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Friday, July 27, 2007

City Council Voted to Rip Out a Fountain

posted by on July 27 at 8:49 AM

I’ve been searching for photos of Seattle’s old municipal building—our old city hall, which was torn down in 2003, just at the moment that it was becoming kind of interesting, architecturally speaking. Built in 1962, our old municipal building had a sort of Marcus-Welby/Police-Woman-esque charm. But we tore it down to make way for a much grander City Hall.

And guess what the city council voted to destroy along with the old municipal building? Why, a fountain. It sat just in the plaza just outside the doors on the 5th Avenue side of the municipal building. I used to walk past it every day on my to work. I thought it was pretty cool, this old fountain. It featured a large rectangular monolith sitting in a small pool—picture a green, mod version of the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. A pattern of squares covered both sides of the gently curving, 12 foot-tall monolith. And there were benches around the fountain—you know, benches where a person could sit in quiet contemplation.

So when it came to building a new city hall, the Seattle city council voted to destroy a fountain, trash a work of art, and deprive us all of a place of quiet contemplation. Because this particular work of art got in the way of building a gaudy new civic palace where the members of the City Council would work. But when it comes to building a new skatepark—which the city has promised to do for years—the city council is suddenly concerned about preserving fountains and neglected pieces of public art and places of quiet contemplation.


Does anyone have pictures of the old municipal building? And the fountain on the 5th Avenue side? I’d love to post ‘em.

RSS icon Comments


My God! It's full of stars!

Posted by Some idiot. | July 27, 2007 8:53 AM

Dan, I knew the old City Hall, I worked in the old City Hall, and you sir are wrong about the old City Hall. It was horrible on the inside and out, and all I can say is good riddance. With that said, I arrived after they had demolished the fountain, so I can't comment on that particular fixture, but the rest of it was nausea inducing.

Now I would agree that the new building is a bit more than we needed, and I hate Prince Prospero's chamber on the 4th avenue side, but for the city employees who have to work there, it is a big improvment.

Posted by Frank Lloyd Wrong | July 27, 2007 8:58 AM

I guess the two much larger fountains that came with the new city hall, the more elaborate fountain on the 4th ave side, and the one that runs out of the building toward 4th ave, don't count?

Posted by wf | July 27, 2007 9:02 AM

A fountain in the middle of a parking lot, behind one of the ugliest and least site-appropriate buildings ever inflicted on this city. Rumored to have been a recycled architectural plan from some lousy development (designed for a flat site, no less) in Texas. Great example.

Say what you will about Paul Schell, but he could distinguish good architecture and urban design from bad.

Posted by Um... no | July 27, 2007 9:02 AM


You kind of neglected that fountain as well, ya know. It took 41 years for that fountain to become 'kind of interesting'? 41 years isn't even close to historical or anything. Do you actually care? I honestly would like to know. It sounds more like City Council bitching rather than, um, you being serious.

Posted by Mr. Poe | July 27, 2007 9:06 AM

You know the demolition of a building that was just 40 years old.... I have to wonder what it is with our desire to blow up buildings that really are not that old? Seriously, why do we build stuff that is so damn ugly you cannot stand to look at it and we destroy it before we even pay for it? (Kingdome as an example)

There used to be a time when buildings were built to last for generations, in particular public structures. Yeah the old City Hall was ugly as hell but my question is why did they build something that damn ugly in the first place?

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | July 27, 2007 9:07 AM

So Dan, you know that thing where the really butch asshole jock in high school who goes around picking on nerds and calling everyone queer turns out to be a total closet butt pirate?

Do you ever think maybe your whole thing where you constantly accuse everyone of hypocrisy is kind of like that? Like you're just totally overcompensating for what you perceive to be your own biggest failure by projecting it off onto everyone around you?

Just wondering.

Posted by Judah | July 27, 2007 9:23 AM

I'm still a little wary of the the Du Pen fountain being a skatepark. Seaskate was pretty cramped for a skatepark and if Du Pen is 1/3 the size, it's going to get crowded pretty quickly. I just wish they could agree on some other spot at Seattle Center.

Posted by not sure yet | July 27, 2007 9:28 AM

I e-mailed the entire council. Drago just said she voted for the site, but Conlin said, "situated between two very active buildings, the Du Pen fountain is hardly 'contemplative,'" which I appreciated, and Clark said she'd received just as many e-mails defending the fountain as demanding the skate park. None of the others has replied, but I think Conlin nailed it.

Posted by Gitai | July 27, 2007 9:31 AM



Posted by Mr. Poe | July 27, 2007 9:43 AM

In the grand scheme of things, a city council building is much more important than a skatepark, even important enough to demolish a fountain.

And #8 is right, that location is way too small for a skatepark. Build it there and there's a good chance the skaters will wind up skating in front of/next to Key Arena and in those hallways behind the Northwest Rooms, thus becoming a major pain in the ass for anyone walking through that area. Is there not a single more out of the way location for a skatepark in the Center?

Posted by keshmeshi | July 27, 2007 9:44 AM

First off, why is everyone acting like the Council voted against the skate park in the Full Council? From what I understand, the Parks Committee voted FOR the skate park location. If you are calling people hypocrites, name them. (And are they hypocrites if they got on the Council after that decision was made, like in this case?)

Secondly, the Municipal Building fountain was rarely enjoyed, had limited historical value compared to the DuPen, which is used by hundreds of people every year and was created by a local Northwest artist whose work was well-liked. No one complained when the other fountain was being razed because no one cared (I don't thin your howls of protest were heard, Dan.)

People care about this one. That's what makes it different.

Some public art doesn't work. For example, a really bad piece of public art was removed when the Public Safety Building was destroyed. It was a blue, chain-link fence surrounding 9 trees in a tic-tac-doe pattern. I walked by there several times over the years not knowing it was art (I thought it was a never ending construction site). It was not-so-affectionally called "Trees in Jail". No one missed it when it was gone.

However, when the new fancy Central Library was built, it was ensured the old, funky fountain was relocated because people liked it. It sits in a prominent location on the busy 4th Avenue entrance.

Some people privately lamented the old Muni Building fountain's dismantling. However not enough to stop it or make one single, public comment to stand up for it.

Posted by Fountain | July 27, 2007 9:44 AM

tic-tac-TOE. Sheesh.

Posted by Fountain | July 27, 2007 9:45 AM

Was it even the same city council?

Posted by Andy | July 27, 2007 10:06 AM

No. It was two Councils ago when the Municipal Building project started and one Council ago when it was actually destroyed.

Posted by Fountain | July 27, 2007 10:11 AM


The Tic-Tac-Toe sculpture, aka 9 Space 9 Trees by Robert Irwin, was just installed on the University of Washington's campus, just east of the Henry Art Gallery. In its new location, it is already a popular spot for eating lunch. While perhaps it isn't as missed from its site beside the jail, the piece makes a nice contribution to the campus, suggesting that moving the fountain may not be a bad idea.

Posted by l. | July 27, 2007 10:14 AM

Well, that's nice. I'm glad it's in a better home.

It would also be nice if the Center had a plan to relocate the DuPen Fountain. As far as anyone can tell, it's doesn't. I'm not saying the DuPen can't be moved, I'm just saying that defending it is okay. I just don't think people should be raked across the coals for defending a piece of art.

Posted by Fountain | July 27, 2007 10:26 AM

The new site is 6,600 square feet vs. the demolished SeaSk8 at 8,910 square feet. Which is more like 3/4 the size. Not 1/3.

Maybe they can move the fountain to the space between the Space Needle and EMP on broad street where both the Space Needle and EMP folks didn't want a skatepark (a better place but I guess money talks loudest here in Seattle).

Posted by td | July 27, 2007 10:50 AM

give us the 1st level of the parking lot north of the opera house you sissies

Posted by bobcat | July 27, 2007 10:57 AM
I just don't think people should be raked across the coals for defending a piece of art.

Oh, I don't know. I'd pay real money to see the people behind the Experience Music Project dragged screaming over hot coals. I mean seriously, let's turn that fucking thing into a skate park, huh? Just chop off the bottom 30 feet, countersink what's left and skate on it. At least then it would serve some useful function. Meanwhile, here's hoping city demolishes the ugly motherfucker at the earliest available opportunity. And yes, anyone who defends it should be dragged naked and screaming over a pile of smoldering mesquite until they're crispy on the outside, then force fed to Paul Allen on soda crackers.

Posted by Judah | July 27, 2007 10:58 AM

Municipal Building pictures:

It was lovely. It's a shame no one appreciates midcentury aluminum. You'd think they would, the way they slobber over the furniture.

The new building is an atrocity and will be infinitely more embarrassing in 20 years than this was in 1980.

Posted by Fnarf | July 27, 2007 1:02 PM

So, who was the artist of that Municipal Building fountain?

Posted by art | July 27, 2007 1:46 PM

PI had it right - current proposed location is a stop gap fix that wasn't well thought out, especially in light of new Center designs being considered now.

Posted by watcher | July 27, 2007 3:46 PM

We should also consider that the city just spend hundreds of thousands of dollars re-furbishing the fountain and it will probably cost over a million to relocated it, which means they probably won't relocate it, but just warehouse it somewhere.

Posted by also | July 27, 2007 4:00 PM

Excerpt from \"Say Yes To War\" by Dan Savage October 2002

\"In the meantime, invading and rebuilding Iraq will not only free the Iraqi people, it will also make the Saudis aware of the consequences they face if they continue to oppress their own people while exporting terrorism and terrorists. The War on Iraq will make it clear to our friends and enemies in the Middle East (and elsewhere) that we mean business: Free your people, reform your societies, liberalize, and democratize... or we\'re going to come over there, remove you from power, free your people, and reform your societies for ourselves\"

July 2007

Over 3600 American soldiers dead
Over 53,000 seriously wounded and maimed
Over 650,000 Iraqis dead
? seriously wounded and maimed
Over 2,000,000 Iraqis have fled their country
Estimated total cost (for USA) of Iraq war $2,000,000,000,000
Al Qaida is stronger than ever

Posted by Andrew Sullivan | July 27, 2007 9:41 PM

I used to love to take my lunch out on the rooftop patio of the old Municipal building. And the screens in the lobby were really quite cool also.

They were salvaged, as perhaps that fountain was. Like the fountain at the old libary was, and the incredibly cool mosaic on the old City Light building was (although why City Light would have given that thing up is beyond me).

We had some cool municipal buildings in this town, but we neglected them, and then abandoned them in the quest to be "world class". That's sort of like abandoning a fountain for the latest Tragic Teen Trend, because of a crusade by an alternative weekly.

I'll say it again: I'm not against skaters, and they deserve a park. But it shouldn't be art versus skaters - not in a town full of ugly surface parking lots. The Stranger should know better.

You, Dan, should know better.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | July 27, 2007 9:42 PM

Ironically, I think DuPen did the screens you are talking about. I wonder where they are now.

Posted by funny | July 27, 2007 11:46 PM

Funny, years ago, I led a half-assed, one-man crusade to preserve the City Light Mural, when I found out that the building was being sold. In the course of that, I found out that all of those decorative elements that were in the Library, Muni Building, and City Light buildings were kept and either warehoused or reused. Generally speaking, anything that the city owns that was commissioned is cataloged by the office of public art (or something like that) and kept track of.

btw, The City Light Mural, which now resides in the lobby of the MOHI Auditorium, was done by an artist named jean Cory Beal who did similar murals for a state building in Olympia that was recently renovated (they kept the mural) and the old Olympic Hotel. In the case of the hotel, it may still be there in the Garden Court, covered by the stiflingly tasteful paneling that the Four Seasons put up. (Like most entities that toady to the rich, Four Seasons was awfully afraid of anything too colorful)

In a just world, that City Light Mural (entitled "That Man May Use It Freely....") should be in the lobby of the Seattle Municipal Tower, covering up some of the vast expanses of bland marble that was put there when AT&T built it. But we are so afraid of not being "cool" that we take anything even remotely kitschy and stick it out at the Mohi. That's probably what would happen to the fountain at the Center.

Posted by Catalina Vel-Duray | July 28, 2007 9:33 AM

Aw Dan, the Muni Building fountain was hideous. It was also waterless for years because it would leak into the parking garage beneath the plaza. I do miss that surface parking lot, though.

Posted by J.R. | July 28, 2007 10:45 AM

Dan --

As it turn out, Seattle isn't the only place with skate park issues. This was the lead story in yesterday's The Morning Call of Allentown, PA.

Jeeez...let the kidz have a freakin' place to play!

Posted by JJ | July 30, 2007 11:44 PM

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