In two previous posts over the past year, which you can read here and here, I described some of the public monuments and artworks that help define Seattle, adding my two cents of cultural and social commentary. With no shortage of material to work with–Seattle is one festooned town–it’s time for a third swing. I suppose I need a theme. So let’s look at stuff conjuring up the past and maybe even the future–for better or for worse.
Surprisingly, Seattle, the liberal seat of King County–renamed for Martin Luther King Jr., who visited once–actually has a Confederate War Veteran’s Memorial. But given the city’s outrageously segregationist past (and the fact that a white church snubbed King during his 1961 visit), maybe it’s not that surprising. The monument is located in venerable Lake View Cemetery, whose clearly embarrassed managers conspicuously have left it off the walking-tour map given to visitors while including all sorts of now-terribly-obscure personages. The memorial was erected in 1926 at the behest of Confederate veterans, or more likely, their widows. A 10-ton slab of granite was cut out of Georgia’s Stone Mountain–where the Ku Klux Klan famously reinvented itself just 11 years earlier–and shipped to Seattle via the Panama Canal.
According to an account on the website of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee Chapter 885 in Seattle, which still exists, local tombstone maker Edward G. Messett and well-known Seattle sculptor James Wehn (1882-1973), who fashioned the 100-year-old Chief Seattle statue along Denny Way, combined to design and build the memorial. Its unveiling and dedication was a big deal at the time.
Thanks to the specter of death, wars are always evocative. Three miles to the northeast at the Woodland Park Zoo, Greenwood Avenue N. and N. 50th Street, sits the Hiker Memorial Statue. The tall bronze statue commemorates the soldiers who had to tramp through hostile terrains during the Boxer Rebellion in China, the Spanish-American War, centered in Cuba, and the far-lesser-known Philippine-American War. The Hiker was erected in 1926–the same year as the Confederate War Veteran’s Memorial. The sculptor was Allen G. Newman (1875-1940), who worked out of New York City.
The statue on a monument is considered a masterpiece. But to be brutally frank about it, the statue was a knock-off. There are about 20 of Newman’s Hikers around the country, most of them put up before Seattle’s. But it’s still the only one on the West Coast.
If you want a little more site-specific history, at the entrance to sprawling Magnuson Park, 7700 Sand Point Way NE, sits the World Flight Monument, also known as the Round-The-World Flight Monument. Long before the construction of Sea-Tac Airport south of Seattle, the Sand Point Airfield sat just north of the University of Washington campus along Lake Washington. And it was from there that the first circumnavigation of the globe by air started and ended. Four two-seat Army planes (back then there was no Air Force), each with two pilots, took off, heading west. After crashes and other harrowing adventures, two finally made it back. The trip took awhile–175 days. But it was huge world news at the time.
The achievement, though, was totally overshadowed three years later in 1927 when Charles Lindbergh flew by himself in barely a day from New York to Paris. Still, the monument–a granite monument topped with bronze wings–was fashioned by Seattle transplant Alonzo Victor Lewis (1888-1946) and raised the same year as the historic round-the-world flight.
Now, you might expect the largest city in a state named after George Washington to be full of formal man-made homages to the great man. But the only physical monument I know of is the lofty bronze statue gracing the University of Washington campus at 15th Avenue NE and NE Campus Parkway. It was raised in 1909 for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, a sort of regional world’s fair. The grounds with their breathtaking views of water and Mount Rainier became UW.
The sculptor was Lorado Taft (1860-1936), who worked out of Chicago and was no fan of modern art. It was only when a 24-foot-high stone monument base was added in 1939 that the statue achieved its current commanding presence. But George has been known to suffer the indignities of pigeon poop and, college students being what they are, assorted pranks, including being adorned with a Bart Simpson mask.
The UW campus sports another interesting historical depiction. There is a giant bronze bust atop a marble pedestal of James J. Hill. Name doesn’t ring a bell? He was the mogul dubbed the Empire Builder who in 1893 brought the transcontinental Great Northern Railway into Seattle, and did it without a government handout. That positioned the city for the start of its economic greatness when the Alaska Gold Rush of 1896 lured tens of thousands of gold seekers–mostly going through Seattle. Hill (1838-1916) himself lived in Minnesota.
The Hill bust, by Norway native Finn Frolich (1868-1947), is one of the few in Seattle that actually was unveiled in the presence of its inspiration. That was in 1909 when Hill made his only visit ever to Seattle, journeying west to attend the opening of the AYP. The bust, which depicts Hill sensibly wearing an overcoat, moved around the UW campus several times before assuming its present position along Stevens Way.
In the downtown area at Second Avenue and University Street sits a piece of public art called New Archetypes. It was made in 1990 by the French sculptors Anne and Patrick Poirier, who are still alive. Made out of stainless steel, the installation includes four columns that look like they have collapsed or are about to.
Here, art clearly predicted life. For New Archetypes sits at the entrance to what was once known as Washington Mutual Tower. You know, the headquarters for many years of Washington Mutual Bank, which spectacularly collapsed in 2008 from years of reckless mortgage lending in history’s largest bank failure. The structure, which WaMu had left two years before its epic end, is now called the 1201 Third Avenue Building and is reportedly for sale along with, I guess, New Archetypes. Superstitious buyers need not apply.
But for a dated reminder of the changing nature of modern-day life, it’s top to beat “Family Watching TV,” an cast aluminum sculpture outside the offices of King Broadcasting (which operates KING-TV, the NBC affiliate on Channel 5) at 333 Dexter Avenue N. It depicts a man, a woman and two children, plus two pets, squished around an overstuffed chair and looking straight ahead at an unseen TV set where you are standing.
An installation by Richard Beyer (1925-2012), who lived in Seattle for years, the sculpture was put up in 1989 when Tom Brokaw anchored the NBC Nightly News and families routine gathered around the boob tube. These days, broadcast market share has fallen sharply, thanks to cable TV and increasing numbers of people getting their video fix over Internet feeds on laptop computers and hand-held devices or ignoring the medium altogether. As a percent of population, Seattle now has fewer children than any large city except San Francisco (although the dog presence in Beyer’s work seems about right). And did anyone mention same-sex marriages?
One of these days, I’ll get around to Part 4 in this continuing series. As they say in what’s left of TV Land, stay tuned.
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