I happen to have many fond memories of Gas Works Parks over the years, running around the old machinery, rolling down the large hill at high speeds and of course gazing out onto the skyline of Seattle like Gatsby looking for Daisy. However the monolith that is the gas works building has remained an enigma to me and hopefully through this post a little bit of how it became the urban park it is today will be told.
First of all a quick overview of its dirty past. Gas Works Park was formerly known under the Seattle Gas Light Company and soon changing its name to the “Seattle Gas Company” in 1930 up until 1956 when it was disbanded. As for the plant itself that was integral in giving large amounts of power for lighting, heating and other various uses through its “coal-to-gas” machinery. However by 1956 this all became obsolete and the land the park would be built on was left abandoned until it changed hands and the deed to the plant’s land was handed over to the City of Seattle in 1962. The plot of land itself was in a valuable area when it was first built had been popular before with loggers so already the land had seen heavy use before the city decided to take on the project.
These two maps show the present and past layouts (right after the City of Seattle had bought the property0 of Gas Works. Notice the lack of a majority of buildings and the large grassy areas now present. Hard to imagine that this once industrial work horse is now a public space. There is still a strong shipping scene on both sides of the area even into the present day.
“Aerial view of the Seattle Gas Works, 1965; from the City of Seattle, Parks and Recreation Department”
Credit to https://digital.lib.washington.edu/architect/structures/3311/
Now this 20.5 acre plot was given over to the architect Richard Haag (as many may already know was a professor at the UW in architecture) in order to turn the building into a public landscape. Although many of the pipes and machinery were kept intact and left in a dormant state, it was also restricted in how much the public has access to it against Haag’s wishes. Today the park remains popular with tourists and locals alike and I won’t lie, I plan on having a picnic there this Thursday.
One thing I didn’t really realize was how polluted the area still is. According to link followed at http://www.seattle.gov/parks/park_detail.asp?ID=293 the water is hazardous and forbidden from entry. Granted it should have been expected from an older gas company that used coal as its main fuel source and apparently it switched from oil over to coal in 1937 which, according to the article on Wallingford history, any basements excavated will hold traceable amounts of the pollution from the Gas Plant when it was still functional. However Haag as an architect seemed like the right choice as the park was built in a fashion to expedite environmental healing such as its hills and drainage options. The famous zodiac sundial (that I can never get to work because it is always too cloudy) was installed by Charles Greening and overlooks the famous Seattle skyline at the highest point the public can walk on.
This is a common view of Gas Works today though you won’t view the over grown grass and weeds just past the fence that doesn’t prevent the graffiti. Its rather dirty history does encourage me a bit that such a pollution causing area was turned into a public park. I still plan on rolling down the hills this Thursday though.
Direct Url References linked from https://digital.lib.washington.edu/ (photos should have their urls and references with them)