Gas Works Park

word has it that Seattle hosts one of the most impressive Fourth of July fireworks displays. the best vantages for the show are from Gas Works Park on the northern shore of Lake Union – once home to a gasification plant for Seattle Gas and Electric and made famous (to my generation) by ’10 Things I Hate About You.’

even as Seattle Gas & Electric purchased the land for industrial use, the promontory and its commanding views of downtown Seattle were recognized as an ideal setting for a park. the coal gasification plant operated from 1906 to 1956 and, at its peak, served more than 43,000 customers and employed more than 130 people in crews running around the clock. the rising cost of operating a coke oven prompted the city to convert to natural gas and shutter the plant in 1956.

starting in 1962, the city began to purchase the abandoned buildings with an eye to convert it into a park. initially, it was named for the woman who spearheaded the project, but her family requested it be changed after it became clear that many of the gas works structures would remain on the site. (another park in Seattle is now named for her.) advocates successfully campaigned that, as the last gas works in the country, the city had a unique opportunity to preserve the structures for their historic and architectural value. some of the structures remain as they stood while operating (e.g. “in ruins”), others were painted and refurbished to became part of a children’s play area and picnic shelter.

in order to make the land safe for public use, remediation techniques sought to “clean and green” the land; the soil was bioremediated with 18 inches of sewage sludge and sawdust, which allows grass to grow throughout the park.our vantage point for the fireworks was on the side of the Great Mound, an artificial hill designed with kite-flying in mind. the mound was formed with rubble from structural foundations covered in topsoil and topped with a sundial designed by local artists. we even saw a few kites out during the afternoon as we waited for the fireworks to start!

Underground Seattle

elevated indoor latrine

as many of you know, each year several of my college friends meet up for a mini-reunion weekend and, along with all the catching up, watching cheesy movies, and generally having a rollicking good time, we make it a point to visit someplace “odd” or go on a tour of someplace kitchy or uber-touristy. while the more fantastic-than-kitchy Chihuly exhibit would have sufficed, we’d already penciled in a trip beneath Seattle’s streets around Pioneer Square.

in the heart of the northwest woods, the original buildings of Seattle were made of timber. in June of 1889 a cabinetmaker knocked over flame and set his glue alight; when he tried to extinguish the fire with water, it simply spread. upon responding, the volunteer firefighters overtaxed the water pressure by using too many hoses and as a result some 31 square blocks of the fledgling town were destroyed. this devastation proved something of a boon for city planners, however, who had plans to improve living conditions in the city but lacked the means or mode to make it happen.

essentially, the relationship between the sewer system of early Seattle and tide waters into which the effluent flowed wasn’t terribly favorable for those who wished to keep sewage in sewers rather than all over the insides of residences and otherwise clean and sanitary buildings. while the tide was out, the plumbing worked just fine with the aid of gravity, taking the unwanted materials out to the low tide flats at the edge of Puget Sound; when the tide came in, however, it went rushing back up the pipes with unwanted effect. city planners wanted to level out the grade of the Denny Hill, bringing it down from something ridiculous (I swear our guide said 45 percent …) to something reasonable (along the lines of 10 or 12 percent) but the presence of buildings and business owners with businesses in said buildings who opposed the idea of closing down for the years a regrade would require made that challenging. even the fire and destruction of those buildings didn’t temper the protests of the business owners — the regrade was projected to take upwards of a decade and they had no intention of waiting that long to rebuild. so the two sides came to a compromise of sorts: the business owners would go ahead with their speedier plans and rebuild on the same level and in the existing grid pattern while the city would move forward with their regrade project and deal with the height disparity when the problem presented itself. between 1902 and 1911, water from Lake Union was pumped to the top of the hill where hydraulic mining techniques basically flushed the top of the hill down towards the bottom of the hill.

former underground marketplace

thus the Seattle Underground. even though the regrade project began in 1902, with retaining walls put up to protect sidewalks before filling and repaving the streets at the new level, the elevation of sidewalks didn’t occur for several years. instead, ladders stood at corners and people were obliged to climb up and down them to access businesses. according to our guide, this proved somewhat dangerous for the largely-male population of early-20th century Seattle; go out for a few rounds with mates, get confused about where (or whether) a ladder stood and end the evening with a tumble in to the underground. allegedly, several death certificates from this period have “involuntary suicide” down as the cause of death.

eventually, new sidewalks went up, supported by brick archways, but that didn’t eliminate shopping on the now-underground level — it just became an early indoor mall which was great in Seattle’s weather. to make the underground shopping experience more appealing, some areas of the new sidewalk included glass blocks that allowed light to filter to the subterranean level. initially, the glass was clear using the recently discovered technique of adding manganese to the process. now those same blocks appear amethyst in color due to the effects of time on manganese.

deciding under purple light
to walk through the dark bank vault

as business shifted to the upper levels, the lower were given over to less savory elements — including a huge rat infestation. underground markets had been held on wooden platforms built over hard packed dirt floors, allowing plenty of space and resources for vermin to thrive and potentially spread unwanted diseases, like the  bubonic plague. stemming from fear of a disease outbreak at an inopportune time, Seattle condemned the lower levels of buildings in 1907 though they remain, quite clearly, structurally sound and the routes the Tours take are cleaned up though in varying states of upkeep. it was incongruous to see some, situated beneath abandoned or disused buildings, filled with detritus and broken furniture while another, situated under a thriving department-type store, was swept up, well-lit and immaculate.

when our guide discovered that our group consisted entirely of people over the age of consent, she gave us a choice of how to make our way out of the second-to-last underground space: with the lights on like scardy-cats or like spelunking adventurers (my phrases) using naught but the light of our collective cell-phones to guide us. we opted for the latter and, just as we set off across the uneven footing she told us that the ghost of a failed bank robber was rumored to haunt the abandoned bank vault through which we were about to walk. in the dark. said alleged ghost did not attempt to snatch any of our party.

once back on the surface, it was back across the intersection of Yesler and First, under a wrought-iron pergola built in 1909 and knocked over twice by semis in the last eleven years, back underground for one last nugget of tawdry history and out through the conveniently-connected gift shop and “museum.” the area’s now recognized as an historic district and resides on the National Register of Historic Places.

oh! and once again, one of my favorite forms of social-media-based entertainment had an entry that inspired me to get working on a post I’d been mulling for some time! check out the “Subterranean Cities” episode of Stuff You Missed in History Class for more about some famous or infamous underground places. they don’t make any mention of the Victoria Arches in Manchester, though, which sound fascinating and a bit like Underground Seattle!

Starbucks in Seattle

one cannot accuse me of having an affinity for any kind of coffee, much less coffee from the most ubiquitous chain in the world … but that doesn’t mean we didn’t cross over to the other side of Pike Place to visit the original Starbucks location while we were in downtown Seattle back in October. somehow I’d gotten into my head that I’d visited the store while visiting Seattle back in 2007 but once I saw the line snaking out the door of the actual first Starbucks I realized my error. (well, really, the first one to open in 1971 was on Western Ave but relocated down the block to Pike Place in 1976 to make way for what is now Steinbruek Park.) in reality, I’d probably fallen for one of the other conveniently camouflaged locations also within a block of the Pike Place Market.

just got in line to order drinks…

in March of 1971, three guys opened the first location as a local bean roaster and retailer, inspired in part by the success of Alfred Peet (he of Peet’s Coffee) who also focused on selling high-quality beans and equipment. during their first year, they purchased green coffee beans from Peet’s to roast themselves before making connections to purchase directly from growers for themselves. in 1984, the original owners bought out Peet’s and, after deciding to focus their energy on that arm of their business, sold the Starbucks brand to Howard Schultz, who remains the chairman and CEO of the company. Schultz had been brought on in 1985 as marketing director and, after seeing coffee bars in Milan, tried to convince the original owners to incorporate such a concept into the Starbucks model. his efforts bore no fruit at the time and he left to open his own coffee shop (Il Giornale).

once under Schultz’s direction, the first coffee shop locations to open outside of Seattle were in Vancouver and Chicago. in 1986, before Schultz took over, there were 6 Starbucks locations; in 1989 there were 46 and they were roasting over 2 million pounds of coffee a year. in 1992 (the time of their IPO) there were 140 locations. four years later, they opened the first location outside of North America — in Tokyo; it took another 8 years before they expanded into Latin America (Mexico City). in 2003, Starbucks bought Seattle’s Best Coffee and an Italian outfit called Torrefazione Italia and expanded their stores to 6,400. now they have a a flabbergasting 20,366 locations in 61 countries. one wonders how that’s even possible (by buying out other chains, clearly)two weeks ago, they announced the purchase of Teavana — anyone want to take bets as to whether it will result in being able to procure tolerable brewed tea from your local Starbucks? (I’ll stick to my incredibly convenient and locally-owned CoffeeBytes.)

waiting (not in a line) for completed drinks

in any case, our trip to the (not-quite) original Starbucks delivered on our expectations. the line was out the door but the staff kept it moving along smoothly. all the died-in-the-wool Starbucks fans of our party picked out their purchases, many of which featured the original logo. it took about 10 minutes to get through the line to order, and maybe another 15 or 20 minutes longer waiting on drinks — and, according to our line attendant, it was a relatively slow day as there weren’t any cruise ships dumping their passengers into Pike Place. I will admit to taking satisfaction in that fact — I can’t imagine what the line would have been like on a truly busy day nor picture myself waiting patiently in that line.

Redhook Brewery “tour”

the “tour” of the Redhook Brewery was more of a tasting than a “tour,” but I suppose that was the case in New Glarus last year though not so much when we did the microbrewery tour of downtown Denver. I’d been to the brewery in Woodinville the last time I visited Seattle (to see Christin over an impossibly sunny November weekend while I lived in San Diego) and the primary change wasn’t so much in the offerings on the “tour” as my appreciation of those offerings.

after handing over our rumpled dollar bills and receiving our beer cap entry tokens in return, we were herded to the second floor of the building, overlooking the distillation and fermentation tanks which, not surprisingly, looked very much like those in New Glarus, though perhaps not as pretty. access was also much more restricted at Redhook and the bottling line wasn’t running (on a Friday) so there wasn’t so much hustle-n-bustle as taste-n-sip.

our “guide” was an acerbic type and shared his name with one of my companion’s siblings. he gave the young couple nearest the bar a hard time for whispering (loudly) between themselves and generally teased people as we made our way through six (or seven?) different tasters. already a fan of the ESB and Winterhook, I also discovered I quite like the IPA which departs dramatically from my reaction on the last tour (but comes as no surprise; mmm hops). and this time I knew enough to retain information about what IBU means (International Bitterness Units) and when I had drinks at the Vintage the other night the information on their beer menu made even more sense!

after successfully launching the brewery in central Seattle in 1981 by Paul Shipman and Gordon Bowker (of Starbucks and Pete’s Coffee fame), and moving through locations in Fremont and Ballard, the brewery moved out to its current location in Woodinville in 1994. when it was one of the first tours I ever took, it was  a novelty — not exactly a microbrewery, but a craft brewery sounded nearly as exciting and inventive. now, however, having been to so many microbreweries and knowing the difference between a craft brewery, a microbrewery, and a brewpub, touring Redhook and hearing their history (again) seemed somewhat less so. following a 2003 licencing agreement with the Widmer Brothers Brewing Company and subsequent merger, Redhook started the Craft Brew Alliance which distributes to 48 states (excluding Utah; as our “guide” cautioned — to a room full of beer tasters — going to Utah is a “poor life choice”). Kona Brewing came under the Craft Brew Alliance umbrella in 2010 and they’re traded on the stock exchange. more to my point, I suppose, though is the fact that AB InBev owns 32.2% of the company and yesterday I read a piece (entitled “The Plot to Destroy America’s Beer”) about how that merger has had detrimental effects on how some long-produced import beers. I’ve got no complaints about Redhook — it’s just much closer to the Starbucks model than the New Glarus or Lake Louie model, if you will. I enjoyed more than a few packs of ESB and Winterhook while I lived in San Diego but for now I’ll stick to my (more) local brews.

Victor Steinbrueck Park

we wrapped up our time on the waterfront with a stop at Victor Steinbrueck Park to have a sit and (for some) to enjoy the beverages procured from the first-ever Starbucks. since the weather was fantastic, the relatively small park was packed with people lounging about on the grass.

the park, located in a wedge of land on top of the bluff next to the Pike Place Market, came under the jurisdiction of the city in 1968 after fire damaged the Washington National Guard Armory that stood on the site. at the time, debate raged about the future of the Pike Place Market and surrounding spaces — developers wanted to tear it down in favor of the aforementioned high-rise with hotel, apartments, hockey arena, etc. proponents of preserving the Market succeeded in saving both the market and partially-destroyed armory over the road. the city transferred oversight to the Parks Department in 1970, which landscaped the area and named it “Market Park” in 1982.

Victor Steinbrueck, a local architect, was instrumental in in the Pike Place preservation but, apparently, the city didn’t feel it appropriate to honor him during his life by naming the park after him. upon his death in 1985, however, they renamed the park on the site of the armory (which he’d championed to preserve as well, though unsuccessfully). the park hosts two cedar totem poles, designed by Steinbrueck.

in addition to the tourists that stop by for views of Elliott Bay on their way to or from the sites along Pike Place, the park attracts an assortment of less-than-savory characters as well. the view is just as good if you’re homeless, addicted to an illicit substance, mentally unstable, or in need of performing an odd, repetitive dance to the tune of a busker’s guitar. there was a guy doing just that right in front of where we sat down — he had long black and gray hair and was wearing a leather vest, performing something reminiscent of what you’d see at a pow wow, repeating the same motions in four directions and moving out of the way of large groups of people trying to get through the park.

Pike Place Market

along with the Space Needle, the Pike Place Market is one of the most memorable landmarks in Seattle. running since 1907, it’s one of the longest continually-running public markets in the United States. while we were there I saw a smattering of young info-pushers promoting the “your community market” dimension, trying to shift local perception of who uses the market and why you should use it as your local fruit, veg, and fish market.
prior to the establishment of the Pike Place Market, an outdoor public market operated nearby and at which produce was sold primarily via wholesalers rather than farmers themselves. the additional middlemen — necessitated by the time demanded by farming and which precluded spending time selling in an urban public market — resulted in unsavory business practices and sometimes shocking price irregularities (sometimes farmers couldn’t make a profit on the produce they sold to middlemen; between 1906 and 1907 the price of onions went from $0.10 per pound to $1.00 per pound). in advance of the opening day of the newly-established public market, thugs for the wholesalers reportedly went around to farms closest to the city and bought up produce or intimidated farmers, warning them against participating.
despite threats, about 10 farmers and over 50 customers showed up the ribbon cutting and, ceremony concluded, the customers climbed over one another and began buying produce of carts faster than the farmers could keep up tallying sales. by noon all the produce had gone, into the hands of paying customers. the first covered market building opened in November of 1907 and by 1911 demand for stalls resulted forced a doubling in the number available. with the growth came complaints from farmers, who felt the rent and accessibility were unreasonable and inconvenient, respectively, though little action from the market owners. farmers proposed a $150,000 ballot initiative, at which locals balked, while the mayor counter-proposed a more modest $25,000 market improvement initiative that voters supported. the nearby property owners (the Goodwins) continued with their own plans to improve on their holdings and ended up expanding the market five stories down the bluff face of Western Avenue. this expansion held restaurants, bakeries, butchers, a creamery, and all manner of shops. on our visit more than a few of the lower storefronts stood empty; one pair of spaces had an art gallery and attached studio in which the artist was working as we passed. in another there was just an easel with a partially-finished painting though no obvious signs of ongoing work.
over the decades, various attempts to change or update the market have met limited success. in 1920 the city worked to move farmer stalls off the street because of complaints about traffic flow (which makes sense — all the stalls are inside now and the traffic on Pike Place as we visited was still pretty terrible; distracted and wandering tourist-pedestrians don’t help the mix, I’m sure). in 1963 the city proposed demolishing the market in favor of a new building to house a hotel, apartment complex, hockey arena, parking garage, and offices. thankfully, supporters of the market banded together to get it named as an historic preservation area and returned to public control. in the 1980s cuts to government funding of public assistance programs threatened projects run by the market’s development authority, such as a free medical clinic, senior center, and food bank; to preserve these projects the authority established a fundraising arm that ran successful capital campaigns, including one to pay for tiling the floor of the top-floor arcade (to prevent water leaking down and causing damage lower levels) by selling tiles stenciled with donor names for $35 a piece. over the course of more than two years some 45,000 tiles were placed.

Seattle Monorail

after zipping our way to the top of the Space Needle and wandering our way, gobsmacked, through the Chihuly Gallery & Garden, we headed to downtown Seattle via the Monorail, which was also built to connect visitors to the World’s Fair grounds with downtown. the project cost $3.5 million in 1962 and opened several months prior to opening day of the Fair. over 80 million people ride the Monorail during the course of the Fair, though now ridership is about 2 million per year (I wonder if we counted as two people each — one for each direction).

the Monorail has two tracks and two trains. we rode on both — the short one in the middle of the day and the longer one going back during rush hour. the original trains operate today as they did when the Monorail opened in 1962. their top speed is 45 mph and a driver pushes it up to that speed — preferably on the straightaway and not on that last curve before it goes through the Experience Music Project building. the Monorail that exists today runs for about a mile along (above) Fifth Avenue. as one friend put it, the goal was to make it like the El in Chicago. that did not happen. now it runs from the Seattle Center — home to the Space Needle, Experience Music Project, Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, the Pacific Science Center, and an array of music and conference venues — to the Westlake Shopping Center.

there have been three noteworthy accidents involving the Monorail — two of which occurred in the last decade. no major injuries in any instances — two fires and one collision that took a door off one train as the two passed one another on a curve.

the running joke from our tour guide on the Underground Tour (about which more later) is that the Monorail is (yet another) example of Seattle starting in enthusiastically on public works projects and then running out of public interest, enthusiasm, money, or all of the above. the proposal dating from 1997 outlined a five-line monorail system to spread all across Seattle, incorporating the existing red line that we rode. after eight failed ballot initiatives proposing and spending almost $125 million in taxpayer funds (levied on all the cars registered in Seattle) to attempt to expand the line, the supervising authority agreed to dissolve itself (in failure). perhaps everyone in Seattle who wishes to illustrate a failed endeavor refers to the Monorail?

Chihuly Garden & Glass

Detail of the centerpiece of the Sealife Room

for the last several years (starting with Los Angeles/Santa Monica) we’ve gone to oddball museums — places I’d never think to visit if traveling on my own. we’ve gone to the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the Argo Gold Mine, House on the Rock; this year we happened upon the Chihuly Garden & Glass museum on our way to the Space Needle. it wasn’t what we had in mind and wasn’t as weird or oddball as the last few museums of our weekends, but it was a fantastic surprise! 

I’ve seen small Chihuly installations in many places (the V&A in London, the Kohl Center in Madison, the Bellagio in Las Vegas) but this was a chance to see a huge array of his works — different styles, different colors, different methods of installation, indoors and outdoors, spanning the length of his career which stretches back to the 1970s.
Mille Fiori

it’s not shocking to have found a Chihuly exhibition in the Seattle area — he grew up in Tacoma, attended the university in Seattle and has had more permanent and temporary installations in the area than anywhere else in the world. after his undergraduate work in interior design at UW in Seattle, he moved on to the other (dare I say superior?) UW in Madison for graduate work in sculpture, and finally to the Rhode Island School of Design. (he earned money to pay for grad school by working as a commercial fisherman in Alaska). though he seems rooted in the Pacific Northwest at heart, he’s traveled all over the United States and world working on projects — from London to Paris to Venice to Finland to Ireland to Jerusalem and beyond.

Detail of the bottom of one of the chandeliers

in 1965, a Fulbright Fellowship took him to study glasswork in Venice at a studio known for a group technique which he brought back to Washington in 1971 when he established a studio with support of others. he continued to travel back between Washington, Rhode Island (where he was working at RISD) and Europe, touring all manner of art studios and glassblowing projects. while in England in 1976, a car accident cost him his left eye and damaged his right foot, but he persisted in expanding his artistic output. a surfing accident three years later, in which he dislocated his shoulder, forced him to give up the “gaffer” position in his glassblowing team but he continued to draw and provide conceptual artwork for projects. in 1986 he became the fourth American artist to have a one-person exhibition at the Louvre.

Persian ceiling as seen from beneath

some of the pieces I find most interesting are the outdoor installations — chandeliers over Venice, one at the Olympic Park in Salt Lake City, and a number in botanical gardens all over the country (Missouri, New York, Atlanta, Phoenix, Nashville Pittsburgh). Chihuly Garden & Glass is the latest exhibition (it opened in May of this year and is billed as “long-term” and exquisite care was put into lighting the pieces for maximum effect. from beneath, from above, reflecting in the black glass bases… it includes an array of pieces from across decades of glass art series — a glass forest, the Northwest room (illustrating early influences from tapestry and baskets of the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest), a sealife room, Persian ceiling (seen above), Mille Fiori (also above), Ikebana and Boat Float, Macchia bowls… the general consensus as we wandered through the gardens below the Space Needle, already awed by what we’d seen inside the museum, was that it was the best place in the city to have any kind of photographs taken — especially on a day as gorgeous as the one on which we visited.

Looking up through the Glasshouse at the Space Needle

clear skies in Seattle

last weekend our Homecoming tradition took us out west once again, this time to the slightly cooler climes of the Pacific Northwest: Seattle. as on my previous trip (to visit Christin on a weekend trip back in 2007), the weather was deceptively fantastic — in the 50s and low 60s all weekend with clear, if somewhat hazy, skies. with how great the weather’s been every time I’ve visited you’d think the city was trying to lure me out there …

we took advantage of the great weather immediately, heading out for a run as soon as the sky was light enough for us to see by. if you’d told any of us at our first Homecoming in Las Vegas that in a few years time we’d be up before 7 a.m. to go out for a three mile run we’d have guffawed and recommended you seek prompt psychological support. but we did and got to see the sun finishing its climb over the Cascade Mountains. of course, time zone changes and regular up-before-dawn habits helped us crawl out of bed, but I never thought I’d be anything approaching a morning “runner.” just goes to show what can happen over six years!

anyway, first stop of the day was the Space Needle which was in many, many ways like all of the other tall buildings offering panoramic views that I’ve ever ascended. this one just gave us spectacular views of Seattle, the Puget Sound, Lake Washington, Bellevue, the outlying islands … and if you looked in the right direction you could see the mountains through the haze. but it still offers quite a view though none with the Space Needle as part of the downtown skyline.

it was built for the 1962 World’s Fair, as was the monorail that connects it to downtown. over the course of the Fair the elevators took some 20,000 people a day to the observation deck — about 2.3 million people total. at the time, it was the largest structure west of the Mississippi River at 605 feet at its tallest point and built to withstand an earthquake of 9.1 magnitude — as strong as the one that shook the area in January of 1700 — and winds of up to 200 miles per hour. the design stemmed from a compromise between two men — one of whom envisioned a giant balloon tethered to the ground that featured a restaurant and the other, a flying saucer with a rotating restaurant (iconic 1960s or what?).

the plan almost didn’t come to fruition — since the project was privately funded (rather than by the city), the group had to find and purchase a parcel of land on which to construct the tower. by the time they got around to looking, however, nearly all the land within the fairgrounds was claimed; at the last minute a parcel of land 120 feet by 120 feet (containing switching equipment for emergency services … you’ve got to wonder where that got relocated) came available and work began. the last element — one of the elevators — was installed the day before the Fair opened.

ferry heading out to Bainbridge Island

since it first opened, the Needle has gone through a series of renovations and upgrades, including refurbishing the observation area, reconfiguring the restaurant, and (in honor of the 50th anniversary this year) repainted “Galaxy Gold” to match the original paint job. originally two separate facilities, one restaurant now occupies the entire level below the observation deck. the whole point of the restaurant: it rotates, and was one of the first ever to do so. one revolution every 47 minutes. as at the Stratosphere — don’t leave anything on the window ledge when you sit down or you won’t see it for 47 minutes (if ever). we opted for the slightly more reasonable prices at Pike Market rather than choosing from the $26+ mains at the SkyCity Restaurant. could have gotten “proudly served” Starbucks at either place, though!

Seattle was the last on our list of “hometowns” (with willing hosts to lodge us) and next year we’ll be off to someplace more wholly new to all of us — New Orleans. should be a good time and cap off what seems poised to be a busy year of travel in 2013!
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