them into the ground in an arrangement to resemble pods of orcas. They’re the killer whales that festoon Puget Sound and have become as much a regional symbol as the Space Needle. To me, though, “From Swords to Plowshares” is unnerving, especially when walking through it. For some reason it reminds me of a minefield.
I’m not quite sure what to make of this one, which is next to a 75-year-old firehouse only a few blocks from my home. “Hot Cha Cha,” at 2416 34th Avenue W. in the Magnolia neighborhood, consists of a large stainless steel case containing metal puppet images of 66 firefighters. Crank the red wheel on the right–which any passer-by can do–and the 66 firefighters start dancing, well, the Cha Cha, or some weak approximation of it. This rather lame piece of public art (I don’t know how else to describe it) was installed in 1987 by Kenny Schneider as part of the renovation of the adjoining Fire Station No. 41 and paid for by Seattle taxpayers. I regularly walk past “Hot Cha Cha” on my daily constitutional and have never seen anyone operating the wheel. Maybe there’s a fear it will set off a fire alarm.
Finally, Seattle has been a one-daily-newspaper city since 2009 when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, long ago the town’s leading paper but afflicted with the often-fatal curse of cheap Hearst Corp. ownership, closed its doors forever. However, still remaining is the 30-foot-high, lit-at-night globe proclaiming “It’s in the P-I” atop the newspaper’s last home along the Seattle waterfront at 101 Elliott Avenue W. Topped by an eagle with wings vertically outstretched, the 64-year-old P-I globe is a little over the top, but the locals nevertheless find it endearing. Earlier this year, Hearst gave the globe to the Museum of History and Industry, which likely will move it to somewhere else in Seattle once someone coughs up the estimated $350,000 relocation cost.
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I knew “The Wall of Death” would catch you!
Thanks for the great article ! Now I have a reason to make a trip to Seattle!!