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The Tale of the Swale on Yale

South Lake Union is home to forward-thinking environmental design. One of the most innovative design features, a form of green infrastructure, is what’s known as the Swale on Yale. It’s two swales actually (one in the 400 block of Yale St. and the other parallel to it on Pontius St.), and it’s about to swell to two more (just south of both locations in the 300 block of both streets).

The swales give South Lake Union a bit of moorland feel, but beyond the aesthetics these stretches of grassland are working to treat Capitol Hill storm water roadway runoff before it reaches Lake Union.

Technically the swales are known as the Capitol Hill Water Quality Project, a public private collaboration between the city of Seattle and Vulcan Real Estate; KPFF Consulting Engineers also played a key role.

“When the swales were planned (in the early 2000s),” wrote Jason Sharpley of Seattle Public Utilities, in an email exchange, “there were no regional scale biofiltration swales treating stormwater from ultra-urban roadways that we were able to find.”

“Typically, swales were used on a more limited, roadway scale to treat and convey stormwater runoff from the adjacent roadway.”

The project was so unique that the Seattle Design Commission created a special award, an “In the Works “ Excellence Award, that they won in 2011. The swales came online in 2015.

Working swale on the 400 block of Pontius St.

“Since completing the first pair of swales there has been a lot of interest and there may be new systems in other cities.”

Seattle’s steep slopes helped propel the innovation. “We have the right topography for this,” says Dave Schwartz of KPFF Consulting Engineers. The slopes make it easier to divert water to where you want it, which makes cleaning it easier too. And that’s what the swales do, filter and clean. They’re made up of densely planted grasses, “a mixture of sedges, which have edges, and rushes, which are round,” says Schwartz describing his mnemonic means of distinguishing them. 

They clean roadway runoff that “includes everything that you see, and don’t see, that is on the roadway,” says Sharpley.  “This includes brake dust from cars that carries copper, dissolved metals from galvanized fences, and bacteria from wildlife and pet waste. The swales and pretreatment that make up the Swale on Yale system do a good job of removing a significant portion of the pollutants.”

The Swale on Yale couldn’t have been done without developer help, says Schwartz, stressing the huge role that Vulcan Real Estate played in making the public private partnership happen. Vulcan provided technical and profession assistance along with contributing about $1.3 million toward design and construction. Most critically they provided the easement to the city. Developers are playing key roles in creating environmental projects that provide a greater good, says Schwartz, noting another public private project under the Aurora Bridge, rain gardens catching bridge water runoff. “Not all try to just make money and destroy the world,” he added.

Planted in rain garden soil which is a bonus for filter, the grasses catch toxic sediment from the water as it takes its time to mosey through the swale, at least nine minutes.

But even before the water reaches the swales it’s run through a diversion tank that uses centrifugal force to flush out “floatables,” a nice name for trash such as cups, straws, and cigarette butts.

From the diversion tank, controlled amounts of water are released into the swales evenly so as not to overflow them and to keep their integrity intact.

The swales then drain into a discharge pipe and the water is released to the lake.  “The water is not drinkable,” says Sharpley, “but significantly cleaner than when it entered the swale.” 

New swale plantings on the 300 block of Pontius St.

The two new swales will come online once the plants mature. For now they look like woven works of art running between the sidewalk and roadway. Once they are put to work, the system will be able to treat the full design flow of 7.2 cubic feet of water per second, which is more than 3,000 gallons a minute. The older swales treat half that capacity today. The full swale build-out will treat 435 acres of storm water runoff from Capitol Hill’s 630-acre basin.

The Swale on Yale captures the dirtiest water from both small storms and the early runoff from larger storms. Thanks to this pioneering green infrastructure, Lake Union is much cleaner than it otherwise would be and could become cleaner still with even more projects like the Swale on Yale.

The Swale on Yale — 400 block, with city workers maintaining it.
Sold: Roanoke Terrace Apartments

According to the Daily Journal of Commerce, the 1968 Roanoke Terrace Apartments at the corner of Eastlake Ave. (2600) and Roanoke St., across from the tennis courts, recently changed hands for just under $6.8 million.

Don’t worry; it’s not a tear down, but the new owners, Shilshole Development, do plan to renovate the four story, 16-unit structure. The average unit is 970 square feet; and the average price per unit pencils out at $424,475.

There are 14 parking spaces.

“Also in the same neighborhood,” notes the Journal, “Shilshole Development is redeveloping the old Ross Labs site, at 3138 Fairview Ave. E., with a small renovated office building and 103 new apartments”

Roanoke Terrace Apartments seen from the tennis court side of the street, and way above seen from Eastlake.
The old Ross Labs.
What the new building at 3138 Fairview Ave. E. might look like (just below and to the north of Lake Union Cafe).
Another chance to learn  about the “Mammoth” development at 2715 Eastlake

A centerpiece development for Eastlake is receiving a lot of excitement and pushback from the community. It will replace two buildings at corner of Louisa St. and Eastlake Ave., the strip mall that houses the Mammoth bistro and the retro SPRAG office structure next door. There’s excitement for the new potential landmark design that the architect Hewitt is known for delivering and for street level activity with the retail and housing that will come. The pushback comes at how tall the new construction will be, possibly six stories and the largest in Eastlake, blocking views from Rogers Playfield and the Green Street, and how affordable the housing will be.

The developers are open to public feedback. A February 28 open house introduced developers, Washington Holdings + Pollard and architect to the community with photos of past work. A preliminary concept was also on view with a timeline. Demolition is expected next summer, 2020, with a new building opening Summer 2022.

There’s another community outreach meeting on Friday, March 8, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the SPRAG building at 2517 Eastlake Ave.

More opportunities for public feedback are expected.

preliminary site plan

Hewitt designs

Bottom image is the new multi-family on Stoneway.

Eastlake project, home to Grand Central Bakery.

sketch by Karen Berry

The Castle in Eastlake

It’s one of the most significant buildings in Eastlake, yet it is easily overlooked, lost amidst the newer, larger buildings surrounding it.

But I remember riding in the car as a kid with my parents and wondering if one of the many bridges we always seemed to be crossing over would be the one with the castle at the end of it, hoping it was. And sometimes the building would appear like something out of a fairy tale. I strained to get a good look at it as we sped by. I always wondered about the stories behind it.

Turns out there are a lot of them. The building at the south end of the University Bridge, at the corner of Eastlake Ave. and Furhman St., has stories to tell of bankruptcy, illegal activity, a mysterious death, rock ‘n roll legends and those are just the things that made it into the local newspapers.

It’s been known by the businesses that occupy the ground floor: Rapunzel’s Tavern, Scoundrel’s Lair, Romio’s, Borsalino’s and now Sebi’s. It’s never had a common name. The condos above it are known as the Martello.

But the real story behind this building is the man who built it or rather remodeled what was, in 1928, a single-family house. Frederick Anhalt was a self-educated developer and architect. He died in 1996 at the age of 101, but the legacy of his buildings known as Seattle castles endures.

Anhalt had several careers over the course of his life from butcher to landscape nursery owner. His development career grew out of a stint in commercial real estate and started with a crew building bungalow court apartments on Beacon Hill and Queen Anne. A pivotal point was a two-story apartment at 17th and Denny built in the Spanish style that was popular at the time. With each building he kept learning new things, but he wanted to make his mark and design something suitable for the Pacific Northwest climate; he settled on bricks and natural cedar roof shingles for materials. The castle-like design he came upon serendipitously.

“I started looking around for ideas as to the style I would use,” Anhalt said in an interview about his life, for the book, Built by Anhalt. “While I was doing this, I met a young girl who was selling books and I asked her to find any books she could on beautiful apartments.  She came back several days later and told me that she couldn’t find anything like that, all she had was a book about English castles.  Well, I took one look at that book and I knew I’d found my style of building.  I went through that book and picked a window I liked here, a door there, and something else over there.”

His goal was to build apartment buildings that were different from what was on the market at the time. “I wanted to get away from the long halls that reminded me of tenement buildings,” he said, where everything looked the same, “and the only way you knew what apartment was yours was by the furniture.”

He thought people should have a nice view to look onto too but knew he couldn’t guarantee it. “Somebody else could always put another building between you and your view.” So, he built his apartments around a view that he created with landscaping. “I could make things look the way I wanted them to that way, which is hard to do when you’re dealing with a view of Mount Rainier or Puget Sound.”

The building in Eastlake (the only Anhalt around Lake Union) is a bit of an anomaly, not brick but stucco-clad and with no courtyard. It was the result of another building’s mishap on Capitol Hill, but it marks one of the many turning points in Anhalt’s career.

Anhalt was ready for a new phase and wanted to build even more beautiful buildings. He took a break from developing to get his thoughts in order and sent his crew out to put up the Del-Teet Furniture store on Broadway. It didn’t require any effort on his part because the plans were already drawn. (The building’s facade is still there today by the way – next to Dick’s; it’s now known as Hollywood Lofts.)

There was such a hurry to open the Del-Teet store that the store manager, a fellow by the name of Skewes, moved the furniture in as soon as the plasterers left. “And that got me another job,” Anhalt said.

“In all the humidity of that wet plaster, everything mildewed. Skewes was fired and decided to open his own store in an old house he’d found down by the University Bridge. I must have felt a little responsible for his problem, because I agreed to remodel it for him, which wasn’t something I would usually do.  It’s a lot easier to build a new building than to remodel an old one. Especially one that’s fifty years old like that one was. I must have done a good job on it though, because it’s still there today.”

 

The building is still there, fortunately for Eastlake, but the furniture store, Skewes-Rudolph Furniture Cor., Inc, went through a long bankruptcy in the early 1930’s if the liquidations ads of the time are any indication.

Anhalt went on to build his most famous apartment buildings after that. First the 750 and 730 Belmont structures that Lawrence Kreisman highlighted in a March 2000 article for the Seattle Times. “These ‘apartment-homes’ were charming and romantic, with individualized floor plans, up-to-date amenities such as parking garages and gracious, home-like touches – separate entrances off semi-private landscaped courtyards – that brought in the renters.”

730 Belmont

 

750 Belmont

Anhalt liked the 730 Belmont so well he built out one unit for himself. But his favorite building, the one that marks the pinnacle of his castles is the one built after, at 1005 Roy St.

That building and the one across the street that went right up with it, the 1014 Roy, were built with largely free and discarded brick seconds.

Anhalt likely would be considered a green developer today for creatively reusing and making do. “I always had my eyes open for things that nobody else had a use for, figuring that if something was cheap enough I’d find a use for it.”

One of the places where he bought bricks occasionally overcooked a batch and dumped it on a vacant lot. By the time Anhalt took note, the pile covered about four acres. The company offered them to him for the price of delivery, thinking Anhalt could use them in his landscaping.

“The only thing wrong with those bricks was they didn’t look like regular bricks. They were different colors and a little melted in spots, but most of them had enough flat that they could be used. I even had the bricklayers put them in a little cockeyed, to add to the effect,” said Anhalt.

“Ten-O-Five East Roy was built that way, and in my opinion it’s the finest apartment building ever built in the city of Seattle,” he added.

1005 Roy St.

1005 Roy St. seen from the west

The Anhalt on the corner of Eastlake Ave. and Furhman St. has a lively history.

According to news reports in the Seattle Times about the building, a man was arrested for having a slot machine there in 1935, “charged with having gambling paraphernalia and released on $40 bail.” In 1936 “a well-known restaurant” called The Town House made the news due to a change in lease. In the 1940’s floor lamps were offered for sale in the display room. In 1966, almost as a testament to the times, a tenant, Raymond Paul McCarthy, 26, was charged with 2nd degree burglary for robbing a pharmacy and taking “a variety of drugs.” He had the misfortune of being seen by police as he was running away.

Beginning in July 1967, it was occupied by Llahnguelhyn, a coffee and live jazz joint.

The Short Galleries opened there in October 1969 (when phone numbers were still letters as in EA3-9830, the gallery’s number) with an exhibition of seven Northwest artists. John Voorhees the art critic for The Seattle Times gave the gallery many glowing reviews over the following years.

Then in 1975 it became Rapunzel’s Tavern. A year later a fire broke out in its upper floors; the tavern was untouched, but news of the fire made the front page of The Seattle Times when an unidentified woman’s body was found in the gables.

In 1986 it became Scoundrel’s Lair and thanks to its proximity to the U.W. was one of the focal points of Seattle’s emerging “grunge” scene. Shedding some light on the time, in a series of columns called Schoolhouse Rock for the U.W. alumni magazine in 1996, Charles R. Cross former editor of The Rocket, noted how much things had changed in ten years, “With so many successful bands in the Northwest in the past decade, more aspiring rockers think of music as an actual career. A decade ago, most of the Seattle scene bands all started off thinking they were going to have day jobs instead of music careers–and education at universities played a role in that. Today, when superstardom seems ordinary, fewer bands in the area seem to have ties to the University because many young musicians expect (sometimes wrongly) that they will be able to make a living from playing music….”

“But as time marches on, the history books remind us of a time when you could see Nirvana at the HUB for a buck, when Soundgarden was playing just up the street at the Rainbow Tavern, and when KCMU was the only station worth punching in on your car radio. It was an era of innocence when the measure of success was determined by playing a show at the Scoundrel’s Lair (now a pizza place, across from the Red Robin on Eastlake, and a longtime UW hangout) to 20 of your friends and fellow students.”

Time marches on, and our old structures provide a window to the past.

Perhaps the residents living in the Martello, who are lucky enough to own a piece of this Seattle history, will consider nominating it for historic preservation, to ensure that future generations can enjoy spotting it as they go by wondering about its story.

 

 

 

If you have further information about the Anhalt in Eastlake or elsewhere, we’d love to hear from you. Write to us at editors@lakeunionwatershed.com.

 

Sketch by Karen Berry.

 

This story was revised from one that first appeared in the Eastlake News fall 2012 issue.

 

Hamlin Deal

According to today’s Daily Journal of Commerce, Hamlin Place apartments at the corner of Hamlin and Franklin (2800 Franklin Ave.) sold recently for just under $2.2 million. The corner lot is roughly the size of three or four residential lots in Eastlake, and with residential lots topping out at $1.5 million, the Hamlin sale appears to be a steal. Actually, it’s likely an internal business deal, as the DJC writes,

The seller was DK Hamlin Place LLC, which acquired the property in 1995 for $905,000.

The buyer was RL Hamlin Place LLC, which is associated with a private investor on Mercer Island.

Brokers were not announced. The buyer and the seller, who share the same surname, were partners in the 1995 investment. The deal was worth about $134,781 per unit.

The DJC goes on to note the building was constructed at the same time as I-5, 1959.

The four-story building has 16 units and an equal number of surface parking spaces.

With that much surface parking and an up zone increase that will allow the property to grow 10 feet taller and slightly wider, it’s ripe for possible re-development, but plans at this point are unknown.

Front view of 2800 Franklin Ave.

Side view

16-space rear parking lot

Bronze shoes guerrilla art comes to Seattle

A Portland art, activism, and resistance project has found its way to Lake Union shores. Bronze children’s shoes have shown up on the fence in front of TOPS Seward School near the Louisa Street bus stop and on a tree along the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop at Roanoke Street. A note attached to both sets reads, “These bronze shoes represent the children separated by I.C.E. They serve as a reminder to all of us, and their families, that they are precious, and we will not forget them.”

They’re part of a movement started by artist Aimee Sitarz who wanted to channel her outrage at the Trump administration policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the US-Mexican border. She began bronzing children’s shoes and hanging them around Portland, not without some controversy. The project has also been featured in a couple of Portland galleries. Photographer K. Kendall writes about Sitarz’s work:

I’ve spoken before of Aimee Sitarz and her bronze shoes–evoking both the bronzed baby shoes popular with middle-class families in the 1950s and the horrible scenes of abandoned shoes near the concentration camps of the Holocaust. The two ideas come together in Aimee’s imagination because she wants us to remember the children incarcerated by the Trump administration immigration policies.  So she keeps on making “bronze” shoes and hanging them in public places, to remind people.

Now others are taking up the cause, requesting bronze shoes from the artist and hanging them around their city.

For more information, see the project’s Facebook page at Bronze Shoes Installation Project.

Bronze children’s shoes hanging from a tree at Roanoke Street and Fairview Avenue.

Update: As of yesterday the shoes at Roanoke Street were missing.

 

Why I’m Voting for I-1631

Initiative 1631 puts a fee on the carbon pollution that is disrupting our climate, and would direct the approximately $1 billion it raises each year to investments that reduce carbon pollution.  I’m voting for it, because the climate crisis is coming home.

Here around Lake Union, it hits us in many ways.  When Lake Union water levels dropped unexpectedly a few years back due to lack of rainfall, it threatened houseboat integrity. That was a climate impact.

The smokes that have obscured our skies the last two summers came from a documented increase in wildfires.  The top three record wildfire years in Washington state took place in 2014, 2015, and 2017.  (They’re still assembling 2018 statistics.)

Seattle in recent years has experienced wild swings in climate extremes. The wettest winter on record in 2016-17 was followed by the hottest, driest summer, with the longest number of days without rain in Seattle history. This July was the hottest on record, with the May-July period the driest for those months.

I-1631 would pay for investments that reduce fossil fuel use and the carbon pollution that comes with it. I-1631 would pay for energy efficiency retrofits, improved transit, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and more solar and wind power. It would also support investments in farms and forests to improve the capacity of natural resources to soak and absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

The opposition to I-1631 tells us everything: $25 million in money almost purely from the oil industry. They have tapped former State Attorney General Rob McKenna to be the face of the opposition, without revealing that he currently works for Chevron. The ads talk about exemptions, and there are some to preserve working class jobs. The ads don’t mention that the tax will fall on the biggest polluters, the oil companies paying for the ads. They claim bloated cost impacts on people, and totally ignore the costs climate chaos is imposing on our world, and our children’s future. Look at the destruction in Florida, the deluges in the Carolinas, or the massive fires in the west, to see a picture of a world facing radical climate change.

I-1631 is a practical measure with broad support.  See here for more. It will invest in clean energy options that will ultimately reduce costs for all of us. But it’s also a moral choice. In the final analysis, this is an investment in our children’s future, in them having a world that is not so ravaged by climate chaos that they can no longer cope with the impacts.  Vote yes on I-1631.

The beautiful and tragic Aurora Bridge gets a new paint job

Although I have a had a view of it for the past 20 years, I have never thought much of the Aurora Bridge. Its grey lines fade into the surrounding hills. Growing up in Seattle, the only thing I knew about the bridge was that it was notorious for suicides. A friend walked onto the bridge late one night contemplating jumping. Fortunately, she did not, but many others had. For that reason, I think, subconsciously, I tried not to look at that bridge or think about it very much.

But all that changed when I woke up one morning, a few weeks back, to find the south end of the bridge wrapped, in what looked like the start of a Christo art installation.

It wasn’t. It was a Washington State Department of Transportation wrapping; WSDOT is painting the bridge for the first time in 30 years. And the wrapping is an elaborate catchment system for the toxic lead paint that is being sandblasted off before a more environmentally friendly paint can be applied.

But it got me curious about Christo (why did he wrap things?) and that got me curious about the bridge.

Christo’s most famous for wrapping the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris. He wraps things paradoxically to reveal them.

For fun, I try to imagine the Aurora Bridge wrapped à la Christo, in fabric and drawn back like curtains across the lake. In my imagined view, I suddenly see it for the first time. I catch my breath. The bridge’s form – its monumental expanse – it’s startlingly beautiful.

 

Its official name is the George Washington Memorial Bridge, and when it opened on Feb. 22, 1932, to great fanfare, marking the culmination of a year-long, nationwide celebration of events for George Washington’s 200th birthday, it wasn’t just a bridge uniting Seattle – it was a bridge connecting Mexico to Canada. The George Washington Memorial Bridge was the last link in the new US Highway 99, aka the Pacific International Highway, that paralleled the West Coast from Tijuana, Mexico to Vancouver, B.C.

Historians note its opening marked the ascendancy of the automobile in American life because it was the first Seattle bridge without streetcar tracks.

A picture postcard from the time shows the bridge, with a few 1930s cars on it, branching off Queen Anne Hill with grassy knolls on either side, its roadway seemingly stretching into a gentle, enlightened horizon.

But that vision of freedom and calm was short-lived. Just three decades later, US Highway 99 and the George Washington Memorial Bridge would be eclipsed by the I-5 Freeway and the Ship Canal Bridge. In 1967 the highway was decertified, chopped up, and made into State Route 99.

Even before the bridge’s hugely celebrated opening, there was a bad omen, the first suicide, a shoe salesman. It would go on to be known as Seattle’s suicide bridge, the haunted bridge, the bridge with the second most suicides in the country after the Golden Gate in San Francisco (which would also make it third in the world).

Over the years there was a lot of talk over of doing something to prevent the suicides, but no one could agree on exactly what.

At some point, after some 230 jumps, the press stopped reporting on them. There were “wet” jumps and “dry” jumps, the latter ending in Fremont streets and parking lots. Office workers drew their blinds.

By the end of 2006 after a record number of suicides from the bridge (nine when the average had been four a year), the city installed six emergency phones and signs with a suicide hotline number on them. At about the same time FRIENDS (Fremont, Individuals and Employees Nonprofit to Decrease Suicides), a neighborhood group determined to a get a barrier installed also began their efforts. It was a controversial, uphill battle, finally successful in 2011.

With the fence now in place for several years, that sad era of the bridge’s past seems to be receding.

 

But the bridge’s woes aren’t completely over. Today what stands out about the Aurora Bridge is its white-knuckle drive. When it first opened, it was said to be four lanes, but old photos show six lanes, possibly four lanes and two shoulders. At any rate it’s now six narrow lanes. The original speed limit was 35 miles per hour; today it’s 40, and acknowledged to be regularly acceded.

People drive across it on high alert, gripping the steering wheel, as they approach its narrowing lanes and breathe a sigh of relief when they’re past them.

A 2015 fatal accident involving a Ride the Ducks vehicle and a charter bus highlighted how dangerous the bridges narrow lanes are to drive.

 

I wasn’t thinking about the traffic, which from a distance looks like it’s scampering, and not going that fast. I’d never actually walked on the bridge before, and I wondered if it was possible to rediscover any of the bridge’s original glory.

So one sunny day shortly after the catchment wrapping went up, I talked my husband into making a loop hike with me, walking one side of the bridge and then the other, getting the full benefit of the view some 170 feet over Lake Union. It seemed like a good idea at the time, like the kind of walk that should be recommended in a Seattle tour guide.

We parked near the Fremont Troll, making our way past the tourists and found the encouraging but graffiti-tagged sign directing pedestrians up the access stairs to the bridge deck.

Once we reached the top, however, I knew why I’d never heard the walk recommended. The roar of the traffic and the wind as it whizzes by immediately hits you. I was ready to abandon all hope and turn back.

After realizing, OK, we’re fairly safe on the protected sidewalk, where a barrier separated us from the road, the next thing I noticed was the 8-foot 9-inch suicide fence made up of thin bars that surrounds the original 1930s railing.

It was as if we had walked into a time warp and the fence was a force field around the bridge, which was kind of cool. (The juxtaposition is by design; preservationists didn’t want a faux historical look.)

We pushed on, walking single file hugging the railing instinctively.

I was surprised by how low the vintage railing was, too invitingly effortless to swing yourself over, although that is no longer possible due to the barrier. The view through the thin bars was spectacular though.

The emergency phones that were installed in 2006 along with the eye-catching, battered now, suicide hotline signs still dot the way, a reminder of a not too distant past.

There had been talk of closing sidewalk entirely before the fence went up, but due to the treacherous roadway, it is the only safe pathway for bicyclists.

By the time we came to the other pedestrian underpass on the Queen Anne side, we’d abandoned our plan of crossing over. It was just too miserable of a walk. Instead we made our way through Canlis’ parking lot where we ran across a Farmers Market meat vendor, Brent, from Olsen Farms, making a delivery to the restaurant.

After chatting with Brent, we made our way down through the Queen Anne neighborhood to the Fremont Bridge, which was a nice enough walk and much calmer, and we got a close-up view of the WSDOT wrapping, but I found myself missing the bridge’s view.

 

The view from the bridge is grand, and the view of the bridge is also grand once you can get beyond its tragic past.

The Aurora Bridge is a truss-deck bridge (meaning the support is all underneath) and in 1982 was accepted for listing on the National Register of Historic Places because of its innovative engineering design.

Architecturally, the bridge is part of the Gothic Revival period, says Susan Boyle, local architect and preservationist. The style was popular at the time the bridge was built and can be seen as well in many of the historic buildings on the University of Washington campus and in the towers of the Montlake Bridge.

The St. John’s Bridge in Portland, Oregon, just a year older than the Aurora, is much more decorative and famously resembles Gothic cathedral arches in its structural supports above and below the bridge deck.

The Aurora Bridge is less overtly decorative and seems to transcend its time, bridging past and future. Seen from a distance, the bridge expresses the verticality seen in Art Deco designs, says Boyle.

The lines and the arches are a nod back to the decade before. The Art Deco appearance stands out even more in fog or, as we had this summer, smoke, when the haze softens and somehow doubles the vertical lines. In the bright daylight, the 1930s bridge is forward-looking, functional, less nostalgic and more modern.

But it too has a Gothic sensibility in its cantilevers spanning the lake, resembling flying buttresses, and in its supports below that soar, like those of the St. John’s Bridge, over Fremont but without the theatrical detailing, more like unfinished cathedral arches.

What’s most interesting about these sorts of bridges, after you view them from afar, says Boyle, is the space they create below them. In Fremont, she adds, you see the bridge as space and that part of it is magical and has an inspirational quality to it.

The Art Deco expression of the bridge stands out in a haze.

 

Aurora suggests something celestial. A friend of mine says she’s heard it was named for the Aurora Borealis, for the way it spans the lake, but from where she doesn’t recall. A WSDOT historian says the bridge is named for Aurora Avenue, and it’s typical that bridges get renamed for the area that’s around them. (As the bridge was originally being designed it was referred to as the Lake Union Bridge.)

Aurora is also the name of the Roman goddess of dawn, and the bridge marked the dawn of the Automobile Age, so maybe it’s a fitting name all around.

There’s glamour and whimsy with the Aurora Bridge, anchored by two Seattle icons like pots of gold on either end of a rainbow — one with a view above, Canlis, and the other with a view below, the Fremont Troll.  The bridge welcomes pedestrians near it if not exactly on it.

WSDOT is painting the bridge now over the next year, and while it will be nice for aesthetics, a spokesperson noted, it’s needed to preserve the bridge. The work will involve wrapping and unwrapping it, revealing the new paint job section by section. The color will be the standard WSDOT gray, the color they use on all their bridges, but maybe it will be enough to make the bridge be seen anew.

Maybe someday the Aurora Bridge will be calmer, fewer lanes (one can dream!). We may never be able to lose the suicide barrier, to protect ourselves from ourselves, but we might gain again a beautiful city walk and view.

Richard Haag, Gas Works Park Champion and Designer, 1924-2018

It wasn’t supposed to be Gas Works Park. It was supposed to be Myrtle Edwards Park, named for a former city councilwoman, who served from 1955 to 1969 and who was a big supporter of turning industrial wastelands into parks. But Edwards’ heirs were appalled when Richard Haag, the city’s chosen designer for the park proposed in the early 1970s preserving the old Gas Works structure that was on the site. It was unheard of at the time. The expectation was that the old coal plant would be torn down.

Haag passed away May 9 at the age of 94 of natural causes. His family said he didn’t want an obituary, so the news is just now getting out.

He had an illustrious career, moving to Seattle in the late 1950s to work at the architecture department at the UW and then founding the school’s landscape architecture program. He was instrumental in transforming the Seattle Center from fairgrounds to park grounds. He designed Steinbrueck Park with its namesake, Victor Steinbrueck. He also designed the wonderland of Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island. His firm, Richard Haag Associates, Inc., completed over 500 projects over the course of nearly 60 years.

Even before he got the north Lake Union park assignment, Haag had been enchanted with the Gas Works structure. In a phone interview, after a presentation to the Eastlake Community Council, he said, he’d come across the shuttered plant when he first moved to Seattle. That place is magic, he thought, I want to work with that site.

In another interview in 2014, about a year after the park was included on the National Register of Historic Places, Haag said, “I had no rock outcroppings and no sacred trees. Not much there except these wonderful iron totemic structures. The more I was around there, the more I bonded with those things. And I thought, ‘Yup, I’ve got to save them.”

And save them he did. He had an artist paint a rendering of what the park could look like and displayed it at a public meeting of over 700 people. Public opinion moved in his favor. The Edwards family withdrew their name for the park.

But it all worked out in the end. After all the controversy, Myrtle Edwards eventually got her park, a lovely one on Elliot Bay. And Gas Works Park couldn’t be named anything else.

“It’s is my magnum opus,” Haag said. “It’s the centerpiece of my life.”

 

Photo courtesy of Lake Union Virtual Museum

What the heck is a Hellmouth?

Unless you’ve been lost in another dimension these last couple of weeks, you’ve probably heard about Liminal Seattle that website started by two cartographers, Jeremy Puma and Garret Kelly, mapping all the strange and wonderful places in Seattle. The story about their website made the front page of the Seattle Times this week and had been bubbling up all over the local press before then. The Associated Press also picked it up.

Liminal Seattle is tracking the hot spots around the Salish Sea where people have had paranormal or inexplicable experiences. The site encourages submissions. The map makers are looking for true stories although they’re not opposed to a little mythologizing along the way.

Puma and Garret are becoming curators for that Other Seattle the imaginative and fantastical. Future plans include publishing a Tolkienesque map of the area. It’s all for fun with maybe a little social commentary on the side.

One of the first places to get mapped out was Hellmouth curiously overlapping South Lake Union.

When asked during an interview with the Seattle Review of Books how they determined the boundaries, Kelly replied, “I get the impression that you are questioning our cartographic skills? Is there an underlying assumption that we’re somehow “making up” the boundaries of the Hellmouth? Look man, I didn’t create the Hellmouth, I just pulled out the protractor and used my skills as a map-maker to roughly define the border. ”

Ah, but what is a Hellmouth you may be wondering, unless you’re a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, then you already know.

Hellmouths are places of increased supernatural energy. According to the mythology of the “Buffyverse“, this is the area in which the barriers between dimensions are weak. The Hellmouth has a focal point, which serves as a portal between earth and Hell. For these reasons, the Hellmouth attracts demons and other supernatural creatures, becoming a “hot spot” for supernatural activity. (Wikipedia)

Long before Hellmouths were brought to light by “Buffyverse,” the underlying universal story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, they were featured throughout Medieval art and theater usually as the mouths of fire-breathing dragons devouring the damned.

A UW Theater dissertation on the web describes Hellmouths “as the conventional setting for three popular cyclic episodes of the middle ages, the Fall of Lucifer, the Harrowing of Hell, and the Last Judgment.” It was “often celebrated for its spectacle—flames, pyrotechnics display, smoke, and tumult….”

Wait a second doesn’t our own Hellmouth have a great, big spectacle every year, every 4th of July to be exact?